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Before Jim Morrison became famous with the Doors, he and Mary Werbelow were soul mates. In the never-ending procession of Morrison biographies, she is mentioned briefly but never quoted. Google her, and not a single photo appears. She has never spoken publicly about their three years together - until now.
By ROBERT FARLEY
Published September 25, 2005
[Courtesy of Mike Sanders]
|WHERE THEY MET: Clearwater Beach, Pier 60. Mary was in high school, Jim just finished a year at St. Pete Junior College. His second cousin, Gail Swift, who lived in Clearwater, says their relationship was intense: “I think they answered a lonely call inside each other.”
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Mary Werbelow is polite but firm: She doesn't do interviews. Ever.
Jim Morrison was her first love, before he got famous with the Doors. Friends from Clearwater say that for three years in the early 1960s, Jim and Mary were inseparable. He mourns their breakup in the Doors' ballad The End.
For nearly 40 years, all manner of people have tracked Mary down and asked for her story, including Oliver Stone, when he was making his movie starring Val Kilmer as Jim. Others waved money. Always she said thank you, no.
"I have spoken to no one."
She can't see what good could come of it; some things are just meant to be kept private. Besides, journalists always get it wrong. They focus on Jim Morrison as drunk, drug abuser, wild man. They don't know his sensitivity and intellect, his charm and humor.
"They take a part of him and sensationalize that. People don't really know Jim. They don't really have a clue."
Mary is afraid to share. Because nobody could ever fully understand him, or her, or them. Not to mention how painful it is, even 40 years later, to relive something she would rather forget. She still aches for love lost; her regret never relents.
She lives in California, alone, in an aging mobile home park. By phone she is told that back in Clearwater, to make way for condos they're tearing down the house on N Osceola Avenue, the place Jim lived in when they met. His room was in back, books stacked everywhere save for the path to his bed.
"That was a lovely home," Mary says. "It's a shame to knock it down."
Across a dozen conversations, she amplifies on stories the old Clearwater crowd tells, and adds some of her own. She says she's not sure why she's talking now. Maybe it's just time.
SUMMER 1962, CLEARWATER:Nine years before Jim died
Mary and best friend Mary Wilkin spread their beach blanket near Pier 60. Our Mary was 17, wearing a black one-piece, cut all the way down the back, square in front - a little daring for the time, especially for a buttoned-down Catholic girl.
Amid the flattops on the pier, the guy with the mop of hair stood out.
Jim had been sent here by his father, then a Navy captain, after he blew off his high school graduation ceremony in Virginia. He had just finished the year at St. Petersburg Junior College and lived with his grandparents, who ran a coin laundry on Clearwater-Largo Road.
On her beach towel, Mary turned to her friend and uttered the first sexual comment of her life:
"Wow, look at those legs!"
Jim tagged along when his friend came over to flirt with Mary Wilkin. He told our Mary he was a regular pro at the game of matchsticks, a mental puzzle in which the matches are laid out in rows, like a pyramid. Loser picks up the last one.
Jim challenged Mary and suggested they spice things up with a wager. If she won?
"You'll have to be my slave for the day."
If he won? Mary had to watch beach basketball with him.
As Mary's first command, she marched Jim to the barber. She was just finishing her junior year at Clearwater High, where all the boys had flattops; she was not going to be seen with such a hairy mess.
"Shorter," she told the barber.
To a buzz cut.
He must really like me, Mary thought. I'll see if I still dig him by the time his hair grows out, and if I do, it won't matter.
Slave order No. 2: Iron and clean. And wash her black Plymouth, a.k.a. "The Bomb."
Jim had begun the wax job when Mary's father rescued him with a picnic basket and suggested the couple adjourn to the Clearwater Causeway.
To cap slave day, Mary had Jim chauffeur her to St. Pete, in the shiny Bomb, to see the movie West Side Story.
Mary was on the high school homecoming court. Her friends did cotillion dances at the Jack Tar Harrison Hotel, hit Brown Brothers dairy store for burgers and malts, and shopped Mertz's records for Ben E. King, Del Shannon and Elvis Presley.
Hair shorn, Jim still attracted attention, shy behind granny glasses, army jacket and a conductor's hat. The local law stopped him multiple times to check his ID.
He read his poetry at the avant-garde Beaux Arts coffeehouse in Pinellas Park and visited St. Pete's only live burlesque show, at the Sun Art Theater on Ninth Street.
Friends who thought they knew Mary couldn't fathom why she would want to hang out with the likes of Jim Morrison.
What they didn't know was how out of place Mary felt in her social circle. Jim talked like no one she had met.
"We're just going to talk in rhymes now," he would say.
He recited long poems from memory. "Listen to this, listen to this," he'd say, "Tiger, tiger, burning bright . . ." - excited, like it was breaking news, not William Blake.
