Riding in a Ferrari 456 GT with Marilyn Monroe
The Asphalt Jungle
I looked over toward the passenger seat for the 50th time, and still it seemed completely surreal. There she was, Marilyn Monroe herself, riding next to me in the Ferrari 456 GT. I'd had some unusual experiences during my career as an auto scribe, but never one involving a silver-screen legend. Marilyn caught my eye and smiled that klieg-light smile. I tried to focus as I pushed on to California's high desert. Little did I know then, but the day was going to get even more memorable soon.
It started as an assignment for a high-end lifestyle magazine. The editor came up with the notion of pairing exotic cars with movie-idol look-alikes for a splashy feature. Soon I found myself driving a Dodge Viper from L.A. to Vegas for a photo shoot with "Elvis." I had the car set up for the camera under the gleaming portico of the since-demolished Sands Hotel when he appeared. I guess I was expecting "Vegas Elvis"—sequined jumpsuit, big sunglasses, maybe a forty of malt liquor in his hand—but this guy was "Love Me Tender Elvis" with skinny jeans, big acoustic guitar, tons of attitude. Immediately the throng checking out the Viper went wild—especially when Elvis leapt onto the driver's seat and started gyrating madly. Even the King himself never moved so fast. It was like watching a runaway oil drill with a sneer.
Next up, back in L.A., came a Porsche paired with "James Dean." To my eye, this guy looked more like the Jimmy Dean of sausage fame, and when he pulled his cowboy hat down and aped that famous bemused grin, he rated about a four on the "looks authentic" scale—good enough if you didn't open your eyes too much. I think we had a Clark Gable in the shoot, too—or it could've been Orson Welles. It was getting dark. Maybe it was Ethel Merman.
Then came the day I picked up a new Ferrari 456 GT—at the time considered one of the world's greatest grand-touring machines—and went to fetch "Marilyn" at her apartment in Beverly Hills. I expected yet another regular person in a Halloween costume. But then I arrived at the prescribed address, and my jaw hit the steering wheel. Standing on the curb was … her. That iconic "Seven Year Itch" white dress, the platinum hair, the ruby-red lipstick pursed into a heart that could beat you senseless. On the "looks authentic" scale this girl was a 12. Frankly, it was eerie. She climbed in next to me. "Hello there." Wow. The breathy kitty-cat voice, too. This girl was so Marilyn she could've fooled JFK.
We drove to our rendezvous with the photographer way out in the Mojave Desert. (For some reason, the magazine's art director equated "Marilyn Monroe" with "large cactus. ") There, for the next several hours, Marilyn posed with the Ferrari. She cooed. She flashed her Pepsodent-white teeth while biting coquettishly on a manicured fingernail. She damn near turned the sand into glass.
Afterward, on a stretch of deserted two-lane that stretched into infinity, I gave her a proper blast in the Ferrari—gunning the lovely V-12 and quickly flashing past 150 mph. Marilyn played her part to perfection: "Oh, do you feel the breeze?" she purred. "Isn't it delicious?"
Then it happened. We were on the return run to L.A., cruising with the flow along the I-5 somewhere in the San Fernando Valley, when a rear tire on the 456 GT suddenly exploded. (At least it hadn't happened during our little proficiency run.) I managed to slow the Ferrari without issue and pulled over to the shoulder of one of the busiest freeways in the United States. There we were: dazed journalist, wounded Italian supercar, and Marilyn Freaking Monroe trying not to get her high heels stuck in the lava-hot asphalt.
I could only imagine what was going through the minds of the hundreds of passing drivers. "Honey! Did you see? That was Marilyn Monroe back there sitting on the guardrail! I swear!" "Oh, knock it off, Al. You look in the bathroom mirror and see Tom Cruise."
There was no spare, of course. I didn't have a cellphone way back then, either. Walk for help? Even Hollywood's most legendary sex symbol couldn't get anywhere in those spiked stilettos. And what if I found someone on my own? What was I supposed to say? "Uh, excuse me, you're not going to believe this but … Marilyn Monroe and I just had this big blowout so I had to leave my brand-new Ferrari back there by the side of the freeway and … hey! Hey! Where are you going?"
I was still pondering my options when a big rig slowed, eased to the shoulder, and pulled alongside us. The trucker looked down from his lofty perch in the cab. He gazed at me. He turned to the hobbled Ferrari. He took a few extra moments to linger on Marilyn, her chiffon dress now dappled with tar. Then he looked back at me, his face a stone: "Life in the fast lane, eh kid?"
The trucker mentioned that an exit lay just around the turn. With the tire still on the rim, Marilyn and I climbed back aboard the Ferrari and, at about 5 mph, crept a few hundred yards down the shoulder until we were safely off the freeway and parked near a coffee shop. As we went inside to phone for a flatbed trailer, the movie goddess pointed to her handbag. "I'm just going to slip into the restroom for a sec." She flashed that transcendent smile, gave me a wink, and disappeared down the hallway.
My call made and a rescue truck from Ferrari of Beverly Hills on the way, I was sitting at the counter, sipping a coffee, when a stranger sat down next to me. "I'll take one of those, too," she said breezily. I looked over, confused. Noticing my expression, the stranger laughed. "It's me, Marilyn." This time my jaw hit the Formica. This girl was pretty but looked nothing like Marilyn Monroe. The cheek mole was gone, the white dress had turned into sweatpants, her hair wasn't even blond. I almost blurted out, "What have you done with her?!"
I started the day behind the wheel of one of the world's greatest cars, accompanied by the most glamorous movie goddess of all time. I ended it bouncing along on the battered bench seat of a flatbed truck, two strangers at my left, a
stunning but unusable supercar out back, a rapidly fading kitty-cat purr still ringing in my ears. It had taken only a failed tire to bring me crashing back down to reality: As an inhabitant of the fast lane, I was merely a look-alike, too.