Being an honorary “old folk” myself with a shoulder that can predict oncoming rain, sometimes I can’t help but groan along with them — there are too many choices these days. Take, for example, the perfectionist’s hunt for the definitive biography on Marilyn Monroe . . . one of those horribly frustrating exercises in futility. Since the number of biographies on Norma Jeane and Marilyn limits itself to a million or two, not only do I not know which book to buy, but also I haven’t a clue as to how, where, or even whether I should buy it. As much as I love libraries, voracious highlighting of a genetic nature has trickled down to me, mutating itself into uncontrollable underlining. On top of the pride of ownership, it’s hardly surprising to those who know me that I’m not good at having time limits when it comes to borrowing. Famous or not, we’re all allotted a slice or two of our own madness.
“Please pass the salt” is standard table manners for many biographies, I realize, but I narrowed it down to a few final contestants and finally chose The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli. Indeed I fell for the starred reviews I read online, and since my shoulder was feeling okay, I put on my cutest “sunny day” shoes and visited a used bookstore (with actual books and actual people in it). One of my favorites in San Francisco has a little orange cat that strolls around like a security guard, and happily it was there that I found a hardcover that I can’t be bothered to put down since I brought it home. Find me an app that can match the amount of fun I had that day!
In Don’t Bother to Knock, Marilyn tackles the role of Nell Forbes, an unstable young woman hired to babysit for a couple in a New York hotel. Another recent arrival to the hotel is the handsome Richard Widmark, a pilot who has just been given the brush-off by lounge singer Anne Bancroft (in her first film). Had I not seen Miss Bancroft’s name in the opening credits, I wouldn’t have recognized her until that wonderfully distinctive mouth of hers started moving. Aside from being one of my favorite actresses, it always tickled me that the woman who would elegantly devour the role of Mrs. Robinson was married to the adorable, pocket-sized Mel Brooks. But before she was seducing listless college graduates, Anne Bancroft was breaking the heart of Mr. Widmark, boomeranging him towards a 26-year-old Marilyn Monroe who anything but good with children.
Every generation needs a “crazy babysitter” film, and for those of us who have only seen the blonde bombshell flicks, Marilyn’s Nell Forbes is somewhat of a surprise . . . she seemed determined to show Hollywood that she could act. Richard Widmark sees her from his window, and fresh on the rebound decides to come a-knocking. Gradually he realizes he shouldn’t have bothered, and there, folks, we have our wordy warning of a title. Without revealing too much of the plot, Marilyn brings to Nell a vulnerable lack of sanity that can be all-too-easily linked to stories of Marilyn’s own psychosis. For some reason I can’t accept it being that simple; the bits and pieces of background I’ve found on this film underlines how much time and effort she put into preparing for this role.
Watching her delve into the first dramatic role I’ve seen her in has given me a taste for more . . . but then again I’m happily bothered by any Marilyn that comes knocking.