An Evolutionary Career

By James Ryan

"Marilyn," he greeted the actress as he opened the door. "Please, do come in."

Marilyn cast glances from over her sunglasses to the left and right, as though she were entering something far more seedy than the quiet home in the Hollywood Hills, before taking him up on his welcome. Only when the door closed did the tense body motions cease.

"I took the liberty of brewing some tea," he said as he led her to the couch. "I hope you like Darjeeling."

"Thank you," Marilyn finally said. "That’s very kind of you."

"You know, I am very glad you took me up on my offer to come over and talk about things. I had heard that you were a bit uneasy about the script, and thought that a little talk might be of some help."

Marilyn stared at her hands for nearly an eternity. "I understand," she finally said, "that you’re a very good listener."

"If you mean I can be discrete, yes, I do make it my policy of never, ever divulging anything said to me in confidence. You may say whatever you like, and it will never leave this room."

"You almost sound like some of the shrinks I’ve seen," Marilyn said with a laugh.

"It’s a professional courtesy, really. If actors can’t discuss the strain of their work with other actors, then who can they go to really? I myself have never thought that a psychiatrist would have the understanding of what we do in Hollywood to fully appreciate what we go through."

"And God knows, you’ve been doing it a lot longer than I have. You must have seen everything."

"Sadly, too much at times. But as I said, I do pride myself on being a good listener. Sugar in your tea?" He poured her a cup and took it to the service.

"Yes, two—no, three lumps, please. And cream."

He fixed Marilyn her cup, then had himself one with two sugars. He sipped politely, waiting for the actress to finish her cup.

Marilyn drained the tea and said suddenly, "I don’t know if I can do this movie."

"Oh?" he asked quietly.

"I know I said I wanted to do it, and I mean, I owe Fox another picture, but I just…. " Her hands tightened, her knuckles went white.

"Please, take a breath," her host said.

Marilyn complied, with a very deep breath held so long that she almost passed out.

"Now," he said, "do tell me what seems to be the matter."

"I think it’s the whole thing. Just the way it all happened, and now…. I feel so out of control, now. It’s uncomfortable."

"Do go on."

"Well, it’s like the picture I didn’t finish, Something’s Got to Give, when I was doing that, there was a lot of strain, and the way that was just…." She trailed off.

"Would another cup of tea help, dear?" he asked her.

She sat and stared at him for a few seconds. "Maybe it would, thank you. Four lumps, this time."

He fixed Marilyn her tea, then sat back.

"You know," she said to him, "I don’t know if it’s the tea or the house, but it’s remarkably quiet here. Very calm."

"I do my best to keep distractions to a minimum. You were saying about how bad it all is…?"

"Well," she sighed, "not that bad. I was going through a lot more back then, a lot of painful things. You… um… you’ll understand if I don’t go over all of that with you?"

"Please, whatever you’re comfortable sharing with me."

"I mean, I tried to kill myself." Marilyn let those words stay in the middle of the room for a few beats before she continued. "That was bad, the way things just got out of hand. The missed work, the firing. And that night in August, I nearly did it."

Nothing was said. He just looked at Marilyn, and she stared at the table as if what she had just admitted was made flesh and splayed upon it for dissection.

"It has been five years," he finally said.

"Yes, five years. Leaving Hollywood, doing away with all drugs and drink and parties. There’s this town in Oregon that’s so isolated, they didn’t even hear of the Beatles until I left. They just live very quiet lives there. It was perfect for me, a place to just go, away from everyone. Just getting away from everyone, you know?"

He nodded. "So what made you come back?"

Marilyn sighed. "I guess show business is the one drug I could never really clean my system of. I did owe Fox one more picture, and when I came back and mentioned I was available but that I wanted something entirely different, a picture you wouldn’t find Marilyn Monroe in, they showed me this." She took out her copy of the script.

"How do you like the script?" he asked her.

