“You wrote a screenplay?”
Wide-eyed, Del ran his fingers across the crisp, white paper, a stack of sheets bound together by brass fasteners along its left margin. He was in his early twenties.
“Don’t look so surprised,” Marilyn Monroe replied with a staccato laugh. “I’m a woman of many wonderful traits.” Though thirty-six years old, she took childlike pleasure in his reaction. Innocent. She had exquisite diction, a byproduct of training with Natasha Lytess, her first acting coach.
“When did you write this?”
“During my hiatus, the one I took after we wrapped up production on The Prince and the Showgirl. Arthur and I split our time between New York and Connecticut, and he helped me as I wrote,” she replied, her countenance now matter-of-fact, her voice sultry yet airy. “I believe it was an outlet for him, too. He was so frustrated by that time, wondering about his own future. He believed in me, and I think it helped him believe in himself. So as I wrote the scenes, he gave me advice on how to make the characters richer, more alive.”
They sat together in the living room of her home in Brentwood. “Johnny Angel” played on her phonograph. They were alone in the house.
“This must have taken a long time to write.”
“I had eighteen months before I returned to Hollywood to shoot Some Like It Hot,” she replied. Her gaze fell to the floor, and her voice grew softer. “I’d been through so much by that point. Trying to make my second marriage work. The pain of losing a child…”
As her words drifted, young Del noticed she had waded into the territory of the forlorn. For the past year, she had seemed more prone toward that tendency, and pain filled Del’s heart whenever he watched it emerge. He tried to return her attention to the script, which seemed to make her happy. It was an obvious source of pride for her.
“You never mentioned you’re a writer. Why doesn’t anybody know?”
Her countenance brightened again, and Del felt relieved. She shot him a cunning glare.
“There’s more to me than the reporters know about,” she replied with a wink, wagging a red-polished fingernail at him, ever the mentor. “Here’s an important tip for you: Never tell them everything. Always keep a little secret or two for yourself, something to hold in your heart. Something you can control in this crazy world.”
Del fanned the pages, opening the document at random points to scan snippets of dialogue. What a sense of accomplishment she must have felt! He admired its professional layout, which looked identical to the scripts he’d used on the sets. Del wondered it Marilyn had typed this on the manual typewriter he’d seen Arthur Miller use in their home.
“Is this any good?” Del asked. “I mean, have you shown it to anyone?”
“Only to Arthur, back when we were married.” She giggled in her typical Marilyn manner. “Can you imagine? The great Arthur Miller coaches Marilyn Monroe in literature,” she punctuated with a male reporter’s voice, underscoring it with faux solemnity. “You do know he rewrote the script for Let’s Make Love, don’t you? He said the original was a catastrophe and he wanted to protect me. Wasn’t that sweet? Many people don’t know that. He wrote the script for The Misfits, too. The man certainly knows what he’s doing, if you ask me. Look at Death of a Salesman. Pure genius! Regardless of how our marriage worked out, the man was a brilliant writer.”
Young Del ran his hand across Marilyn’s screenplay again, eager to read it from beginning to end. Maybe they could perform in it together!
Yet he couldn’t ignore a chill that raced up his spine. Why here? Why now?
“Why are you giving this to me?” he asked.
Marilyn regarded him a moment. Her somberness returned. Biting the inside of her cheek, she looked toward her left, which struck Del as nothing more than an attempt to procrastinate before giving him an answer. When she met his stare again, Del saw the vulnerability of a young girl. Was it a plea?
“We’re friends, aren’t we?” she whispered.
“Of course we are.”
“I need you to keep this safe for me.”
She returned it to its large envelope, along with a letter, which Del hadn’t read.
“I don’t understand. Why can’t you keep it here at home? Why won’t you show it to anybody?”
She enveloped herself in her arms, as though to comfort herself with her own embrace. Her next words sounded measured.
“Do you ever get goose bumps, Del?”
She nodded. “I’ve gotten goose bumps a lot as of late. It scares me.”
“Because I fear something is about to happen.”
Del’s pulse surged. “Don’t you feel safe? What’s going to happen?”
Her pupils shrank in what appeared to Del a blend of confusion and fear.
“It’s just a feeling I get,” she said. “Bobby and Jack—a lot of people follow them around. People who watch me. They whisper into little microphones and show up at nearby tables in restaurants when they think I don’t notice them.”
“Bobby and Jack Kennedy?” he exclaimed. “The Attorney General and the President?”
“It’s not just them,” she replied. “Joe McCarthy tried to target me as an enemy of the state, remember? And others even say I’m a danger to myself.”
Del noticed she still hadn’t answered his question: What’s going to happen?
“Should something happen to me, you’ll know what to do with this evidence.”
“They’ll use it against me. To try to say I’m crazy. And I’m not crazy, Del.” She paused, a woman in mourning. She had lost much in the last ten years. For that matter, Del wondered if she’d ever known genuine joy. “When the time is right, I’ll retrieve it from you. But for now, I can’t keep it in this house. No one can see this. I’m frightened, Del.”
“That’s silly. What do you have to be afraid of?”
“I don’t want them to send me back to that horrid place.”
“That institution. The mental one.” She closed her eyes. Wincing, she added, “I hated that place.”
When she opened her eyes, Del found them covered with a film of tears. At that point, he realized the memories she hid in the corners of her soul must haunt her. Every day.
Her jaw firmed. She blinked back her tears. Fury filled her eyes. “They’ll never lock me up like a criminal again. People have tried to lock me up all my life.”
“They have, Del. They locked me in an orphanage when I was a girl. They locked me in that horrible institution when I was an adult. I begged them not to, but that’s what happens when they believe you’re weak. When they think they can have their way with you. I’ll never let them do that to me again.”
“But if you’re scared of that, why did you take the risk by writing this?”
“I needed to get the torment out of me somehow. The anger. The pain. The pressure. The confusion—I grew up so fast. I married so young. And when I was a little girl—” Her eyes sealed shut again. She took a labored breath, regained her composure, and changed course, perhaps to escape a memory that held particular pain. “I was desperate, Del. So I poured it all into these pages. Perhaps they can lock up my body, but they can’t lock up my soul.” Tapping the envelope, she added, “This darkness is part of me. I can’t help it. This is who I am.”
Del watched as her eyes turned sullen, pleading, once again.
She placed her hand upon his. “But if they read this script—if they see what has gone through my mind—‘She’s a threat to herself,’ they’ll say. ‘She has a violent temperament. She’s sexually disturbed.’ And you know what will happen next? My independence will disappear. They’ll send me back to that horrible place. And this time, I may not escape. I almost didn’t make it out the first time.” She focused on him, the plea in her eyes growing. “Please, Del. Please take care of this. Will you promise me?”