Following the recent French reissue of Norman Rosten’s memoir of Marilyn (see here), his daughter Patricia has given a rare interview to Ludovic Perrin for the weekly newspaper, Le Journal du Dimanche (JDD.)
“New York, 1955, an afternoon of heavy rain. The photographer Sam Shaw proposed to the young woman who served as his model to find refuge with a friend: the poet Norman Rosten. This friend didn’t immediately recognise Marilyn Monroe behind this girl with short, soaked hair. But she spotted the writer’s book sitting on a table, Songs for Patricia, which he had written for his beloved daughter. Between them, it was a friendly thunderbolt. From that day until her death on August 4, 1962, Norma Jeane Baker found in Norman Rosten, his wife Hedda and their daughter Patricia an adoptive family. In 1973, Rosten recounted her memories in a book presenting the star in a new light, both intimate and comical. Marilyn – Shadow and Light (Seghers) is reissued today on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the death of the most emblematic actress of the 20th century. Although Marilyn is no longer here to speak for herself, Patricia, 75, recounts these shared moments which continue to shine inside her.
What first memory do you have of Marilyn Monroe?
I was an 8-year-old girl who accompanied her parents to their friends and who therefore sought above all to escape boredom. I remember a woman who loved children and was very good at putting them at ease. Marilyn had a joyful and childlike character, which expressed itself in our contact, when we found her in her apartment on 57th Street in New York or in Amagansett, this house on Long Island that she shared with her husband Arthur Miller.
What linked her to your parents?
They shared a taste for poetry but not only. My parents were in their forties. My mother had a maternal side which must have comforted Marilyn. We didn’t know much about her Hollywood life, where she resided much of the year except when she came to New York to take her classes at the Actors Studio. But they telephoned and wrote to each other often.
And your parents were great friends of her husband Arthur Miller…
They had known him since their studies at the University of Michigan in the late 1930s. My mother was a roommate with the woman who would become Arthur’s first wife, Mary Grace Slattery. They all ended up being neighbors in Brooklyn. Then Marilyn came on the scene… Arthur immediately fell in love and this situation complicated their friendship. My mother felt guilty towards Mary and my father was torn. Without being dramatically explosive, Marilyn’s arrival was a source of emotional tension… She liked to tease Arthur on his ‘Abraham Lincoln’ side: a tall, serious man who smiled very little when she was so bubbly. This great intellectual was everything she loved in a man. Everything about her leaned towards reading and writing. Marilyn was first of all a cerebral person. But at the time, people did not detect this aspect of her personality as her beauty was dazzling.
How was she on a daily basis?
With us, who saw her mainly indoors or in the countryside, she could be natural, without all that makeup, and in casual clothes. Once, we thought we were at peace on a deserted beach. But, quickly, one, then two, then five people began to approach. It ended in a crowd, boys and girls surrounded her, shouting and wanting to touch her. She kindly shook their hands and signed autographs. But it quickly became suffocating and my father suggested that she go swimming to escape this hysteria. As soon as they were in the water, the circle re-formed, with howls of adoration. My father and Marilyn then swam away until exhaustion. A boat ended up rescuing them…
In your father’s story, we discover a Marilyn far removed from the movie star, a normal person who wipes the dishes and sometimes does the cooking…
To be honest, I never saw her in the kitchen… Certainly, she would help when we were all together. But, as for shopping and cleaning, she surely had a maid and her fridge was always full. When she was away for a long period, she encouraged us to come and enjoy it at her place. We got to know a very different person from the woman whose white dress flutters over a subway air vent in The Seven Year Itch (1955). In fact, everyone has their own idea of Marilyn. A Japanese journalist, for example, told me that yellow was Marilyn’s favorite colour because she was Gemini. No matter how much I told him it was wrong, he didn’t want to hear it!
How was it at Marilyn’s?
I remember an apartment in a very nice building in Manhattan with a doorman at the entrance. There were two bedrooms and a large living room with a piano. She had a dog, Hugo. One day when she thought he was depressed, Marilyn gave him some whiskey and he started running all over the apartment! When they got married [in June 1956], Arthur and Marilyn bought an old farmhouse in Connecticut. It was extraordinary: each time we came, the decoration had changed. Marilyn moved a staircase, changed the location of the bedrooms. There were trees, horses, a pond and a barn. We could run around and play. For the kid that I was, this house was a paradise.
She had a strong affinity with your father. How did your mother react to it?
For a long time, I wondered how my mother did not go crazy in front of such competition. And then I ended up understanding why she accepted so easily Marilyn borrowing her husband to go to a party or to a museum: she felt confident enough with this woman not to be worried. Between my father and my mother, she was the closest to Marilyn. While mom was not particularly interested in fashion, Marilyn took her shopping and gave her countless costume jewellery. It was probably to spend some time together. In the summer of 1956, Marilyn had to go to London for the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl, with Laurence Olivier. She took my mother with her by offering her a job as an assistant. I was, moreover, the first victim of it: mum, who did not trust my father to take care of me, sent me to a holiday camp! At the end of the summer, my mother announced to Marilyn that she was returning to the United States because she had a husband and a child waiting for her. Marilyn offered to bring us to London as well. My mother held on: I had to go back to school.
If your mother was a maternal figure for Marilyn, do you feel like you were a surrogate child for her?
It’s no secret, Marilyn suffered terribly from not having children. Every Christmas, she sent me a big present, with beautiful wrapping from Bergdorf Goodman, that luxury department store on 5th Avenue. I remember unfolding the long green ribbons with a rose in the middle. For example, she gave me sweaters. Sometimes it was more improvised. One day, when I was admiring a small enamel clock at her house, she gave it to me. I never separated from it… We were very close. One evening in New York, I must have been 9 years old, I was exploring his apartment while the adults were chatting and drinking in the living room. I entered her room, where I discovered a large metal box with all her makeup accessories. As I rummaged around, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I was terribly embarrassed. Instead of scolding me, Marilyn exclaimed: ‘Don’t be embarrassed, sit down, I’ll do your makeup.’ She sat me down in front of a large mirror and put on mascara, eyeshadow, lipstick. Then she arranged my hairstyle and she accompanied me into the living room so that everyone could admire me.
Has her presence had an impact on your personality?
She strongly influenced my vision of femininity. What other better symbol? Her presence continues to live within me. If you Google me, her name always comes up next to mine. When she died, it was discovered that she had bequeathed me $6,000 in her will for my education. It was a considerable sum at the time. I could not take advantage of it right away because many years passed before I received this money due to a long estate to settle.
Marilyn died on August 4, 1962. Do you remember your last contact?
Yes, precisely. On August 5, we were having breakfast at home in Brooklyn when we heard the news on the radio. The shock was terrible. Especially since my parents had had her on the phone the day before. When the phone rang in the middle of the night, we knew it was Marilyn because she often forgot the time difference with Los Angeles! That night, my parents had a long conversation with her. It was very joyful, they were looking forward to seeing her soon in New York and she was looking forward to seeing us again. But she didn’t want to hang up, as if afraid of letting go. Even today, when I talk about it, I am sad… I am 75 years old and I am one of the last people alive to have known her, with the two eldest children of Arthur Miller, Jane and Robert. Everyone else is gone…”
Thanks to Eric at MM Fan Club Belgium