In 1952, Marilyn Monroe gave an interview to the now-defunct Pageant magazine. To the gimlet eye of a serious journalist (not mine), it probably leaned too heavily on pictorials and subsections entitled “How to Feel Blonde All Over.” But it did have something interesting to report: Marilyn Monroe’s daily diet.
“I have been told my eating habits are absolutely bizarre,” she confessed, right next to a picture of her dancing on an ottoman while wearing a Hawaiian shirt. “But I don’t think so.”
So, what were these famous habits? For breakfast, she would have two raw eggs whipped in warm milk: “I doubt any doctor could recommend a more nourishing breakfast for a working girl in a hurry.” She would skip lunch, and then for dinner, she would broil liver, steak, or lamb and eat it with five carrots: “I must be part rabbit.” And then she would have a hot-fudge sundae for dessert.
Does this sound “bizarre”? Maybe it is. But after my disastrously thrilling experiment with Liz Taylor’s sour cream diet, aren’t I duty-bound, as a seriously journalistic diet columnist, to test this premise? For ten days, I trained my gimlet eye on living as Marilyn did, in diet and fitness. The result: a harrowing mix of fainting spells, pimples, and salmonella risks.
My biggest worry with this diet is the raw eggs. How do you eat them and not get salmonella? To be safe, I buy pasteurized eggs and discover that they are twice the price of a normal egg. I buy them anyway. I also go to the meat counter and ask if they have any liver. They do not. But they will have it next week. I make a note of it.
To dispel lingering worries, I call my grandmother. “Did you ever eat a raw egg?” I ask her. “No,” she says. “But it will put hair on your chest.” I nod into the phone.
This morning, I start my diet. I am sort of excited but also full of dread, like Anne Hathaway before she hosted the Oscars. I take out the milk and heat it up in a saucepan. Once it is completely heated, I pour it, rather delicately, into a mug. Then I crack raw eggs into the mug and they plop into the milk, like two round globules of mucous. I stir them. The yolk comes apart in dribs and drabs, and the milk is slowly turns yellow. This looks disgusting. I take one sip. To my surprise, it is utterly delicious! Like bland egg nog. I drink the whole thing in less than a minute. Maybe this diet won’t be too bad, I think to myself.
Not eating lunch, however, is incredibly hard after I drank my eggs at 9 a.m. and am starving for the rest of the day. By 1:30 p.m., I could eat dinner, but I don’t actually eat dinner until 8 p.m., when my friend and I feast on half of a chop and five raw carrots. I am starving after dinner, as if I never ate it at all. Marilyn’s life was extremely hard.
This morning, I wake up and know one thing: I am hungry, and today is the day liver comes into Whole Foods. I am very excited because I have never had beef liver before. As I drink my egg milk, I imagine the liver awaiting me, quivering in its meat case. What I should do with it? Could it be good with ketchup?
After work, faint with hunger, I board a bus to the Whole Foods on 57th Street. I arrive, beaming at the meat counter, where my request causes some confusion, nearly bringing me to tears in my fragile state. Eventually, a butcher emerges from the back room with several extremely bloody slabs of flesh. I immediately yip with joy and bring the liver back to my apartment. I wash the globs of blood off the liver and cook it. It is the worst thing I have ever had in my life. Such an odd taste, both bitter and meaty. I eat very little of it. In an effort to avoid waste, I chop it up and put it in the blender with a bunch of spices, old wine, and a stick of butter. I will make pâté, which I will save to reward myself when I complete the diet! It is very hard to pour the meat goo into a bowl and refrigerate it without eating it, but I do it.
Ravenous now, I go about making my sundae. Marilyn used to eat her sundaes at Wil Wright’s ice-cream parlor, which is a California ice-cream producer known for the extremely high fat content. In the spirit of Marilyn’s original sundae, I got the ice cream with the highest fat content and natural ingredients I could find, a chocolate and a bourbon vanilla flavor. They are sort of horrible when mixed together. I eat it all, though.
In order to do research for this project, I watch several Marilyn Monroe movies and discover an absolutely unwatchable farce co-starring Yves Montand. Then I google Marilyn Monroe’s name and discover a cottage industry surrounding how to affect Marilyn Monroe’s style and demeanor. There are a lot of forums and articles with tips like “Blink slowly” or “Use hormone cream to grow a downy hair on your face.” One forum advocates smearing Vaseline all over your skin at night to moisturize it. Because I am crazy from lack of food, I do this. The next morning, my skin looks great! But I wonder how long this can last before my pores are completely clogged.
I am so hungry that I eat a lamb dinner at 3 p.m. Feel very tired and heavy. Can’t tell if I am losing weight. I suspect this is a diet one can only do while also using recreational barbituates.
Today I am invited to a homemade pizza party. This is a special kind of torture. I buy some ingredients and heroically eat nothing but a Baskin Robbins sundae. My situation has become an awful party joke. Some of my friends I am sure have heard about the Marilyn so many times that they now find me boring to hang out with. When I leave and am standing in the subway terminal, I am so woozy I almost stumble into the tracks. I can’t sleep when I get home because my stomach hurts so badly. I think I need to get off this diet.
After yesterday’s spell, I take a break today so as not to die. I lie in my apartment the whole day recovering. I browse the Internet’s vast network of Marilyn lifestyle websites and decide to start a different Monroe diet — the diuretic diet — tomorrow. Breakfast will be cereals and fruit juice. Lunch and dinner will be fish, diuretic vegetables, lots and lots of parsley, and the occasional “skimmed natural yogurt.” It sounds like heaven in comparison.
This diet is so much more humane. I have enough strength to do Marilyn’s fitness regimen, which she describes to Pageant as a “bust-firming routine.” It requires you to lie on the ground holding weights above your head, then lift them and then hoist them in circles until you “feel tired.” I can tell everyone at the gym thinks I look insane. I don’t care. I almost died. “She doesn’t like to feel regimented,” Pageant writes of Marilyn’s approach to exercise.
Days Seven, Eight, and Nine
One Marilyn beauty tip that is actually kind of awesome is her emphasis on facial highlighter. Like pasteurized eggs, I have never purchased this before, so after a trip to Sephora, I line it next to my nose and between my eyebrows just like the forums says. It successfully covers the huge pimples the Vaseline caused. Next up: ice bath full of Chanel No. 5, if only serious journalism would allow it. I suspect it’s beyond our budget.
Today is the last day of the diet. To celebrate, I sample my pâté. It tastes like decaying wine, but I put it on a cracker and eat it anyway. Yes, I have stayed basically the same weight and have a huge cystic pimple on chin. But my breasts seem — slightly? — more firm, and I don’t have to drink raw eggs anymore. Raw eggs make everything seem tolerable in comparison.