Last night I shared a dressing room with Marilyn Monroe. How many actors out there dream of saying that? Well, I can say it. In a way.
It was at a corporate event. A great big splashy holiday party. The kind of party where you can tell how much money is being spent. On everything. The impressive venue, the hors d’oeuvres, and the entertainment, which included a small gathering of celebrity impersonators. Those were top of the line.
When Jack Nicholson entered the dressing room, I had to look twice. Then three times. Then four. To be sure it wasn’t really him. Of course, I knew he was an impersonator before I saw him. Even so, there was a part of my mind that was more willing to believe the illusion than the truth. He was that good. He had the manner down. His hair was carefully disheveled. His grin was his grin. His laugh was his laugh. He even had his speaking voice. The guy was fantastic. Good for him, and whatever price they paid was money well spent and well earned.
Same with Bradley Cooper. Sitting next to him on the sofa, I kept stealing glances at his eyes. There must have been a flash of thought streaming across the intense blue. An awareness that he was pretending to be someone he is not. Nope. He revealed nothing. It was surprisingly easy to imagine that I was chatting with the genuine article, rather than a skilled copy.
He joked about that, laughing at his lucky resemblance. When I asked if he was the same height and had the same sizes (a prerequisite for securing work as his stand-in,) he said yes, but that Bradley already had a guy he’d been using for years.
Leonardo DiCaprio breezed in with a story about being mobbed at the airport. Apparently, the client flew some of these performers in from… what, Vegas? Probably Vegas. In the lobby of the airport, he was recognized. Fans surrounded him, wanting selfies. With Leo.
He looked like the current Leo. A few extra pounds. Signs of gray at the temples. He’d even brought along a golden statuette. In case anyone asked.
That was an interesting thing. The way the three male impersonators looked so current. Interesting, when compared to the two female impersonators, who were both from another era. Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe.
The women noticed this out loud, and followed up with theories about why women who are no longer living might be in greater demand than ones who are alive. They were only halfway kidding.
Elizabeth Taylor walked in the door fully made up. Wig, gown, jewels. Everything ready to go. Marilyn Monroe, true to her legend, and to my great pleasure, did not.
She became Marilyn over the course of the hour that followed. Hair in curlers. Dressing table cluttered with lipstick and false eye lashes and the things I would have expected to see spread out in front of the real movie star, had I been an actor sitting quietly in the corner watching her get ready for the camera in the 1950s.
It was mesmerizing. All the more so, since this performer was not a young girl. She was a mature woman, with a figure that no longer matched the pin-up photos everyone knows. There are stories of how Marilyn would take off her makeup and reapply it several times, later in her career. Insecure about her looks. Remarkable, that, but true. Here now, I had the chance to picture how she might have aged, and what she might have seen in that mirror, if she had lived long enough.
She ducked behind a partition and emerged in an unforgiving sparkly gown. She knew it. People would notice that her waist was not small. There were the extra curves and bulges that come with time. The fur stole she wrapped herself in would serve as protection as well as frosting. Standing before a full length mirror, she arranged it for maximum effect, not letting her eyes linger too long on any part of her reflection that troubled her. Not now. This woman had the vulnerability down. No effort was needed there. It was eerie.
She also had the glamour, although that did take work. It was a gradually constructed performance, just as I imagine it was for Marilyn herself. When she was satisfied, she stepped into that role and it didn’t matter that she was older than Marilyn ever was. That her figure was too ample. That if you looked carefully enough, you could see the art.
In fact, all of it made the result that much more effective. As if time was flexible, and we could behold of a version of Marilyn that had lived. I was completely fascinated by her, and deeply touched.