Marilyn Monroe and Jack Daniels


I’m a big Lincoln fan, as I’ve shown in this space time and again. But for some reason, I haven’t yet read Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln books, The Prairie Years and The War Years.  I’m in the process of rectifying that now, and reading these works makes me understand that the man certainly had a way with words.

Today is Carl Sandburg’s birthday, and I wanted to find some words of his to post onto social media. He said lots of very worthwhile things, and it was difficult to pick just one, at least until one phrase caught my eye. I did some research on the quote, and a very interesting story began to present itself. And that’s the reason I write this blog, to tell interesting stories like this.

The phrase “a candle in the wind” is one that’s burned into our collective consciousness, but Carl Sandburg wrote that phrase long before Bernie Taupin ever did. In a poetry book titled The People, Yes–first published in 1936–Sandburg wrote that our lives are like a candle in the wind, and like hoar-frost on a stone. I liked both analogies, but they took different paths after Sandburg loosed them on the world. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

In late 1961, Marilyn Monroe paid a visit to a photographer friend of hers who was also acquainted with Carl Sandburg. The phrase that Sandburg had written decades before was still years away from entering the public’s awareness. After all, there was no reason to say goodbye to Norma Jean just yet. She was still walking the earth, and she paid a visit to one of the most famous American writers alive at that point.

The story goes that, after many photos were taken by Steckler, Sandburg and the others drank Jack Daniels together. I know that Sandburg did many things in his lifetime, but drinking Jack Daniels with Marilyn Monroe had to be one of the most interesting of all. I would think so, anyway.

From that visit with each other in late 1961, the two went their separate ways. Monroe died eight months later in August of 1962, and Sandburg died in July of 1967. And that might have been the end of the story, but then fate intervened, in an odd kind of way, a few years later in 1970.

After Janis Joplin died that year, she was remembered by a newspaper writer–whose name I haven’t been able to pin down–as being a “candle in the wind.” Whether this writer had read the term from Sandburg or not is impossible to know, but the article was read by a young songwriter named Bernie Taupin. Taupin liked the phrase so much that he put it in a composition for his collaborator, Reginald Dwight, to set to music. And I hope that nobody needs to be told what Reginald Dwight is better known as.

So a phrase that Sandburg wrote was thus applied to someone he once met, through the intermediaries of an American singer, an unknown newspaper writer, and a British songwriting duo. And Sandburg’s phrase will forever call Marilyn Monroe to mind, even if neither one could have known this when they met with each other in 1961. I have to believe that they would have enjoyed this story, at least as much as I did in telling it.

Sandburg rightly pointed out that we’re all candles in the wind, and hoar-frost on a stone. And for this reason his words will always live on, in a way that he and Norma Jean never could.

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