Oh God, I want to get out of here," she moaned aloud to no one in particular.
"Leave? Before the fireworks at midnight?" I, handsomely dressed in a black suit, slipped onto a barstool beside her.
“Do I know you, sweetie?” She didn't turn towards me when she talked and nervously moved her clutch closer to her hourglass figure; my heart sank hearing the pills rattling inside their bottles that she kept hidden in her purse.
I gathered my strength, determined to follow through with my intentions. “It doesn’t matter who I am. What matters is who you are.”
She gave her platinum-blonde hair a flirtatious flip. “Well, who do you want me to be?" Gesturing towards the other partygoers, she added, "Everyone here wants me to be somebody different, you know … their own creation."
There was a tinge of venom in her words, but I decided to dive right in. “May I ask you a question?”
“Sure, sweetie, why not." She slipped her cigarette in between her red, glossy lips and took a quick drag, then slowly exhaled the smoke out the side of her mouth. Somehow, she even made smoking appear the sexiest habit around. "It looks like I’ve got nothing better to do than answer your questions.”
It was at that moment, she turned to full-on face me, giving me my first up-close look at her. I'm not exaggerating when I say her appearance stole my breath. She wore a curve-hugging green shimmering gown, plunging low in the front. The color set off her vibrant blue eyes which sparkled under the New Year's Eve party lights. The word 'beautiful' just didn't do her justice.
“Are you happy with your life?” I blurted out.
Unexpectedly, she threw her head back and laughed, but it wasn't a joyful laugh. "Well, let's see. I've just had my third marriage end in divorce, and you know, now find myself here alone on New Year's Eve. So, what do you think?"
"I think–" then I paused to choose the right words, "–on the outside, you look like you have it all, but inside you are a very lonely, sad, unfulfilled woman."
"Well gee, you really tell it like it is, don't you, sweetie?"
She alternated between her liquor-filled glass and her cigarette, clearly upset by my words. I needed to somehow gain her interest and trust.
"May I ask you another question?"
Without looking at me, she responded with a disinterested tone, "Sure, whatever."
“If you could go back and change one thing, what would it be?”
This time she set her drink down with force and faced me again. “Look, I don’t like looking back. There’s no point, you know. You can't change anything.”
Lifting a finger, I waved it in front of her face. “Ahh, Norma Jeane, but what if you could?”
She paused, and I watched her features soften on her face. "No one has called me by that name in a long time." Her blonde curls bounced as she shook her head and whispered, "That girl doesn't exist anymore."
I leaned towards her, waiting for her eyes to meet mine. "What if you could find her again? Would you want to?"
Without hesitation, she answered, "Maybe. Would she have led a happier life, you think?" She leaned back and crossed her shapely legs in the opposite direction. "I mean, I never asked to be Marilyn – it just sort of happened."
"Let's get back to my original question, shall we? Now, what would you change? What's the first thing to pop into that lovely head of yours?"
"Alright, I'll play. Seeing as how I'm now drowning away sorrows from a divorce, I guess I wish I hadn't married Arthur.
"He came to view me as a disappointment, you know, but my heavens, he certainly disappointed me too!"
"What happened with Arthur?"
"What happened? What do you think happened? I became depressed. Who could blame me for not wanting to get out of bed? I had read in his diary that he often found me embarrassing. Embarrassing!"
Her eyes clouded with tears and I handed her a handkerchief which she used to carefully blot underneath her eyes.
"I'm sorry. That must have been hard." I patiently waited for her to dry her eyes, wishing I could wrap her up in a warm hug. "So, you were happy until you married Arthur?"
"No, not really. My marriage to Joe, my second husband, had been a mistake too. He wanted me to be someone I wasn't – a wholesome housewife." She laughed. "Can you imagine … me ... just a housewife? I have dreams, you know." She paused, then frowned as if recalling a painful memory. "So, I rebelled, I guess. Angered him. And he made sure I felt his anger. You know what I mean?" She subconsciously caressed her cheek.
"I'm afraid I do." It felt like someone had ripped my guts out, hearing about a man beating her. I couldn't bear to hear any more ... just couldn't bear it! After taking a few deep breaths, I said, "How about we switch subjects. Enough about men. What about your career? Do you enjoy acting and modeling?"
"At first. As a kid, I loved going to the movies. It was sort of an escape, you know, and I wanted to be an actor. Thought it would be fun. But, I haven't ever been taken seriously as an actor. I've been sent to acting school, but keep being cast as the dumb blonde."
"I regret posing nude. Of course, I regret that. But, you need to understand I only did it for the money – had bills to pay, you know. And I was told my face would be unrecognizable. Just one more lie told to me!"
She grew angry, gritting her teeth, spitting out, “This conversation is pointless!"
“Maybe so, but do you have anything better to do at this moment?”
Her furrowed perfectly-lined brows relaxed and she took another slow drag from her cigarette and looked around her.
I gently pressed, “It’s not so easy is it – to find that one pivotal point in time that led you to your life as it is today?”
She merely shook her head and sat quiet and thoughtful.
"What's the last thing you can remember doing that you felt good about?"
