James Robert Haspiel, born in Brooklyn in 1938, is one of the most renowned and respected experts on Marilyn Monroe the world over. From
what first started as a deep admiration of her from afar eventually over time blossomed into a friendship between fan and star. He was one of
the few who saw the true woman behind the legend, spent time with her, photographed her, and above all plainly adored her. Like her, Haspiel
had suffered a somewhat tragic childhood, after being put into foster care when his mother left his father.
“Ultimately, I had experienced a rather tragic childhood, so there was more than likely some sort of identification with Monroe happening there.
For me and Marilyn, the old expression ‘One wolf recognises another’ would be modified to read, ‘One waif recognises...’”
Haspiel said the above of his feeling of a connection with the star, since they had both suffered the same unstable upbringings of foster care.
He saw many tragic sights throughout his early years, including the following harrowing atrocities. In 1946 he witnessed his first little ‘girlfriend’
perish in a blaze at her apartment building, saw a new born baby’s severed head being retrieved from a garbage can, and also witnessed
suicide attempts by his mother and step sister. Tragically, he was also the victim of physical abuse. In 1954 he ran away from home and briefly
lived on the streets in his early teenage years. Haspiel notes the following from that time in his life –
“You could say rather easily that the teenaged Jimmy and the girl they called Norma Jeane both knew only too well about the struggle to survive
intact in what back then seemed like an alien world...But as far as one might go, the original pain remained, and so I always felt that special
bonding with Marilyn that all ‘displaced’ persons might inevitably experience with one another. But as we both would eventually know, survival
can be achieved.”
He was fourteen years old when he first set eyes on Marilyn, starring as the character Peggy in Clash by Night. He was instantly romanced and
enamoured by her, as millions more were. Unlike those millions though, his dream of meeting her turned into reality two years later. At just
sixteen years old Haspiel met Marilyn on September 10th, 1954 on 55th Street in New York. Much like the famed group of die hard fans The
Marilyn Six (or sometimes The Monroe Six), whenever she was in New York he would follow her every move.
On their first meet the young Haspiel could have requested a photograph be taken of them together but he did not have a camera at the time.
Or as was the standard just asked for her autograph, since she was there doing that very thing for the gaggle of fans surrounding her. But no,
he asked her for a kiss once all the other fans had dispersed. A kiss that he duly received from his ruby lipped platinum fox idol of the silver
screen, which began the acquaintance that eventually bloomed into a friendship. There first meet is summed up by Haspiel in the following
“I looked down into her face, and the first word that came into my head was ‘Angel’ – she looked like an angel to me. Instead of being
fascinated, I was smitten.”
Upon leaving her hotel for appointments, if Marilyn she saw him there waiting for her she would often invite him to join her for the ride along in
her limousine or cabs from appointment to appointment throughout her busy working day. She began calling him ‘Jimmie’ in an affectionate way,
and to him he was his ‘Mazzie’ the loving nickname coined by The Monroe Six for the star.
Marilyn Monroe was who he witnessed as he drove around New York with her, but when their acquaintance did further into the kind of friendship
that allowed for him to visit her at her hotel suite, or accompany her on foot on an outing together he definitely saw Norma Jeane. In his books
Haspiel notes that it was indeed the normal person he saw the most, the unmade up yet still fresh and beautiful Norma Jeane, and not the sex
kitten, the blonde bombshell movie star that was Marilyn Monroe.
One instance of this is when Haspiel took a picture of a casual and relaxed Marilyn in her Cadillac outside of the Mayflower coffee shop. The
picture became a favourite of his, and Marilyn loved it too.
These candid photographs are perhaps the very substance which sets Haspiel apart from the fashion photographers who snapped Marilyn. He
wasn’t a high fashion photographer, and Marilyn was not just a job to him. She was his friend, and what he captured is a beautiful display of
images of a relaxed Monroe, an off duty star. Even the pictures he took of her at events, she seemed (to this fans eyes at least) to have a
softer smile whenever she was looking into the lens of ‘her’ Jimmie’s camera. Although sometimes, he did test her patience!
In June of 1955 he took photographs of an unmade up Marilyn outside of the apartment Lee Strasberg and his family lived, and overstepped
his mark by snapping a total of eleven pictures of the bare faced icon. “I could have slapped your face last night!” she scolded him the following
evening. He said the following over her words to him on that night –
“I was dismayed that she should say this to me, but then I thought about it later on and realised that it was a kind of acceptance of me on her
part. I didn’t realize, as it was happening, that in reality she was comfortable enough with me to say that directly to me. It was very revealing,
because if she had not by this time ‘connected’ with me, somehow she wouldn’t have bothered to react that way.”
