ONE AFTERNOON IN 1955 1 WAS STARING INTO A GLASS OF SCOTCH AT the Gladstone Hotel in Manhattan. I had downed several, but they failed to subdue my panic. I was jammed up, and my only hope, sitting across the table and smiling serenely, was my friend Sam Shaw.
As a young editor at Redbook I had been praised and promoted, which led me to overreach so far that my job was now hanging by the thinnest thread--Sam's connection to Marilyn Monroe.
After leaving Hollywood to study at the Actors Studio, Marilyn retreated from the spotlight. For the first time in her flashbulb life she was dodging photographers and reporters.
After two dozen movies, a headline marriage, and a headline divorce, she was in New York to prepare for parts like Grushenka in The Brothers Karamazov. The papers dug out all the cliches about comedians who want to play Hamlet, underlining their ridicule with photos from The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn on the subway grate, an updraft billowing the white dress over her hips. She avoided the press almost entirely, and that made her even more desirable. A hard-to-get Marilyn was news.
My crisis began when I did something way out of character. I saw an ill-lit print of her in an Actors Studio class, covered by a camel's hair coat and no makeup. A line flashed through my head: THE MARILYN MONROE YOU'VE NEVER SEEN, and with no hesitation I persuaded my boss to engrave it on the July cover, which went to press 10 days before the rest of the magazine. I was jumping out of a plane without knowing if the parachute would open.
As I took the plunge, I knew who would be with me--my best friend, the photographer Ed Feingersh, who knew all about parachuting. Some of his daring must have rubbed off on me, and we sat in Costello's saloon planning our assault on Fortress Marilyn.
Three days later we had nothing. It dawned on me that while he was a daredevil, Eddie had no gifts as a stalker. The first afternoon he waited for hours in the lobby of Marilyn's hotel, took a minute to make a phone call, and returned to find some kids waving the little Kodak Brownies that were the ubiquitous inexpensive camera of the day: "She posed for us!"
With blank pages looming in the July issue, I called Sam, a photographer who wanted to be a movie producer and had worked hard at friendships with Hollywood's rising generation, among them Ella Kazan, Marion Brando, and Marilyn. Sam and I had once shared an office, and he agreed to help.
At the Gladstone, Sam had called Marilyn on the house phone. As usual she was running late. We were nursing our drinks when a tall, tanned man looked into the room and headed for the table.
"Sam, how are you?" said Joe DiMaggio, sitting down. "Marilyn told me you were here."
A few months earlier, avoiding reporters as usual, DiMaggio had been seen leaving divorce court in obvious sorrow and anger. Now here he was, fresh from his former wife's room, talking, almost babbling about her with a schoolboy smile on his face, telling Sam how happy he was that she was away from "that movie crowd." Moreover, the notoriously jealous DiMaggio was pressing him to see more of Marilyn. "She wants you to take her antiquing again," he said, getting up to leave. He gave me a quick nod and smile.
A few minutes later Sam put me on the house phone, and in that familiar breathy voice, Marilyn agreed to do the picture story, suggesting we meet for a drink the next afternoon.
"Why," Marilyn asked soon after we sat down, "do they print things about me that aren't true?"
It was not a rhetorical question or a complaint. We were in a cocktail lounge, and she was looking at me over her Scotch Mist with a puzzled expression, waiting for an answer. Up close, her face was pale and fragile, with no Technicolor glow, and her eyes had none of the confidence that radiated from the screen.
Within minutes it was clear she had no small talk, no social defenses. …