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A Legend Returns to Van Nuys High : Marilyn: A photo of the star is donated to her old school and takes its place on a library wall.

March 21, 1991|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Had she chosen the ordinary life of most of her classmates, it's doubtful anyone would remember much about the smiling blonde whose picture appears between Caroline Baeza and Bob Barker on Page 38 in the 1941 Van Nuys High School yearbook.

After all, Norma Jeane Baker only attended the school for slightly more than half of her sophomore year--between fall 1941 and spring 1942. And it was several years before the 15-year-old girl who often was reprimanded for daydreaming changed her name to Marilyn Monroe and became a Hollywood legend.

Wednesday, 49 years after Monroe left Van Nuys High School, an original 30-by-40-inch print of a photograph of the star was hung in the school's library, a gift from Robert Slatzer, a Los Angeles writer and photographer who says he was married to Monroe for five days in 1952.

The claim has not been substantiated. Slatzer, who published a biography of Monroe in 1975, has also contended that she was killed in a conspiracy because of her romantic involvement with the late Sen. Robert Kennedy. Slatzer's allegations drew widespread media attention but have not been proved.

The photo, which Slatzer said was one of Monroe's favorites of herself, was snapped shortly before her death, but has only recently been printed.

The photo is the only such memorial to the school's many alumni who went on to become celebrities, including Robert Redford, Natalie Wood and Jane Russell, a classmate of Monroe's.

Administrators and students at the school, which has a performing arts magnet program, said Wednesday that despite her tragic life, Monroe was an inspiration to young people who dream of success.

Never mind the stories that she used sex to advance her career, her bouts of severe depression, or that her life ended after she swallowed a bottle of sedatives. "She was a common person like most of the young women here," said Sylvia Arreseigor, a 16-year-old junior who collects Monroe memorabilia. "She aimed her goals high and I think people should learn from her that you don't have to quit, no matter what anybody says about you."

Even so, Sylvia, who wants to be a nursery school teacher, doubted that Monroe's success was worth the toll it took on her personal life. "Part of her life was tragic," she said. "I don't think people would want that part of her life for themselves."

"Her name is really a synonym for glamour and success. But at what price? That is her tragic flaw," school counselor Wendy Cottam said.

Slatzer snapped the photo in June, 1962, on the set of "Something's Got To Give," an unfinished film from which Monroe was fired two months before her death from a drug overdose.

Slatzer said it was the end of a long day of shooting and Monroe leaned back, pulled her right hand toward her face and nodded her head almost imperceptibly. Her eyes were watching something a thousand miles away.

"She was just sitting there all alone," Slatzer said.

Reviewing the proofs a few weeks later, Monroe pointed out the shot as her favorite, saying the distant look in her eyes reminded her of high school, when teachers often accused her of daydreaming.

"This is probably how I looked back in class," she told Slatzer.

"She was just a really average girl except she was so much more beautiful than average," said Bebe Goddard, whose parents cared for Monroe. The actress's mother was frequently institutionalized.

Goddard, who attended Wednesday's ceremony, said she and Monroe told other students at first that they were half-sisters. Goddard said she and Monroe would talk for hours about their futures, about whether they would be famous or live their lives as old maids.

Despite the often-told story that the young Monroe was so skinny she was nicknamed "Norma Jeane the Human Bean," Goddard said Monroe even then had a figure that was dangerous for a 15-year-old.

"We were the same height, same weight, same everything--except the distribution," Goddard said.

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