Beyond Blonde

Hollywood used Marilyn Monroe to create the Dumb Blonde brand, but she took the label and made it her own.

40 years later, resting in peace

August 05, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

LOS ANGELES - Marilyn Monroe would have both loved and hated her final resting place.

The private Marilyn - the fragile Norma Jean, whose low self-esteem never jibed with the glamorous figure adored by millions, whose voluptuous body kept people from acknowledging the artist trapped inside, whose irrepressible fame doomed the one real chance she had at happiness, her marriage to Joe DiMaggio - would appreciate the plain, unadorned marble crypt in a tiny cemetery almost impossible to find.

But the celebrity Marilyn - the woman who couldn't imagine life outside the spotlight, who was never more alive than when the camera was on, who posed nude for photographers when respectable actresses simply didn't do that - she'd probably wonder where the gaudy, outsize monument to her life has been hidden.

Three days after her death on Aug. 5, 1962, Monroe was laid to rest in a marble wall crypt on the north side of Westwood Memorial Park, a tiny, three-acre cemetery tucked away behind a row of skyscraper condominiums along Wilshire Boulevard. Invisible from the main road, the cemetery is enclosed by a wall on three sides; visitors have to navigate several side streets to find the entrance.

This is the sort of place inevitably described as a "peaceful oasis." Funerals are infrequent, the groundskeepers go about their business quietly, and visitors tend to be somber and respectful, if perhaps a little awed - not only is Marilyn at peace here, but also Natalie Wood, Dean Martin, Darryl F. Zanuck, Jack Lemmon, Dorothy Stratten, Carl Wilson (of the Beach Boys), Burt Lancaster, Eva Gabor and Carroll O'Connor.

But it's Marilyn most visitors (including the occasional tour bus) come to see. Her crypt is simple, adorned with only a bronze plaque that reads "Marilyn Monroe 1926-1962." But that never satisfies her fans, who are always leaving something behind to mark their visit: red roses, lipstick prints, photographs (sometimes of Marilyn, sometimes of themselves), personal notes, poems, Hallmark cards.

"She's visited more than anyone else here," says Westwood's general manager, Kathy Boyett, who conservatively estimates Marilyn receives 30 visitors a day. "And there are always fresh flowers on the crypt; her fans are always taking care of it."

Marilyn's gravesite is a far cry from Hollywood's grandest or most impressive. Al Jolson is buried within a huge columned memorial at the head of a 100-foot man-made waterfall in Hillside Memorial Park, while Douglas Fairbanks' crypt at Hollywood Forever cemetery (formerly Hollywood Memorial Park) looks like something out of ancient Babylon.

But there's a touching simplicity to the site that, in light of all the turmoil Marilyn has had to endure - both while she was alive and even since her death (was it suicide? an accident? murder?) - gives it a discernible poignancy.

Even if Marilyn Monroe might not have been accustomed to such quiet and solitude, here's betting Norma Jean Mortensen would have liked it just fine.

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