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On View : Marilyn and Who? : ABC movie is based on writer’s claim that he is the husband nobody knew about

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s common knowledge that Marilyn Monroe was married three times--to now-retired Los Angeles police officer James Dougherty, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and award-winning playwright Arthur Miller.

But did you know she may have been wed a fourth time?

According to writer Robert Slatzer, he and Monroe were married in Mexico in 1952. The union lasted just five days because her boss, then-20th Century Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck insisted they dissolve the marriage.

Slatzer’s relationship with Monroe (who died in 1962) is dramatized in tonight’s ABC movie “Marilyn and Me.” The film focuses on Monroe’s early years in Hollywood, 1946 to ’53. Newcomer Susan Griffiths stars and Jesse Dabson (“Elvis”) plays Slatzer.

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Is Slatzer telling the truth? There is no marriage certificate. And Zanuck is dead, as is Nobel Chissell, a movie bit player and a heavyweight boxer, who Slatzer says witnessed the wedding.

Slatzer, who wrote the 1974 bestseller “The Life & Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe,” insists he is telling the truth. He talks about his life with Marilyn as if it happened yesterday, not 40 years ago.

As he tells the story: He met Marilyn in 1946 when she was a 20-year-old brunette still going by her real name, Norma Jeane Baker. Slatzer was a student at Ohio State University who was spending the summer in Hollywood interviewing stars for a chain of Ohio papers.

“She was a model then,” Slatzer says. “She modeled for magazines like Whisper. They were called men’s magazines in those days. The girls were never nude, but to have one on your coffee table was almost prohibitive.”

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Slatzer was sitting in Fox studios’ reception room one day when he noticed a “beautiful, shapely and naive-type girl” walk in. “She caught her heel in the door and she dropped this big scrap book,” he says. “I sort of came to her rescue. She was there to see Ben Lyon, who was in charge of casting. We exchanged phone numbers and I made a date with her that night. We drove out to Malibu to a little restaurant. We had dinner out there and that was the beginning of the whole thing.”

Slatzer continues the tale: The two were involved romantically on and off for the next six years. It was soon after she finished “Niagara,” the movie that would make her a star, in 1952, that the two went to Mexico and got married.

Though they promised each other to keep the marriage secret, Monroe leaked the news to her makeup man and hairdresser. It quickly reached Zanuck’s ear, and he ordered Slatzer and Monroe into his office.

“He just basically came out and laid it on the table,” Slatzer says. “He said, ‘Here is a girl we have spent a few hundred thousands of dollars on. The papers paint her as the type who sits home on Friday and Saturday night waiting for Prince Charming. She receives 10,000 and 15,000 fan letters a week. If word would get out she was married, the fan letters would be cut in half and so would her salary.’ The nitty-gritty was he told us to get it ‘undone.’ ”

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And according to Slatzer, they returned to Mexico. They found the attorney who married them and, for $50, he “undid” the marriage by burning the certificate that’s filed in Mexican courts.

Slatzer has never been able to produce the wedding certificate he and Marilyn were given.

“I don’t know what happened to it,” he says. “I know the summer she died I was at her place and she was going through a file cabinet she kept her paper work in and she had the marriage certificate then. It was something I didn’t particularly want at the time the marriage was over.”

“Marilyn and Me” airs tonight at 9 on ABC.

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