Old friends hold memorial marking 55th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death

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More than half a century after actor-dancer George Chakiris worked with Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” the iconic star remains a vivid presence in his mind.

“She had the most beautiful personality,” he recalled in an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News on Saturday, the 55th anniversary of Monroe’s untimely death at age 36. “She was extraordinary.”

Chakiris, 82, and other actors who knew and worked with Monroe decades ago took part in a memorial service Saturday morning at the Pierce Brothers Memorial Garden in Westwood, where the screen legend was laid to rest more than a half-century ago. The Marilyn Monroe fan club hosted the event, as it has for the last 35 years.

“I’ve just been crying the whole time,” actress Renée Taylor, famed for the TV series “The Nanny,” told the crowd of about a hundred people who gathered inside the very chapel where Monroe’s funeral was held on August 8, 1962.

“She didn’t have any money when she died. And now her estate makes $8-$10 million a year,” Taylor noted after the service, at a private reception hosted in Hancock Park by two devotees of classic Hollywood, Harrison Held and Kimberly Schmidt.

Taylor, 84, recalled participating in acting classes with Monroe at the famed Actors Studio in New York.

“She was luminous. Her beauty came from beneath her skin and it came from a need for love,” Taylor said.

“I guess I’ve known [Marilyn] longer and better than anyone living,” marveled actress Terry Moore, 88, who shared memories of taking singing and acting lessons with Monroe at the beginning of their Hollywood careers. “I would describe Marilyn as very, very shy. Extremely shy … But she was lovely. You did feel sorry for her for some reason.”

Several Monroe looka-likes attended the memorial service, including Amanda Lewan, 30, of Pasadena.

“When I think of Marilyn I think of love. She just so badly wanted to be loved,” Lewan commented. “She had that childlike vulnerability about her.”

Steps away from the chapel where the service was held lie the graves of director Billy Wilder, who directed Monroe in “Some Like It Hot,” and Jack Lemon, her co-star in that film.

The service closed with words from another Monroe friend and associate, the late Lee Strasberg, who ran the Actors Studio. His comments came from his eulogy for Monroe at her funeral 55 years ago.


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“I hope that her death will stir sympathy and understanding for a sensitive artist and woman who brought joy and pleasure to the world,” Strassberg said on the recording, his voice breaking with emotion. “In our memories of her she remains alive, not only a shadow on the screen.”


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