This was not puppy love, Mary says, like the earlier boyfriend who played guitar, wrote songs and serenaded her by phone. This was different. This was intense.
"We connected on a level where speaking was almost unnecessary. We'd look at each other and know what we were thinking."
She liked her alone time, in her bedroom, dancing and drawing.
Jim liked his alone time, in his bedroom, reading.
They skipped dances and football games and hung out, at her house, his grandparents' house, wherever.
"I hated to let him go at night. I couldn't shut the door."
When it came to sex, Mary's answer was no.
"It was not happening. And it didn't for a long time. I'm surprised he held out that long."
Mary's grandparents were strict Catholics. She had visions of them at the last judgment, watching her. "It was too much for me to bear."The poet
Everybody, everybody, remembers the notebooks. Any time, any place, Jim would fish one from his back pocket, scribble and chuckle.
Chris Kallivokas, Bryan Gates and Tom Duncan. And Phil Anderson, George Greer, Ruth Duncan, Gail Swift and Mary. They all remember.
Around Jim, you always felt watched. He'd bait and goad, get a rise, take notes. "There was no one who wasn't under observation," Gates says. "His only purpose in life was observation."
When Jim drove, Mary kept a notebook at the ready.
"Write this!" he'd say, dictating an observation. Or he'd pull over and scribble himself.
Everyone has a story about Jim's brainy side. Kallivokas remembers the night his Clearwater High buddies and a new kid came by Alexander's Sundries, his father's drugstore on Clearwater Beach. They wanted Kallivokas to come party, but he had a term paper due the next day, on Lord Essex. Naturally, he had written all of two sentences.
"I know all about him," the new kid volunteered. Jim wrote the paper off the top of his head, with footnotes and bibliography.
"To this day, I don't know if it was right," says Kallivokas, who says he got an A+
They would rag Jim that the books crowding his living space were for show. He'd look away and challenge nonbelievers to pick any book and read the beginning of any chapter. He'd name the book, the author and more context than they cared to hear.
"He was a genius," Mary says. "He was incredible."
She says his heroes were William Burroughs, William Blake, Hieronymus Bosch, Norman Mailer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Arthur Rimbaud, Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac.
Mary didn't have heroes like that. "Jim was my hero."The provocateur
Pre-Mary, Jim's buddy Phil Anderson brought him to a house party on Clearwater Beach.
Jim was dazzling with the dictionary game. People would pick obscure words, and Jim would tell the definitions.
Phil turned, and his pal was standing on the couch, peeing on the floor. "Needless to say, we were asked to leave."
That was Jim. He'd charm, then provoke. It was worse when he drank.
He got epically drunk on Chianti at the all-day car races in Sebring, crawled around in a white fake fur coat like a polar bear covered in dirt and tried to launch himself onto the track. Friends grabbed his ankles.
"He'd get a real pleasure out of shocking people and being a little eccentric and peculiar," Kallivokas says. "And that came to the forefront when he had a couple drinks."
Mary says he rarely drank in her presence.
"It was out of respect for me. We were in love, and he didn't want to do things that I didn't like."
"That's a real key to understanding Jim," Gates says. "She was the love of his life in those days. They were virtually soul mates for three or four years."
In the fall, Jim transferred to Florida State. Most weekends, rain or shine, he hitchhiked back to Clearwater, 230 miles down U.S. 19. Most days in between, letters postmarked Tallahassee arrived at the Werbelow mailbox on Nursery Road.
Mary's father intercepted one, read the page about sex and never got to the part that made clear Jim was writing about a class. Furious at her father's snooping, she burned all Jim's letters, a move she came to regret, deeply.
She wasn't much of a letter writer herself. At Jim's direction, she wrote once a week and included the number of a public telephone in Clearwater and a time he should call.
On his end, Jim would put in a dime for the first two minutes. They would talk for hours. When the operator asked him to settle up, he'd take off. Free phone service.
On her end, Mary would loiter by the phone at the appointed hour, glancing about, certain it was the week the cavalry was coming to arrest her.
"I was so scared," she says, laughing. "I just thought it was normal. I see now it wasn't."
She always assumed he had her wait at different phones for her protection; now she's thinking it was his way of making sure she wrote him at least once a week.
March 30, 1963:Eight years before Jim died
It's hardly something Mary brags about; she says she would have declined. But when the Jaycees called to recruit her for the Miss Clearwater competition, Mary's mother answered the phone.
"Oh, yeah," mom said, "she'll be happy to do it."
The third and final night of competition, more than 1,000 people packed Clearwater Municipal Auditorium. Five finalists matched "beauty, personality and poise."
Mary was looking good, not that Jim was thrilled. If she won, it was on to Miss Florida. Less time for him.
In her toreador outfit - tight-fitting green pants with red sequins down the sides from hip to ankle - Mary did the bossa nova, swirling a red and yellow satin cape. The Clearwater Sun called her performance a "house-stopper." Time for her big question: "If your husband grew a beard, what would you do?"
