Wyatt Dickerson’s fond encounter with a cinema legendBy Janet Donovan
HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, NORMA JEAN: When Wyatt Dickerson turned 22 in 1946, he received a birthday telephone call from his friend Norma Jean Baker. It probably wasn’t as exciting as the ones President Kennedy got, but she wasn’t Marilyn Monroe yet either. “I had met Norma Jean almost two years earlier,” Dickerson recalls. “I was a young actor and had just had a part in my first movie. She also called to tell me that she had just signed a film contract at 20th Century Fox and would be paid $125 a week. She was then 20 years old.”
Dickerson was living in L.A. at the home of Gen. Sir Sydney and Lady Lawford at the time. He met Norma Jean sitting alone at the beach in Santa Monica, looking sad, lonely, and out of place. “My roommate was the Lawfords’ son, Peter, a struggling young actor. I felt sorry for her and asked her if she would like to meet some of the young U.C.L.A. students and some of the surfers and volleyball players.”
Peter, who was busy drying off from surfing, didn’t display much interest in the young girl, so Dickerson took her to lunch at Neenies Weenies, a beach hang out for fast food, where they had hot dogs and soft drinks before returning to the beach where Dickerson resumed his volleyball match.
“She was still in the same place when I finished the game. I remember asking her where she lived and how she would get home. Although I didn’t get a direct answer, It was clear she didn’t have a car and I assumed that she would take a bus or hitchhike. So I offered to drive her to wherever she lived in Hollywood, at least 15 miles away.”
“Some years later, I enjoyed watching my beach friend play in films and thought of my perspicacity as a young man. I was happy that the little waif had lucked out. However, it was not the end of the story.
“Peter Lawford must have had a better introduction to her 15 years later than I had given him at the beach. As Marilyn Monroe, she was treated with great affection and proudly introduced by him to some of the leading political figures of the day.”
The rest is history.
YOUNG CHAMPION: No one is fully prepared to deal with the ravages of Alzheimer’s. Just ask actress Soleil Moon Frye. Best known for her gig as “Punky Brewster” in the 1980’s sitcom, she is preparing for a role of a lifetime as the daughter of a father who has the disease.
“It started out gradually,” she said, “perhaps as long as 10 years before if became noticeable. We thought he was just a little crazy … leaving notes around the house. He would call and say he couldn’t find his car; things began collecting in the house.”
“This illness is painful on dignity,” she notes. “My father had a colorful life and was robbed of his character. We are motivated to find a cure.” Frye was honored with the Young Champions Award at the seventh annual National Alzheimer’s Gala at the National Building Museum along with Terry Moran, co-anchor of ABC’s “Nightline,” who received the Sargent and Eunice Shriver Profiles in Dignity Award. The evening was emceed by “Frasier” star David Hyde Pierce. If it’s any comfort, Congress included provisions for the concerns of a growing Alzheimer patient population in the final health care reform legislation.