Local Author Writes Novel about Last Days of Marilyn Monroe's Life
August 5 marked fifty years since Marilyn Monroe’s death. Have you ever wondered what she was like in real life? It turns out that would be nearly impossible, because even when she wasn’t acting in Hollywood films, she was always playing a role. But if anyone could get inside her mind, it's local writer Adam Braver (who also writes for Rhode Island Monthly). Braver’s fiction novel, Misfit, available this week, hones in on the last weekend of the starlet's life. It also delves into her childhood, how she was discovered, the beginnings of her career, what she was like to work with, and her relationships with Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. Braver researched Monroe's personality through books, interviews, documentaries and conversations with people who had some connection to the star—to piece together the story, in which we get a real sense for the person Monroe was—or was trying to be. The book has already won the Elle Magazine Readers' Prize for August.
Here’s a Q&A with the author:
What made you decide to focus on the last days of Marilyn’s life?
I find myself thinking about those quiet moments just before everything is going to break loose (or those moments after which everything has broken loose). It felt too obvious for me to focus on the actual final moments of her life. While they are enigmatic, those moments are fairly well known for all their dramatics. The weekend before--also with much of it very unknown--seemed to have its own drama, and, at least in my mind, was the real moment where decisions of life and death were probably made. So that weekend felt like the best center for the narrative. And from there, as we move back and around certain moments of Monroe's life, I tried to mirror that idea of the quiet moment--the off-stage moment.
How did you gather all of the hard evidence to write the story?
Most of the research was done primarily via books, documented interviews, documentary films, newspaper and magazine archives, government files and biographies. It was all pretty tough, as Monroe really was such an enigmatic person. Many of the biographies and accounts were more useful in letting me see how others saw her, but still never quite broke the code of who she was. That's where being a fiction writer helps.
Did you get the chance to talk to any of the characters in the book (who are still alive) in person?
Interviewing was tough for this book. Part of this is due to the simple fact that most of the people aren’t alive, and partially because the people who are alive, have grown reluctant to talk about her. Most of the people I spoke with are not in the book. For example, a very helpful person was Ginny Blasgen, the granddaughter of the woman who owned the building that Sinatra and DiMaggio broke into (the so-called "Wrong Door Raid"). Ginny was helpful in translating some of the family memories, giving me a sense of the physical setting, and sharing her own collection of memorabilia centered on that one night. I spoke with the granddaughter of Marilyn's longtime stand-in, who helped me understand much about the idea of being on the sets during that era, the stories of being around Monroe, etc. I also endured a month-long cat-and-mouse chase with a woman named Penny, one of the trumpet players in Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators from Some Like it Hot. She lived in an old actors' home, and though I had several conversations with her roommate, I never did speak with her. I ended up writing another short piece about learning more about Penny from not being able to talk with her than I probably would have, had we been able to connect. But it didn't really fit in the book.