Marilyn Monroe sat in a leather-backed chair in the center of a long conference table made of polished maple. Her position was lazy, sitting back, somewhat lumped over. Her hair was long and bleached blond with brown roots showing from her lack of attention. She was wearing a black wool coat with large round black buttons over a yellow blouse that was a bit too tight for her bust. Marilyn was huddled in her coat, still feeling the cold wet weather of January in New York City. It was 1961, and the new decade was dark and cold to her. So dark that it prompted Marilyn to come to her lawyer's office and sign the last will and testament that she had been advised to execute a few years ago but never thought it necessary.
Opposite Marilyn sat her lawyer and two witnesses. This was a hastily called meeting. The witnesses were called in the morning and advised to be at the office at two sharp. Marilyn actually showed up at noon, early for an appointment, which was atypical for her. She had slept on the couch in the lawyer's office for an hour when she arrived, and then paced back and forth in the conference room where they were now. She ran out briefly without telling anyone why, and then returned at two, looking haggard and cold, the state she was in now as she sat opposite the three men.
"Here is a copy of your proposed last will and testament," said the lawyer.
The lawyer placed a blue-backed document on legal-sized paper in front of Marilyn, turning it on the polished table to face her. Marilyn glanced at the document without adjusting her position in the chair. Her eyes fell on the document and the blank dead stare she brought with her to the lawyer's office morphed into a serene interest in the document. She was not really reading it, she did not touch it, and she certainly did not fully understand it, but Marilyn was very much entranced with the notion that these white papers with black letters had something to do with her future death.
Marilyn was on a wine bender the last few days. The election of Jack Kennedy had placed a cloud over her life. JFK was to be inaugurated in a week or so as President of the United States, but his election created a distance between Marilyn and him. Marilyn and JFK had shared the same bed on several occasions, the meeting each time arranged by Jack's younger brother, Robert. Often this occurred in Las Vegas, once in Chicago, once in Miami. Marilyn enjoyed Jack's company. He was in constant physical pain, but always optimistic. Marilyn felt she was in constant pain as well, but not of the physical kind, and her optimism was waning.
Marilyn was torn between Kennedys. With all the running around and scheduling arrangements that Robert Kennedy had made on behalf of his brother, Marilyn and Robert had grown close. Robert was healthier than Jack and was more tender than Jack who often only seemed interested in the sex. Jack was a taker. Robert was a giver, sort of. His Catholicism was a check on his generosity. Like so many men, Robert desired Marilyn, but their one time in bed was torture for him. He made love, but couldn’t look at Marilyn during the act. Robert seemed honest and sweet and smart, and appeared to truly care. But it was appearances, in the end, that defined him with Marilyn. That became crystal clear with Robert Kennedy’s phone call last week when he advised that things would have to change. I mean, afterall, Robert Kennedy’s brother was now president, and he could not risk the fallout from contact with a Hollywood movie star. Two brothers, Jack who would have Marilyn without care or thought, the other, Robert, who would have Marilyn with too much care and too much thought. Both Kennedys willing to take from Marilyn, and ultimately both willing to dump her. Marilyn was so tired of being groped and tossed away. That is what she felt today. Tired. Sad. Drained. Left behind. Would this continue? Could she take back control of herself, of the thing that everyone wanted?
Marilyn Monroe felt lost, unloved, used and abused. If there was not a man waiting for her at the end of the day, she looked forward to wine or pharmaceuticals. It was either-or for her. Occasionally she would call her mentor, Lee Strasberg, but lately this was not producing any benefits. Lee was imposing some kind of professional distance between the two of them, and she could not help think that Lee was displeased with her acting work. Marilyn had dredged the deepest corners of her past for Lee, for the acting work, but Lee never seemed entirely satisfied. She obsessed about her acting so much, that it sometimes felt like her entire life had become about the Method, staying raw, with emotional blisters oozing from moment to moment. Lee had given her the keys to turning it on, but she did not know how to turn it off.
"You understand the terms of your will?" asked the lawyer.
Waking up in the morning was complicated for Marilyn, how could a legal document be understandable. She was feeling very vulnerable. She could not bring herself to reading the will.
"So, I see all these names here," said Marilyn. At this point she reached out and flipped the pages of the will with her left hand, looking at the names of the people Marilyn had decided to leave things to, each name typed in all capital letters. There they all were, the names, Bernice Miracle, May Reis, Norman and Hedda Rosten, Patricia Rosten, Lee Strasberg, her mother Gladys Baker, Michael Chekhov's wife and Marilyn's psychotherapist, Marianne Kris. All the names. All the people who were going to take from her. Of course, they were not taking, she was giving. But that is not how she perceived it at that moment. Everyone was taking.
Marilyn thought of Joe. That's Joe DiMaggio. Joe had a temper. Her marriage to him lasted less than a year because of his temper. But he had changed lately. Joe had seen a therapist and was learning to control his rage. Joe was the first man ever to take steps to make himself a better person for her, for Marilyn. And he truly cared.
