By 1956, Marilyn Monroe had earned a national reputation for being a “star,” a “celebrity,” a “sex symbol,” and… a “dumb blonde.” This last attribute came from the popular assumption that a woman with such a strong sensual nature must be ignorant. It was reinforced by the movie roles in which she played dim-witted ladies. Partly, too, it was Marilyn’s speech, delivered in a high, breathy voice that made her sound continually startled. And it wasn’t helped by many of the things Marilyn said without thinking.
But many of her sayings were well thought-out before uttered: the Post staff interviewer called them “Monroeisms.” Sometimes they were baffling, but they were usually amusing and often contained a second meaning.
Pete Martin offered Post readers several examples. For instance, her response to the question of whether she appeared in her photos with her mouth open and eyes half closed to look sexy.
“The formation of my lids must make them look heavy, or else I’m thinking of something,” she told me. “Sometimes I’m thinking of men. Other times I’m thinking of some man in particular. It’s easier to look sexy when you’re thinking of some man in particular. As for my mouth falling open all the time, I even sleep with it open. I know, because it’s open when I wake up. I never consciously think of my mouth, but I do consciously think about what I’m thinking about.”
Tucked away in the paragraph like blueberries in a hot muffin were several genuine Monroeisms.
Later, Martin asked her about her visit to Marine recruits at Camp Pendleton “when they whistled at you and made wolf calls.”
“They wanted me to say a few words, so I said, “You fellows down there are always whistling at sweater girls. Well, take away their sweaters and what have you got?’ For some reason they screamed and yelled.”
For some reason.
Was she really so unaware? How could someone who projected sexuality so effectively be so naïve? But in other responses, Martin saw Marilyn’s thinking behind her Monroeisms. He asked her—because this was 1956, and some people spoke this way back then—if anyone had ever suggested that she had padded her figure (“wore ‘falsies’” was his expression).
“Yes,” she told me, here eyes flashing indignantly. “Naturally,” she went on, “it was another actress who accused me. My answer to that is, quote: Those who know me better know better. That’s all. Unquote.”
It sounds like a parody of Marilyn, something Judy Holliday might say in a movie. But its suggestive nature, and its clever repetition of “know” and “better,” indicated she’d worked on the line before delivering it.
In truth, Marilyn was continually thinking up these quotable lines. A senior publicity agent [whom Pete Martin referred to as “Flack Jones”] told Martin that she was a skilled ad-lib artist. “She makes up those cracks herself. Certainly that ‘Chanel Number 5′ was her own.”
When I told Marilyn about this, she smiled happily. “He’s right. It was my own,” she said.
“Somebody was always asking me, ‘What do you sleep in, Marilyn?’ ‘Do you sleep in P.J.s?’ ‘Do you sleep in a nightie?’ ‘Do you sleep raw, Marilyn?’… I remembered that the truth is the easiest way out, so I said, ‘I sleep in Chanel Number 5,’ because I do.”
“Another one—the calendar crack—I made when I was up in Canada. A woman came up to me and asked. ‘You mean to say you didn’t have anything on when you had that calendar picture taken?’ I drew myself up and told her, ‘I did, too, have something on. I had the radio on.’
“Or you take the columnist, Earl Wilson, when he asked me if I had a bedroom voice. I said. ‘I don’t talk in the bedroom, Earl.’
“I don’t want to tell everybody who interviews me the same thing. I want them all to have something new, different, exclusive.”
According to Flack Jones:
“She concentrates on trying to give [an interviewer] what he wants—something intriguing, amusing and off-beat. She’s very bright at it. … She tries to say something that’s amusing and quotable, and she usually does.”
Creating a Monroeism wasn’t as easy, it seemed. When a writer at Fox studios produced an article attributed to Marilyn, he gave her the quote that she didn’t tan “because it confuses the coloring of my wardrobe.”
She scratched it out. “I asked her. ‘What’s the matter?’
“‘That’s ridiculous.’ she said. ‘Having a suntan doesn’t have anything to do with my wardrobe.’ She thought for a minute; then wrote, ‘I do not suntan because I like to feel blonde all over.’ I saw her write that with her own hot little pencil.”
“I wish I could say I thought it up. But I didn’t. Feeling blonde all over is a state of mind,” he said musingly. “I should think it would be a wonderful state of mind if you’re a girl.”
As she had observed, the truth was often the easiest way out of a question.
Roy Craft, one of the publicity men at Fox, had told me that he had worked with her for five years, and that in all that time he’d never heard her tell a lie. “That’s a mighty fine record for any community,” he said.
“It may be a fine record,” she admitted, “but it has also gotten me into trouble. Telling the truth. I mean. Then, when I get into trouble by being too direct and I try to pull back, people think I’m being coy.
“I’m supposed to have said that I dislike being interviewed by women reporters, but that it’s different with gentlemen of the press because we have a mutual appreciation of being male and female. I didn’t say I disliked women reporters. As dumb as I am, I wouldn’t be that dumb, although that, in itself, is kind of a mysterious remark because people don’t really know how dumb I am. But I really do prefer men reporters. They’re more stimulating.”
The truth, as she noted, was often the easiest way out. And speaking the truth had the added novelty of being unexpected, and sometimes funny. But it often led her to make statements that landed somewhere between the painfully obvious and the profound.
“One of the things about leaving Hollywood and coming to New York and attending the Actors’ Studio was that I feel that I could be more myself,” she said. “After all, if I can’t be myself, who can I be?”
I shook my head.
It had me puzzled too.