60 years ago today Americans were waking up to the tragic news that Marilyn Monroe had died.
It was a hot, muggy, Sunday afternoon as I lolled about like a Hollywood starlet in a kidney-shaped pool when I learned the terrible news that the blonde icon had passed away.
I was just 7.
She was just 36.
It still feels just like yesterday.
August 5, 1962
My family was on a weekend getaway in Connecticut that August to visit my brother Andy in sleep-away camp.
The dramatic news of the movie stars’ death spread quickly at the mid-century modern Holiday Inn we were vacationing at. Swimsuit-clad guests were teary-eyed behind their Foster Grant sunglasses as they heard the report on their transistor radios while sitting poolside.
The revelation was shocking. The 36-year-old actress was found dead in bed in her Brentwood home, apparently the victim of an overdose of sleeping pills.
Was it accidental, or was it suicide?
The endless speculation on her death that began that afternoon would continue decades later.
As I drifted on a polyvinyl float in the turquoise-tiled pool, I could overhear the conversations.
Sensing this, my mother stopped writing her postcards immediately. Jumping up from the plastic webbed lounger, she leaned over the edge of the pool to get my attention and gently told me the sad news.
Even if I didn’t fully understand the circumstances of Marilyn Monroe’s death, it felt surreal. Movie stars didn’t die in real life. That was only make-believe in the movies. After the credits rolled and the lights came up, the dead movie star would rise up to appear in living color in another feature film.
And Marilyn Monroe was the most vivid technicolor actress I ever saw.
Marilyn and Me
Mom knew the special affinity I had for Marilyn, one that would last a lifetime.
From the time I was 3 and a half, I could often be found sashaying around the house dressed up like the blonde bombshell. Donning a platinum blonde wig, and clumsily applying my mother’s Revlon Cherries in the Snow red lipstick I would stuff my stretchy Danskin tops with balled-up socks to try to recreate the same sexy allure.
By seven I had been obsessed with the blonde bombshell for years.
Over three to be exact. In the winter of 1959, my parents took me to my first theatrical movie Some Like it Hot. Seeing Marily Monroe larger than life, a luminous creature undulating on the screen in the dark was unlike anything I had ever seen.
I was hooked for life.
Why my parents chose to introduce their 3-year-old daughter to the wonders of cinema with a cross-dressing screwball adult comedy instead of Snow White I’ll never know.
But I know I would be eternally grateful.
All The News That’s Fit to Print
And now just three years later she was gone.
The newspaper headlines about Marilyn would come the next day on Monday, August 6, and with it more shocking details about her death. The circumstances surrounding her death would become one of the most debated conspiracy theories in history.
The Marilyn myth would multiply through the years.
The most famous line in Some Like it Hot is uttered at the end of the film by playboy Joe E. Brown after learning that galpal Daphne played by Jack Lemmon is less female than suspected: “Well, nobody’s perfect!”
But with her death, Marilyn comes close.
Marilyn never got old. Or fat. Norma Jean Baker would never need Botox or suffer a bad facelift because she never got wrinkles.
As though encased in amber, Marilyn Monroe is eternally 36.
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One of the earliest news stories I remember, if not the first. It was so shocking to a kid that anyone would do such a thing, let alone someone so beautiful and famous.
It was the first for me, to be followed the next year by JFK.