My Maril: Marilyn Monroe, Ronald Reagan, Hollywood, and Me
By Terry Karger and Jay Margolis
Few books, you see, have come close to capturing the heart of the Maril I knew…so I’m sharing my memories in the hope you’ll catch a glimpse of this wounded, beautiful soul who reached for fame, caught it, and frequently sought refuge from it—before suddenly passing from this world to the next and into our memories.
In a rare 1950 interview, she described the emotional scars of her childhood: “Do you know what it means to be a ‘nobody’? You have no mother or father to love and care for you…If you fall and bruise your knees, or have a nightmare and wake up terrorized in the black of night, or are frightened by imaginary ghosts or monsters, or some cruel child makes fun of your clothes and shames you in front of everybody—you have no one to go to for comfort and assurance. That’s a pretty dreadful thing for a child. It means you’re not wanted. You’re completely alone…The other thing I had was my dream. This was the most important. Because I was a very insecure little girl who cherished a very big and beautiful dream—a lonely kind of dream because no one paid the slightest attention to it.”
Daddy saw the fierce ambition and abject terror in Maril, each battling for control. Cognizant of her talent as well as her beauty, he wanted her ambition to win out over the fear—and hoped his critiques would toughen her for the challenges ahead. He didn’t want her to be yet another Hollywood casualty.
As my cousin Ben D’Aubery observed, Maril could adopt and remove her Marilyn Monroe persona at will: “She was drop-dead gorgeous, even when walking down the street unrecognized as Norma Jeane, but everybody noticed her the moment she became ‘Marilyn.’ That was strictly a character she invented; it wasn’t her, which proves how good of an actress she was.”
If ever there was a woman on the planet who was irresistible to men, it was Marilyn Monroe. And of all the men in Maril’s life, Fred Karger was the first one she truly, passionately loved—yet he was the only one who ultimately resisted her charm.
Maril had an unconventional attitude toward nudity, going back to childhood. In her autobiography, she recalled sitting in church while everyone sang, fighting the impulse to throw off her clothes and stand up naked—while asking God to stop her. As she herself explained, this was prompted by loneliness and a related need for attention. Maril’s nude fantasies came without any sense of guilt or shame. Instead, they countered the shame of being a poor orphan, forced to wear hand-me-down clothes.
Maril and Joe DiMaggio seemed perfect together. Attracted to his strength and maturity, she also loved Joe’s family just as she loved ours. What she initially didn’t realize, however, was that he expected her to quit her career for him. In Joe’s world, a woman married to become a housewife and homemaker, period. As this was a full-time job, it didn’t enter his mind that Marilyn would continue making movies— while it didn’t enter hers that she wouldn’t.
One time, after Maril and Joe announced their engagement, she was alone at the airport, wearing an ostentatious mink coat. While photographers and fans hounded her, she went to an airline counter and phoned for help…It was nearly dark when she knocked at our door with Joe’s bodyguard at her side, still frightened and shaking from her close call at the airport. I’m glad she knew our family provided a safe place where she could escape the pressures of fame.
By exposing her fragile, wounded soul—ripping open the wounds of her orphanage years and childhood sexual abuse—they unleashed emotional toxins she couldn’t endure without the anesthetic of drink and drugs. And in so doing, they helped transform this beautiful creature from a good actress to a great actress—an actress who flashed across the heavens like a meteor; brilliant for a moment, gone all too soon.
Many movie industry skeptics ridiculed Maril for studying at the Actors Studio, berating her as a “dumb blonde” who foolishly thought she could act. Those skeptics made a common mistake: they confused Maril with the roles she played. They saw her play Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes or Pola Debevoise in How to Marry a Millionaire and assumed Marilyn Monroe was just as ditzy in real life. Maril, however, was smarter than most of her critics. As she once said, “I don’t mind if people think I’m a dumb blonde, but I dread the thought of being a dumb blonde.”
And it breaks my heart that so many of her understandably aggravated directors and costars were critical of behaviors that spoke to Maril’s deeper problems—including the emotional pain constantly exposed by the Actors Studio and psychoanalysis, as well as the pills and alcohol she took as an anesthetic. It seemed everyone around her was either furious with her or taking advantage of her. Who was trying to help?
Maril’s gushing performance ignited rumors about an affair between her and the president. Kennedy must have realized that if the gossip got out of hand, it could turn into a politically ruinous scandal. And he was also aware that what he regarded as a fling between them was, through her eyes, a serious romance. So he put a stop to it by no longer returning her calls. JFK’s silence meant rejection and abandonment to Maril. Nothing, not even death, terrified her like being abandoned.
I can’t accept the official verdict that Maril committed suicide. All the friends (including Nana) who talked with her on Friday, August 3, the day before her death, said she was happy and optimistic. The coroner found her stomach suspiciously empty of any residue from all the Nembutal capsules and chloral hydrate she supposedly swallowed, yet she had enough drugs in her blood to kill three people—too many to be an accident as the autopsy surgeon Dr. Thomas Noguchi noted.
Maril feared she would be killed. She also had a problem with drugs and alcohol. If it wasn’t suicide, and it wasn’t an accident, then it had to be a homicide, death at the hands of another human being. The killers chose a perfect murder weapon—a barbiturate overdose—that would make her death appear as a suicide or an accident.
But I don’t think she ever gave up wishing she could be the wife of Freddie Karger. Had they married, how different would our lives have been? What would Marilyn Monroe’s life have been like? Would she have avoided the destructive paths that led to her death at age thirty-six? Could she have overcome her anxieties, her terrors, her tormented memories, and her fear of abandonment?
I wish Maril had understood her true worth. Her hair, eyes, lips, and body—that was surface beauty, that was an image, that was a role she played called “Marilyn Monroe.” The real Maril had an inner beauty, a sweetness, a shyness, and a tender heart toward children and animals that went so much deeper than mere sex appeal and being desirable to men.