Her eyes looked upward and her full lips puckered. "I guess ... writing. Yes … writing. Would you believe I was told I was really good at it?"
"Why, yes, I would. Tell me more."
This memory was an awakening for her. Her mood lightened, and her voice rose to an excited pitch. "Well, I started writing in junior high school and continued writing in high school. I even wrote for the school newspaper." She stopped talking, seemingly waiting for a response from me.
"That's very interesting ... please continue."
"My English teacher said I showed promise. Even Arthur said I had the instincts and reflexes of a poet. He really did and he's a famous playwright!"
She smiled, genuinely smiled for the first time that night. "I know what I would do differently."
"Please, tell me."
"Well, the family I was living with at the time … I guess I was around sixteen … had to move and couldn't take me with them. So, they proposed the solution of me marrying their neighbor. 'He'll take care of you,' they'd said. It wasn't what I wanted, but I dropped out of school and married him. After all, it would mean I finally had a family of my own."
My voice caught in my throat as I asked, "And a stable family was something you'd never had?"
She nodded her head in confirmation. "The thing is ... my English teacher, Mr. Henley, offered me a chance to live with him and his wife. He said he'd help me become a writer, but I didn't see that as the better choice at the time.
"You know, I still love literature. I read it and own lots of books. I've even tried writing notes, stories, and poetry. You know, other things too. I had shown Arthur when we were married."
"It sounds like you've discovered your initial point of regret, Norma Jeane."
“I suppose, although, I’m not sure what the point of this journey down memory lane is.”
In that instant, time froze. It took her a few moments to notice we were the only two people moving.
Rapidly fluttering her lengthy, mascara-laced lashes, she then rotated her head in all directions, looking around the room. “What is this? What’s happening?”
“I thought it was time to show you the realness of your situation. If I can stop time like this, do you not think I’m capable of sending you back in history to redo a choice – a reboot of sorts?
"Before you answer, think about this. What would the world be like if there was no Marilyn?"
Taking another sip from her drink, she sat quietly contemplating my question. After some time passed, she buried her cigarette butt in the ashtray, turned towards me, and locked her blue eyes with mine. "This world is full of blonde bombshells." Smirking, she continued, "Let Jayne Mansfield have the title."
It seemed she'd made her decision, so I extended my hand and she took it, allowing me to lead her out the door of the lavish party and back to her chosen point of regret.
Before I released her hand, I took one last look at her – the daughter I'd never known. Do I have regrets? Absolutely. It was too late for me though, I'd missed my chance to be a real father to her and wouldn't reveal myself at that point, leaving her to think Gifford was her father. Her mother made me swear I would never reveal myself; I admit she had a good reason. Upon seeing her tragic future though, I'd begged Him for the chance to come back and give her another chance … a re-do to hopefully change her fate. It was the least I could do...
I sat in his classroom crying. "I don't want to marry him and drop out, Mr. Henley, but I have no choice. My foster parents are moving and can't take me with them. And you know, I don't have anywhere else to go. James is a nice man and will take care of me … I hope."
"Norma, you have real potential as a writer. I hate to see you throw all that talent away."
"I'll be a housewife, maybe. Maybe that'll make me happy."
"Someone with your creative spirit will never be happy with that life."
He put his head in his hands and sighed. Finally, he looked up and said something unexpected. "How would you like to live with me and my wife until you get your high school degree? Then, we'll help you see about getting into college to continue your writing?"
Well, I'd lived with many different couples by that time, and many of the men weren't so nice to me. Would Mr. Henley be any different after I moved in?
"I appreciate the offer, Mr. Henley. May I think about it tonight?"
"Sure, Norma. Sure."
I didn't sleep that night, which wasn't all that unusual for me. When I finally did, a voice spoke to me in a dream. It was a man's voice that seemed familiar, but I couldn't place it. Somehow, I sort of felt I needed to listen to him.
The next day I walked into his English class feeling better than the day before. He looked up at me, waiting for me to speak.
"Mr. Henley … I accept your offer."
And just like that, I had another family. My life had been kind of grim up to that point, so I didn't have really high expectations. The Henleys turned out to be really nice though, especially Mr. Henley. He never laid a hand on me like some other men had. You know, it was hard to believe at times, but I'd finally found a safe home.
Oh, I liked sex. Liked it a lot. My curves drew a lot of attention to me. Men would whistle and whatever when I walked around the college campus.
I liked the parties too, but always remembered Mr. Henley's words to me. "Now, Norma," he'd said, "a girl like you should stay away from liquor and drugs. It's out there and they'll be some who'll want you to try it, but don't. It'll just muddle your mind, stifling your creative spirit."
I promised him I wouldn't try it, and I didn't, but he had never mentioned cigarettes. My roommate said, "Here, Norma, try it," and handed me my first cigarette. "All the men will think we're older."
I rolled the cigarette between my fingers, getting a feel for it, then held it out for her to light. Once lit, I took my first drag and spent the next five minutes coughing with my throat burning like I'd swallowed fire. "Oh, Ruby, it's awful!"
