I had some questions for Marilyn Monroe recently, but (as is often the case with the biggest stars) it was hard to get in touch with her to arrange an interview. So I found some old interviews and things she’d written and put my questions to some of her already-published, already-spoken material. - Sheila Heti
THE BELIEVER: Hello, Ms. Monroe. Thank you for coming! I thought maybe you’d forgotten…
MARILYN MONROE: [contrite] I am invariably late for appointments – sometimes as much as two hours. I’ve tried to change my ways but the things that make me late are too strong, and too pleasing.
BELIEVER: [laughing] Okay!
MM: [brightly] I just want to be wonderful!
BLVR: [laughing, charmed] Well, maybe that’s a good place to start. You say you want to be wonderful… what else do you want?
MM: [softly] It’s often just enough to be with someone. I don’t need to touch them. Not even talk. A feeling passes between you both. You’re not alone…
BLVR: [blushing] Please let me know if I get too personal, but, um, that feeling of aloneness… is that something you’ve felt your whole life?
MM: Until I was 11, the whole world was closed to me. I felt I was on the outside of the world. Then, suddenly, everything opened up. Even the girls paid a little attention to me because they thought, “Hmmm, she’s to be dealt with!” I had this long walk to school, two and a half miles there, two and a half miles back. It was just sheer pleasure. Every fellow honked his horn, you know, workers driving to work, waving, and I’d wave back. The world became friendly! All the newspaper boys, when they delivered the paper, would come around to where I lived and I used to hang from the limb of a tree, and I had sort of a sweatshirt on. I didn’t realise the value of a sweatshirt in those days, but then I was sort of beginning to catch on, but I couldn’t really afford sweaters. But here they came with their bicycles, you know, and I’d get these free papers and the family liked that, and they’d all pull their bicycles up around the tree and then I’d be hanging, looking kind of like a monkey, I guess. I was a little shy to come down. I did get down to the curb, kinda kicking the curb and kicking the leaves and talking, but mostly listening. Sometimes the family used to worry because I used to laugh so loud and so gay. I guess they felt it was hysterical. It was just this sudden freedom because I would ask the boys, “Can I ride your bike now?” and they’d say, “Sure.” Then I’d go zooming, laughing in the wind, riding down the block, laughing, and they’d all stand around and wait till I came back. But I loved the wind. It caressed me.
BLVR: Wow! That freedom you describe… I… I envy it. I think I could never be that free… amid all those men? I suppose I have never liked being looked at.
MM: It was kind of a double-edged thing. I did find when the world opened up that people took a lot for granted, like not only could they be friendly, but they could suddenly get overly friendly and expect an awful lot for very little.
BLVR: Yeah. I’m always afraid that if you’re overly free or friendly with people, they might come to expect things from you and want things. I guess that inhibits me. I would fear saying no to a man after appearing that free – that people might become angry, especially with a “no” from a beautiful woman, like you are. Haven’t you ever felt that way? I guess you don’t worry about violence?
MM: I don’t think people will turn against me, at least not by themselves. I like people. The “public” scares me, but people I trust.
BLVR: I don’t trust crowds or people! [laughter] Do you have any idea of how you came to trust people?
MM: I guess just I wanted love more than anything else in the world. A woman can’t be alone. She needs a man.
MM: A man and a woman support and strengthen each other. She just can’t do it by herself.
BLVR: But you had a huge career. Surely you could have supported yourself.
MM: A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night.
BLVR: You’ve met and performed with some of the most interesting actors of your time. Was it wonderful, to be able to discuss things with them?
MM: I always thought that movie stars would be exciting and talented people, full of special personality. But meeting one of them at a party I’d usually discover that he or she was colorless and even frightened. I’ve often stood silent at a party for hours listening to my movie idols turn into dull and little people.
BLVR: Well, you’re certainly not dull. What would you say are your best qualities?
MM: A photographer once told me that my two best points are between my waist and my neck. [both are silent for a while] I used to get the feeling that I was fooling somebody – I don’t know who or what – maybe myself. I had that feeling on some days when there were scenes with a lot of responsibility, and I’d wish, Gee, if only I would have been a cleaning woman.
BLVR: You were married three times, so the opportunity was probably there – to be a so-called “housewife.” Could you talk a bit about your first marriage, at age 16, to Jim Dougherty?
MM: He kept me busy cleaning the house and fixing meals. Everybody told me that it would be quite a responsibility being a housewife, and boy did I find out! But Jimmy was swell to me, and I felt that if I had waited five or ten years, I couldn’t have found anyone who would have treated me better. I really thought the world of him and we got along so nicely. He was just so sweet about every little thing.
BLVR: Then why did the marriage end?
MM: I had too many fantasies to be a housewife.
BLVR: I’m getting the feeling that a beautiful, ambitious woman can’t easily be happy – or maybe just on some boy’s borrowed bike, when all of life is still potential. What is one to do?
MM: [shrugs] Relax and enjoy it.
BLVR: One last question, if you would. People often speculate on whether your death was a suicide or not. Can you speak to that? Is being dead a relief?
MM: It might be a kind of relief to be finished. But you have to start all over again.