|Marilyn & Me|
as the June Vanity Fair cover story, on newsstands now in the US and
UK, and debuting May 17th at the Cannes Film Festival
"With the precision of a surgeon, Schiller slices through the façade of Marilyn Monroe in his unflinching memoir. Revealing and readable, it's a book I couldn't put down." —Tina Brown, Newsweek
Marilyn & Me is an intimate story of a legend before her fall and a young photographer on his way to the top. The year was 1962, and Lawrence Schiller, 25, was on assignment for Paris Match magazine. He already knew Marilyn Monroe—they had met on the set of Let’s Make Love—but nothing could have prepared him for the day she appeared nude in the swimming pool on the set of Something’s Got to Give . . . or for her tragic death just two months later. Now, 50 years after Marilyn’s death, TASCHEN is publishing Lawrence Schiller’s original memoir and extraordinary photographs—over two thirds of which have never been published before—as a limited edition of 1,962 numbered copies, each in a clamshell box and signed by the photographer.
Schiller’s memoir of his time with Marilyn is also available in a small, reader-friendly edition, published by Nan A. Talese’s eponymous literary imprint at Knopf Doubleday in New York. This unprecedented move to publish both editions simultaneously was devised to allow a wider audience to experience the gripping story Schiller has to tell.
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By Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Edited by Andrew Schlesinger and Stephen Schlesinger.
894 pp. The Penguin Press. $40.
It’s hard not to like a book that expounds on Marilyn Monroe on one page and the Monroe Doctrine on the next. When Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. ruminates on the realm of hemispheric affairs, the transition from one Monroe to the other is seamless, as is the slide from Bosnia to Bianca Jagger and from Alexander Hamilton to Angie Dickinson. His diaries are a Tiffany’s window of name-dropping. This is not history so much as historical trail mix.
The old-school, bow-tied liberal and Kennedy courtier had a weakness for cafe society and Century Club martinis served by Arthur the Barbadian drinks waiter. He was just as happy talking about NATO enlargement or celebrity enlargement, fastidiously jotting down when Elizabeth Taylor, Norman Mailer and Robert Bork — and himself, “alas” — looked a bit fat. And heaven help poor John Kenneth Galbraith’s wife, Kitty, the night she showed up amid the “notables affably circulating,” as our diarist likes to say, “dowdily dressed.”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian worried that he was frittering away time on the high life that could be spent on high-minded histories, but the old boy just couldn’t help it. Tom Stoppard started as a party reporter and Arthur Schlesinger ended as one. “Around 8:30 we went off to Romanoff’s for Gore Vidal’s party. ... I had a pleasant talk with Jack Lemmon — very small, quick; mobile features. I told him I had much preferred ‘Some Like It Hot’ to ‘The Apartment.’ ... I liked Shelley Winters. ... Lollobrigida was a disappointment.”
In the summer of ’61, he exuberantly describes a “fantastic ball” at the Mellons’ one Friday with “an infinitude of Champagne,” like “the night before Agincourt,” where he chatted with Babe Paley; followed by a raucous Saturday wedding anniversary dinner for Bobby and Ethel at their Hickory Hill estate with “wild dancing”; Lester Lanin playing; Judy Garland, Kay Thompson and Ethel singing; Teddy plunging into the pool in his dinner jacket; and Ben Bradlee declaring it “a horror movie.” In the next entry, or “thence,” as he would say, the house intellectual is diligently writing a test-ban white paper for President Kennedy.
Along with a cascade of books, lectures, essays, op-eds as well as speeches for several decades of Democratic pols, Schlesinger kept journals for what was intended to be a two-part memoir. The first half of his overstuffed life was recounted in an underwhelming book called “A Life in the 20th Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950,” published in 2000. He only got to age 33. Slowed by Parkinson’s disease, heading for his 90th birthday, the historian ran out of time to do the sequel, covering the juiciest era, when he was closest to power.
