When I was fifteen years old I got a wonderful job working for the poet and anthologist Louis Untermeyer and his wife Bryna Ivens, who was fiction editor for Seventeen Magazine. Louis and Bryna lived within walking distance of our house. They needed someone mostly to help out with the frequent dinner parties they held at their home, a small, unpretentious blue house located close to the edge of a country road.
Bryna, a diminutive, feisty woman undaunted by her husband’s height, bulk and vociferous ways, did all of the cooking herself, and I helped her. She taught me how to make delicious dark chocolate cake with raspberry filling and a scrumptious pie made from pitted peach halves filled with butter and sugar, snuggled into a cookie dough crust. She was meticulous and careful about everything, and I tried to follow her instructions and not make a mess of things.
Louis and Bryna let me play the piano at a couple of their parties, and even though the two of them intimidated me, I felt at home on the piano bench and did just fine. One night they had a party and told me that there was going to be a surprise guest. I begged Bryna to tell me who it was, but she just smiled and said I’d find out soon enough. I guess I must have been nervous trying to imagine who the mystery guest could be, because I spilled a whole pot of coffee on the kitchen floor. I was on my hands and knees wiping it up, when Bryna came into the kitchen and said, “Amy, I’d like you to meet Marilyn Monroe.”
Oh, come on! What?! I thought Bryna was kidding until I looked up. Somehow I managed to compose myself, crawl out from under the table and extend my hand to one of the loveliest creatures I’d ever seen. Marilyn seemed taller and slimmer than in the movies, and she was shy and sweet-mannered. She had come to dinner with Arthur Miller, who was her husband at the time, and his two children, Jane and Robert. I was thrilled beyond words, even though she seemed kind of sad and ill-at-ease, sitting on the sofa by herself most of the evening and saying practically nothing. I wished I could grab her by the hand, take her off to some quiet place and pick her brains to find out what she was really like. That wasn’t to be, of course, but I comforted myself with the thought that I could soon go home and tell Ma and Bertie that I’d met Marilyn Monroe.