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Growing Up in Marilyn’s Shadow

 

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WITH NINETEEN YEARS separating us, I was only a toddler, just learning to say my name, when Norma Jeane was getting used to signing autographs with the new name Twentieth Century Fox Studios had made  up for her:  MARILYN MONROE. Before I suffered the embarrassment of needing my first training bra, Marilyn was making it obvious that the more a girl had “up top” and was willing to show it off, the more she would be remembered and sought after.

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The Early Sixties

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NINETEEN YEARS MY senior, Marilyn Monroe’s images did not consciously influence my life, yet for as long as I can remember her voluptuous silhouette coexisted with my formative years. Images of her sexual receptivity proliferated in television and magazines. When I was seventeen, her shadow traversed my budding sexuality and haunted my first sexual experiences with my young husband. I married her stepson, Joey, within six months of her death.

All around me, freedom abounded during the early sixties. Girls (not me) were wearing bikinis for the first time. Sexual freedom became more common and open. Opinions about Vietnam were heated. Betty Friedan was a leading figure in this second wave of the U.S. women’s movement (the first wave of feminism being women’s right to vote). In her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, Friedan talks about the prevailing unhappiness of a large portion of women during the fifties and sixties. Men seem to believe at that time that women should be fulfilled solely by the role of homemaker. If women were not happy, they were considered neurotic or mentally unstable.

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But for the Chickens (The Faces We Live)

Brownie me5aLGrOOnh7lYG_89dErAQSo now, with all of my ten-year-old imagination and savvy, I pondered ways to remake myself. One day I watched with envy as a group of Blue Birds and Girl Scouts loaded onto a bus for a field trip. I felt that familiar pain way deep inside that seemed to say, “Only clean girls can wear uniforms.” But seeing those girls also gave me a great idea. I recalled that Girl Scouts of America had a motto about doing good deeds and that Blue Birds touted something about “being a helper  at home, school, and neighborhood.”

“That’s it, that’s it!” I exclaimed to myself. I would become a good, kind, and helpful girl to my neighbors.  The street name of our new home was Silvery Lane.  All of the homes on our long, curved street nestled up to the hill behind us, had lawns and flowers, and truly seemed silvery in reflected sunlight. I thought that the houses themselves stood proud and showed no signs of obvious neglect or shame.

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Bastar Child Un-witnessed Part V

Part five of a six part series that I wrote this past Fathers Day as my sister’s death neared. She died the next day.

When I found my sister, Nan, sixteen years ago, I responded to her first loving letter welcoming me into her heart with deep gratitude. Now, unwilling to involve anyone else in our,”undisclosed family connection”, I proceed with caution as I try and tender my goodbye’s at her impending death.

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Bastard Child Un-witnessed (part III)

It was Father’s Day 2012. My sister lay dying from her heroic battle with cancer. In this series of VI blogs I tell the story of how four generations of denial, secrecy and being the un-witnessed child led to the last forsaken phone call to my dying sister. In part III I share excerpts from my book, Ragdoll Redeemed, and the childhood obsession of meeting my father. I believed the meeting itself could redeem me from the bastard label.

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A Transition

Perhaps by now my book will be published. Actually, it was published and on the market for five days, when it was brought to my attention that there were grammatical and punctuation errors in the book (so like me) that far exceeded any acceptable mistakes, I took it off the market for additional editing. But before that happened, my plan was to write blogs that paralleled the stories, events, and people in my book.

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Miller, Monroe, When Gods Die

There was a haunting scene in the movie, My week with Marilyn which showed a devastated Marilyn having just found Arthur Miller’s notebook where he wrote about his disillusion  in their marriage. Mind you, they were still newlyweds. Shortly after her death, and much to the  dismay of many critics, portions of that notebook morphed into Miller’s broadway  play entitled, After The Fall. A review of the play in The New Haven Register stated, “It’s a universal experience that is significant to us all, that teaches us anew the duality of good and evil in man, that achieves a moving synthesis of truth and beauty.”

The article that I am writing is not about Arthur Miller’s arguable motivations for writing and releasing that play shortly after Marilyn’s death or about her feelings of betrayal. This article is about the making of gods with a small “g.”

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I’ve Been Thinking about the Effects of Sexual Abuse

“They say you soon forget the bad things in your life, and only remember the good ones. Well, maybe for others it’s that way, but not for me…” Marilyn Monroe

From the research I’ve done on  sexual abuse and the life of Marilyn Monroe, I understand that the quote above refers to the abuse that she suffered as a child. However, when speaking about childhood abuse and Marilyn, I am mindful of the difficulties of focusing on  any one form of the multiple abuses she endured. She was born out of wedlock─a shameful event in Marilyn’s day─and raised in a series of foster homes. Her mentally ill mother who was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and whom Marilyn feared, occasionally visited her (for the first seven years of her life Marilyn didn’t even know the woman who periodically visited her in her foster home). Her maternal grandmother died in a state hospital laced into a straightjacket.

Considering the innumerable adverse circumstances surrounding her childhood, I think that the camera may have been the only “eyes” where Marilyn felt seen.

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Bastard Child

In chapter two of my book Ragdoll Redeemed:Growing Up In The Shadow Of Marilyn Monroe I write about the stain of the title “bastard”. How the dominate culture’s attitude imprinted a type of permanent deformity into the very soul of such children. I know because I was one of those children, as was Marilyn Monroe. “Shameful, embarrassing, defective,” became the standard by which everyone, myself included, measured me. After all didn’t the Bible say, “The bastard shall not enter the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation” (Deuteronomy 23:2)

Young people of today have little if any of the stigma illegitimacy brought to bear upon the shoulders of children born outside of marriage. It was not until the early 70s that a series of Supreme Court verdicts eradicated the common-law disabilities of bastardy. For the most part, the term “illegitimacy” has been replaced by the phrase “born out of wedlock” or not acknowledged at all.

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How Is That Love

Recently, my husband and I were talking about aspects of love. What does it actually mean when we say we love someone?

Or more precisely, what does the word not mean. In our conversation, I  referred to the brief marriage of Joe DiMaggio, the great American baseball hero and Marilyn Monroe as an example of what love is not. Why them, you may ask? And how do I know this?

In my soon-to-be-published memoir Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe I talk about my marriage to Marilyn Monroe’s step-son, Joe DiMaggio Jr. I talk about what I learned about Marilyn and Joe from conversations with Joe Jr., and from what has been widely reported over the years about their infamous relationship.