Nothing like a Sunday stroll through a cemetery. What a history lesson! Why just today, while visiting Marilyn Monroe’s crypt, I learned that the man buried above Marilyn Monroe, Richard F. Poncher, was such a fan that he requested to be turned upside down so he could face Marilyn for eternity. That much of a sycophant I ain’t.
And while celebrity grave hopping, I run into another Marilyn fan. His name is Emanuel Emanuele. We got to yakking and he tells me that he has the original Los Angeles Times newspaper (1962) with the headline announcing Marilyn’s death! This fellow is a gigundo collector of classic Hollywood and, thus, a living encyclopedia of that era. I’m sure TCM’s scholarly host, Robert Osborne, has nothing on Emanuel. (TCM, by the way, is Emanuel’s favorite channel.) Actor, artist, and cosmetologist, Emanuel applied his skills to the creation of the first Marilyn coloring book entitled, “Color Me Marilyn.” A classy, fun tome, Emanuel sketched each and every detailed page. What a talent! Emanuel hopes this will turn into a series, as he’s interested in doing a coloring book on Dean Martin, Elvis, Humphrey Bogart, and Judy Garland, as well.
When I tell him that I’m a journalist, he insists that I do a story on him. “Ruby, I will give you an exclusive.” Well, my little English pointer ears just perk right up. We convene on the stone bench near Marilyn.
Ruby Comer: Okay, let’s get right to it. What do you want to tell me?
Emanuel Emanuele: I’m HIV-positive and have never been public about it. I was diagnosed in 1991.
Jumpin’ Jehovah, that’s twenty years. Why come forth now, Emanuel?
Well…let’s see. [He stumbles for several seconds.] It was the last secret I wanted to give “power” to. I’m feeling more comfortable with myself now and have integrated my life with more self-acceptance and less fear. I hope that by revealing my status I can serve a higher purpose and help others.
You said you kept it a secret publicly. What was the fear?
Plain and simple, I just didn’t want to be rejected. HIV has received better understanding and compassion these days, but so many people are still afraid, stereotype, and label.
True. How has living with HIV impacted you?
It changed my life enormously. I feel closer to God; I am on a strong spiritual path and have compassion for people with other illnesses. It also shows me how valuable life is. I’ve learned to overcome and remove fear thanks to my guiding spiritual principles.
Can you name those principles?
For twenty-six years I’ve read my daily lesson in A Course in Miracles. It is based on love and forgiveness and it keeps my mind free from fear.
Any idea how you contracted the disease?
Oh yes, I remember it well. It was around the time that I witnessed an assault on the street. [Too many people are brushing by us to visit Marilyn so we pickup and move to a grassy area near Merv Griffin’s tombstone that reads: “I will not be right back after these messages.” We laugh and Emanuel continues.] I jumped out of my car and rescued this stranger. Afterward, my hands were full of small paper cuts and I was soaked with blood that was dripping from my elbows. Shortly after that incident, I went for a blood test, which was something I did routinely. It came up detectable. I was stunned. The medical staff’s theory is that I contracted HIV from the open cuts on my hands.
[My mouth gapes open.] For the love of Mike. You were a hero….
I guess I was assigned to be an angel that day. I do feel that I was really a hero rather than a victim. A person’s life was saved at the expense of my own. [He pauses to point out Billy Wilder’s epitaph, “I’m a writer but then nobody’s perfect.” Emanuel shakes his head and grins.] It’s been a very challenging growth-oriented experience, Ruby. Would I have done it all differently? Probably not.
Are you on medication?
I’m on a small amount that my doctor calls salvage therapy, since I’m allergic to most meds. My doctor affirms to me, “I don’t know what you do but keep doing it!” [The answer is] I stay connected to my higher power.
Speaking of power, is Marilyn your favorite icon?
Yes, because I feel that there’s a little Marilyn in all of us. We all can feel lost, used, vulnerable, and have a childlike innocence. But I also have many other favorite Hollywood icons from that Golden Age star system. The list is long.
Out of all your Hollywood memorabilia, what’s your most prized possession?
I had two favorite pieces that I had to sell because I needed the money. One was a silkscreen of Marilyn hand-signed by photographer Bert Stern. I had that since my high school days. The other was a black-and-white original photo, 16 by 20, of Marilyn swimming nude in her last uncompleted film, Something’s Got to Give. It was numbered and hand-signed by photographer William Woodfield. I hope one day I can buy them back. They were both striking. But I do have many, many other collectibles. You must come by sometime, Ruby.
Would love to, Emanuel. You need to open a museum, boy! What is your favorite Marilyn film and your favorite movie of all time?
Some Like It Hot! It was the first Marilyn film I saw. I was five. As to a favorite film, I have many, but off the top of my head I’d have to say North by Northwest. It’s Hitchcock at his best. What great dialogue between stunning Eva Marie Saint and classy Cary Grant.
Speaking of couples, have you found your Cary Grant?
[He giggles.] No, but I’m always open to dating. Right now I remain close with my good friends.
When you date are you upfront about being positive? How do you approach this delicate matter?
I haven’t always mentioned it. If it’s only a date and there are no intentions of going towards a serious relationship then I find no need to bring it up. I do not have sex right off the bat anyway. As I get to know someone better and if they want to stick around, then I disclose. If that doesn’t matter to them then that tells me enormously who they are.
Grab your crayons and sashay over to www.ColorMeMarilyn.com.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by
e-mail at [email protected]