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Al Martinez

Go Ahead, Worship Marilyn, but Don't Touch

June 11, 2001|Al Martinez

I got a telephone call the other day from a woman who said she was Marilyn Monroe. She was crying because life had been cruel to her during her time on Earth and the cruelty was continuing in her existence on the Other Side.

I didn't pay a lot of attention to the call because I knew it wasn't really Marilyn. I have it on good authority that not only is the real Marilyn happy in Paradise, but she's together with Joe DiMaggio. They have two children and are living in San Francisco. Sort of.

This comes from Kenny Kingston, celebrated psychic to the stars, who speaks often to Monroe. He contacted her on the occasion of her 75th birthday on June 1 and learned that she's studying philosophy. When she comes back within five years, she'll use her knowledge to help others. Meanwhile, she's the spiritual advisor to Melanie Griffith.

Kingston is the lighthearted "happy medium" I turn to whenever I want information about dead people. He wanted to put me in touch with my mother once, but I don't need anyone at this stage of my life dampening their fingertips with saliva to keep my cowlick down.

I called Kingston after being badgered last week by Marilyn Monroe fans stirred from their caves and burrows by the week's recognition of their goddess' birthday anniversary.

Tributes to her drifted like sacred music over the land, adding to the numinous stature that death has accorded to the woman fan magazines once called a sexpot. Dying, as one observer noted, might have been a good career move.

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What amazes me is the passion with which we view dead celebrities. In life, they might have been drunks and scoundrels, but once they kick over, they are icons to be worshiped and wept over.

Candles are burned, prayers offered and graves visited for the likes of Rudolph Valentino, James Dean, Elvis Presley, Jean Harlow, Selena Perez, John Wayne, Michael Landon and some others I can't remember.

Marilyn's fan clubs abound, from Long Beach to London, and last week three of them--Eternally Marilyn, Marilyn's Place and Norma2Marilyn--joined in L.A. to honor her memory. I'm not sure what they do at those things, but I suppose they pray, sing, clap their hands and hug.

I stopped by the Hollywood Entertainment Museum because it is offering an exhibit of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia, including pictures, posters, clothing, furniture and even a canceled check. Curator Jan-Christopher Horak says he has been bowled over by the public's interest in the exhibit and in Marilyn. He uses the term "bowled over" in a figurative way, because at 6 feet 5, he would not be easy to otherwise bowl over.

"She is no longer seen as a person or an actress," he said as I trotted behind him through the museum. "She's an image now, and the image takes on weight because of the tragedies of her life and because of her associations." He talked about the appeal of "bundled" cultural icons. Monroe's marriages to DiMaggio and Arthur Miller attract the interest of both sports fans and intellectuals. Her affairs with John and Bobby Kennedy associate her with power, and the electronic media won't let us forget that. Had television played the film clip of Marilyn singing "Happy Birthday" to JFK one more time, I would have thrown a shoe through the screen.

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I personally know people who are mad dog devotees of Lucille Ball and Betty Boop. I also know a man who has built an altar to Lenny Bruce, but I guess that isn't the same. Betty Boop wasn't a real person, but a cartoon image of the carefree, 1930ish, Charleston-dancing babe who lit up the night during the Great Depression. It doesn't matter, however, if the one we adore is real or not when the passion is real. We can feel the same about Snoopy as we do about Jesus, under the right conditions.

Marilyn Monroe is worshiped, I suppose, because she was beautiful, winsome, vulnerable, sexy and died young. It strikes at the core of our mortality. If she can be young and famous and beautiful and still die, where does that leave the rest of us who aren't? It means we can die too, but no one is going to care much when we do. No drooling fan clubs or weeping at the gravesides.

I think the remote adoration also exists because most of us need something or someone to cling to, whether physically or spiritually. That's why people have dogs and why they talk to their dead mothers' ashes.

I don't have any icons, although every once in awhile I hear a ghostly bark and think I see my old dog Hoover floating in the darkness overhead. He was an ornery old sucker, but he was mine. I'd ask Kingston to put me in contact with him, but we never did have a lot to say to each other.

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Al Martinez's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. He can be reached at al.martinez@latimes.com.

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