Los Angeles’ Child: Marilyn’s History with the City of Angels

“Only parts of us will ever

touch only parts of others —

one’s own truth is just that really — one’s own truth.

We can only share the part that is understood by within another’s knowing acceptable to

the other — therefore so one

is for most part alone.

As it is meant to be in

evidently in nature — at best though perhaps it could make

our understanding seek

another’s loneliness out.”

–Marilyn Monroe

In its earliest known manifestation, Los Angeles was called Yaanga. It was settled by the Tongva and Chumash tribes. Yaanga was a village in a lush, riparian forest built around a large sycamore tree. The Tongva believe that humanity isn’t the zenith of all creation, but merely a strand in the interconnected web of life.

The Tongva and Chumash tribes endured unfathomable cruelty at the hands of Iberian colonists who eroded their peaceful village. They were further exploited and enslaved by Franciscan friars that used them as chattel to build their missions. Yaanga eventually became referred to as, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles, or, “The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels” by a group of forty-four settlers known as “Los Pobladores.” The city lived briefly under New Spain and Governor Pío Pico deemed Los Angeles the capital of Alta California.

Manifest Destiny and the Mexican-American War further changed the city. William Mulholland, a self-taught Irish-American civil engineer, designed the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913. Years earlier, Los Angeles became the first U.S. city to use zoning laws, creating various districts. In 1910, Hollywood became part of Los Angeles’ grid, bringing with it 10 studios.

Somewhere between Westward Expansion and before the boom of the talking motion picture, Norma Jeane Mortenson was born. Norma Jeane began her life on June 1, 1926 and died on August 5, 1962. The daughter of a paranoid schizophrenic, Norma would move throughout southern California, ping-ponging between foster homes until eventually ending up in an orphanage. At 16, she married James Dougherty but later admitted she was bored as a housewife.

Norma Jeane was raised at the movies.

 “I didn’t like the world around me because it was kind of grim […] When I heard that this was acting, I said that’s what I want to be […] Some of my foster families used to send me to the movies to get me out of the house and there I’d sit all day and way into the night. Up in front, there with the screen so big, a little kid all alone, and I loved it.”—Marilyn Monroe

In her tumultuous world, she need not walk further than the local theater to get lost in the glow of the projector reel.

As she grew, Los Angeles grew all around her. Sunset Boulevard, once a dusty farm road, became paved in 1931. In the late 1940s and 1950s, as her pin-up career began to rise, Sunset Strip became a live-wire. Hot spots like Schwab’s and Googie’s began to make themselves known. Meanwhile, Norma Jeane stayed at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel as her status as a “cheesecake pin-up” took off.

When she began her lateral move into acting and became “Marilyn Monroe”, she stayed at Charlie Chaplin’s West Hollywood bungalows, where her cohorts such as Marlene Dietrich and Clark Gable also stayed during their fledgling film careers, a rite of passage, if you will.

She networked with famed gossip columnists, Sidney Sklosky, Hedda Hopper, and Louella Parsons around town. Hopper and Parsons could be found wining and dining at Chasen’s or The Brown Derby, while Sklosky famously loitered around Schwab’s Drug Store. Marilyn, a keen businesswoman, would often make connections through them, further cementing her film career.

Los Angeles continued to rise like a glamorous phoenix from the ashes of post-war America and 1953 saw Marilyn Monroe catapult to success in films Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire. She dined on champagne and lived in The Beverly Hills Hotel, where she’d often stay throughout her life. Apart from the glamour of it all, Marilyn famously loved the surf at Santa Monica Beach. The seemingly infinite tide and call of seagulls proved respite for her soul against the egotism of Hollywood.

“Life —

I am of both of your directions

Life

Somehow remaining hanging downward

the most

but strong as a cobweb in the

wind — I exist more with the cold glistening frost.

But my beaded rays have the colors I’ve

seen in a paintings — ah life they

have cheated you”

–Marilyn Monroe

After the dissolve of her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller in 1961, Marilyn checked out of of The Beverly Hills Hotel and bought a house on 12305 Fifth Helena Drive in Brentwood. Built in 1929 and located off a quiet cul-de-sac, Monroe’s single-story Hacienda was her first step toward leading a normal life without the curses of fame. The Hacienda, which still stands today, has a free-form pool adjacent to a citrus grove and a guest house. Cryptically, the tiles leading to her last residence are imprinted with: Cursum Perficio, which translates to “I have completed my journey.”

Berenice Baker Miracle, Marilyn’s half-sister, recalls her last days:

“I don’t think she committed suicide. It could have been an accident, because I had just talked to her a short time before. She told me what she had planned to do, she had just bought a new house and she was working on the curtains of the windows. She had so many things to look forward to and she was so happy.”

Marilyn Monroe is undoubtedly Los Angeles’ child. Her spirit is indelibly entwined to the soul of the city. It’s not through the tacky, souvenir cash-grab kiosks that litter Hollywood boulevard, but within the walls of the restaurants and hotels she’d haunt. Once known as Villa Nova in 1952, the Rainbow Bar & Grill is where Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio had their first date. To date, guests still request the Marilyn booth. Barney’s Beanery on Santa Monica Boulevard is where nostalgic fans will go to enjoy a bowl of chili, Marilyn’s favorite dish during the filming of Some Like it Hot.

While the iconoclast that was Marilyn Monroe is no longer with us on the physical plane, she continues to exist in the tangles of bougainvillea and orange blossoms that drape from the boulevards. She remains quiet in the long afternoon shadows that comprise the seductive and subversive beauty that is Los Angeles. One can even find her still, running along the surf of Santa Monica Beach, her girlish laughter tickling the breeze as the waves crash.

Abby Sheaffer is a columnist at Cinema in Paradise.

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