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Essential California: 60 years later, Marilyn Monroe still holds the spotlight

A portion of a statue of a woman hangs from moving equipment amid tall palms.
A portion of a 26-foot-tall statue of Marilyn Monroe dubbed “Forever Marilyn” is installed in Palm Springs in June 2021.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Aug. 5. I’m Kevin Rector, a legal affairs reporter who until recently covered the Los Angeles Police Department.

Today I’m looking back on an LAPD case that began exactly 60 years ago, when a woman my age — 36 — was found dead in her Brentwood bed from an apparent overdose of pills.

Her name was Norma Jeane Mortenson, but of course everyone who reported on her death in 1962 referred to her by her stage name: Marilyn Monroe.

Monroe was the buxom Hollywood “bombshell,” with tabloid-inspiring personal drama of her time. She is still so enshrined in Hollywood’s A-list that modern-day-fame rival Kim Kardashian wants to wear her clothes, her visage still looms over Hollywood Boulevard souvenir shops and other tourism centers, and an anniversary of her death can still generate the sort of headlines B-listers beg for.

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Media outlets across the country have written about the anniversary of Monroe’s death, but I particularly liked this photo collection and essay by Amy Gaskin — which captures just how omnipresent Monroe still is in Southern California and the film industry.

Beyond her status as a Hollywood icon, Monroe’s death has held the nation’s attention for years, with speculation ranging from it being a suicide to an accident to something more sinister, as my colleague Noah Goldberg recounted in his story for the anniversary, which also compiles an interesting list of old clips about Monroe from The Times’ archives.

The swirling political intrigue around her alleged dalliances with the Kennedy brothers, and the reopening of an investigation into her death by prosecutors in the 1980s, have long perpetuated interest in the case, and the story gained new life recently, with Netflix’s recent production of a new biopic called “Blonde” and a documentary called “The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes.”

It’s not a new idea in Hollywood that a celebrity’s early demise can beget eternal stardom. If Monroe were still living, would she be as powerful a presence in Hollywood? We will never know.

What is clear is that the tragic nature of her death, and the salacious intrigue that surrounded it, have helped keep her in the nation’s imagination — and those beguiled by her rise and demise now have more ways than ever to learn about her.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

Thunderstorms, mudslides hamper firefighters’ battle against deadly McKinney wildfire near Oregon: You might think that 3 inches of rain would help firefighters, but that’s not been entirely the case this week near the California-Oregon border. The rain had “very little effect” on the McKinney wildfire, a fire behavior analyst of the U.S. Forest Service said, but it did cause mudslides that made battling the blaze far more difficult. Los Angeles Times

Chesa Boudin says he won’t run for San Francisco district attorney this year: The progressive prosecutor in San Francisco, ousted from office in a recall in June, said he wouldn’t be running for reelection this year, instead taking time with his family after “more than three years of nearly nonstop campaigning.” He made no mention of whether he would run again in November 2023. San Francisco Chronicle

Meanwhile, new San Francisco Dist. Atty. Brooke Jenkins, who was appointed to the post on an interim basis by Mayor London Breed after Boudin was recalled, is withdrawing plea deals offered by Boudin in more than 30 fentanyl-dealing cases. Los Angeles Times

L.A. STORIES

Push to block L.A.'s healthcare wage hike has been misleading, union alleges: Hospitals and other opponents of a Los Angeles ordinance that would hike the minimum wage for thousands of workers at private hospitals and dialysis clinics to $25 an hour are trying to collect nearly 41,000 signatures needed for a referendum to put the ordinance on hold until voters can decide its fate. Representatives of the healthcare workers union that pushed for the wage increase allege that signature gatherers have been misleading city residents, telling them that their signatures are needed “to pay workers more,” according to incident reports gathered by the union. Los Angeles Times

Is the congestion mess at LAX ever going to end? Yes, Los Angeles International Airport, we can all agree, is a hot mess. Everyone who uses the airport is over the construction, has been over the construction, and is so over the construction that they’ve given up wondering when it will all be, well, over. (My money’s on never.) But officials say there is hope. The first automated cars for the airport’s electric “people mover” arrived this week, heralding a major milestone for a $2-billion project expected to be completed by 2023. Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

More than a million people could die waiting for green cards as U.S. immigration buckles amid COVID: The U.S. immigration system is operating at a crawl, with immense backlogs and unprecedented delays processing millions of visas, work permits, green cards and naturalization petitions. Cases are languishing in immigration courts. One study estimates that 1.6 million people who have been sponsored by relatives for a green card will die before they can come to the U.S. legally. Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

Tom Girardi’s epic corruption exposes the secretive world of private judges: After attorney Tom Girardi won a $66-million settlement for clients of his who said a diabetes medication caused them liver failure and other maladies, a former judge and nationally renowned mediator was hired and paid $500,000 to ensure the proper distribution of the funds. Yet in the years that followed, Girardi diverted the money for a range of highly questionable purposes. The latest in a series of astonishing stories from my colleagues Harriet Ryan and Matt Hamilton on Girardi’s crooked empire — and the institutions and systems that allowed it — delves into the world of private judges and raises questions about whether there are enough safeguards in the highly confidential and largely unregulated industry. Los Angeles Times

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Biden administration declares monkeypox a public health emergency: The Biden administration declared the outbreak of monkeypox a national public health emergency. The move, under consideration for several weeks as the outbreak has spread rapidly, particularly among gay men, will allow federal agencies to direct more funding toward developing and testing vaccines and other drugs, unlock emergency funding reserves and enable the hiring of additional workers to help manage the outbreak. The World Health Organization and some states, including California, had already declared monkeypox emergencies. Los Angeles Times

History of DDT ocean dumping off L.A. even worse than expected, EPA finds: A federal investigation into the dumping of barrels of DDT waste near Catalina Island decades ago has concluded that the pollution could be far worse than scientists anticipated. Internal memos from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show officials determined that acid waste from the nation’s largest manufacturer of DDT — a pesticide so powerful it poisoned birds and fish — had not been contained in hundreds of thousands of sealed barrels, but poured directly into the ocean from massive tank barges. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

She’s effortlessly cool — and so is her charming plant shop: Jennifer Aragon, the 38-year-old owner of the family-run Fullerton plant shop Green Place, said her dream started around 2017 or 2018. “That’s when I was like, ‘I don’t want to be at my job anymore, I really want to do something else. I want to start my own business,’” she said. Los Angeles Times

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: sunny, 84. San Diego: partly sunny, 79. San Francisco: partly sunny, 70. San Jose: partly sunny, 82. Fresno: cloudy, 97. Sacramento: partly sunny, 88.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Russ Walter:

My first visit to California was at the age of 10, when we traveled from Missouri to visit my great-aunts in Chula Vista. I’ll never forget Aunt Helen taking me to see her little lemon tree with lemons on it! They also grew up in the Midwest but happily resettled here. I studied all over the world and intended to pursue my career in New York but a romantic twist of fate brought me to San Francisco, and California (now Sonoma) remains home sweet home 40 years later! We’re not only a state but a state of mind!

— Russ Walter

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


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