Lake County – What If Marilyn Monroe Left Hollywood and Lived?

There’s always a risk dropping a famous person into a fictional story. When that person is an icon like Marilyn Monroe, the risk is even greater. As Lori Roy says in her Author’s Note to her novel, Lake County, she “made every effort to respect history,” but the character’s life “took a new trajectory.” Truth be told, the story would be just as engrossing with a Monroe-like figure rather than the real thing. But Roy doesn’t use Monroe as a gimmick, but as a way to underscore what a star like Monroe would be giving up – or possibly gaining – if she left Hollywood to settle in a small town.

For Addie Anne Buckley, Marilyn Monroe is her Aunt Jean. Addie’s mother, Inez, was in foster care with Jean in California. Inez is now married to Harden and they have two children, Addie, and Urban. Siebert Rix, who was also in foster care with the two girls, became a photographer and his photos of Jean jumpstarted her career. Despite her stardom, Jean is lonely and struggles with depression. Whenever she’s at a low point, she returns to Hockta, in Lake County to be with Inez and her family. 

Lori Roy (Photo Credit: VR Vision Photography)

Her most recent low point comes after she finished filming The Seven Year Itch and is vilified for that subway grate scene where her dress flew up. She’s promises to take Addie on a trip to Hollywood. Addie’s boyfriend, Truitt Holt, hopes they will marry, but she dreams of being a star like Aunt Jean. When she tells him she won’t be coming back, he breaks up with her.

Addie sees only the “shiny” side of Jean, not the tarnish underneath that is responsible for her sadness. It’s also unclear if Addie has any talents or the presence that would bring her to the attention of studio executives. Jean seems to want a companion more than a protege and her behavior towards Addie, Inez, and the other people in Lake County, borders on cruelty. Stars can get away with almost anything and Jean knows how to turn up the charm when needed.

Truitt envisions a future for himself and Addie, funded by a local bolita game he runs that has become very profitable, so profitable that it has attracted the attention of the Tampa mafia that runs a statewide game. On his way home to pull that week’s winning number, Truitt finds Rix, along with a local woman, Donna Lee, trying to change a flat tire on their car. When he offers to help, two members of the Tampa mafia show up to confront Truitt and an accident results in the death of a mafia don’s nephew. Donna Lee is killed and both Rix and Truitt go on the run, separately.

The local sheriff, Wiley, who has not only become a father figure to Truitt, but also loves Truitt’s mother, cooks up a plan to keep Truitt safe. But the young man refuses to follow Wiley’s play and ends up placing himself, and his mother, in danger. 

Meanwhile, Rix, who is nothing without Marilyn, shows up at Addie’s home, hoping he can force the star to leave with him. Marilyn, now presenting herself as Jean, has become engaged to a local man, and tells Rix she’s staying. But is she? Addie can’t tell whether what she sees is Jean telling the truth or Marilyn acting. When Rix erupts, more violence ensues.

The real Norma Jeane did bounce around in foster homes, became a big star, and suffered from depression and addiction most of her life. Mobbed by fans, tabloid fodder, she was married three times, but never found happiness. She died at 36, way too young for someone who had so much more to accomplish. 

Roy wraps everything up and presents a “what if” ending for Marilyn. It made me think of the oft-quoted line from another famous, unhappy star – “there’s no place like home.”

Lake County
Lori Roy

Top photo: Bigstock

About Charlene Giannetti (716 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that had its premiere at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it won two awards. The film is now available to view on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other services. Charlene and her husband live in Manhattan.