The enduring popularity of the blond bombshell transcends geography, culture and language. Yet despite her universal appeal, Monroe was an L.A. girl through and through.
Born, raised and, lucky for us, discovered in the City of Angels, Marilyn Monroe, aka Norma Jean Baker, spent much of her life working and playing in a startlingly wide array of locations throughout Los Angeles — she is said to have moved as many as 60 times. The 50th anniversary of her untimely death provides a great reason — though do we really need one? — to see L.A. through her native, blue eyes.
Sleep: Located in a quiet residential neighborhood just a few blocks away from the trendy shops of Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, The Charlie hotel is a mini-oasis of bungalows tucked amid tranquil, lush gardens. Named after Charlie Chaplin, who lived in one of the cottages, the upscale hotel includes a refurbished two-bedroom abode that Monroe called home in the 1940s, and it comes complete with a private patio and views of the abundant greenery. If quiet contentment isn’t your speed — and it certainly wasn’t always Monroe’s — try the completely renovated Spanish-style Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in the heart of newly bustling Hollywood Boulevard. Monroe lived here for stretches of the 1950s in a suite (now named after her) that overlooks the pool and the Tropicana Pool Bar. Legend has it that Monroe haunts the hotel — maybe because she got her career started here, when she posed for a suntan-lotion ad on the diving board of the hotel pool.
Eat: In a city where historic preservation is challenging — this is, after all, a place known for its obsession with all things new and reinvented — it’s surprising that so many spots that Monroe frequented are still in operation. One is Canter’s Deli in the city’s Fairfax district, where matzo-ball soup, corned beef sandwiches, and bagels and lox have been served since 1931. Not far to the west from Canter’s is Barney’s Beanery, which was originally a stopping-off point for weary travelers nearing the end of their journey to the Pacific Ocean along Route 66. Filled with license plates (drivers could trade theirs for a beer in the early days) and other memorabilia, the restaurant has a menu as thick as a newspaper. Monroe was known to be a fan of the chili. The restaurant table (number 14, to be exact) where Monroe and baseball great Joe DiMaggio had their first date is still in use at the longtime rock ’n’ roll hangout, the Rainbow Bar and Grill, on the Sunset Strip. When DiMaggio and Monroe met, the restaurant was an Italian eatery called Villa Nova, though these days the menu is a mixture of steak, fish and pasta dishes.
Drink: The location of the Formosa Café, across the street from what was once the Samuel Goldwyn Studio, assured that it would get a lot of business from Hollywood types. Through the years, everyone from Humphrey Bogart to Marlon Brando to Elvis Presley has frequented the Formosa, which today has a wide selection of martinis and what the restaurant calls Asian Libations, such as Enter the Dragon and Singapore Sling. Monroe visited the Formosa for cocktails with her fellow cast members from Some Like It Hot, which was filming at the nearby studio lot.
Do: No visit to Marilyn Monroe’s L.A. would be complete without a pilgrimage to the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, just one of the grand movie palaces where several of her movies premiered. Not far from there is the Egyptian Theatre, where Monroe watched movies as a kid. Opened in the 1920s and lovingly restored in the 1990s, the Egyptian is a destination in itself, with a dramatic courtyard and features that were inspired by the Egyptian craze set off by the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. These days, the Egyptian is one of the few places in the country that regularly shows classic movies on the big screen — including, from time to time, those featuring a hometown girl named Norma Jean Baker.
If You Go...
8447 Santa Monica Blvd.
419 N. Fairfax Ave.
819 N. Sweetzer Ave.
6712 Hollywood Blvd.
7156 Santa Monica Blvd.
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
6925 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
7000 Hollywood Blvd.
Rainbow Bar & Grill
9015 W. Sunset Blvd.