In Our Lovely Deseret
Edited by Robert Raleigh
[p.125]My mom thought of Marilyn Monroe as the Mary Magdalene of her generation, misunderstood and angelic, so she went about thinking of ways to save Marilyn’s soul. Mom had her soul saved by the Mormon missionaries who came to her house when she was first divorced in 1975.
For three weeks in a row, instead of a usual Monday Family Home Evening where we’d talk about charity or tithing, Mom let us watch Marilyn movies. We saw Bus Stop, All About Eve, and The Misfits. She said The Seven-Year Itch didn’t have good moral values, so we didn’t watch that one.
Then Mom started doing genealogy, but, rather than her own relatives, she looked into Marilyn’s line and found out that Marilyn’s real name was Norma Jean Mortenson. She also discovered that Monroe was her mother’s grandfather’s name. And she learned that Marilyn was related to James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States.
Mom started cutting pictures of Marilyn out of magazines, even pictures from The Enquirer. There was one of Marilyn as a child with Easter clothes on and another where she wore a flower dress and stood in front of a swimming pool for the movie Something’s Got to Give. Mom pasted them in her Book of Remembrance genealogy book with [p.126]captions that read, “Norma Jean, face of a distraught child,” or “Marilyn, a week before her untimely death.”
Mom said Marilyn was religious, sensitive, and intelligent. She said Arthur Miller wouldn’t have married a knucklehead. Mom’s favorite husband of Marilyn’s was Joe DiMaggio, a man who Mom said was as caring as any, the proof of which was an item she’d cut out of a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” paperback and pasted in her Book of Remembrance—it said that Mr. DiMaggio put roses on Marilyn’s grave once a week.
Mom’s number one goal was to make Marilyn a Mormon, but, according to the church, only a relative could allow that to happen. So when a woman, in Star magazine, claimed she was Marilyn’s daughter, Mom believed her and wrote asking for permission to do Marilyn’s temple work. The daughter wrote back and said no.
Somehow Mom proved to the deciders high up in the Mormon church that we were related to Marilyn as some kind of distant cousins. The day Mom got the letter saying she could do the temple work for Marilyn, she put Marilyn’s baby picture on the piano and we sang, “Come, Come Ye Saints.”
At church Mom told the members about the possibility of Marilyn becoming a Mormon; the sisters asked, Do you think she’ll accept it? Meaning accept being a Mormon. Lots of sisters, especially the older ones, said they didn’t think she’d accept it—no way. Mom just said, “Judge not.”
After a while Mom started buying books about Marilyn’s life. My favorite was one with a pink cover and Marilyn making a kissing face. It had a picture of Marilyn lying on a bed, naked. I looked at the picture a lot. Mom said it was sad Marilyn had to pose for a picture like that. She also said Marilyn had a beautiful body.
Mom wanted me to do Marilyn’s baptism because I was twelve and just old enough to do baptisms for the dead at the temple. She said it would be something I’d remember my whole life. Mom made me tell the bishop I’d started stealing things like dollar bills from her purse and some 45s from my best friend Debbie. I had to say I was sorry and then repent. The bishop said that only those with a pure heart could go to the temple and he made me promise to be honest.
The morning Mom and I took the #37 Magna bus into Salt Lake City was the same morning I wore panty hose for the first time. Mom [p.127]bought me size petite, sandalwood color hose, and said it was okay that they hugged up above my stomach. We were going to do Marilyn’s baptism and Mom felt it was important that I look and act more mature.
The bus driver complimented both my mom and me on our dresses as we put our 15 cents in the change meter. During the bus ride Mom said that Marilyn was probably just as excited to get baptized as I was to do the baptism.
When we got to the temple, we showed our recommends, letting the man at the door know to let us all the way inside. We walked down a hall and then through some doors and into the ladies’ dressing room.
I went into a dressing stall and hung up my corduroy jumper and cowl-neck blouse in a locker. Then I put on a white jumpsuit and Mom helped zip up the back.
Two women in white dresses walked me to the baptismal font held up by big brass-like oxen. A bunch of people in white ran to the top of the platform once I stepped down into the water because they wanted to see Marilyn’s baptism. They smiled at me like they were my grandparents.
After the man said a prayer and dunked me all the way under the water, I popped up to the sounds of claps and some people even had both hands up to their mouths as if my coming back up was a miracle. Mom stood at the top of the steps and smiled. Her eyes were puffy and pink and she held a handkerchief up to one side of her nose.
After I dried my hair and changed back into my clothes, Mom took me to Walgreen’s for a grilled cheese sandwich and a Sprite. She had a club sandwich and a ginger ale. While we were eating, Mom told me she thought Marilyn accepted it and that she would thank me in heaven for what I did. She also said that we’d probably all be friends some day.
When we got home, Mom walked around the house drying dishes and crying to the record, “Candle in the Wind.” For a while she leaned in the kitchen doorway with the dish towel at her hip and made a soft pouty face with her eyelids half closed and her lips pushed out and slightly separated. Then she stared, the way Marilyn stared at Clark Gable in the movie The Misfits, sort of sad and lost, with nothing left to look forward to.
DAWN HOUGHTON, a Salt Lake City, Utah, resident and Marilyn Monroe devotee, has written for Salt Lake City magazine and City Weekly. Her poetry has appeared in Georgia Review, Wind Magazine, and Black River Review. She holds a master’s degree in technical writing from Westminster College, Salt Lake City.