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Goodbye, Norma Jeane: The 51st Anniversary Of Marilyn Monroe’s Death

Fans gathered at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery on the anniversary of the actress’ death.

1. At sunrise on the 51st anniversary of her death, no one was by Marilyn Monroe’s crypt but the cemetery workers and the snails.

Ariane Lange

One of the men working came over, and I asked him about Monroe. “A lot of people like her,” he said.

2. To the side of the crypt, someone had taped a long letter addressed to Monroe.

Ariane Lange

“Dearest Marilyn,” the letter begins.

“Darling Norma Jeane.”

3. A white van pulled up and a man with a long gray ponytail hopped out.

Ariane Lange

“I think they’re from overseas,” he said as he positioned two large flower arrangements next to her grave, telling me I could check the cards. He took photographs of the flowers to prove they’d been delivered because sometimes people take out the original cards and replace them, so the real flower-senders don’t receive the proper credit. “Scandalous fuckers,” he said.

He’s half-right about the flowers: One of the arrangements seems to be from Russia.

4. This one addressed to “CRYPT OF MARILYN MONROE” is from an American fan club.

Ariane Lange

5. A bearded man appeared and started taking photos on his phone; I asked him if he was a Marilyn Monroe fan. He said no, he was working on a photography project where he takes one photo each day, and also he was the photographer David Hume Kennerly.

David Hume Kennerly / Via facebook.com

Kennerly won a Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and was Gerald Ford’s personal photographer (I also met him once, as a teenager). He said he was a freshman in high school when Monroe died. “She was just a rumor then.” His father loved Marilyn Monroe, which made sense because “they were about the same age.”

6. “Somebody is signing her picture — that’s weird,” he said as he looked at the photo of Monroe autographed by someone else.

David Hume Kennerly / Via facebook.com

7. Just before Kennerly left, George Vreeland Hill walked up. He’s also been working on a project: He films the flowers people leave for Marilyn Monroe. (While I was standing there, he got into a long argument with a man who said there was no video allowed.)

Ariane Lange

While Hill and I were talking (“I like Elvis a little more,” he said), a mother and her daughter walked by because the daughter didn’t believe Marilyn Monroe was really here. They did not know it was the anniversary of her death.

Andrea Stern, the mother, asked who else was buried here, and Hill gestured to where each was interred as he listed Don Knotts, Eva Gabor, Mel Tormé, Dean Martin, Carl Wilson, Dorothy Stratten, Natalie Wood, Bob Crane, Farrah Fawcett, Rodney Dangerfield (he rattled off several other names too quickly for me to write down).

The Sterns walked off, and I listened to Hill narrate his video. “An iconic figure who is gone but clearly not forgotten,” he said to his camera, panning over the roses.

When he left, he said it was to “take a picture of Farrah. I’m doing a flower thing for her, too.”

8. Hill started to leave, but he came back and asked to borrow my pen.

Ariane Lange

Earlier, when he told me his name, he explained there must be three or four thousand George Hills in the country. “But there’s only one George Vreeland Hill.”

9. A couple arrived a little after 9 a.m. I watched him take a photograph of her placing a red rose by Monroe’s crypt. I asked if I could take a photograph of them, and while they were moving closer together, she started to cry.

Ariane Lange

When I asked Mariana Milan and Marcos Martinez if they knew this was the anniversary of her death, they said yes, they knew.

10. At 9:14 a.m., a woman holding three white flowers crossed herself and approached the crypt. At 9:15, she crossed herself again, then took a photo of the grave. A small crowd gathered.

Ariane Lange

The man in the red hoodie took a selfie in front of Monroe’s plaque.

11. “It it normally like this?” the tourist asked me, gesturing to the flowers.

Ariane Lange

I told her there were always flowers, but there are more than usual today.

Her traveling companion showed me photographs he took last year, at the 50th anniversary. I asked him his name, and he said Kaz. “And your last name?” I said.

“Enough.”

12. Jackie Craig, a member of the fan club Immortal Marilyn, carried a Marilyn Monroe purse and was miffed with the lipstick stains on Monroe’s grave.

Ariane Lange

“How ‘bout I kiss your grandma’s plaque with my lipstick?” she said angrily, and wiped off the kiss next to Marilyn Monroe’s name with a piece of paper.

