“Do You Want To See Her?”

PrintPrintEmailEmail

Back up on the street, Marilyn looked around with a teasing smile. “Do you want to see her ?” she asked, then took off the coat, fluffed up her hair, and arched her back in a pose. In an instant she was engulfed, and it took several shoving, scary minutes to rewrap her and push clear of the growing crowd.

The two Marilyns kept fading in and out. At the costume fitting she arrived as the Star, commanding a swarm of tailors, seamstresses, and hangers-on until the Other abruptly emerged and burst into tears of frustration over some detail of the garment. Eddie’s camera got it all, showing her rising tension against a visual jangle of wire hangers in the background. He framed the scene in the fragmented hall-of-mirrors unreality Orson Welles had created around Rita Hayworth for the finale of The Lady From Shanghai .

Late one afternoon Marilyn asked what we did at the end of the day, and we took her to Costello’s. By then John McNulty had been writing about the place in The New Yorker for years, but the proprietor, Tim Costello, managed to keep it from changing. A stern look over his teacup at the back table was more effective than the rules committee of any private club. Costello’s never went trendy in the way a cabdriver once said of another saloon, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Behind the long bar was a blackthorn walking stick that had been broken over John O’Hara’s head by Ernest Hemingway, no one remembered why. On the facing wall were huge drawings on beaverboard by James Thurber, so valued by Tim that he had had them inked over, varnished, and, when he was forced to move his establishment next door, carefully removed and remounted. The panels were brown with age and tobacco smoke.

Thurber had filled the walls with images of cowardly canines (a dog being chased by rabbits) and little men menaced by huge women (“I’m leaving you, Myra, you might as well get used to the idea,” says one in the clutch of an Amazon several times his size). Such self-mocking masculinity suited the place. Tim did not abide noisy, pugnacious drunks.

Marilyn was wearing a black sleeveless blouse and striped slacks. She sat next to the Thurber drawings at a table across from the bar.

Tim, usually wary of strangers, was clearly intrigued by the blaze of blonde hair at our table and, in a rare gesture, came over to take the orders himself.

“A screwdriver please,” Marilyn said.

Tim was expressionless.

“Vodka and orange juice,” she added.

Tim kept looking at her. “We don’t serve breakfast here,” he said.

“O.K.,” Marilyn said agreeably, “vodka on the rocks.”

Tim gave the order to his brother Joe at the bar and went back to reading his paper. Later, as Eddie was heading to the men’s room, Tim stopped him.

“Who is she?”

Eddie smiled. “Marilyn Monroe.”

Tim’s face darkened. “I ask a civil question and you get smart.”

Eddie smiled again and Tim went back to his paper.

In the hour there no one else gave Marilyn more than a quick look. As she was leaving, a photographer at the bar tapped Eddie on the arm. “If you come back later,” he stage-whispered, “bring your little friend.”

The pictures in Redbook , with my text and captions, showed an unfamiliar, vulnerable Marilyn in soft shades of black and gray. The opening spread contrasted her solitary sadness with a long shot of 200 photographers almost trampling the elephant she was riding at the circus.

In their days together, despite the disparity in looks, I could see Eddie and Marilyn were much alike. They both were somehow more directly connected to life than the rest of us, and more vulnerable. Like Marilyn, Eddie was given to self-parody to mask the pain of being defenseless against daily living and, like her, desperate to make full use of the gifts such an open nature provides.

Just as Marilyn dreaded looking less than perfect in front of the cameras and was always late, so Eddie obsessed over what he did behind the camera and would let no one else develop or print his pictures.

Each held on to an ideal of Art as if it were life itself, and, as it turned out for both of them, it was. Marilyn’s movies and Eddie’s pictures made those who saw them feel more alive but at the same time fear for their safety, sensing the price that would have to be paid for their luminous openness.

Before the year was out, the Third Avenue el in front of Costello’s was torn down, removing the pillars Tim’s regulars would use to steady themselves while hailing cabs in the morning hours.