‘Literature,’ Ezra Pound said, “is news that stays news.” It looks as if the Gulf Spill will stay news for quite some time, so here’s a headline that’s good news:


Which is only to say that on June 1st, her birthday, the 24th vintage of Marilyn Merlot was released ($29, online) to an audience of adoring fans, hopeful speculators (various vintages are offered on eBay at $15 to $482) and possibly even a few people who’ll drink it. (I’m not hinting that there’s anything wrong with it: The wine almost invariably gets enthusiastic reviews, but it is a star on eBay.)

Marilyn Merlot 08 label

The 2008 Marilyn Merlot label. The image is from a shot issued to ballyhoo the 1950 movie The Asphalt Jungle.

The wines (including Marilyn Cab, Savignon Blonde and others) came about in 1983 when longtime Napa Valley residents Bob and Donna Holder were dining with friends and drinking local Merlot. Here’s the place to put in yada-yada-yada, because next thing you know the idea was broached and events put in train, and by 1985 it was on the market. Good for Bob and Donna, who own Marilyn Wines and actually pay royalties to Monroe’s estate, and who were the first or among the first to put a nifty pun on a wine label. Many have tried for label humor since then. Pity.

A pun is supposed to catch you off guard. It should be flying right by before your brain clicks and wakes up just in time to see its tail lights disappear. Look again: Marilyn Merlot. There’s only one change to the original. The intonation is the same, as is the terminal sound. It’s gone before you know it. Now consider Goats Do Roam. Nice wine, failed name, lousy gag. For one thing, too many changes. For another, you might say ‘Goats roam . . . ’ but surely not ‘Goats do roam . . . ,’ and there’s little hope of making wit from fabricated phrases. As for

Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush, I’ll say only that anyone who says that what Sauvignon smells like should put his face in a litter box to get closer to reality and farther from strained wit.

I admit to being merely a qualified fan of Marilyn Merlot because as it happens I’ve never tasted it. I admire from afar, as it were. Marilyn is an icon from an age when the word was rarely used. Now it’s used all the time for anybody at all, and it is meaningless to most people. To me it means either someone I’ve never heard of (the intent is to make me think I should have) or someone I’ve heard far too much and wish would go away. For support I turned to The New York Times website and asked a list of stories in which icon had appeared. The site came back with more than ten thousand. From the past 30 days.

I looked at a few of them and concluded that most of the people cited as icons don’t have what Broadway people call legs. No, not the rapper Big Daddy Kane. Not Bobby Plump, despite his Frisbee-sized pork-tenderloin sandwiches; nor even failed NFL quarterback Art Schlichter, even though he was the ‘center of a recruiting competition between Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.’

No, Marilyn Monroe is an icon who’s stayed an icon. Wine or no wine, she still means something to a large audience, some of whom hadn’t been born before her death in 1962. If Chad Ochocinco, the showboat pass-receiver of the Cincinnati Bengals, thinks he can match that, he’s welcome to try.