What a stupid question, she thought, and answered: "I'd let him grow it. Whether he would kiss me or not would be another matter."
She told the judges she was headed for college, torpedoing her chances because it meant she would not be available to fulfill all obligations of Miss Clearwater.
Sitting through other contestants' routines, Mary scanned the darkened hall until she spotted Jim, bored senseless. But there.
She got first runner-up.
1964-65, Los Angeles:The breakup
Mary's father banned Jim from the Werbelow house. Mary won't say why; she doesn't want to add to the Morrison myth.
When she followed Jim to Tallahassee for a semester, her parents objected. When he started film school at UCLA and Mary announced she was following him to Los Angeles, they were devastated.
To bribe Mary to stay, her mother bought her an antique bedroom set, no competition for a 19-year-old following her heart.
Mary says Jim asked her to wear "something floaty" when she arrived in Los Angeles. "He wanted me to look like an angel coming off the plane."
Instead, she drove out a week early and surprised him.
Together again, in an exciting, intimidating city, they kept separate apartments. Mary got her first real job, in the office of a hospital X-ray department. Later, she donned a fringe skirt and boots as a go-go dancer at Gazzari's on the Sunset Strip.
Jim studied film. At the end of the year, a handful from among hundreds of student films were selected for public showing. Jim's was not among them.
Shortly after, Mary says, he told her he was humiliated, considered his formal education over and needed to forget everything. He built a fire in his back yard and incinerated many of his precious Florida notebooks.
Mary says he started doubting her commitment. "You're going to leave me," he would tell her.
"No, I'm not. How can you say that? I'm in love with you."
After one fight, Jim went out with another woman. He wasn't home the next morning. Mary went to the woman's house, but she said Jim wasn't there.
Mary called: "Come out wherever you are!"
Jim slinked forward, a hand towel around him. Mary bolted and, in a blur, hit the woman's fence as she sped off.
"That was the beginning of the end."
He was drinking hard and taking psychedelic drugs. The darkness she says she had seen from the start was overtaking him, and she didn't want to watch him explore his self-destructive bent. She felt he had swallowed her identity. Whatever he liked, she liked.
"I had to go out and see what parts of that were me. I just knew I had to be away from him. I needed to be by myself, to find my own identity."
She enrolled in art school. The day Jim helped her move to a new apartment, she told him she needed a break.
"He clammed up after that. I really hurt him. It hurts me to say that. I really hurt him."
They split up in the summer of 1965.
A few months later, Jim got together with a film school buddy, Ray Manzarek, who says he wanted to combine his keyboards with Jim's poetry. They started the band that became the Doors.
Friends from Clearwater never saw it coming. Back then, Jim didn't have much interest in music. He didn't even appear to have rhythm.
"He didn't sit around and sing," Mary says, laughing. "Jim, no, he was a poet. He wrote poetry."
By phone from his home in Northern California, Manzarek says all the guys in film school were in love with Mary. She was gorgeous, and sweet on top of that. "She was Jim's first love. She held a deep place in his soul."
The Doors' 11-minute ballad The End, Manzarek says, originally was "a short goodbye love song to Mary." (The famous oedipal parts were added later.)
This is the end, Beautiful friend
This is the end, My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I'll never look into your eyes . . . again
. . .
This is the end, Beautiful friend
This is the end, My only friend, the end
It hurts to set you free
But you'll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end
Within two years of their breakup, Light My Fire was No. 1 on the charts and Jim was the "King of Orgasmic Rock," the brooding heartthrob staring from the covers of Rolling Stone and Life.
He took up with other women, notably with longtime companion Pamela Courson, but Mary says she and Jim kept up with each other. She says she was his anchor to the times before things got crazy.
"I'd see him when he really needed to talk to someone."
Before a photo shoot for the Doors' fourth album, she says Jim told her: "The first three albums are about you. Didn't you know that?"
She says she didn't have the heart to tell him she had never really listened to them. She had heard Doors songs on the radio, but she didn't go to his concerts, she didn't keep up with his career.
Mary vehemently denies it, but Manzarek says she told Jim, "The band is no good and you'll never make it." He says Mary wanted Jim to go back to school, get a master's degree and make something of himself.
When Mary moved, she says, Jim had a knack for finding her. He would eventually ask if she had changed her mind. "Why can't we be together now?"
Not yet, she would answer, someday.
More than once, she says, he asked her to marry.
"It was heartbreaking. I knew I wanted to be with him, but I couldn't."
She thought they were too young. She worried they might grow apart. She needed more time to explore her own identity.
In late 1968, Mary moved to India to study meditation. She never saw Jim again.
March 1, 1969, Miami:Two years before Jim died
With the Doors coming for their first Florida concert, Chris Kallivokas left a message with his old friend's record company. He says Jim called him back, loving life.