When his wily agent, Andrew Wylie, discovered 6,000 pages of journals covering five decades in Schlesinger’s office in 2006, stored on a shelf above a small refrigerator, it seemed a shame not to share the treasure trove of raw dish with the world. After all, Schlesinger had been worrying in later years that he was “perennially broke” and had no savings account. If history is a debt of honor we owe to the past, as the author likes to say, couldn’t it pay past debts?
Asked by the press in 1973 about the Nixon tapes, the historian huffs that it was “inconceivable” that his hero would have done that — until Kennedy’s brother-in-law Steve Smith calls to break the news that there were some tapes. “As a person,” he tells his diary primly, “I think it is a poor idea to record other people’s conversation without their knowing it.” But he overcomes these qualms with his own journals. His two older sons, who winnowed the transcripts down, said their father cut “astonishingly little” for reasons of discretion in this “jewel box” of memories. Logging in at 858 pages before the index, it’s more like a shipping container. They said their father, with his “proper New England upbringing,” had always “frowned upon” writing about intimacy, but now they could showcase his “almost voluptuous eyes and soul.”
In and out of politics, Schlesinger bowed to glamour, wit and style. He had considered becoming a theater critic when he was young, and even when he was working in the Kennedy White House, he moonlighted doing film reviews for Show magazine. (The president told him dryly he didn’t mind as long as Peter Lawford was treated with respect.)
Pulled into “the orbit of mortality,” his “glittering ladies” now “falling away,” his old Harvard and Century Club pals dying, the man criticized for shaping his histories around his loyalties was prepared to be Schlesinger unleashed.
Schlesinger unleashed, as it turns out, can still be quite buttery.
Nov. 1, 1952: “What a beautiful — and delightful — girl Lauren Bacall is! — even more attractive in the flesh than on the screen.”
Sept. 21, 1979: “Why besides being so astonishingly beautiful and intelligent is Jackie so fascinating? Because of the impression she gives of total, exclusive and absorbed concentration on oneself. ... ”
His first impression of Jackie is more biting. In the summer of 1959, when Kennedy begins summoning the Adlai Stevenson loyalist to Hyannis Port to seduce him with tableaux vivants of croquet, daiquiris, children, dogs and the rationalization that he has “adrenal depletion” rather than Addison’s disease, Schlesinger discovers Jackie reading Proust. He finds her “lovely” and bright, but “excessively flighty on politics, asking with wide-eyed naïveté questions like: ‘Jack, why don’t you just tell them that you won’t go into any of those old primaries?’ ... One feels that out of some perversity she pretends an ignorance about politics larger even than life.”
Melodramatically, Schlesinger paints his defection to Kennedy at the ’60 convention as Faustian, declaiming: “I feel that as a consequence of Kennedy’s victory and Stevenson’s defeat something I greatly value has gone out of national politics.” His pleasure in politics, he says nobly, “is coming to an end.”
He’s just feeling guilty. It’s a classic case of dumping the nice guy — Adlai is “profoundly civilized” — to run off with the bad boy. Kennedy has not been “consecrated by inner conviction,” he writes, adding, “I also believe him to be a devious, and if necessary, ruthless man.” But he suspects that his friend Lauren Bacall is right that Stevenson has “a political death wish.”
“The thought of power induces in Stevenson doubt, reluctance, even guilt,” he says. The diaries from the ’50s are an inadvertently hilarious record of the prissy Stevenson’s coy tango with his party. The year after Adlai loses to Ike, he has dinner with Truman, who urges him to take hold of the party. Adlai disingenuously demurs about a lack of qualifications. “Well, if a knucklehead like me can be a successful president,” Truman replies briskly, “I guess you can do it all right.”
But Stevenson is stuck on the same mental pedestal that Barack Obama is on — “split between his desire to win and his desire to live up to the noble image of himself.”
John Kennedy, by contrast, “takes power in his stride,” showing with the choice of Lyndon Johnson — unpalatable to Schlesinger and Bobby Kennedy — that he is “grasping the nettle.”
The class brain is jittery about whether his cool new love will still respect him in the morning. He confesses to his diary that he fears that he and Ken Galbraith have been “had” by Kennedy, that he will drop the liberals once he has used them.
