Excerpt: 'The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe,' by J. Randy Taraborrelli

Onstage that night, many renowned performers were assembled to celebrate the birthday of President John F. Kennedy. Frank Sinatra was present, as were Diahann Carroll, Jack Benny, Henry Fonda, Leontyne Price, and many other luminaries. Each of them took to the stage to perform after being introduced in a dignified manner. Marilyn, however, received a very different introduction.

"Mr. President, Marilyn Monroe," the distinguished British actor Peter Lawford intoned numerous times throughout the evening. However, the "gag" of these many introductions was that when her arrival was announced, the spotlight would swing to the side of the stage and then -- nothing.

She wouldn't appear. Everyone would laugh, of course. After all, it had become a not-so-inside joke that Marilyn Monroe was a woman upon whom nobody could depend. Funny? Not particularly, especially if one took the time to examine just why she had become so unreliable.

She had been in on the joke that night, of course, and had even seemed tickled that her eventual appearance would be teased throughout the four-hour-long event. Indeed, as had often been the case in Marilyn's life, she knew that the public's expectations of her revolved around what they thought she lacked, not what she possessed.

"Most people didn't think of talent when they thought of Marilyn," Dean Martin once observed. "They saw this creature who happened to be blessed with the beauty of a goddess and the brain of a peacock."

However, Marilyn was no dumb blonde; she was much more intelligent than most people realized. For years she had used her intellectual abilities to conceal her most private struggles.

Once again, every ounce of willpower would be brought to bear this evening in order that the mere mortal could transform herself into the goddess the world had come to know and love. When Marilyn finally took the stage, the theater erupted into thunderous applause. She was charismatic, empowered, and, of course, spectacularly beautiful. Peter Lawford watched her wriggle toward him, her steps restricted to tiny strides due to her sheer gown's tightly tailored hem. After delivering a final punch line to the running joke of the evening -- "Mr. President, the late ... Marilyn Monroe" -- he reached toward the star's ample bosom and took from her an ermine fur. There she stood, looking almost naked, wrapped only in her ethereal beauty, shimmering in sequins, beads, and sparkling light.

'The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe': Prologue

Alone now, she waited for the crowd's reaction to wane before she could start to sing. It didn't for quite some time. The applause became less apparent, though, as a low-pitched throng of gasps and cheers came forth, mostly from the men in attendance. In fact, there was a full thirty seconds between the moment her outfit was revealed and the time she was able to begin singing. During that time, the audience's reaction changed from hoots and hollers to audible mumbles and, finally, to smatterings of laughter. She held her hands at her brow in order to shield her eyes from the spotlight, maybe hoping to see more clearly the man of honor -- a man she had hoped might one day be more to her than just her commander in chief. Then, after a particularly loud guffaw from a man in one of the first few rows, Marilyn's shoulders dropped and she sighed audibly. Eventually, deciding not to wait for silence, she started to sing while the masses continued expressing their reaction.

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