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Marilyn Monroe, baby sitter

“Marilyn Monroe was my mother’s baby sitter,” I used to tell the neighborhood kids, whenever our rambunctious play took us inside the house. The girls went open-mouthed with wonder and admiration. The boys were skeptical, even scornful: “Movie stars don’t baby-sit!”

But then I'd point to the photo-booth image hanging in the vestibule of my childhood home. The picture was displayed in a prominent spot, where religious icons hang in Catholic homes. As little kids, we'd crane way up to see it, or scale the adjacent staircase and stretch our necks awkwardly.

In the photo, my mother holds a pursed smile while looking right into the camera. A mass of dark curls surrounds her face as she upstages Marilyn in a way no studio executive would allow. Cousin Laraine is caught unawares by the flash; she looks out of frame with a half-smile. Marilyn is grinning candidly -- not the practiced smile she’ll use for thousands of subsequent photos.

The Marilyn story has been told and retold (and mis-told) for decades in my family. Marilyn Monroe wasn't exactly my mother’s baby sitter, but that’s how I understood it as a child. Now, as an adult, I wanted to discover the truth behind it.

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