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Archived Weekly Features
This View by Nancy LeMay
Nancy LeMay is a five-time Emmy winning broadcast designer who has worked both in New York and LA, in network and local. She is a teacher and a painter as well. You can reach her through her website, and by email at

The Persistence of Memory

The nature of 'memory' and memories comes up often during the holidays. This
year we have the addition of an event that powerfully affected everyone, and
will live through time via memory and the media we have created to preserve
it. Here is a reflection on memory and fame, recalled by my husband Harry and
his friend Arline Chambers. A moment in time from forty years ago, that makes
us wonder- 'what do people remember, and why?'

My husband, Harry, has been a man of many careers. During the early 1960s he was the American liaison for the Donatello Awards, Italy's equivalent to our Academy Awards. Actors in American films, among them the likes of Charleton Heston and Audrey Hepburn, are recipients of the award, usually given out in a ceremony in Taormina, in Florence or in Rome. But when, in 1961, the Best Actress Award was accepted by Marilyn Monroe for "The Prince and the Showgirl," she received her award in the Italian Embassy on Park Avenue in New York City. At the time, work commitments prevented her from traveling

It was my husband who coordinated the event, and like any good producer, he
was in charge of making sure that the honoree arrived and was safely escorted
into the building. On this cool spring day, word that Marilyn Monroe was
about to arrive leaked out-of course-and a crowd gathered outside to catch a
glimpse of her. The New York City Police, adept at such events, held the
people back.

Harry's memory of this day is brief but vivid. " The crowd went nuts when the
car pulled up.... here are all these jostling and screaming people ... lots
of students from Hunter College-pushing to try and see her-and the door opens
and out comes this tiny woman...I held my arm out and she took it. And I just
remember her being absolutely radiantly beautiful..." With her was playwright
Arthur Miller; presumably he was able to escort himself into the Embassy.
They all entered the building without incident (although in my mind I can
imagine the crowd sounding like the Beatles' at Shea Stadium), and at this
point my husband really got busy, as he helped to escort press, Italian
government officials and other dignitaries through the afternoon's events.
For him, the rest of the day is a blur.

Here Arline picks up her observations: "It was spring. Marilyn was wearing
this beautiful evening gown with a waist-length jacket, the collar buttoned
all the way up to her neck and long sleeves which covered her all the way
down to her fingers, practically. She was on the receiving line and, one by
one, each person came by and she spoke with them, very softly, very dignified
... until the end of the line. Then the press came in to take pictures of her
with the award...Off comes the jacket and instead of being covered up to her
neck and down to her fingers, you have MARILYN! practically coming out of
this dress. She hands the jacket off to Arthur Miller who is standing quietly
nearby, hands him her purse... What I remember is that after each picture,
she ran back over to Miller to fix her lipstick; he was holding up this tiny
makeup mirror for her and bending over with it-he was so much taller than she
was-so she could check her lipstick..."

I've heard this story a couple of times over the years; Harry and Arline go
way back together. I love hearing it-for lots of reasons. I love that
Arline's observations are so much more detailed than Harry's; she had the
advantage of being able to be still-she was a guest and not a worker that
day. And my husband is such a GUY-he would never remember what even Monroe
was wearing! As a New Yorker, I can see and hear this event, a classic moment
of American celebrity/madness played out on a dignified, stone gray, old
money stretch of Park Avenue. It mirrors the contrast between Monroe and
Miller themselves; the flash of film-powered fame contrasting the quiet,
solitary labor of the author.

Celebrity has the power to burn a moment into our memory which may outlast
many an event far more personal. Our unquenchable thirst for the famous is
based, perhaps, in just this simple fact; just a little brush with greatness
lives through time in vivid, telling detail.

About the Author

Nancy LeMay is a five-time Emmy winning broadcast designer who has worked both in New York and LA, in network and local. She is a teacher and a painter as well. You can reach her through her website, and by email at