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Jeanne Eagels, photographed by James Abbe (1920)

Jeanne Eagels, photographed by James Abbe (1919)

On what would be her 89th birthday, I’m remembering Marilyn Monroe – and the subject of my new book, Jeanne Eagels – with two excerpts from The Mmm Girl.

Mr. Strasberg took off his glasses, and without them his eyes looked tired. The curtains, not fully drawn, let in fading rays of sun.

Stretching around, I saw a portrait of a woman. The photograph was in black and white, and the woman’s blonde hair was partly covered by a cloche hat.

‘Who is she?’ I asked, pointing.

‘Jeanne Eagels,’ he said. ‘She was in Rain for two years, on Broadway.’

‘Oh,’ I said, remembering the movie. ‘She must be quite old.’

‘She died,’ he replied. ‘A wasted gift.’

‘It’s very tiring, to keep playing the same part.’

‘In the theater, there’s always room for improvement. Let that be your aim.’

Marilyn Monroe with Lee Strasberg, 1961

Marilyn Monroe with Lee Strasberg, 1961

‘Maybe I’ll go back this summer. The studio’s been sending telegrams, because I owe them two pictures.’

‘What can they do, drag you out of your sick bed? Don’t cave in, honey.’

‘You’re right, Joe.’ I stirred my coffee, and drank a little. ‘And I’ve told them that I won’t be available till after Lee’s film. He wants me to play Sadie Thompson in Rain. He’s involved with the project.’

Joe sighed. ‘If it’s that important to you, maybe it’s for the best to do Rain, then, instead. Are you sure Lee’s up to the job?’

I nodded, warming my hands on my cup.

‘Yes, we’ve talked about it for years, and it’s a dream for both of us.’ I was determined to do it. Lee had seen Jeanne Eagels in the play, and said I was the only actress who could match her.

‘You’re already a great actress,’ Joe replied. ‘If the critics can’t see that, it’s their loss.’

‘Do you really think I’m great?’