Story of a High School Sweetheart

After writing a tribute to Marilyn for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle received this letter from a reader:

“Dear Mr. LaSalle:

Reading your August 3 article about Marilyn Monroe [‘The Power of Marilyn‘] put me in mind of a family story about her that supports your analysis of her special charm. The story is my father’s, and here it is in brief:
My father Paul Johnsen attended the same junior high school (Emerson Junior High) as Norma Jean Baker in Westwood. He saw her for the first time early in his eighth-grade year while serving as a hall monitor when (to quote him) ‘this angel came walking toward me.’ Without ever meeting her or sharing his passion with anyone, he adored her from a distance for most of that year, before finally breaking down and confessing to a friend shortly before summer vacation. He suspects his friend told Norma Jean that Paul was crazy about her because at the last social event of the year, she approached him in a friendly manner and introduced herself.
The result was that my father dated her during the summer between eighth and ninth grades. Since they were both too young to drive, he (a well-to-do kid living in Westwood) would pick her up in his family’s chauffeur-driven car at her modest West LA home. He took her ice skating and taught her to skate. He always knew that she had no real romantic interest in him, that she was more mature than he, and he never dared to try and kiss her. But he says that when she was with him, she gave him her full attention, making him feel like he was the only person in her orbit. She was, he has always claimed, not only the most beautiful girl he has ever seen but one of the nicest people he has met.
The friendship only lasted the summer; they did not attend the same high school, and my father lost track of her, sensitive to the fact that his feelings for her were not returned. However, he always kept a wallet-sized school photo she gave him and a short letter she wrote to him. A number of years later, while out with his fiancée (later his wife and my mother). he stopped abruptly in front of a newsstand featuring a blond cover girl and exclaimed, ‘That’s Norma Jean!’ Of course, her early death saddened him.
Based on my father’s account, your assessment that ‘Marilyn makes people watching her feel that, if she knew them, she would like them’ is very apt. Even before she became Marilyn, when she was barely more than a child, she apparently had the gift of making others feel appreciated.
Sincerely yours,
Susan (Johnsen) Nordlof”

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