Can 11-year-old kids obsess over lovers who steal their small hearts? Let me be honest; I did. Worse yet, my love was far, far away. There was another great, big world outside my hometown in Oregon, and it was called Hollywood.
My first infatuation was Betty Hutton after seeing her in The Greatest Show on Earth. Betty was caught in a tug-of-war between Charlton Heston and Cornel Wilde in DeMille’s 1952 jaw-dropper. She also tugged at my heart with her whiskey voice.
But, it was Marilyn who captured my heart. She took up residency in my waking moments and crept into my night-time thoughts with her breathless voice. (My heart beat faster when I heard she’d said, “Of course I had something on in bed. The radio.”). Her voluptuous figure. (Nowadays, she would be a size 14.) Her apparent innocence. (But weren’t we all innocent then?) And when I went to the barber shop — oh, rapture! — Marilyn was lying on her side, naked and white, in that incredible 1952 calendar.
It must have been a Hollywood fan magazine that catapulted me into action. Photoplay and Confidential unveiled an exotic world beyond the reach of mortals and children. An ad in one of them cried, “Send a letter to Marilyn and she’ll return a large, glossy, black and white photo.” Cost? Only a dollar. And the photo would be signed by Marilyn. Personally.
I had a dollar. I had a lot of dollars because I pocketed more than $15 a month from delivering the Portland Oregonian to 50 subscribers every day before school. My expenses were minimal — just Cokes and Snickers, BBs for my Red Ryder gun, movie tickets. I could easily slip a dollar into an envelope and borrow a stamp from Mom’s purse.
Then I was struck with horror: Marilyn wasn’t going to pay any attention to an 11-year-old. Not a kid in a dinky Oregon town. Adults never paid attention to kids. Not the barber, not my parents’ friends, not the pastor of our church. Certainly not a Hollywood movie star. My playground friends and I were scorned, disenfranchised, non-citizens of the world.
A week went by as I wrestled over being a non-person infected with a fever of desire. Then the solution came to me. I went into Dad’s desk and lifted a piece of his stationery. It was crisp and white, and in blue letters carried his title as president of Pacific University.
Carefully, I practiced my penmanship before committing my request to Marilyn.
“Dear Miss Monroe, I read your offer and would very much like to have your photograph. I am one of your biggest fans and loved The Asphalt Jungle. Enclosed is one dollar.”
Instead of ending with a “Cordially” or “Sincerely,” I signed the letter as an artist might. “By Wally Giersbach.”
I checked the mailbox hanging on our front porch every day when I got home from school. Nothing. And then. More days of nothing. I was beginning to think Marilyn didn’t care. That she’d taken my money and left me to cry bitter tears. Didn’t she once say, “If you're gonna be two-faced, at least make one of them pretty”?
One day, Dad came home from his office, eyeing me curiously. “I have something that I think came to me by mistake,” he said. “A letter for you. From Marilyn Monroe. In Hollywood.”
Dad had intercepted my dream, exposing me as a stationery thief and an imposter. Marilyn had mailed her photo and letter to Dad’s office, totally disregarding my instruction to send it my home. How would a little kid know a woman might betray his trust?
I stood petrified. Dumbly, I took the 9 x 12-inch envelope and read her cover note. She said she was glad I was her fan, she appreciated my support, and she hoped I would see her in Niagara when it was released. She signed the photo, “Love, Marilyn.”
“Son,” Dad said softly, “don’t use my stationery next time your write to your movie star friends.” He gave me an odd look. Mom tried to hide her mouth behind her hand.
Perhaps I prayed that night as I held the glossy print of Marilyn, looked deeply into her eyes, and analyzed her rotund signature, “Love, Marilyn.” Or maybe I felt angry that I wasn’t grown up and respected as an adult who could write to anybody — President Truman or Gene Autry — and they’d listen.
But I also said “Thank You” to some superior being. For all the seven hells of embarrassment I’d been put through, I could snuggle under the covers with Marilyn.