Schlesinger’s Aug. 6 entry, after the convention, brims with reassurance: “Jack Kennedy called up, in person, and invited us for lunch on Saturday.” In Hyannis Port, Jack takes Arthur and his wife out on the boat along with several cases of empty Coke and tonic bottles as rifle-shooting targets. “Jack is plainly an excellent shot,” our correspondent gushes. “I do not think I have ever seen Jack in better form. He was warm, funny, quick, intelligent and spontaneous.” The smitten Schlesinger swallows doubts along with pre-lunch bloody marys and decides that with all the upper-class ways and easy access, Kennedy is as civilized as Stevenson, after all.
By the last rally, when the candidate “himself” gets out of his car to greet Schlesinger with “the utmost cordiality,” our diarist is, as he would say, “starry-eyed.”
He moves to the White House as a special assistant to the president. A friend teases him about the time he put on a jacket before taking a call from Kennedy. “In retrospect,” he writes later, “deference is bad for presidents. A democracy should not have a royal family.”
Schlesinger quickly gets swept up in the Bay of Pigs. He objects to it, but in a restrained, go-ahead-if-you-must Colin Powell manner. He later muses that advisers who “are wrong in an effective way,” like McNamara, Rusk and Dulles (or Cheney, Rummy and Condi), are more potent than those who are “right in an ineffective way.”
It isn’t any clearer in this account than in Schlesinger’s “Thousand Days” why Kennedy let himself be dragged into what he called a “Scarlet Pimpernel” scheme left over from the regime of a Republican president he disdained as “stupid.”
Kennedy tells Schlesinger he knew the planning was flawed, and he had “pared down the operation from an invasion to a mass infiltration,” as though that were a distinction Castro or the world would appreciate. “If we have to get rid of those 800 men, it is much better to dump them in Cuba than in the United States,” he said, buying into the C.I.A. rationalization that the men would spill the beans if they didn’t go forward.
“We not only look like imperialists ... we look like stupid, ineffectual imperialists, which is worst of all,” Schlesinger moans afterward.
Kennedy’s confidence is banged up, and he grows rueful about the intelligence community, telling his Boswell that “if it hadn’t been for Cuba, we might be about to intervene in Laos now.” (Ike advises a stunned Kennedy that he had been told by an official at State that Laos is “a nation of homosexuals.”) During the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy wonders why the C.I.A. had not anticipated the possibility of a Soviet attempt to transform Cuba into a nuclear base. (Kennedy’s advisers die still arguing among themselves whether he would have sent ground forces into Vietnam.)
Schlesinger writes that Kennedy resisted seeing the missile crisis as part of a holy war with the Soviets. “Too many people will think now that all we have to do in dealing with the Russians is to kick them in the balls,” he says, after the Soviets back down. “I think there is a law of equity in these disputes. When one party is clearly wrong, it will eventually give way.” Kennedy is too much of an irono-babe for cowboy diplomacy. He says a nation gets prestige from the strength of its currency, not its nuclear weapons.
Schlesinger gets grumpy about being painted as “the power-loving stablemate of statesmen.” But he manages to give Kennedy an even more incandescent glow in the private journals, like the hero of a pulp romance novel.
He’s a sliver more critical on the issue of civil rights, describing a meeting with the president and liberals that he wrote about in “A Thousand Days.” The front page of The New York Times that day had carried a picture of a Birmingham police dog lunging at “a Negro.” Kennedy said the photo made him “sick” but that there was nothing he could do about it constitutionally, and he wondered why the demonstrators hadn’t waited until the new city administration took over in a few days.
In “A Thousand Days,” Schlesinger is deadpan. In his diary, he writes: “I must confess that I have found his reaction to Birmingham disappointing. Even if he has no power to act, he has unlimited power to express the moral sense of the people; and, in not doing so, he is acting much as Eisenhower used to act when we denounced him.” But he also swoons that Kennedy “was charming, witty, forceful, disarming, and one could see even the most critical melting in spite of themselves.”
