From time to time I would persuade her to escape from the confined world of Hollywood; during these carefully planned getaways I took her to visit the old Spanish missions dating from the arrival of Christianity in California. Their white walls, silent chapels and paved cloisters echoing to our footsteps, the gardens with box hedges and crosses standing out against the blue sky, evoked a response in her.
I took her to Valentino’s monument where she picked one of the roses blooming there and noticed that he had died in 1926, the year she was born. She protested when I told her that those ‘whom the Gods love die young’ and declared that she wanted a long life even if she never became famous, but she had a feeling hers would be short.
As I broadened her horizons I brought up more serious subjects, introducing her to poetry through selected quotations. A line would often strike a chord within her, she would repeat it, and I knew she was committing it to memory; I noticed she remembered the saddest ones: ‘Life is a fragile shell’ or ‘Fame is the bright mourning of happiness.’
She was twenty and had never experienced the intoxication of success, yet already there was a shadow over her radiance, in her laughter.
One day when we were relaxing on the beach between photo sessions, I decided to capture some new expressions I had glimpsed on Marilyn’s face. Getting her in close-up, I asked her to react instinctively, without giving herself time to think, to the words happiness, surprise, reflection, doubt, peace of mind, sadness, self-torment…and death.
When I said ‘death’ she took hold of the folded dark-cloth and covered her head with it. Death to her was blackness, nothingness. I tried to coax another reaction from her. Death might be a beginning, the hope of an everlasting light. She shook her head: ‘That’s what death is for me.’
She turned towards me, her face set and despairing, eyes dulled, her mouth suddenly bereft of colour. To her, death was ‘the end of everything.’