In Search of Mary Werbelow… “Love Her Madly: Jim Morrison, Mary and Me” – the Gonzo Today Book Review

by Kyle K. Mann, Gonzo Today Contributing Editor and Publisher

This is a must-read book for anyone interested in how Jim Morrison, and by extension the Doors, became iconic. Bill Cosgrave has given us an entertaining read on a topic of interest to millions of fans of the legendary group, for which many of us should be thankful. 

Taken at face value, “Love Her Madly: Jim Morrison, Mary and Me” explains a lot about the last few months before Morrison became the Doors’ frontman, and within two years a rock legend with big shelf-life. Now after nearly a half-century of being dead, the dude endures.

Jim Morrison did not aspire to be a singer in the summer of ‘65. What changed that drove him to writing song lyrics that impressed his fellow UCLA film school grad, keyboardist Ray Manzarek into forming the Doors with him? Yup, Morrison being rejected by his first love, Mary Werbelow.

Bill Cosgrave first met Mary Werbelow in Clearwater, Florida back in the now myth-encrusted early 1960s. He was a young Canadian teenager who had transplanted himself into a high school where she was a senior, three years older than he was. Despite that age gap, they gradually became friends, with Werbelow treating him as an interesting, amusing younger brother.

Smitten by her intelligence and breathtakingly lovely appearance and bearing, Cosgrave was smart enough to not make a romantic move on Mary Werbelow, three whole years older than him, instead wisely choosing to cultivate their friendship.

Cosgrave left Clearwater at the end of his school year to return home to Canada for the summer, then resumed schooling as a high school senior in Clearwater, also resuming his unlikely friendship with now-college student Werbelow, who even invited him to visit her for a few “glorious” days at her parents’ house in Fort Lauderdale, showing him the sights. 

Werbelow’s spiritual side was complex, in that she was raised a Catholic but found Eastern religious concepts compelling.  She also was fascinated by art and music, introducing Cosgrave to new ideas and worlds, and he describes her as having a mind and personality that “sizzles.”

She tells him of her new boyfriend, college student Jim Morrison, who wants to marry her. 

Despite that, Bill Cosgrave and Mary Werbelow would remain good friends, so much so that when she moved to Los Angeles to be with now-UCLA film student Morrison, she invited Cosgrave to come visit her indefinitely in the summer of 1965. Cosgrave had entered college in Canada but was having difficulties with the power structure at the school, and made the decision to join her in Los Angeles. 

Cosgrave gives us a fine description of an epic hitchhiking quest he makes from British Columbia to Southern California, including having to sneak over the border. In this, and other stories of his solo adventures that he spins skillfully, he both draws a realistic portrait of the unique era of the U.S.A west coast in the mid-60s, and manages to give us a sense of who he was: a wacky, charming young character with a devil-may-care attitude. This is important to our understanding of three highly unusual people living in a remarkable time.

Mary Werbelow found this younger guy worthy enough to give him an open-ended invitation to be her houseguest. What Cosgrave manages to do for readers is make it reasonably clear why she would do that: she liked edgy yet charismatic guys. So despite her ongoing love affair with the pre-Doors Jim Morrison, she invites Cosgrave to her home in L.A. 

Though she had lived with Morrison at his apartment briefly when she first got to Los Angeles, Werbelow had declined to live with Morrison. She quickly got a job at his school, UCLA, and moved into her own apartment, incidentally freeing her to invite Cosgrave to crash on her couch.

OK, then. Finally arriving at her door, Cosgrave knocks, is reunited with her, and a few minutes later meets Morrison, who takes a liking to Cosgrave and his enthusiastic madness. What follows is as good a portrait of Mary Werbelow and Jim Morrison in the crucial period of the summer of 1965, before and after their breakup, as we are ever gonna get.

*****

My cell phone rings, it’s Bill Cosgrave calling me from Canada. I’m at work on a film set at a house in Venice Beach, but it’s lunch time and I walk out onto the beach. We are both struck by the fact that I’m standing on the sand just a short walk from the Venice Beach and Santa Monica piers, a chunk of beach with a lot of history for Bill. To me, it’s the place Morrison and keyboardist Ray Manzarek formed the musical partnership that became the Doors, later that same summer of ‘65.

It’s a wide-ranging, free spirited phone chat with a guy who knew Jim Morrison on the cusp of adventures that were then unimaginable. It’s absolutely priceless. We trade stories, and I tell him of my one and only time I saw the Doors, at the Avalon Ballroom in March 1967, and how I have never been the same. 

And we discuss Mary, including his quest to track her down decades later. It’s an incredible, moving epilogue best left for readers to discover at the end of his book. 

The big questions: why did Werbelow reject Morrison, what happened to him to turn him into a rock singer and eventual top-tier icon, what was her evolving reaction to his growing fame, and posthumous legendhood, and perhaps the biggest question of all…

 Is Mary Werbelow still alive? It’s unknown.

We need a timeline here. She apparently caught Morrison with another woman at some point. Was this after their breakup, or before? When did she start her job as a featured dancer in front of horny patrons at the Hollywood club Gazzarri’s? Cosgrave’s written descriptions of this late-summer period are searing, and I believe a key to comprehending what happened to Morrison to transform him into a powerful, emotive singer in a few short months in late ‘65. When did she move from Los Angeles to Venice Beach roughly around the time the Doors got big, and why? When did she go to India, devastating Morrison, and when did she return?

We know very little about her after that. Belly dancer in a Honolulu establishment in the late 70s. Married twice, divorced twice. Numerous Google searches reveal only photos of her in the 1960s. Nothing shows up more recent than 1965 or ‘66, as far as I can tell. 

We do have a fascinating interview with her from 2005 in the Tampa Bay Times. While intriguing, it leaves us hanging. It remains the only interview she ever gave.

Bill Cosgrave is as puzzled as everyone else is who wants to know more about “Mysterious Mary.” He left Jim and Mary, both waving goodbye, and went home to Canada the end of that summer of ‘65, and though he talked to Morrison on the phone several times after the Doors became a big name, even gently rejecting an offer to be the Doors road manager for a European tour, Cosgrave never saw Morrison again aside from a concert performance in Canada, but was unable to meet him after the show due to Morrison being incapacitated by substance abuse. 

Bill Cosgrave’s book has been optioned for a possible movie. If done with wisdom and skill, it could be a terrific film. 

So, I’ll say it again, and even expand it. Interested in an excellent read, even if you are not a Doors fan? Buy the damn book, published by Dundurn Press. It’s at Amazon or your favorite bookstore and you can get it downloaded or have a physical copy sent.

And goodnight Mary Werbelow, wherever you are.

Kyle K. Mann

Topanga

April 11, 2021

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About Kyle K. Mann 74 Articles
Kyle K. Mann is the pen name of a contributor to, and publisher of, Gonzo Today. He lives high atop Topanga, California, where owls hoot and coyotes howl. A radio broadcaster in multiple fields in the 80s and 90s, Kyle sometimes supports himself part time as a Union film crew member in Hollywood. His articles and interviews first appeared in Gonzo Today in early 2015, and some of them are fairly good.