There is a wisp of asperity about Jackie. He reveals his “horror” when she marries Aristotle Onassis. One weekend in 1979, when she meets Schlesinger’s plane at Hyannis driving her own car, he admits he is “perplexed” that “so ‘real’ a girl would have cared about marrying Onassis and living that kind of life. I can only conclude that there are dimensions to Jackie I never see.”
He writes about a Tina Brown dinner party in 1991: “Jackie remains a glowing beauty. She concentrated her charm, as always, and at one point generously informed me that she would rather sit next to me than any person in New York. This would be more convincing if she ever invited us to dinner. But I adore her.” When she died in 1994, he was still complaining, “I don’t think we have been in her apartment for quite a while.”
After her death, he notes that Camelot was a Jackie concoction. “Had we proposed this,” he writes, “no one would have been more derisive than J.F.K.”
Schlesinger shows little of his inner life, avoids introspection and says, “I do not care for the company of psychiatrists.” He’s a good storyteller, though, and piles up revealing anecdotes and quotations. Talking about how he came out better than the Roosevelt children, Kennedy says: “Well, no one can say that it was due to my mother. It was due to my father,” who always made the Kennedy children feel important and loved when he was around.
Maybe from habit, the historian erases the raffish Kennedy. When Marilyn Monroe dies, in August 1962, he has an innocent item recalling the night he saw her at a party following the Kennedy birthday rally at Madison Square Garden the previous May: “The image of this exquisite, beguiling and desperate girl will always stay with me. I do not think I have seen anyone so beautiful; I was enchanted by her manner and her wit, at once so masked, so ingenuous and so penetrating. But one felt a terrible unreality about her — as if talking to someone under water. Bobby and I engaged in mock competition for her; she was most agreeable to him and pleasant to me, but one never felt her to be wholly engaged. ... She receded into her own glittering mist.”
There are intimate scenes — Kennedy putting on a corset for his back, Bobby “gloomily” wandering around his house in pajamas with short pants trying to figure out whether to run for president. But Schlesinger sometimes seems oddly detached in the thick of family tragedy. At one point he writes about how Bobby carries around dog-eared copies of Edith Hamilton’s “Greek Way” and “Three Greek Plays” in his briefcase, but seems oblivious to the resonance with the House of Atreus.
The Nov. 23, 1963, entry begins: “I heard the terrible news as I was sipping cocktails with Kay Graham, Ken Galbraith and the editors of Newsweek.”
When the president’s body comes back to the East Room, Bobby asks Schlesinger to help the family decide if the casket should be open or closed. “And so I went in, with the candles fitfully burning, three priests on their knees praying in the background, and took a last look at my beloved president, my beloved friend. For a moment, I was shattered. But it was not a good job, probably it could not have been with half his head blasted away. It was too waxen, too made up. It did not really look like him.”
Schlesinger’s April 5, 1968, entry is brief, beginning “Martin Luther King murdered: what in hell is happening to this country?” He reflects more when Bobby is shot: “J.F.K., one sensed, was always a skeptic and an ironist; he had understood the complexity of things from birth. R.F.K. began as a true believer; he acquired his sense of the complexity of things from hard experience. ... He had long since ... got down as far as one can in politics to the human meaning of things. ... J.F.K. was urbane, imperturbable, always in control. ... R.F.K. was far more vulnerable. ... He would do much better at Resurrection City than at the Metropolitan Club.” The historian ventures that Bobby would “very likely” have been a greater president than his brother, more radical and more sympathetic to “excluded groups.”
He tries to see things from Teddy’s perspective. After the “distressing” news of Chappaquiddick, he writes: “On Thursday I sat after lunch with Scotty Reston and Tom Wicker at the Century. They were both sympathetic; Scotty had been at the Vineyard that weekend and had personally driven over the bridge the next day; it was, he said, perilous even in broad daylight.”
He’s more critical of Teddy than of his brothers, admitting he does not feel the same “careless rapture.” “Ted himself lacks the grasp of things his brothers had,” he writes, and the family is nervous about Joan’s drinking because she is “not in control of herself.” Some in the Kennedy camp wonder, given the fear that Ted will get shot, if he’s “going through the motions ... while unconsciously not wishing to succeed.”
