“But I’m the blonde!” announced a logical Marilyn Monroe, when comparing her much lower pay to that of her brunette co-star, Jane Russell, for their smash hit, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” (1953). Details such as that intriguingly flesh out the one-woman show by Kelly Mullis, “Marilyn Monroe: The Last Interview.”
The play, inspired by Monroe’s last taped interview in 1962 for LIFE Magazine, portrays Monroe’s life, loves, career, and puzzling death. Mullis wrote, produced, and stars in her one-woman show.
Many are afraid to talk about Monroe’s mysterious death. But not Mullis. Mullis believes Monroe was murdered, and she wants the investigation of Monroe’s death to be re-opened.
This year, motivated by the accessible Hollywood Fringe Festival, an annual Los Angeles-based performing arts event offering artists a chance to showcase their work, Mullis wrote the story about Monroe that she has long wanted to tell, with Wayne Orkline co-directing.
The play moves as rivetingly as Monroe’s life. Mullis sings and dances in the midst of the recreated interview, her Monroe mannerisms exquisite. After being nominated for the Encore Producers Award at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, Mullis brought her play to Matthew Quinn’s theater, Studio C, at his invitation, which is where I was lucky enough to see the 65-minute play.
The set, in the darkened and small theatre, told everything: a bed, two chairs, a silver ice bucket. A champagne glass, and books. A turquoise turntable, a red diary. Vinyl albums by Frank Sinatra. White sheets and a black telephone. An assortment of empty pill bottles, bedside.
Mullis’ playlists the reasons Monroe had to live. And the reasons she might have died.
Considered the most iconic (and photographed) performer of all time, Monroe’s star text added pathos to her physical appeal. A triple threat because Monroe could act, sing, and dance—and with hair she called “pillow-case” blonde—her red lips vivid, her beauty mark pronounced, along with her whisper-y voice and revealingly-clad body, Monroe’s appearance bedazzles as much as her story captivates.
Born in 1926 and raised in foster homes, Monroe’s movie star career created an archetype. As Mullis tells it in“Marilyn Monroe: The Last Interview,” near the end of her life, Monroe was sleeping with the Kennedy brothers, one of whom was President of the United States, and the other, the Attorney General. The brothers told Monroe top-secret information and the “pillow-case blonde” recorded their pillow talk in her red diary.
As a friend and lover with Frank Sinatra, and she partied at the Cal Neva casino he co-owned with Chicago crime boss, Sam Giancana. The weekend she died, Giancana and his monster friends— oops, meant to type mobster friends— took turns having sex with a doped-up Monroe at Cal Neva. No-one rescued her. (As I type up this article, fifty-six years after that terrible night, alleged wannabe rapist, Brett Kavanaugh, is being appointed for a lifetime seat as Supreme Court Justice, and self-admitted sexual assaulter, Donald Trump, is President of the United States.)
Back at her house in Brentwood, she argued with a Kennedy brother and Monroe threatened to tell all in a press conference.
Monroe’s housekeeper, Eunice Murray, concerned by the silence beyond Monroe’s locked bedroom door, was joined by Bobby Kennedy; Monroe’s therapist, Dr. Greenson; the actor, Peter Lawford; publicist, Pat Newcomb; an ambulance team; and, ultimately, the police. They found Monroe inert, on the bed. Hours passed, during which an unconscious Monroe was moved several times.
In the play’s voice-overs, Dr. Greenson gives orders, reinforcing in the audience what it might feel like to be an inert body whose trajectory is determined by others. The housekeeper almost disagrees with him, but then says, “Yes, Sir.” In that one line, I can hear that people have been trained to participate in the exploitation of others. “She hesitated in a pitch-perfect way,” notes Mullis about Sharon Spence’s vocals. Monroe’s death was ruled a suicide.
Monroe died with Frank Sinatra’s music on her turntable even though he let her be gang-raped. I ask Mullis about that. She said that Frank “made women feel loved or caressed by his sound, by the tone of his voice.” I ponder the power of the crooning man. “Marilyn was interested in power,” Kelly explains. She was playing with the big guns, and even Joe–with his roses and rescues from the loony bin–couldn’t help her.
“So many people have the wrong idea about Marilyn, that she was just some dumb sex symbol,” said Mullis. “But she was more than that. She was a very complex, damaged, sad and tragic person whose decisions to get involved with powerful political men resulted in her tragic end.”
Perhaps this is why we are all a little bit obsessed with Monroe: we identify with her suffering, and want to be just as beautiful.
In our phone conversation, Mullis slips into her Monroe voice like slipping into bedsheets or dreams, her voice like cream and clouds, sounding like the promise of orgasmic sex or dessert.
I asked Mullis which sections in her one-woman show she likes best to perform. She said the scenes when Monroe mimics orgasmic sex on a chair. I found the orgasm scenes disturbing; they perfectly communicate how willing Monroe was to do what she thought she had to do. It’s reported that women who wanted an acting career were expected to sexually service studio bosses; the casting couch doubled as a bed. My mom points out that in patriarchy, girls and women have been taught to barter their bodies. #MeToo might have indicted some of Monroe’s lovers and bosses.
Mullis plans to turn the play into a movie. In it, she paraphrases Monroe: “Please, don’t make me look like a joke.” Don’t worry, Marilyn, we won’t. With artists and writers such as Mullis and me, you will be seen the way you deserve–as a truly talented and ambitious woman who wanted the same thing we all want and deserve: a meaningful and respected life. “Make me look good!” Mullis said, as we rang off. I hope I have! Because you deserve it!