Quantcast

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? | The Nation

  •  

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

Character and plot composed through innumerable manifestations of voice--for example, Norma Jeane's "earliest memory, so exciting! Grauman's Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. This was years before she'd been able to comprehend even the rudiments of a movie story, yet she was enthralled by the movement, the ceaseless rippling fluid movement, on the great screen above her."

About the Author

Lawrence Joseph
Lawrence Joseph
Lawrence Joseph's most recent books of poems are Into It and Codes, Precepts, Biases, and Taboos: Poems 1973-1993,...

Norma Jeane on her sixth birthday, June 1, 1932, with Gladys--"Mother"--young and beautiful, who works at a menial job at The Studio. But there is no Father--who is Norma Jeane's father? Norma Jeane, who loved to be read to by Gladys because it meant more calm, not "sudden bursts of laughter, or cursing, or tears"; Gladys reading to her from The Little Treasury of American Verse, a poem of Emily Dickinson's: "Because I could not stop for Death,/He kindly stopped for me;/The Carriage held but just Ourselves/And Immortality." So, too, Norma Jeane her whole life secretly will name her own characters in the poems she writes, in her tragic--or is it comic?--play, her own invented movie script: Father, Mother, Fair Princess, Dark Prince, Baby, Magic Friend, Rumpelstiltskin, Rin Tin Tin, The Sharpshooter, the Ex-Athlete, the Playwright, Beggar Maid, the President. Mystery. Death.

In the City of Sand, Los Angeles--"built on sand and it is sand. It's a desert," Gladys tells her. During the fire season, autumn 1934, Gladys mentally disintegrates (she will be put into a state psychiatric hospital), a "crying sniveling child beside her," an 8-year-old with a stammer. There is no one to take care of her after her grandmother dies, so she is placed into the custody of the state. Norma Jeane--"I am so ashamed, nobody wants me, I want to die"--a girl of 12, boys and men sexually aroused by her ("Look at the ass on that one, the little blonde!"), hearing, yet blushing and indignantly not-hearing, taught Christian Science by the director of the orphanage ("That God is Mind, and Mind is all, and mere 'matter' does not exist"), self-consciously ashamed of her body, startled by her first menses, the heavy flow of her blood. Norma Jeane, 15, living in the foster home of Elsie and Warren Pirig, writing poems and prayers, her sexuality driving men crazy, involved--to what extent?--with several (some of them married), unsuccessfully trying out for the cheerleading team, the Van Nuys high school play (Thornton Wilder's Our Town), the girls' choir. Married at 16 ("Where was the bride's mother?") to Bucky Glazer, five years older than she is, an embalmer's assistant who also works the night shift at Lockheed Aviation. Norma Jeane is "sexy like Rita Hayworth. But a girl you'd want to marry like Jeanette MacDonald." For Norma Jeane: "The fundamental truth of my life whether in fact it was truth or a burlesque of truth: when a man wants you, you're safe." Only a year later: "She's sucking me dry. She's driving me away.... And the weird thing is, I don't think she feels much, in her actual body. The way a woman is supposed to feel." Then the day that Bucky informs her that he's enlisted in the merchant marine: "No, Daddy! You can't leave me. I'll die if you leave me"--Norma Jeane clutching at him, moaning, her breasts pressed against his sweaty chest, trying to straddle him, smacking her thighs against him, coiled tense and quivering. "Stop it!" he shouted into her face, "Stop it! You sad, sick cow."

Eighteen now, living by herself, working in an aircraft factory--"She was a working girl now"--loading airplane fuselages with liquid plastic. Pain and fever and severe menstrual cramps. "Now there was no one who loved her. Now she was on her own," 20 years old, divorced (which she mentions to her mother--diagnosed "acute chronic paranoid schizophrenia with probably alcoholic and drug-induced neurological impairment"--on one of her frequent visits to the state hospital). Discovered by a photographer, "as if whoever held that camera was her closest friend. Or maybe it was the camera that was her closest friend," and made into a Pinup. A Preene model and a contract player at The Studio. "The truth was, her life was hard work, anxious work." At an acting class she's laughed at: "Your insides don't match your outside. You're a freak." A meeting arranged by her agent with the head of The Studio, Mr. Z. "Who's that blonde looking like a tramp one of my so-called friends reported to me Mr. Z had said of me." "Mr. Z pushing her toward a white fur rug saying, Get down Blondie--and "the hurt of the Thing of hard rubber, I think greased & knobby at the end shoved first between the cracks of my buttocks & then up inside me like a beak plunging in." "Inside my clothes I was bleeding." Later that day, she's told she'll be cast in the movie. She will need a new name. "I am twenty-one years old & I am MARILYN MONROE." "Later that day the start of my NEW LIFE."

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.