Matthew Lickona 4 p.m., March 16
Mystical Makeovers & L.A. Murder(s): Marilyn Monroe’s Glamorous Ghost
Ghost stories are among the oldest fictions ever told, predating the written word, and what Hollywood icon has spun off more flights of fiction (and purported/distorted “biographies”) than the most storied and serenaded candle in the wind ever to light up Tinseltown, Marilyn Monroe?
While we’re in the fiction department, let’s acknowledge that romance fiction, both of the bodice-ripper variety AND the nude wave of contemporary “chick porn” like Fifty Shades of Grey, is often credited for keeping countless brick and mortar bookstores in business. There seems to be a bottomless well of devotion and voracious appetite for such red-hot reading.
Not that that’s news to the Romance Writers of America whose local meetings frequently include Glamour Ghost author (and fellow dog lover) Mindy Ross.
Ross unwraps the shroud of her Hollywood haunting gradually, with an individual, conversational, and thought-provoking style, told almost wholly in first-person diary-like entries of one Silver Bear, a journalist from Valley Center near San Diego worried about her missing friend Piper, an LA tabloid writer who’d mysteriously vanished.
The story opens with the apparent murder of Marilyn Monroe, by someone “on a mission from his boss.” Then starts the account of Silver Bear, a San Diego Union writer whose move to LA in search of Piper takes place just days after the murder of star Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratten, September 1980, setting the chiller vibe even before she goes undercover to take a job at the self-same Hollywood gossip and celeb news rag, Rant, where Piper was last seen.
In short order, Silver is well-integrated into the “perpetual chaos” of the publication’s office, headed up by a handsome billionaire who, even at his 50 years, comes across as something like the George Clooney of publishing, just as successful as he is dreamy: Marc Haverston, an old school Hollywood type (even for 1980) who still wears fashionable (and unmistakably fetishistic) fedora hats.
Not quite SO dreamy, tho, as to escape Silver’s suspicion as the man who may have murdered her friend Piper. Not to mention the OTHER missing office girl….
With Piper merely MIA, though, what makes Silver think “murder”? Well, moving into Piper’s old LA pad and seeing her ghost doesn’t hurt, even tho the ethereal spirit who appears in Silver’s new Hollywood bungalow on “Mistress Row” (famed carnal hideout of countless studio execs) at first says nary a word.
You know who IS chatty, though? None other than the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. And it takes surprisingly little time for the (clearly VERY open-minded) journalist to not only accept but embrace her new roommate (who was actually living there FIRST, making Silver the hottie-come-lately).
And what a glamorous ghost Marilyn proves to be! First seen putting on Silver’s makeup at the mirror, the frequently corporeal spook even shares makeup with Silver and materializes wearing her own classic costuming, or at least variations thereof, and/or walking around just fleshly-enough to wear little more than one of Silver’s towels.
Silver finds Marilyn’s perfection irresistible, and her helpful new guardian angel (who explains she literally IS an angel, on the clock for the Big Guy) even gives Silver a glam makeover, just before her next face-to-face with her hunky employer.
Marilyn’s mystical makeover works at least splendidly enough to earn Silver a promotion from Publisher Marc, if not an instant karma e-ticket to erotica.
The glamour ghost takes on a sort of breezy House Bunny role, advising Silver in all manner of beauty, seduction, and love secrets (even while acknowledging her own failed marriages, all three of which Marilyn insists she nonetheless adored). When it comes to Silver’s questions about things like the afterlife, Heaven, and why Piper’s ghost doesn’t talk, Marilyn isn't so precise, and even less interested in discussing. She’s far more fascinated by things like hot air curlers and portable electric hair dryers, the stuff of sci-fi to a woman who apparently hasn’t been Earthbound since 1962.
Piper’s silence is said by Marilyn to be because she “hasn’t gotten her wings yet.” Marilyn also tells her “There is no Heaven, Silver, but life does get better, once you go beyond.” But apparently there’s a Hell, as Marilyn mentions its hottest real estate is populated by the men responsible for her own death (an altogether separate tale that may not be as separate as it first appears).
Miss Monroe later contradicts her “no Heaven” claim, telling Silver “There are different types of communication in Heaven.” As for God, he’s “a nice guy, and not bad lookin’ either.” Which pretty much sounds like something Marilyn might say, eh?