Joe's name was not in the last will and testament on the conference table. Joe had money. And Joe told her to do the right thing and take care of the people who needed it. That was Joe. Bottom line, always thinking of her. Marilyn thought maybe Joe DiMaggio was the only man whoever touched her with hands of true love, with compassion, with tenderness, who saw her body as part of Marilyn’s essence, not an object to fawn over or to use and manipulate. Marilyn thought of her body. She looked at her hands and ran them up her arms as if she were warming herself.
"You should read it carefully before you sign," said the lawyer.
"I am leaving my personal effects and my clothing to Lee, Lee Strasberg," said Marilyn.
"Yes," said the lawyer.
"Personal effects being?" asked Marilyn.
"Your things. Anything you own that is not real estate or money or securities," said the lawyer.
"So Lee gets everything but the money?" asked Marilyn.
"Well, Lee is getting your personal effects and clothing. By the way, why did you ask me to list clothing specifically as something to give Mr. Strasberg?" asked the lawyer.
"He was always telling me how to dress. He was always making suggestions, trying to help me, I don't know, to make me pretty, cute. He told me clothes are important. The right clothes are things he thought would be good for my career. He would buy me stuff too. So I thought I would give it all to him. Maybe that's stupid. Is that stupid?" said Marilyn.
"No. But you also mention Mr. Strasberg in the residual clause?" said the lawyer.
"The what?" asked Marilyn.
"Mr. Strasberg gets anything and everything else that you neglected to mention in your will," said the lawyer.
"Oh," said Marilyn to herself. "But I have nothing else," said Marilyn. She touched the will as she said this and noticed her hands again. She had always liked her hands. They were not small, but were thin and strong. She had always felt weak and vulnerable, but her hands reminded her that she could be strong. A thought occurred to her.
"Who takes my body after I die?" asked Marilyn.
Marilyn Monroe's question about who takes her body after she dies struck the lawyer as bizarre. It was not an ownership issue, or he didn't think so.
"Why do you ask?" asked the lawyer.
“You said Lee gets everything left over, the residual clause; he gets everything that is not mentioned in the will. Who gets my body? Who gets my body after I die?” asked Marilyn.
"Who do you want to get it, your body, Miss Monroe?" asked the lawyer, thinking he would play along with the line of thought. The lawyer felt a bit mischievous.
"Do I give it to someone? Do I give my body to someone?" asked Marilyn.
"The typical provision is that you direct your executor to bury you, possibly in a particular burial plot, or you can direct your executor to cremate you," said the lawyer.
"So no one gets my body? My body becomes free from people wanting it, grabbing it, taking it, stealing it, groping it? My body and me, me, finally becomes free from all these people who will take it anytime they want?" said Marilyn.
The question was awkward. The lawyer now regretted encouraging this. In addition, Marilyn seemed like she was losing touch with the reality of the moment, and she did not grasp the unseemliness of her inquiries. The lawyer suppressed thoughts of Marilyn’s body and tried to stick with the law.
"As a technical matter, no one takes ownership of your body. But possession is nine tenths of ownership. So if you die from suspicious circumstances, or circumstances that require the medical examiner to get involved, he would take possession of your body to make a medical determination of death," said the lawyer.
"How do I stop that?" asked Marilyn.
"You can't. But there is no reason to believe that your death will be anything but normal. Miss Monroe, in the legal sense, there is no title to your body, like you would have title to an animal. Title in humans ended with slavery," said the lawyer.
"You mean I do not own my body? I do not own me?" asked Marilyn.
"In the sense that you and I think about owning our bodies, yes, you do. But that way of looking at it evaporates when you die. The disposal of human remains is governed by law," said the lawyer.
"But it is not just my body. It is me. Who will own me?" asked Marilyn.
The lawyer did not know what she was specifically referring to. And he was beginning to conclude that she was a little loopy from drugs or lack of sleep. Marilyn did not look well, and he thought it best to end this discussion.
"No one will own you. You will die with your death, and your body will be dealt with in accordance with statutory law," said the lawyer.
“But the will does not say that,” said Marilyn.
“Wills do not dispose of bodies, Miss Monroe. If you would like, I can express your wishes for a burial or cremation?’ said the lawyer.
"I don’t want to think about that. I just…I just do not want anyone to use me. I don't want anyone to use me or my body. I don't want anyone to use me or my body, you promise me that," said Marilyn.
The two witnesses at the conference table looked at each other and at the lawyer. This was weird. Marilyn was on the verge of tears, and they did not wish to have a scene.
"I can promise you Marilyn that you and your body will not be anyone's property after your death," said the lawyer.
Marilyn thought of Joe DiMaggio again. If anyone could have her, it would be him. He was really the only one she trusted. The thought was brief, though. She was too scared to even think of the matter. Afterall, what would Joe do with her after she died.
"Where do I sign?" asked Marilyn.