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Jewish World Review June 29, 2000 / 26 Sivan, 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Consumer Reports

A bright moon and a missing person on Orange Ave. -- CORONADO, Calif. I ended up late at night on this little island -- on Orange Avenue, the island's main street -- because of something I read in the newspaper at dinner.

I had been over in San Diego, across the bridge. I was in San Diego on business, staying at a Holiday Inn, and when dinnertime arrived I looked out the window and saw there was a Ruth's Chris steakhouse next door. I recognized it right away; I had eaten in this particular restaurant before, on a previous California trip, so I walked over and asked for a table for one.

I read the paper as I ate, and there was a story about the American Film Institute coming up with a list of the 100 funniest American movies of all time. Maybe you saw the story; "Some Like It Hot" was rated No. 1.

"Some Like It Hot," a 1959 comedy starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, may or may not be the funniest movie ever made, but every time I think about that movie I think of one still photo. It is a photo that hangs on a wall.

The photo is of Marilyn Monroe getting ready to shoot a scene. She doesn't look perfect, she doesn't look impossibly glamorous, she just looks . . . well, she looks like a woman at work. She looks like a tired woman with things on her mind during a difficult day at the office. She is standing on a beach, in a white bathrobe, and I think it is the single most haunting image of Monroe I have ever seen.

I have only seen it one place -- on a wall on the basement level of the Hotel del Coronado, where the movie was filmed. The Hotel Del, as it is called, has been the most famous building on Coronado island since 1888, when the magical hotel was built. I hadn't been there in quite a while -- but, alone on this June night, reminded by the story in the paper, I decided to go have another look.

Coronado was about 20 minutes away from the restaurant where I was having dinner; I rode over in a cab, and we crossed the bridge and drove onto Orange Avenue, past the Coronado Public Library, past the Dairy Queen, past two little drugstores, past the Lamb's Theatre, past Bay Books . . . Orange Avenue, now and eternally, feels like America, 1957. What a strip of street. Makes you want to stay there forever.

I got to the Hotel Del, paid the cab driver, and started wandering around. The moon over the Pacific Ocean was big and bright, lighting the red roof of the hotel's old Victorian main building. I walked down to the basement level -- which includes a concourse of shops -- looking for Marilyn.

I didn't see her. There are confusing turns down there, but I think I hit every hallway, and no Marilyn. I knew this was the right place; I knew I wasn't imagining the picture that was snapped when she had filmed the movie at the hotel. But it just wasn't there.

I walked around the grounds, trying to get my bearings; I cut through the weather walkway to the newer oceanfront high-rise building, then went back to Marilyn's basement. I looked everywhere, turned every corner. Nothing.

Finally I ducked into a little jewelry shop, and the woman behind the counter told me I hadn't imagined it -- that haunting photo of Marilyn was real. "The hotel is doing some construction," she said. "I know the picture you're talking about. They've taken it down for a while. They'll put it back one of these days."

I tried to explain to her what it was about that photo -- what it was that was so unforgettable -- and she said: "I know. I've seen it. I know."

The night on Coronado was lovely almost beyond imagining, a night pretty enough to break your heart, and I headed out by the ocean for a few minutes and then decided to take a walk on Orange Avenue.

It was almost silent at this time of the night; few people were out. I passed the bank at the tip of the street, then stopped to look at a little bakery that was closed now but would be bustling with customers in the morning. I don't know what it is about that photo -- there is something in Monroe's face, some secret I have seen only in one place, only in that photo that used to hang on the wall of the basement of the old hotel. . . .

I figured maybe I'd see it again some day; maybe next time I came back. On Orange Avenue I walked past a restaurant called Rhinoceros; there were some tables on the sidewalk outside, but at this time of night no one was sitting there. I tapped my hand atop one of the tables, the one on the very end. Some days are better than others.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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