Marilyn’s face screwed up. "It’s not one of my old pictures, sure. They have me playing someone who’s happily married, and she’s a scientist too."

"But do you like the script, Marilyn?"

"Do I like it? I think it’s great, but is it me?"

"You’re not comfortable with it, then?" he asked.

She sighed. "I want to do this pic. I really, really want to do this. But it’s scaring the shit out of me. Can I do it? Hell yeah, but it’s just—Oh God, I feel myself getting so twisted up again. What am I going to do?"

He nodded a few times. "Well, if I may make an observation."

"Please do."

"I think you did a very smart thing when you signed on to not have a lot of publicity surrounding your return to films."

"Absolutely. Publicity’s one of the drugs I can live without in my life anymore."

"So as I see it, the less people are expecting of you, the less pressure there is. If you treat the project as just another working actor would, it should take a lot of the stress out of the endeavor."

Marilyn smiled. "I should have thought of that. I mean, I’m acting like I’m a starlet again. Me!"

"Oh, I can fully see why this might be a difficulty. After all, it has been five years since your last shoot, and this is, as you, say a radical departure."

She smiled. "You’re very understanding."

"If you wish, I could certainly arrange during the shooting of your scenes when I’m not called for to be there as an additional drama coach—"

She raised her hand. "The last thing I need is a drama coach. I made that mistake five years ago, and I don’t want to go through that again."

"Very well. How about for moral support, then?" he said as he drank his tea.

Marilyn smiled. "That would be nice. I’d appreciate having one friendly face in the room."

"As much of it as you can get."

"Yeah," said Marilyn as she read the script. "I’ve never done a role with this much make-up before."


The first day of the shoot, she tried to remember what he said about the make-up, how it helps to overact so that your expressions could come through the layers.

Marilyn looked for him but didn’t see him. She did notice the young woman in the tattered costume that showed off quite a bit of her, and hoped this woman would do better as an actress than Marilyn had if she was going to be remembered for her looks.

"OK," said the director, "places."

For a long instant, Marilyn just turned around in one place, not going to her spot. She felt panic starting to build when she looked around and thought that she was doing this alone, that he had forgotten to be there for her, that she was doing this without a single friendly person around her, that it was going to be like every other shoot and lead down the spiral again, that she was going to have another lonely night when—

The third time she looked, she saw him. Of course he’d look different, she reminded herself; he was in the same thick makeup that was on her face now.

"Coming," Marilyn said as she got to her mark.

"Camera," the director said as the shot was boarded. "Action."

With her costar looking on, she felt very comfortable. She gave her lines flawlessly as she came up to the bars that held Charlton Heston, and executed the physical action well as he grabbed her before the actors made up as gorillas came in and beat him. And when she was handed the blank piece of paper that, according to the script, was supposed to have written on it MY NAME IS TAYLOR, she emoted her surprise and shock perfectly.

"OK," said the director, and after what felt like forever to Marilyn, "print it."

There was some cheering on the set for a good shot made in one take, and Marilyn could feel tears start to well up at her eyes.

"Wonderful," said her costar, squeezing her hand. "You were fantastic, Marilyn."

"Thanks, Roddy," she said with a choked voice.

Copyright 2001, James Ryan

About the Author

James Ryan won the Beatles Embassy Imagination Award: Best Fan Fic for his story "I Read the News Today." Yes, believe it or not, you can still hold a vote with a surprise winner without a media circus ensuing or legions of lawyers running around your capitol.... For his birthday, he has hopes of actually being recognized as a writer; hey, weirder things have happened.... His work has appeared in such places as Dragon magazine, Lacunae, the Urbanite, the New York Times, and some of the better men's room walls across the state of New York. Until he gets the chance to follow the program for disenfranchised neurotic writers, he's doing the regular job and grad school schtick. His wife Susan and son Jamie just nod and smile when he starts to rant, which, all said, makes things that much easier.

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