Elia Kazan on Marilyn Monroe: The Glamorous Penitent

Elia Kazan
In Conversation
Ecce Panis

I never saw her when she wasn't scared, pleading. For all of her beauty--and all of the power that accrued to her because of it--she had no confidence in anything but her ability to lure people into beds or fantasies. And I should add that this ability gave her little pleasure.

She wanted to be a good actress, but also a good girl, a good friend, and she tried very hard to please her own impossible standards and everyone around her.

People make fun of her ease in jumping into bed with people, but she was just as quick to write a check or stay up all night with a frightened friend or support someone in an endeavor they cared about.

She gave away pretty much everything she had.

She would show up at the Studio or my apartment or Lee's apartment with no makeup, her hair a mess: She was not showing up as the movie star, but the student, the glamorous penitent, ready for her daily dollop of wisdom.

Lee tried to give her an education; I tried to give her confidence. 

I think both were impossible but valiant efforts.

When someone comes to you and fervently seeks help, what do you do? I think that many people helped Marilyn--or tried to--because there was sex and money and attention paid out for the efforts, but I think people are generally incapable of turning away from someone so in need, and so grateful for the attention and the help.

I saw her a few times on the street, and she didn't see me, and she walked around as if she had just landed from another planet, or had just been born. She was confused by and marveled at shop windows, people whizzing by heading for work, energy in mere living.

She had spent her life struggling and surviving and warding off sexual attention: She had spent none of it just living, just looking around, just taking it easy.

She asked me if I believed in God. I said I did. I think he's angry with me, she said. She honestly thought that God was angry with her and that she needed to do things--rites and rituals, I guess-to purify herself, improve herself.

She knew that she was just a thing--she always said this, in anger and disgust--but she tried very hard to be a good thing, an important thing.


Popular Posts