When Jimmy Carter beats Ted in the ’80 Iowa caucus, Schlesinger writes: “I feel very sorry for Ted today; but also rather mad at him, for having kicked away the opportunity to deliver the nation from four more years of Carter and incompetence.”
The diarist is not always prescient. After all his paeans to Stevenson’s niceness, he is surprised to find that Stevenson can be quite cold about those he envies. When Jackie’s baby Patrick dies, Kennedy shyly asks Schlesinger to persuade Adlai to write her a note, and when Kennedy is assassinated, Stevenson stonily observes that because of his relationship with Johnson, “things are 10 times better for me now than they were before.”
After Watergate, Schlesinger writes with satisfaction, “It will take a long time before another president and another White House will conceive themselves in the Nixon style as above the law.” (Unless you get two barking mad old Nixonites running things.)
After Bush senior’s “I am not a wimp” invasion of Panama, Schlesinger howls, “Does no one give a damn when an American president goes to war on his own as if American foreign policy were his private property?”
In 1989, when the Berlin Wall he saw go up comes down, he proclaims, “How right I have been to argue the inscrutability of history!”
Sometimes he is off — he never grasps Reagan’s appeal — but many of his judgments are shrewd. Gary Hart is Gatsby. Walter Mondale is “a repressed and somewhat irascible Scandinavian.” Mario Cuomo is “provincial” and “insecure,” throwing inner obstacles in his own path. Bill Bradley is “dull,” with “the deep thoughts of a bright sophomore.”
He tends to divide pols into admirable and “weirdos,” and, as he dryly notes, there really is no procedure in the Constitution “for dealing with nuts.” During a drink, Bill Moyers tells Schlesinger that Lyndon Johnson is “a sick man,” so much so that he and his fellow Johnson aide Dick Goodwin have begun reading up on mental illness — Bill on manic-depression and Dick on paranoia.
John Kennedy calls Nixon “sick” and Johnson a “chronic liar.” Jackie calls Nixon “a scurvy little thing.” After the resignation, Schlesinger is horrified when Nixon buys the town house next door on East 64th Street and begins “stiffly throwing a rubber ball to his grandchildren.” The liberal lion has his revenge when his wife has a book party for a neo-Stalinist friend and Alger Hiss shows up.
Of Jimmy Carter, Schlesinger says he “could not bring myself to vote for a man who believes that Adam and Eve once existed and that Eve was literally made out of Adam’s rib ... and believes he has seen flying saucers.” Jackie calls Carter “a stiff, prissy little man” and recoils when he tries to kiss her at the dedication of the Kennedy library. “He acts as if the presidency carries with it the droit du seigneur,” she says.
Schlesinger considers Reagan nutty and passes on an anecdote told to him by Jim McCartney of Knight-Ridder, who sat next to the president at the ’87 Gridiron dinner. Reagan told McCartney that Chernobyl had been predicted in “the eighth chapter of Revelations with the account of the opening of the seventh seal ... a great star falling from heaven causing men to die from the bitter waters. The star, Reagan said, was called Wedgewood, and the Ukrainian word for Wedgewood is Chernobyl. McCartney looked up the passage on his return and discovered that the star was called Wormwood.”
When Al Gore calls Schlesinger for help with his ’92 acceptance speech, the historian responds “like an old firehorse ... to the bell.” Gore speaks with “a holistic, even mystical, fervor” about everything from gnosticism to Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas to fiber-optic cables to “hubristic” assumptions that we are sufficient unto ourselves to “a redefinition of our relationship to reality.” Schlesinger confesses he doesn’t know what Gore is talking about.
In 2000, when Gore picks Joe Lieberman, Schlesinger is repelled because he finds Holy Joe “sanctimonious.” He gets a late- night call from Gore from Rachel Carson’s study. The nominee tells him that when he was in the room making the final decision, his staff was in a nearby room guessing the outcome. They spun a bottle — and four times the bottle named Lieberman. They flipped a coin — and four times the coin named Lieberman. Schlesinger fears “it is one more of Al’s exaggerations.”