13. Craig carried the flowers to the chapel for the memorial service.

Ariane Lange

14. Ashlee Davis moved the adoring letter that was off to the side and taped it closer to Monroe.

“I fell in love with Marilyn when I was 10 years old, and nobody understood it,” she said. She is 29, and only in the past few years does she feel she’s found people who do understand it. Davis is from Iowa, and she’s staying with Craig in Los Angeles — they met online, through the Immortal Marilyn Facebook group. “There’s no other reason that I talk to strangers on the internet,” she said. “It’s all been for Marilyn.”

“I’ve never met a living, breathing person that has the qualities that she has.” Davis paused. “Had.” She paused again. “Has.”

15. Last year at the 50th anniversary of Monroe’s death, Margaret Barrett came to the cemetery for the first time since she was 18.

Ariane Lange

She said she runs auctions of Monroe memorabilia, and the actress’ face was on her earrings.

16. This is the picture I took when Frank told me I could not take a picture of him.

Frank is the type of beautiful Los Angeles specimen who, I have to assume, has a team of people lighting him just out of sight at all times. He said this was his “meditation spot.”

“When I’m feeling vulnerable, I come here, and I know it’s okay,” he said. He is from Ohio, and he didn’t remember exactly when he became fascinated with Marilyn Monroe. In the chapel later he would tell me that he could relate to her loneliness.

17. Olya Kurilo was dressed head-to-ankle in black and ankle-to-toe in spiky green shoes. She carried a small bouquet of pink roses, which she lay on the ground.

Ariane Lange

She said she brought the roses on behalf of Monroe’s Russian fan club. Kurilo also visited Monroe’s graveside June 1, on what would have been her 87th birthday.

18. Diana Herbert was “about 16” when she met Monroe. They would sometimes see each other at parties.

Ariane Lange

Her father, F. Hugh Herbert, wrote and directed the 1948 film Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! in which Monroe had a small part.

19. Monroe’s small part involved a canoe. This is a photograph of the actress with Herbert in the ’40s.

Courtesy of Diana Herbert

“It was fun knowing her,” Herbert said. “That’s about 102 years ago.”

(In the memorial service, Frank would tell Herbert, herself an actress, that she had beautiful eyes; she would reach up and touch his cheek.)

20. There were 100 chairs in the chapel for the memorial service, and only a handful were empty.

Ariane Lange

This woman came in late with beautiful hair. She, I later learned, is a Marilyn impersonator.

Frank sat next to me for the service, and I wondered if he also cringed a little when the president of the Marilyn Remembered club mentioned an auction of Monroe’s effects and said, “Here’s your chance to own some real Marilyn.”

21. Monroe’s hairdresser was at the memorial, and two actresses from Some Like It Hot spoke, although they didn’t know Monroe well.

Ariane Lange

Photographers James Spada and George Barris also spoke. Spada worked with the actress on the photo book Monroe: Her Life in Pictures. Barris said he took his last photograph of Monroe July 13, 1962, weeks before her death. Douglas Kirkland, another photographer, took pictures of her tangled up in sheets in 1961.

22. Several people pointed out the grave of Evelyn Moriarty, Monroe’s stand-in and friend. Notably, Moriarty did not list her birth year, because I guess a lady never tells her age.

Ariane Lange

23. Taking photos of Moriarty’s name, I noticed him for his vest, which was glittering and covered in images of Marilyn Monroe.

Ariane Lange

When Jimmy James took off his sunglasses and gave me that look, I saw her. Now he does voice impersonations “of divas,” but James was a Marilyn impersonator for 17 years, “almost as long as she was,” he said. He stopped impersonating her in 1997, because “Marilyn doesn’t age.”

24. By 5 p.m., Jackie Craig and Ashlee Davis were back from the memorial reception, sitting on the bench dedicated to Monroe by her fans.

Ariane Lange

They talked about Monroe’s rough upbringing, and said they were taking roses over to her foster mothers, buried nearby in the cemetery. After a while, Davis said she needed a “moment.” She moved toward the grave and stood there silently. When she turned around, there were tears in her eyes, and she put her sunglasses on.

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