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Stag by Arv Miller In 1949, Marilyn Monroe, then an obscure starlet, posed for a beer ad at Tom Kelley‘s commercial photography studio in Hollywood. According to some accounts, a Chicago-based calendar manufacturer, John Baumgarth, saw the ad while visiting Los Angeles and inquired about the model: would she pose nude for a calendar? In other accounts, Tom Kelley recruited Monroe for the calendar job on the day he shot the beer ad, knowing that Baumgarth was shopping for nudes. Either way, nude photos could wreck a Hollywood career at the time, as Monroe was keenly aware, so she only accepted the job after being persuaded that nobody would recognize her. To further protect her anonymity, she asked Kelley to schedule the session for night, with no assistants save for his female business partner. Kelley agreed, and Monroe arrived at the studio at seven p.m. and posed for two hours on a red velvet theater curtain that covered the floor and complemented the color of her hair, then a reddish blonde. Twenty-four shots were taken, and Baumgarth chose one of them for the calendar he marketed as Golden Dreams, a name suggested by Monroe’s blondness, though it also inadvertently referenced the nighttime shoot.

Fifty years ago today in Los Angeles, where I’m writing these words while facing a screen of a kind that didn’t exist in 1962, a thirty-six-year-old woman fatally overdosed on Nembutal and chloral hydrate, sedatives she used, or tried to use, to sleep. She had a documented history of insomnia and attempted suicide, but there’s no conclusive proof that she killed herself intentionally or accidentally or that someone else administered the drugs. Her housekeeper, whom the LAPD thought “vague” and “possibly evasive in answering questions,” reported finding her dead at around three a.m. in the master bedroom of the Spanish Revival hacienda she had bought six months earlier on the advice of her psychiatrist, who supposed it would give her a sense of stability. She lacked that sense, having lived since childhood like a nomad, for the most part in California, where flux was and is the norm.

Please explain what just happened.

I’m guessing you just clicked on The Nervous Breakdown’s Arts & Culture tab.And perhaps you had to scroll down a little.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Dressing up as Queen Esther for Purim.Which is odd, since I’m not Jewish.

 

 

The last time I participated in a cyber-discussion on TNB in the comments section, I expressed my gratitude that authors, unlike actors or singers, don’t rely on appearances, and thus don’t have the same pressures—particularly those of needing plastic surgery to further their careers, specifically boob jobs. Besides, I offered, most writers aren’t that good looking.

 

 

A commenter disagreed, suggesting that plastic surgery might possibly help sell books. An author should do everything in his or her means to promote, including looking his or her best, whether through surgical enhancement or other means. Besides, boob jobs and plastic surgery are akin to braces and tattoos and teeth whitening and hair dye. A personal choice. Not a political one.

It got me thinking: If I got a breast lift, would I sell more books? If I lost ten pounds, would I be a better writer?

 

Recently I was on a panel titled “Getting Published” at the UCLA Writers’ Faire. My fellow panelist talked quite extensively about having a “platform.” A blog, Twitter, Facebook. A presence. These, she seemed to suggest, were more important than the writing itself. At the very least, without a platform, the writing, no matter how great, would remain unpublished.

It got me thinking: Do I need a blog, Twitter, and Facebook to be a better writer?

In other words, if I became more of a narcissist, and if my vanity increased, would my writing improve?

Nah.

I’ll probably gain ten pounds, let myself go, and stay off Facebook and Twitter.