"The chicks we get, the money. . . . It's great."
"So that crowd control works," Kallivokas teased, talking about theories that intrigued Jim in Collective Behavior class at FSU. He said Jim answered:
"You've got to make them believe you're doing them a favor by being onstage. The more abusive you are, the more they love it."
They planned a reunion in Clearwater.
Some 15,000 fans cram into the 10,000-capacity Dinner Key Auditorium, a sweaty, converted seaplane hangar in Miami. Jim Morrison announces his drunken presence with dissonant blasts from a harmonica.
The cover boy, 26 now, has a paunch and beard, a cowboy hat with a skull and crossbones and noticeably slurred speech.
One stanza into the second song, Five to One, he berates the crowd.
"You're all a bunch of f - - - - - - idiots!"
Confused silence. Uncomfortable laughter.
"Letting people tell you what you're gonna do, letting people push you around. How long you do think it's gonna last? . . .
"Maybe you like it. Maybe you like being pushed around. Maybe you love it. Maybe you love getting your face stuck in the s - - -."
Screams from the audience.
"You're all a bunch of slaves. . . .
"Letting everybody push you around. What are you gonna do about it? What are you gonna do about it? What are you gonna do about it? What are you gonna do about it? What are you gonna do about it? What are you gonna do! What are you gonna do! What are you gonna do!"
He talks as much as he sings. He wails about loneliness and rants about love. Three songs after berating the crowd, the music softens and he lets loose a plaintive:
"Away, away, away, away, in India
"Away, away, away, away in In-di-a
"Away, away, away, away in In-di-a
"Away, away, away, away in In-di-a."
Morrison invited the crowd onstage, and the concert disintegrated. Amid the chaos, he supposedly unzipped his pants, exposed himself and simulated sex with guitarist Robby Krieger.
With the country debating indecency run amok, Jim Morrison was Exhibit A. He was charged with lewd and lascivious behavior, a felony, plus indecent exposure and two other misdemeanors.
The courtroom in Miami was packed. State witnesses saw what they saw. Others said it was hype, Morrison only simulated what he was accused of. There wasn't a single damning photo.
Bryan Gates hadn't seen Jim in ages. They caught up during a break, and talk inevitably turned to Mary. What ever happened to her? Gates asked. Jim said he had lost touch, California seemed to have swallowed her up psychically.
He was acquitted of the felony but convicted of indecent exposure. On Oct. 30, 1970, he was sentenced to six months of "confinement at hard labor" in the Dade County Jail.
Out on appeal, he moved to Paris, where he shared an apartment with Courson.
The Doors released L.A. Woman in April 1971, with hit songs Love Her Madly and Riders on the Storm. Months later, Jim Morrison was dead.
On July 3, 1971, Courson found him in the bathtub. The listed cause of death was heart attack; drugs were suspected. He was 27.
September 200534 years after Jim died
Mary is 61, unemployed and rarely leaves her mobile home. She says she married and divorced twice, and she has no children.
"I can't find anybody to replace Jim. We definitely have a soul connection so deep. I've never had anything like that again, and I don't expect I ever will."
She painted, mostly realistic oil portraits. She won a small legal settlement after she said she developed multiple chemical sensitivities from rat poison that seeped through the vents of her art studio over the years. It makes it difficult to be around scented products, and she gave up her art.
Mary would not meet with a reporter for this story or allow her photo to be taken. She says she weighs exactly what she did in high school - 107 pounds - but now her hair is long and gray. "People sometimes tell me I look like an artist."
She doesn't think the early Doors albums are all about her but says the lyrics include references to her and Jim's shared experiences, including the "blue bus" in The End. She considered writing about the references but decided against it. An artist herself, she didn't want to spoil people's various interpretations.
For decades, she says, she brooded over how things might have turned out had they stayed together but finally concluded it was destiny. "He was supposed to go into that deep, dark place."
His grave in Paris draws pilgrims from around the world, but not Mary. Quite the opposite, she says. She wants to forget, and still she feels his ghost checking on her.
Lines in Break on Through especially pain her, lines she interprets as Jim saying she betrayed him by not getting back together:
Arms that chain us
Eyes that lie
"I promised it wouldn't be forever, that I'd get back together with him sometime. I never did. It's very painful to think of that. For a long time, any time I would think about him, or anyone would talk about him, I'd cry.
"It used to make me so sad. I never gave him that second chance. That destroyed me for so long. I let him go and never gave him that second chance. I felt so guilty about that."
Mary says she is tired. She has trouble sleeping. She says she's not sure if she has done right by talking so much. She's worried that others will seek interviews that she does not want to give. She wants that made clear: She does not want to talk about Jim anymore.
- St. Petersburg Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
[Last modified September 23, 2005, 17:02:53]
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