All lovely things will have an ending,
All lovely things will fade and die,
And youth, that’s now so bravely spending,
Will beg a penny by and by….
—from “All Lovely Things,” by Conrad Aiken, who was born on this day in 1889
*** Although “a radically distilled ‘life’ in the form of fiction,” Joyce Carol Oates’s Blonde follows the biographical facts and the documentary scraps — such as Monroe’s poem: “Help, Help! / Help I feel Life coming closer / When all I want to do is die.” Near the end of Blonde we watch Norma Jeane on her last trip to Hollywood’s legendary Schwab’s Drugstore, this as if to get the pills in order to kill the legend:
…& while waiting she moved restlessly about the brightly lit drugstore avoiding only the magazine counter & lurid displays of “Screen World,” “Hollywood Tatler,” “Movie Romance,” “Photoplay,” “Cue,” “Swank,” “Sir!” “Peek,” “Parade” et cetera in whose pages MARILYN MONROE lived her comic-book life & the young woman cashier would recall “Sure we all knew Miss Monroe. She’d come in here late at night. She said to me Schwab’s is my favorite place in all the world, I got my start in Schwab’s guess how, and I asked how and she said, Some man noticing my ass, how else? And laughed. She wasn’t like the other big stars who you never see, who send in servants. She came in herself and she was always alone. No makeup and you’d hardly know her. She was the most alone person I ever knew….”
*** Alec Guinness died on this day in 2000. The epitaph on his grave in Petersfield, Hampshire is “The Readiness Is All,” from the graveyard scene in Hamlet. One of Guinness’s first stage roles was as Osric in John Gielgud’s famous 1936 production of the play. In his autobiography Blessings in Disguise, Guinness describes going to see Gielgud when he was just out of drama school and down to his last half-crown — so poor that he was living on a bun, an apple and a glass of milk a day, and so convinced that he was likely to remain poor that, in order to save the leather, he often carried his shoes. He refused the twenty pounds Gielgud wanted to give him, but he accepted the Osric role, and got his epitaph from Gielgud’s Christmas present: “He gave me a handsome edition of Ellen Terry’s letters [Terry was Gielgud’s great-aunt] in which he wrote, “To Alec, who grows apace,” and then a quotation from Act V, which has remained my motto throughout my life, “The readiness is all.”