Haspiel also often accompanied her when she was going from place to place on foot, most commonly on her visits to the Strasberg homestead
and then back to her hotel again. The below quote was taken from something he observed one afternoon whilst walking through New York with
Marilyn on their way to see Lee Strasberg –
“It was during these same walks that she did something that used to get me somewhat angry. Passersby would stop her along Central Park
West and exclaim, ‘Oh, you’re Marilyn Monroe!’, and she would respond, ‘No, I’m not, I’m Mamie Van Doren,’ or, ‘No, I’m Sheree North,’ because
she knew this would diminish their original interest. Both Van Doren and North were currently being lauded as ‘new’ Marilyn’s. I used to
admonish Marilyn, ‘How can you say that? Don’t you realise that these people will go around for the rest of their lives saying, ‘I saw Mamie Van
Doren in person and she’s got Marilyn Monroe beat by a mile!’”
From quotes like this we can understand that Haspiel thought Marilyn should never discredit herself (literally), or pretend to be another for the
sake of a quiet life. This fan observes that perhaps, in the naivety of his youth and amazement at her stardom, he just did not understand fully
her need to sometimes be left alone and her to wish to blend into the background and not be asked by every person who laid eyes upon her,
‘are you Marilyn Monroe?’ Another instance of her wanting to camouflage herself would have been on a shopping trip to Saks that Haspiel
accompanied her on –
“Amazed, I thought to myself, ‘Lady, you have lived for so long now in the middle of the crowd, you don’t even see it anymore!’ With everyone
present now staring at us, I thought, ‘There’s no one in this store who doesn’t already know it’s you!’”
Even though she couldn’t always keep the public at bay, there was one time Haspiel recalls where she made it clear his company was not
“She looked over at me and said with a gentle firmness, ‘No, Jimmy, I need to be alone right now.’ Immediately, she opened her wallet, and there
was a lot of ‘green’ in it, and she started to pull up a $20 bill, suggesting that I take my own cab to ‘our’ destination. I became at once offended
and promptly slammed the cab door in her face!”
It is moments like this that define the fact that a friendship of sorts had blossomed between the two, that they felt comfortable enough to be
totally open with each other- no matter the consequences! Haspiel did genuinely care for Marilyn though. He very much saw himself as
defender of her name, with stories like the following to use as reference.
After seeing a letter by a reader published in a magazine in which they referred to Monroe as ‘a prostitute’ Haspiel took it upon himself to draft a
letter of defence regarding Marilyn to that magazine. He notes the following of showing Marilyn his letter –
“So I showed Marilyn my letter, and I remember she read it, then reached across the table and took my hand in hers, and in a very loving voice,
Marilyn said to me, ‘Jimmy, you don’t have to defend me.’ I thought it was very nice of her to say that to me, but I wanted to defend her, and
here she was caring about me being hurt about these kinds of things being said about her.”
A tender moment of friendship was captured between them on Haspiel’s 21st birthday in 1958. He met up with her with his friends after a
screening of Some like it Hot. She kissed his cheek, and his friends took pictures.
“Marilyn proceeded to plant a birthday kiss on me. And, having done so, Marilyn then examined my cheek, exclaiming, ‘Oh, I didn’t leave a lip
print, Jimmy,’ then kissed me a second time, being sure to leave the outline of her lips firmly affixed to my skin. As I let go of her waist, Marilyn
came back to me yet another time, put her arms around me, squeezed me hard, and whispered into my ear in a most endearing way, ‘I
remember when you were seventeen, Jimmy!’”
Between then and her untimely death, Haspiel would only ever see Monroe another couple of times. Once was at a costume test for The Misfits
in 1960, and later that year in July where he saw her at the airport. He called that she looked terrible at the time.
“It was to be the second time, the last time, in all those years that I saw her that was looking bad. So bad, in fact, that as I went up to her as she
was about to board the plane, she turned to me, and I took one look at her ravaged face and refused to accept what my eyes could see so
clearly. I turned away from her.”
The very last time Haspiel and Monroe were to see each other was at the Birthday Gala for President Kennedy held on May 19th, 1962 at
Madison Square Gardens, New York. He says the following of the night –
“Well, you know, it’s become so legendary. It was exciting, but I was sitting in my seat looking at a friend of mine, so that’s a whole different
perspective. And I saw her for the last time at 4am that morning, after she sang to Kennedy”.
On August 5th Haspiel received a phone call from Frieda Hull, informing him that Marilyn had died. He was absolutely devastated, it was
unbelievable to him. In his 1991 book, Marilyn: The Ultimate Look at the Legend, Haspiel maintains that she was murdered because of an affair
with JFK. The measure of Monroe’s affection for Haspiel can be weighed by the fact that after her death, an envelope marked ‘children’ was
found amongst her possessions. This envelope contained photographs of her stepchildren from her marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur
Miller, and also a photo of herself with her ‘Jimmie’.
James Haspiel still resides in New York, where he staunchly continues to defend the honour of his late friend and idol to this day. He has three
published works on Monroe, Marilyn: The Ultimate Look at the Legend (October 1991), Young Marilyn: Becoming the Legend (May 1995) and
The Unpublished Marilyn (2000).