Schlesinger started out as the Saint-Simon of the Roosevelts and the Kennedys — or the Plantagenets and the Yorks, as he calls them — and ended up watching two more entwined political dynasties.
He tries to warm up to Bill Clinton but is put off by his “Nixon-style paranoia about ‘the media.’ ” He thinks Bill lacks “the dignitas that can be such a useful presidential weapon — those awful jogging photographs and so on.” He also finds the selling of the White House to raise money “aesthetically displeasing and historically disgusting.”
The real problem may be that Clinton was having historians over to the White House and didn’t include a certain bow-tied dean. Schlesinger knows he is too easily beguiled and seems never to have allowed moral or ideological differences to interfere with his social pleasures. Sometimes it makes the reader squirm. He watches Robert McNamara widen the war, long after telling everyone privately that a military solution was not possible. Yet in May 1967, when McNamara calls to get his advice and admits “I’ve been wrong from the start on Vietnam,” Schlesinger writes: “McNamara remains one of the most disarming men in the United States.” (Arming is more like it.)
Over decades of friendship with Henry Kissinger, he only slowly fathoms the diplomat’s “overpowering ego” and Machiavellian ways. “I like Henry very much and respect him,” he writes in 1969, “though I cannot rid myself of the fear that he says one sort of thing to me and another sort of thing to, say, Bill Buckley.”
He is seduced by Kissinger’s Scheherazade tales of power. Henry describes a scene in 1968 in the Cabinet Room when Johnson harasses McNamara, growling: “How can I hit them” — meaning the North Vietnamese — “in the nuts?”
After Nixon invades Cambodia, Henry — with “a Key Biscayne tan” — explains that he can’t resign, partly because he thinks “the great need for the United States is to preserve institutions of authority” like the presidency. By the time of Watergate, Schlesinger deems Kissinger “one of the most disgusting figures” in the Nixon White House.
Yet when Gerald Ford takes over and Henry asks Arthur to lunch at the State Department, our diarist overcomes his distaste and has “an agreeable” time — even with “not bad” food and wine and “mediocre” cigars. Kissinger, now more likely to have a Southampton tan, tells Schlesinger that Nixon was sometimes evil and lazy (with the work habits of Hitler) and a liar and obsessed with destroying the reputations of the Kennedys, and that he had Howard Hunt forging documents proving that John Kennedy had ordered the assassination of Diem. “He was unquestionably a weird president, but he was not a weak president,” Kissinger says. “But everything was weird in that slightly homosexual, embattled atmosphere of the White House.” Schlesinger doesn’t press on the “slightly homosexual”; he deems Henry “a highly intelligent and charming man.”
In a later lunch, Kissinger crowns Donald Rumsfeld “the rottenest person he had known in government”; his sins included persuading Ford “to make George Bush head of the C.I.A. so he would be extinguished as the vice presidential candidate in 1976 (and thereby, he added, probably losing Ford the election).” Dan Quayle, however, Kissinger deems intelligent. “I take this to mean two things: that Quayle listens reverently to Henry and that Henry thinks Quayle may be president someday,” the now wised-up Schlesinger wryly notes.
As Camelot, or faux Camelot, recedes in the glittering mist, Schlesinger’s diaries fill up with tales of eating roast suckling pig with Castro in Cuba and hiding from Lillian Hellman in the Vineyard and lots of secondhand stories picked up on the social circuit. There are repetitive complaints about age not bringing simplification and obligations being the “unrelenting enemies of achievement,” and the sad memorials outpace the “jolly” house parties.
But even as an octogenarian, Schlesinger remains an omnivore — and a carnivore — though he does get blue when a fire in his house requires some cleanup. “When I feel sorry for myself,” he says bravely, “I think of Rwanda and Bosnia.”
At last he must slow down, going from a Century martini (1 3/4) to a “generous single” to “skipping a pre-luncheon drink altogether” so he does not become sleepy. “But,” he adds sanguinely, “I still have a couple of generous slugs of bourbon before dinner.”