Trying to shake loose from America's culture loop
DID Marilyn Monroe have a daughter? That's the pressing concern of a new novel. The ad shows a model dressed up as Marilyn Monroe in what must be pose No. 1: the pouting red lips. Where would publishers be without Marilyn Monroe? Each year more ``undiscovered'' pictures turn up. And more people who knew her intimately step forward, out of the shadows, to tell all. By my informal count, she had more close friends than Philadelphia has mummers on New Year's Day.
America is stuck in a culture loop. The same celebrities keep coming up again and again. Sometime between 1959 and 1963 American culture hit a snag and began recycling itself. Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, John F. Kennedy, Elvis - the retelling of their stories is our most successful recycling effort.
There must be some theory in physics that explains this recurrence.
A remedy is needed. All reading Americans over the age of 21 should be given a note from the United States surgeon general excusing them from reading or seeing any more about the following:
Paris in the 1920s. All stories about the lost generation hanging about Sylvia Beach's bookstore ``that summer in Paris.'' Anything that Ernest Hemingway said to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Other literature loops to be excused from: Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury miasma; Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation anecdote machine; and the all-too-quotable smart set at the Algonquin round table.
The Woodstock Loop. A new exciting loop: 1969. How many were at that farm in upstate New York? Twenty-three million? Amazin'.
The UFO Loop. The aliens are back and they're brasher than ever. In the 1960s, they just hovered overhead. Now they abduct people.
The Johnny Carson Late Night Loop. Johnny & Ed. ``How big is it?'' Sell some Alpo, Ed. ``So you're just in from the coast? So what's it like working with...? Let's look at the film clip. You open in Vegas on the 15th.'' Thirty years of this chatter would weaken any nation's will to create more pop star idols.
The Assassination and Conspiracy Loop. Are all these conspiracy theories just a conspiracy to take our mind off the real conspiracy?
The Intellectual Loop. Mays, Mantle, Snider, and DiMaggio played great baseball, on real grass, but it was quite a few afternoons ago. America will never be that America again. And the Dodgers will never return to Brooklyn.
If the surgeon general won't sign excuses liberating us, then let's get all these stories over in one shot, with an all-purpose culture loop story. Most of these stories purport to be told by someone who was there. And as always it is before the war, that summer in Paris....
Ah, how Marilyn would laugh. She'd throw her head back on the white Naugahyde seat of my cherry red, '55 T-Bird, and just laugh. ``Montmartre,'' she said, ``such a funny word.''
We laughed often that summer in Paris. That evening I had run into Marilyn at Sylvia Beach's bookstore, Shakespeare `N' Stuff. James Joyce and Marilyn were having a heated discussion about the Nighttown sequence in ``Ulysses.'' ``It's just not box office, Jimmy,'' Marilyn had said. She was the only one who could call him that: ``Jimmy Joyce - you put down that pen, right now, and come out with us on the town.'' And he would.
Well, that night as we were leaving, Marilyn stepped over a subway exhaust grate and her white dress flew up. Cameras snapped, and all heck broke loose. Joe DiMaggio pushed through the crowd and tried to tug Marilyn away by the arm, but Hemingway blocked his path. So F.Scott Fitzgerald stepped forward to clear the air and challenged Papa Hemingway to a boxing match. The next thing I know, we all pile into my T-Bird, and off we drive - about eight of us - to the gym to see Ernest and Scott duke it out. But Virginia Woolf, she climbed into the ring between them and put an end to it, right there: ``Scotty! Ernie! You stop that this instant! We're going to this new club to hear a young chanteur named Elvis.''
So now there's maybe 20 of us in my little two-seat T-Bird; Virginia and her sullen husband, old what's-his-name, Scotty and Ernie and Jimmy Joyce, and more of that dreary Bloomsbury crowd and I don't know who else - only the memoirs will reveal who was there. But as I recall, we picked up Jimmy Dean, Matisse, the Beatles, Fidel Castro, Winston Churchill, and W.C. Fields - the last two just wrecked my shocks.
All this would have been enough for one evening in the 20th century, but as we came around the Arc de Triomphe, up in the sky, we saw strange lights. ``UFOs,'' Jean Paul Sartre called them.
``The aliens are different from us,'' Fitzgerald said.
``Yeah, they have more money,'' Hemingway replied.
And then Virginia Woolf said something long and gloomy. But it's what Marilyn said that we all remember the most. She was sitting on Jimmy Joyce's lap, with her arms around Pablo Picasso and Frank Sinatra (Yeah, he was there, too). With that breathless voice she said, ``They'll be talking about this car ride for a long time to come.'' And we all laughed, thinking of our memoirs to come. Yes, we laughed often that summer in Paris.
Howard Mansfield is a free-lance writer in Hancock, N.H.