Not one to give up so easily, I tried again and again until I got used to it. We practiced holding our Luckies in the mirror and blowing smoke, trying to look sexy. The best part was I realized smoking sort of calmed me down … you know, settled my nerves.
I told Ruby, "Well heavens, there are worse things I could become addicted to, I guess."
As far as men, I had my share, usually preferring older men, but nothing serious. I never wanted to be a kept woman, you know. It was important to take care of myself and be free to make my own choices. Meeting Mr. Henley changed me. I knew how a man should treat a woman, and demanded respect.
1947 - 1957
Feeling more confident with my writing, I entered a screenwriting competition. And although I didn't win, I got noticed. A small studio contacted me to work on a television script.
"Why was I not given credit as a screenwriter?" I barged into his office after brushing past his secretary.
The producer had me promptly escorted out of his office. That was a hard lesson about working in a man's world. There was no one I could turn to, and I was heartbroken.
After crying into my pillow all night, I wanted to quit, but something inside me wouldn't let me. Before long, another studio called, proposing a project for me to help develop. I took the writing job but insisted on a contract this time to get the credit I deserved.
Well, from that point, one thing led to another, and within a few years, Twentieth Century Fox had heard my name. "Miss Baker, we need a script for females that a female audience will relate to. So, we need a female screenwriter. We want you, Miss Baker."
Many female stars also pitched female screenwriters, like me, thinking only a female could do their role justice. That wasn't true, of course, but that belief helped me. And you know, because I liked sex, I was good at writing about it. I made it playful and even sort of funny at times. It was like luck had found me and I found myself sought after in the film industry which I had always adored.
Getting involved with the studios meant finding out about all the best restaurants and clubs. Ciro's on Sunset Boulevard was my absolute favorite. Oh gees, I loved that place. It was so glamorous. Why they had a red ceiling and red silk wall sofas that perfectly complimented my favorite red lipstick.
One night, I was at a star-studded soiree at Ciro's and heard a voice behind me. "Hello, Norma," I turned around to see Humphrey Bogart standing behind me. "Would you like a drink?" he continued.
I allowed him to lead me to one of the sofas along the back wall and knew at that moment I was somebody important in Hollywood.
So sure, I liked the parties, it was how you made connections in this business. But, I also had a front-row seat to what that life did to some and knew if someone like me got too close I'd get into trouble. Like big trouble.
Years later, I attended a studio party and How to Marry a Millionaire's director, Jean, said something, well, sort of incredible to me. I was enjoying my cigarette and he said, "Norma, with your beauty and charisma, you should be in front of the cameras, not behind them."
I laughed and said, "Only if I can write my part, Jean."
He winked at me and offered, "Maybe that could be arranged."
Having been working behind the scenes for a while, I had seen how the actors were treated. Controlled. Manipulated. Why would you believe some were even told when they could go to the bathroom?
Flipping my brown curls over my shoulder, I replied, "No, Jean, I'd have a nervous breakdown for sure and need much more than this cigarette to live through it."
"Pleasure to meet you, Miss Baker." He extended his hand to me. "I'm Arthur. Arthur Miller."
Why as soon as our fingers touched, I felt sort of a spark. Really, I did.
"Of course, I know who you are, Mr. Miller. I'm a big fan of your work."
"Please, call me Arthur. And I'm a fan of yours, Miss Baker."
I flashed him my brightest smile. "And you may call me Norma Jeane, or just Norma."
"With this ring, I thee wed."
My blue eyes never left Arthur's eyes as he slipped the ring on my finger. I never thought I could love a man as much as him, or a man like him would love me as much back. One by one, my dreams were coming true.
As Arthur and I sat in the theater, waiting for the premiere of Some Like it Hot, he leaned over and whispered, "I'm so proud of you! Are you excited?"
"Well, yes, of course. I still can't believe Billy Wilder asked me to help him with the screenplay."
"And I can't wait to see the performances by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis! It's all incredible, darling!" He gushed, squeezing my shoulder with his arm around me.
During the movie, I experienced sort of strange feelings, sort of like I'd been there before. It was surreal, really. Yes, that's the best word – surreal. After that movie, I had writing offers pouring in. It was something, really. My name was being spread around Hollywood and New York City, too.
June 1, 1963
I'd never been happier, and this birthday seemed especially important, as if I'd reached a great milestone, even though I was only thirty-seven.
Surrounded by our dear friends, Arthur moved behind me, hugging me from the back, encircling my growing tummy. "Happy Birthday, my love."
I turned my head and kissed him, staining his mouth with my red lipstick. I loved my husband, and looked around the room smiling at the life we'd built. My heavens, my early years had been kind of dark, but I had found happiness. I really had finally found happiness!
For some reason, my mind then took me back to that lonely little girl sitting in the movie theater all those years ago, somehow wanting to be a part of it all. Oh yes … acting had been appealing I guess, but would have been really hard for someone like me. I'd have surely suffered stage fright of the worst kind. Yes, writing for movies had been the better choice. You know, I think things worked out just fine for me.
And the world knows my name – Norma Jeane Baker, a famous screenwriter.