I worked with Marilyn Monroe, but failed to listen

I’ve been wondering for a week or so whether to write this blog.

Marilyn Monroe double

John Truscott, Kay Kent, Steve Greensted

Twenty years after the events of 1988, I’m still not clear what Marilyn would have wanted me to do.

Should I publish or be silent?

The people in the photo are John Truscott, Kay Kent and me, but Kay thought she was Marilyn.

We did, too.

So, I’m going to write about the events of 1988 because of the recent theatrical release of the BBC”s movie, “My Week With Marilyn.”

In 1987, I was the Board Account Director at Gold Greenlees Trott (GGT) on Holsten Distributors Limited (HDL). The main brand was Holsten Pils, and the importation rights from Hamburg were shared by Watney Mann Truman Brewers and Holsten Brauerei GMBH. The marketing director at WTMB was Steve Dunn. Nigel Kenyon Kenyon Jones was the HDL Marketing Director. Both were outstanding clients.

GGT had been running a TV campaign based upon the movie, “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.” The creative team would take a movie, chop it it up, insert a UK comic, Griff Rhys-Jones, and make a TV ad. They were cheap and easy to make, and the public loved them.

Then the creative team, Steve Henry and Axel Chaldecott, wrote a script which used footage of Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot.

“Pah!” we account handlers said. “Great idea, but we’ll never get permission.”

Steve and Ax remained obdurate, so we hired a fixer in Geneva, who spent a lot of money establishing that we would need permissions from Warner Brothers, Billy Wilder and Marilyn’s aunt. The fixer said to me, “Warner Brothers have never allowed any of their footage to be used in advertising. Never, ever! You haven’t a hope.”

I like this gentleman, Alan, greatly, but I also took it as a challenge.

So, we sent John Truscott to Hollywood to negotiate. It is no coincidence that his nick-name is “Trusty.”

A year later, 1988, we had all the necessary permissions, clearances, contracts and warranties in place. “Trusty” had delivered the goods. The director was to be Graham Rose, a gifted guitar player. Warner Bros were cheerful. Billy Wilder wished us the best of luck.

The inter-cutting between Griff and Marilyn required a body double for her, so we hired Kay Kent.

Kay lived in the east of London, and made her living from being a Marilyn look-alike. I got to know Kay fairly well, and liked her.

She was originally a brunette, but was now a platinum blonde. She had had surgery to give her the same shape as Monroe – I think one rib on either side was removed but I could be wrong – and she loved being Marilyn. Her voice as Marilyn was perfect.

After the commercial went on air, Kay/Marilyn, John and I went to sales-force conferences around the country. At one of these, when we were taking a short break, Kay said to me, “I don’t know what I’m going to do next.” She had an unsettling way of switching her voice between East London and being Marilyn.

Me: What’s the problem?

Kay: (East London accent) Everywhere I go, I get treated as if I really am Marilyn. I arrived at JFK recently and was mobbed.

Me: Well, milk it while you can.

Kay, now speaking as if she was Marilyn: But no-one will ever want a Marilyn who outlives the real Marilyn’s age.

Me: Kay. Listen. You are a terrific person, very clever and a great actress. You’ll think of something.

She looked at me and then looked away at the table cloth.

I thought no more about it until I read the news of Kay’s death the next year at the age of just twenty-five.

Kay had tried to tell me that she could not live beyond Marilyn’s age. I listened to her aunt on the Radio 4’s news, full of anguish and grief. I felt the same.

Marilyn or Kay?

Marilyn or Kay?

What had happened was that Kay’s boyfriend, Dean Hammond, left Kay for a sixteen year old.

Kay behaved just as Marilyn did when JFK ditched her.

Kay took an overdose of drugs, and killed herself.

Later, I was sitting in an Italian restaurant in London’s St Martin’s Lane. I was waiting for Bob Stanners and Norman Icke to turn up. They were the best creatives at the time in Leo Burnett, London.

Four chaps on the table next to me, maybe structural engineers, were chatting.  I was mulling over a job offer at the time, the job being at a design agency.

I listened to their conversation.

Man 1: Hey! Did you see that Marilyn advert last night?

Man 2: Yeah! Great Hofmeister ad!!

Man 3: You prat! It was for Holsten.

Man 4: More Chianti, please!

Well, Ok.

I breathed deeply. Nigel was right. The branding could have been beefed up.

And, yes, no-one would ever have a conversation over lunch about Persil’s new pack design either, so I stayed in advertising.

But I wish I’d listened to Kay a little more closely.

She was deluded as Marilyn but great as Kay.

Finally, if you are related to Kay, and either want to add to this or to berate me, please go ahead. I’ll be happy to correct any factual errors.

And John Truscott?

He’s moved to California.