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Mary and Jim to the end

Published Sep. 25, 2005|Updated Oct. 24, 2005

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, they're tearing down the house on N Osceola Avenue, the place Jim lived in when they met, to make way for condos. 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.

Mary performed matadorlike body twirls. She did the bossa nova. 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 had always seen seemed to be overtaking him, and she didn't want to watch him explore his self-destructive bent. And 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 his death

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; many suspect drugs. He was 27.

September 2005

34 years after Jim died

Mary is 61, unemployed and rarely leaves her mobile home. Married and divorced three times, 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.

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.

From Jim's notebooks into the song book

Everyone who remembers Jim Morrison from his Clearwater days remembers him scribbling notes everywhere he went. Snippets became lyrics.

"That's where the songs came from, out of those notebooks," said Doors keyboard player Ray Manzarek.

In the song Soul Kitchen, for example, Manzarek said the reference to "minarets" came from the University of Tampa.

Your fingers weave quick minarets.

Speak in secret alphabets.

I light another cigarette

and learn to forget.

Mary and the lyrics

A 1990 letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times suggested that the Doors song Crystal Ship was about crystal methamphetamine: The ship stood for a hypodermic needle, the kiss meant drug injection.

Doors drummer John Densmore responded with a letter of his own: "Jim wrote The Crystal Ship for Mary Worbelo (sic), a girlfriend with whom he was breaking up. . . . The song was a goodbye love song."

The first two stanzas:

Before you slip into unconsciousness

I'd like to have another kiss

Another flashing chance at bliss

Another kiss, another kiss

The days are bright and filled with pain

Enclose me in your gentle rain

The time you ran was too insane

We'll meet again, we'll meet again

Jim's college days in Florida

Before starting film school in Los Angeles, Jim Morrison spent 2{ years in college in Florida. He attended St. Petersburg Junior College for the 1961-62 academic year, then transferred to Florida State University.

He was at FSU for the 1962-63 academic year and the fall trimester of 1963.

The top section of his transcript shown here is from SPJC, where he got B's and C's in basic classes, including English, math and biology.

The bottom four sections are from FSU, where he got A's in Collective Behavior and Essentials of Acting, and a B in Philosophy of Protest.

Source: The Doors archive

The Doors burned bright _ and were done

Two UCLA film students put their talents together in 1965 _ Ray Manzarek and his keyboards, Jim Morrison and his poetry _ and started the band that became the Doors. The other members were jazz drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger.

They derived the name of the group from the poetry of William Blake ("If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it truly is, infinite.") and from Aldous Huxley's book about psychedelic drugs, The Doors of Perception.

The group's music gets lumped with other psychedelic rock of the '60s, but it defies simple description, influenced by flamenco, Indian, blues and classical music.

Their debut album, released in January 1967, included Light My Fire, Break on Through and The End.

When they performed live on The Ed Sullivan Show, CBS censors demanded that the band change the lyrics in Light My Fire from "Girl we couldn't get much higher" to "Girl we couldn't get much better." Morrison sang the original line instead, much to Sullivan's chagrin.

The third album, Waiting for the Sun (1968), was their first No. 1 record and included their second No. 1 single, Hello, I Love You.

Morrison nicknamed himself Mr. Mojo Risin' _ an anagram of his name _ and is said to have referred often to the overdose deaths of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and predicted he would be No. 3.

On July 3, 1971, Pamela Courson reported that she found him dead in the bathtub of their apartment in Paris. The cause of death was listed as heart attack; drugs were suspected.

There was no autopsy. The coffin was sealed before his family or the American Embassy were notified. It was not until six days later that the Doors' manager announced Morrison's death to the world.

Conspiracy theorists had a field day. A popular theory was that to escape the demands of celebrity, Morrison faked his death and vanished.

The band recorded six studio albums before Morrison's death. The remaining members released two more albums and split up in 1973.

The Doors were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.



Go to for more photos, music clips, a guest book and links to related Web sites. One links to a promotional film for Florida State University that features a 20-year-old Jim Morrison, in coat and tie, playing the role of a student whose college application was denied; he questions a college official about why.

Mary Werbelow, Jim Morrison and the Doors

May 1944. Steve Morrison, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, is called to duty aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. He leaves his wife, Clara, and their 6-month-old, James Douglas Morrison, to live with his parents in Clearwater. They live there for three years.

Summer 1961. Jim's parents, living in Virginia, send their increasingly incorrigible son back to Clearwater to live with his grandparents. He enrolls at St. Petersburg Junior College.

Summer 1962. Jim Morrison and Mary Werbelow meet on Clearwater Beach. She is finishing her junior year at Clearwater High. He just finished a year at SPJC and will head to Florida State in the fall.

January 1964. Jim starts film school at UCLA. Mary joins him in Los Angeles.

Summer 1965. Mary and Jim break up. He and Ray Manzarek start the group that becomes the Doors.

January 1967. The Doors release their first album. By July, Light My Fire hits No. 1 on the Billboard charts.

Sept. 17, 1967. The Doors perform on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Late 1968. Mary moves to India. She never sees Jim again.

Jan. 24, 1969. A month after performing before a television audience of 27-million on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, the Doors play to a sellout crowd of more than 20,000 at New York's Madison Square Garden.

March 1, 1969. Doors concert at Miami's Dinner Key Auditorium. Morrison is later arrested, accused of exposing himself. Promoters in city after city cancel scheduled Doors concerts.

Sept. 20, 1970. Morrison convicted of indecent exposure.

Sept. 23, 1970. Morrison and Darryl Arthur "Babe" Hill arrested for public drunkenness in Clearwater.

Oct. 30, 1970. For indecent exposure, Morrison sentenced to six months "confinement at hard labor" in the Dade County Jail. The judge lets him stay free on appeal.

Dec. 12, 1970. The Doors' final concert with Morrison, in New Orleans.

July 3, 1971. In Paris, Morrison found dead in the bathtub of the apartment he shared with Pamela Courson. He was 27.


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