Saturday, November 13, 2010


The Internet has been alive the last couple of days with the “discovery” of Marilyn Monroe’s recipe for stuffing – from the new book Fragments.  That’s it above, written on a stray piece of stationery, though why she’d have a blank sheet of paper with an insurance company letterhead remains a mystery.

Cookbook authors Matt and Ted Lee, who recreated the recipe for the New York Times, said it bore the "unmistakable balance of fussiness and flexibility that is the hallmark of an experienced and confident cook."  Oh come on.  It’s nice that the boys speak well of Marilyn, but clearly it isn’t “Marilyn’s recipe,” it’s something she copied down from somewhere; a book, a magazine, a TV show? 

It seems to me that writing down a fussy recipe doesn’t make you an experienced and confident cook any more than posing with a copy of Ulysses makes you an experienced and confident reader of literary fiction. Marilyn Monroe was one of those people who was always on the cusp of becoming something or someone else; a method actor, an intellectual, a great cook.  I’m sure she was sincere, but sincerity isn’t everything.

A quick zip around the Internet trying to discover Marilyn’s favorite food reveals two answer: hotdogs and caviar.  I tend to believe the latter, and I’ll tell you why.  There’s a wonderful and often hilarious book titled The Prince, the Showgirl and Me by Colin Clark (son of Kenneth, brother of Alan), which is essentially the diary he kept as a young man while working on the movie The Prince and the Showgirl, with Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier. 

Monroe and Olivier were (predictably) a match made in hell, not least because Olivier soon realized that for all her flakiness, her inability to remember lines or even show up with any regularity, she was still acting him off the screen.  That’s gotta hurt.

Clark recounts the shooting of a scene one morning in which Marilyn is seen eating a late supper with Olivier.  She was allowed to chose her own food for the scene, and went with caviar and chicken salad.  It needed a lot of takes to get the scene right, and since the food wilted horribly under the hot movie lights, fresh caviar and chicken were provided for each take.

Clark writes, “However there is a limit to the number of times that even the greatest actress can tuck into caviar and chicken salad at 11 in the morning.  I thought she did jolly well.  SLO (that’s Olivier) kept telling her not to eat, 'just mime,' but MM is now a 'method actress'.”

She drinks vodka and champagne in the scene, the vodka was water, the champagne was apple juice, but Marilyn protested and real champagne was produced, which of course got warm very quickly, though that didn’t stop her drinking it and getting drunk, which nobody seems to have minded in itself, they were just worried about continuity. 

I’m sure they were right to worry but the scene is fantastic.  Marilyn eats brilliantly, expressively, says almost nothing, just listens to Olivier making a phone call, and does indeed act him off the screen.  She also seems to get through an absolute ton of caviar.

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