This is the beach where summer was invented, just north of the Jonathan Club, just south of every conceivable hope you ever had for what a swanky California shoreline should be.This is where sunshine meets star power. It’s where God created the 5 o’clock shadow. It may well be where he invented freckles on the bridge of your little girl’s nose.
The warm spring rays seem ordained here. Mystical. Rejuvenating. As with sunlight always, a little sexy too. Indeed, there is no perfume, no love potion, half as powerful as sunlight on bare skin.This is the beach where Marilyn Monroe romped in and out of a towel, where the Rat Pack and Beatles kicked back. The Baron of American Literature, F. Scott Fitzgerald, wandered along these waves.
This is the place where Metro met Goldwyn met Mayer. One night, Irving Thalberg came up with the idea for the Oscars on this beach, at the sprawling house that is half bodega, half resort.As reference, Santa Monia Pier is a 25-minute walk to the south. You can almost hear the roller coaster screams, smell the mustard, taste the first kisses.
It’s PCH, so traffic is always a little knotty, particularly on a warm Saturday, Earth Day, where we have come to hear Professor Arthur Verge do his popular song-and-dance on the history of Hollywood Beach — playground of moguls, last stop for the American Scream.Have you ever seen the lifeguard Marilyn had the fling with? Tommy Zahn was a young Paul Newman, but the real deal, not someone merely playing a hunk. Zahn was the son-of-the-sun, a legendary lifeguard who once reportedly saved six swimmers in a single day.
On this beach, Tommy and Marilyn soaked up some rays, then each other. Turns out she wanted fame more than she wanted him. The beautiful part? Tommy shrugged and walked away, as Newman would have. As it turns out, the lifeguard may have been the love of her life.John F. Kennedy got into all kinds of trouble on this beach, the kind of place that makes you forget half your promises.
One afternoon in 1962, Kennedy strolled out the back gate of the Peter Lawford estate – aka “The Western White House – and plunged unannounced into the world’s deepest ocean, as onlookers gasped and the Secret Service went ape-spit.More covertly, he canoodled with Marilyn at a beach house a few doors up. Under today’s Victorian values, could Kennedy have been president? How many times would he have been impeached? Me, I’ll take an effective playboy president over the uptight dolts who never seem to get anything done. Anyway, thank you, Professor Verge, for another rousing public lecture on L.A.’s most-interesting slice of history. So many shenanigans. So much magic.Indeed, “The Wizard of Oz” has creative roots at this beach. It was the last beach where the Beatles were seen together. Allegedly, Lennon had a lover at a spot up near the Annenberg Beach House, a romantic interlude set up by Yoko herself.
Hey Netflix, got anything to top that?The story of this beach combines the best elements of “Gatsby” and “The Old Testament.” My pitch: When Kennedy and Marilyn died, so did an audacious, raucously adult American innocence. But if you rub that a little, you find something very real, very rough, and a tad poetic. You find California.The era’s swirling vortex was this wide, gleaming beach where the palm trees tower from the bluffs like candles on a cake.
“For a time, this was the center of the universe,” explains Professor Verge.Very glad Smartacus got to see it the other day, and Suzanne, and her mama, and Ulfie and Bittner and a cast of characters, gamblers, barkeeps, anchor dudes, ex-athletes and the like. Just what you get if you randomly round up 100 people on the west side of Los Angeles (and one more reason they’d never let me live here).
On a warm spring day, there’s a Kennedy-esque exuberance to Los Angeles. I credit that sun. The tacos too. And the voodoo my buddy Miller brought along, allegedly some kind of high-octane margarita mix, but who really knows?In the end, I’m just a kid from Chicago, which has its own golden coastline. But L.A.’s depth is never lost on me. The way the sun steps into the sea each night. The way strangers say hello. L.A. is less tribal than Chicago. Honestly, I couldn’t pick a favorite. But every day here is like a college mixer.
Old friends. New friends. Good days. Great stories. You glow, girl.Yeah you.
15 thoughts on “Marilyn’s Beach”
You so beautifully and poetically captured what is unique about beach life in Southern California. The East Coast beaches have a whole different vibe that always makes me think of Jaws. Our Pacific is magic. You nailed the romance it conjures. Thanks for a beautiful read!
So romantically close to where 17M gallons of raw sewage was dumped into the SM bay in 2021. Small pittance is Wednesday’s 24,000 gal dump of *raw* sewage in MDR. Heavy rains this year have brought high bacteria levels to all of our beaches at one time or another. Romantic as poetry but real life is the floating dog poop that wasn’t important enough to pick up & is now bobbing next to your boogie board.
I do like your writing tho. Not a personal jab.
Thanks. And good point. Wonder what the next Heal the Bay scoresheet will look like
what she said…..great stuff!
Chris this was one of your best pieces!!
Brings back lots of good memories.
As an oldtime Valley girl. growing up going to the beach
That’s a beaut!
I want to know more about these Professor Verge tours. Sounds fascinating.
Friends and family for right now. But if he expands that, I’ll let everyone know.
the sublime lines of this essay are matched only by the waves of sunshine, history, poetry and lore cresting upon our golden shore ~ ~ ~
There is a photo at the bottom of this column that shows several pioneers in the surfing world from the early 1950’s. Darrilyn Zanuck, Tom Zahn and Pete Peterson are in it. (Darrilyn was the daughter of Daryl, the Hollywood producer of “Gone With The Wind.”)
Tom Zahn asked Joe Quigg, one of the best surfboard shapers in the world, to make a surfboard for Darrilyn that was light and turned easily. Darrilyn often loaned that board to other surfers at Malibu. That board soon became the standard, since a typical board was quite heavy and longer. Zanuck’s “Malibu Chip” was designed to fit in the back of her convertible.
Tom Zahn was Marilyn Monroe’s and Darrylin’s boyfriend, a lifeguard and the winner of many paddling races. Pete Peterson was the senior lifeguard in Santa Monica and won tandem contests into his fifties.
In one way or another, they are all surfing royalty.
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Thanks Ken. What a love triangle. I hear Daddy Zanuck wasn’t too happy with Tommy, and it might’ve cost him a Hollywood career. But I think he ended up with a better life.
These lines frisk along like quick brush strokes, imparting a sepia glow to visions of romantic history. An affection for the past is more than just a yearning look back. It is a knowing affinity that anchors us, allows us to more fully appreciate the present and assess its values and meanings. For instance, knowing it one can see how far certain aspects of our culture have fallen, what is missing, what is new or altered, and what is abidingly present and possibly to be nurtured and protected. This is vivid, agile prose with your trademark verbal facility, color, clarity, and appreciative tonality. Your narrative has me on the Verge of cultural avidity. If only Hollywood, and L.A., too, would take a long ruminant look at their naval. Through the current coarse fuzz of messaging and advocacy they might see the core of their purpose: enjoyment, entertainment, and the placement of these peaks in a life well lived for, as many as is possible. Every belly dancer knows this; why not politicians and media moguls? As for glamour, if showing portions of previously unrevealed anatomy through sheer fabric at equally thin cultural events were glamour, nudist colonies would be at the top of the scale, when, in fact, they are the bottom, as any one can plainly see.