Sunday, August 19, 2012

Waccabuc Wedding

Hanging out at Mead Chapel

 Wedding Day. Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, July 1956

My happy place. Lake Waccabuc
When I was a very little kid Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller showed up in New York, in search of a setting for their wedding. A small, family-owned chapel near our house at Lake Waccabuc was considered. But the good people in charge of the lovely Mead Chapel vetoed the Miller/Monroe bid to wed in that breathtakingly beautiful place because of the event’s attaché of friends and family, fans, reporters, photographers and assorted rubber-neckers. Who could resist the chance of a glimpse of America’s most famous sexpot? None of our neighbors wanted that kind of a circus going on in our back yards. It was probably a wise decision. On the day of their civil wedding ceremony, a young reporter from Paris-Match magazine was killed when her car, racing along a curving country road toward the Monroe/Miller pre-nup press conference, crashed into a tree. And so the couple slipped into the White Plains County Court House and quietly married. Two days later, July 1, 1956, there was a small and private Jewish ceremony in the Waccabuc home of Miller’s literary agent, Kay Brown. Those are the facts. But, as I said, I was a wee thing then and somehow I got it into my head that the wedding had actually happened at the Mead Chapel. Many times I hiked past that sweet spot and thought of Marilyn, who died her infamous death just six summers later. For years I took visitors to see the chapel where, I told them, Marilyn Monroe married. I posed for pictures there. I meditated there. I had schoolgirl dreams of having my own wedding there. Perhaps if Marilyn's wedding had happened in that beautiful chapel a brighter light might have shone on Marilyn’s marriage, and on the rest of her sad life.
     Marilyn was 30 years old when she married Arthur Miller. I think it was her finest hour. In photos taken at the time, Marilyn seems at the very height of her spectacular luminescence, clutching the arm of her husband like a grateful survivor plucked from an icy sea after a shipwreck. I once read that on the back of one of those wedding pictures she’d written “Hope. Hope. Hope.”
     Would it be too melodramatic to say I felt some of my finest hours there at Waccabuc? I remember when my parents were happy there. I remember the monstrous groans of the lake when it was frozen over with ice on full-mooned winter nights. I remember the first delicious dip into the lake on warm days in late May. My friend Tina Kaupe, who also lived in Waccabuc as a child, and I sometimes talk about Waccabuc, of how much we loved growing up there, of how we love it still, and of how, if one of us were to hit the lottery, the first thing we would surely do is buy a house there.
Producer Frank Taylor is the guy holding up the ladder. On the set of The Misfits. 1960.
The Misfits was Clark Gable's last film. Marilyn's last, too.
      Remembering Marilyn is a trek along a marshy trail of historic images, movie stars, black and white TV, neurosis, champagne, pills, erotica, expectations, sex-pectations, literature, film, profound hunger, horror, greed, but also, fun. I have a Marilyn Monroe Museum in my head and I visit it often, lifting each bitter and sweet truth up to the light like a diamond with a thousand glittering facets. I never tire of turning the prism of Marilyn’s light this way and that. I have a shelf bulging with Marilyn books, a collection that grows with each birthday and Christmas. I have Marilyn knic-knaks, a magnet on my fridge, a postcard on permanent display on my dresser, an Andy Warhol print of Marilyn on my bedroom wall.
    “How many times did you think of Marilyn Monroe today?” I asked my husband, as I was writing this.
     “Um . . . not once,” he answered. “Why? Is something going on with her?”
My friend, Key West writer Alyson Crean, grew up in Nevada and remembers drinking with her father at this Dayton, Nevada bar, used as a setting in The Misfits.
     Something is always going on with her! Marilyn is a template, a role model and a cautionary tale. Marilyn is every woman, realized, failed, reinvented, loved, adored, maimed and murdered. And finally, a legend. I was in a store the other day examining a display of Marilyn Monroe clocks. A young girl was looking at them, too.
     “I love Marilyn,” she sighed. “I’m gonna see if my mom will buy this for me.”
     “What do you like about Marilyn,” I asked her.
     “I love her self-confidence,” she said, testifying to Marilyn’s remarkable skill as a model.
I was greatly impressed by the film, My Week with Marilyn. As a major Marilyn fan, I didn’t expect much from it. I can’t think of any movie about Marilyn that justly portrays Marilyn as I understand her, till now. I was mesmerized. Actress Michelle Williams creates a very real Marilyn, the very woman I believe Marilyn Monroe to have been. I believe Marilyn was that forlorn and lost beauty portrayed by Williams, who surely studied Marilyn and nailed her character better than anyone ever before. In that film Marilyn is portrayed as a user and a self-abuser, luscious as a ripe piece of fruit, and clearly destined, as we all are, to lose. Williams gave us a glimpse into the frail heart and simpering soul of a very sad woman. Indeed, Marilyn had lost so much by the time she was 36 years old that the normal course of human events became too heavy a burden for her to bear, well before it does for most of us. Frank Taylor, producer of the film, The Misfits, lived in Key West. The film was written by Arthur Miller as a homage to his famous wife. Of course I asked Taylor to tell me about Marilyn, as she was when he knew her, near the end of her remarkable life.
     “She had a need to seduce every man, woman and child she ever met,” Frank said. “And it worked. Everyone fell in love with her. She used the story of her horrible childhood for sympathy. You wanted to protect her."
After the fall . . . Marilyn seems small, drained of vitality, in this June, 1962 photo. Weeks later, she was dead.
      Frank went on to explain how once Marilyn had someone securely in her thrall, her warm charm could quickly turn to cold contempt. And so she was not to be trusted. And she trusted no one.
     There is a scene in The Misfits where Marilyn’s character celebrates newly constructed stairs, built for her by her lover Clark Gable. The three steps enable her to easily enter or exit their very modest shack. Marilyn goes up and down those stairs, gleeful, childlike, saying: “I can go in. I can go out. I can go in. I can go out.” And so she lived her life. Going in. Going out. Going in. Going out. And going out.