To its credit, the story (almost) never drifts lazily into the well-trod easy-A fallback of many romance novels in casting Silver as a somewhat helpless heroine seeking little more than a god-like prince to “save” her sorry, misunderstood ass. Silver may like the bad boys and have her own troubled history with men (like Marilyn, thrice married), but even as she’s drawn to Marc, she says things to herself like “If Marc did turn out to be a mad dog killer, I wanted the option of rejecting him before he rejected me.” Glamour grrrrl power!
The writing is solid and engaging, heavy on the dialogue, as befits both romance and crime fiction. There are a few Spillane-worthy touches, with lots of lingering, loving descriptions of feminine mystique like “When she lowered her lashes, they looked like tiny black fans resting under her eyes.”
I was thrown a bit by the occasional abrupt, and at first unexplained, shifts in the storytelling POV, away from Silver’s first person voice (can’t tell you more without flashing the “spoiler” sign), but it all fell together as the other puzzle pieces were revealed.
Ross evinces a good grasp on what makes a good romance, as well as showing a flair for action/adventure, noir, and crime fiction. On the latter front, a few procedural things were overlooked, such as a cleaning crew being described as tidying up a crime scene mere moments after the crime, while police are still questioning the witnesses and victims. Not even the occasionally Keystone LAPD would hand over multiple crime scenes, all saturated with evidence, to the building’s cleaning crew while the vics are still dabbing blood off their wounds.
I was also left wondering how, during Marilyn’s occasionally corporeal appearance before people other than Silver, outside Mistress Row, she was sometimes recognized as being THE Marilyn Monroe, and other times casually overlooked by other witnesses who don’t even seem to note ANYone’s presence, let alone Marilyn Monroe’s. Perhaps she has supernatural powers (aside from being able to grasp and wear real-world objects), only appearing before those she chooses and being invisible to all others?
The glamour ghost DOES offer some startlingly precise fortune telling about one character’s future fate, but it’s anyone’s guess if that character ever really suffers the scenario Marilyn describes.
Glamour Ghost by Mindy Ross is available at http://www.freado.com/book/12206/glamour-ghost . eBook at http://www.amazon.com/Glamour-Ghost-ebook/dp/tags-on-product/B007AAYRUC .
Ross is also currently working on a romance fiction line for Latinas, under imprints such as Hot-Salsa and Latina Cinderella.
“I saw the editor of Latina Magazine on TV one day,” she says via email. “She said that Latinas want to see stories about ‘everyday,’ not media Latinas. I realized the media Latinas do look Anglo, not like the girls you see behind the counter at McDonald's. I'm not Latina but my daughter is. I've been around the culture all my life. Married a Mexican and a Mexican-American. I thought, I can do this!”
Here’s a sample Hot-Salsa synopsis:
“Mariah Sandoval is a young woman who is on her way to college until she meets the neighborhood bad boy at a party. Leopard Herrera is the guy every girl wants: strong, suave, and handsome. After one passionate night, Mariah finds herself pregnant and full of remorse for bringing shame to her family. What’s even worse, she discovers that Leopard isn’t the cool hombre she thought, but a cold-blooded hitman for the notorious Mexican Mafia (El Eme). In an effort to at least give her baby a name, she reluctantly marries Leopard and enters a dirty underworld of sex, money, and drugs. And after her husband is arrested on murder charges, she must not only fight for her own survival, but that of her unborn child.”
The cover art for Cha Cha in the Hood has a lovingly lurid pulp novel look and feel. Its blown-up tagline, of the kind common on movie posters and pulp and comic covers, announces “Her first love is out to kill!”
Says Ross, “I mostly get my stories out of the newspaper. I call them tortured romances, because the borderline guy shoots the girl, etc.”
More like this:
- Marilyn? — Jan. 5, 2012
- Screenings: The Seven Year Itch — May 23, 2011
- Marilyn Monroe -- Lives Her Life Like a Body in a Box — Aug. 25, 2009
- Norma Jeane Mortensen Baker Dougherty DiMaggio Miller — Sept. 13, 2007
- The White Mask: Marilyn Monroe and the Hotel Del Coronado — Sept. 4, 2003