Max Allan Collins
Everybody is always tugging at you. They’d all like sort of a chunk of you. They kind of like to take pieces out of you
Marilyn never liked good-byes.
The naked actress was laughing, splashing, her flesh incandescent against the shimmer of blue, now on her back, then bottoms up, her happy sounds echoing, as if she were the only woman in the world-and wasn’t she?
She was, after all, Marilyn Monroe, and this was Fox’s Soundstage 14, where she was shooting the film Something’s Got to Give, under the supervision of legendary Hollywood director George Cukor.
Nude scenes were common overseas-Bardot had become famous flashing her fanny in And God Created Woman -but a major star like Monroe shedding for the CinemaScope camera? Just not done, even if she did have those notorious calendar shots in her past.
This was the closed set of all closed sets. A small army of security guards had been summoned by producer Henry Weinstein to cover the five entrances to the soundstage, after word of the nude scene wildfired across the lot. This was the toughest ticket in town, unless you had an in.
I had an in. Last night I’d heard from Marilyn’s personal publicist, Pat Newcomb (calling at the star’s request), that tomorrow would be the “day of days” on the Something’s Got to Give set.
“Marilyn says you wanted to visit,” Pat said, in her pleasantly professional way, “sometime during filming. And this is it.”
“Mind my asking what’s special about tomorrow?”
“She has a swimming scene and, knowing Marilyn, might just slip out of her suit…”
I reminded Miss Newcomb that I needed two passes, and was assured they’d be waiting at the studio gate.
So how did I rate? Big-shot agent? Top Hollywood columnist? Producer sizing up MM for his next picture, maybe?
No. I was just a private detective, or anyway I used to be. Since my agency grew to three locations (LA, Manhattan, and the original Chicago office), I’d become mostly a figurehead, bouncing between them, handling publicity and sucking up to big-money clients. I couldn’t remember when I last knocked on a strange door or parked outside some motel with a camera, much less carried a gun.
But Nathan Heller, president of the A-1 Detective Agency, me, had indeed done a number of private eye jobs for Miss Monroe, starting with bodyguard duty in Chicago on her Gentlemen Prefer Blondes junket, and more recently tracking down a guy named C. Stanley Gifford, who she thought was her father, in the sense that he was the likeliest candidate for having knocked up Mom, who currently resided in the latest of many nuthouses.
Old C. Stanley missed the boat, or maybe his gravy train, when my client used the info I gathered to call her potential pop and say, “This is Norma Jeane-I’m Gladys Baker’s daughter.” Apparently thinking this was a touch, the idiot-unaware that Norma Jeane Baker had transformed herself, through no little effort, into Marilyn Monroe-hung up. On her second try, she got C. Stanley’s wife, who told the caller to contact her husband’s lawyer if she “had a complaint.”
Anyway, we were friendly, Marilyn and I, and for a while had been very friendly. In the interim I had transformed myself, through no little effort, into “the private eye to the stars.” This was a nice trick since I lived in Chicago, though the A-1’s ongoing security job with the Beverly Hills Hotel meant I had a bungalow whenever and for however long I might need one.
I also had an ex-wife out here, a former actress now married to a once successful producer, neither of whom I gave a shit about. I gave much more than a shit about my teenage son, Sam, who was actually Nathan Samuel Heller, Jr., only we had called him “Sam” when he was little, to avoid having two Nates around. Before long, my wife was happy not to have any Nate around.
So Sam it was, now a happy fourteen-year-old. Why happy? Wouldn’t you be, if you were a fourteen-year-old male whose father had got him onto the set of Marilyn Monroe’s nude swimming scene?
When you are divorced and your wife has custody of your only child, and the other “dad” is a film producer (once successful or otherwise), you have to work to stay on your kid’s good side. Sam was not impressed with celebrities, generally, having seen plenty, but this was different. I was fairly certain his first sexual experience had been with the signed-to-him nude Monroe calendar I’d given him on his thirteenth birthday (his mother still didn’t know about that).
This was his fifteenth-birthday present, even though this was May and the real date wasn’t till September. Some gifts you grab when they present themselves.
I’d kept the nature of what we’d be witnessing to myself, just promising Sam a “treat,” and he put up with that. We cut each other plenty of slack, since we often had half a continent between us, and anyway, in my mid- fifties, I was pretty old for a teen’s dad.
Sam looked a lot like me, identical except for his mother’s brown hair and not my reddish variety, and was already within two inches of my six feet. He was slender and so was I-I’d lost my paunch in an effort to regain my youth.
So I looked goddamn good in my lightweight gray glen plaid Clipper Craft suit with lighter gray shirt (Van Heusen tab collar) and thin black silk tie. Sam was in a tan striped Catalina pullover and brown beltless Jaymar slacks. We were a sporty pair.
Keep in mind that I was already in solid with the kid for getting him out of school for the day. This was a Wednesday, and he had something like a week and a half left before summer vacation. So I was cool, for a dad.
He did complain that I didn’t have a convertible, which in California was a criminal offense. My wheels, technically part of the A-1’s fleet, were merely a white 1960 Jaguar 3.8, leather seats, walnut interior, disk brakes, automatic transmission.
“Convertibles blow my business papers around,” I said at the wheel, tooling around the Fox lot. “And muss my hair.”
“Get it cut,” he said, rubbing his hand over the bristle of his crew cut.
“I don’t like the smell of butch wax.”
“Come on, Dad. Grow up.”
I didn’t share with Sam my opinion of crew cuts, which was that they were for servicemen, bodybuilders, and