Fact Check: Marilyn in Palm Springs

Marilyn in Palm Springs, 1949 (Photo by Bruno Bernard)

Following the recent news that Seward Johnson’s giant sculpture, ‘Forever Marilyn‘, may soon make a permanent return to Palm Springs, another more spurious story has emerged. Last week, it was widely reported that Marilyn’s former home in Palm Springs had been burgled. However, while Marilyn visited the resort many times, there is no evidence of her ever living there. Bruce Fessier has investigated the rumour for the Desert Sun.

“Aftab Dada, a hotelier and head of the P.S. Resorts organization charged with finding ways to attract tourists to Palm Springs, says [the statue] may be placed in front of the Spa Resort Casino before hopefully landing in the downtown park being developed near Desert Fashion Plaza, where it attracted voyeurs with cameras for 22 months before going on the road again.

Dada, who also runs the Palm Springs Hilton Hotel, is now trying to raise money to ‘bring Forever Marilyn back to Palm Springs where she belongs.’ City spokeswoman Amy Blaisdell says it belongs here because ‘Marilyn Monroe has a rich history in Palm Springs.’

‘She once owned a home in the city’s Movie Colony neighborhood,’ Blaisdell said in a news release, ‘and she was first discovered by her Hollywood agent at the historic Racquet Club.’

Frankly, I don’t think she ever owned a home in Palm Springs. Blaisdell told me Marilyn and her second husband, baseball great Joe DiMaggio, owned a place on Rose Avenue. That’s actually in the Las Palmas district, but, besides that, my sources say it’s not true. I asked Blaisdell where she got her information and she said Dada — the guy in charge of drawing tourists to Palm Springs.

Dada says he learned about Monroe and DiMaggio’s Palm Springs’ roots from the heads of the private equity firm KKR (Kohlberg Kravis Roberts). Founding partners Henry Kravis and George Roberts used to stay at the Hilton …They hung out with DiMaggio and his granddaughter, Paula Hamra, in the Hilton hospitality lounge when the Yankee Clipper used to play in the Dinah, Dada said, and DiMaggio told them he and Marilyn once owned a Palm Springs home.

I looked up Hamra on Facebook. She’s one of two daughters of the late son DiMaggio had with his first wife, Dorothy Arnold, who ran Charcoal Charlie’s restaurant in Cathedral City in the late 1960s and ‘70s. She also led Cathedral City’s incorporation efforts as president of their chamber of commerce from 1973 to 1975.

Hamra didn’t respond to my Facebook message, but Dada said photographer Marc Glassman took a picture of him with the KKR boys and DiMaggio. So I called Glassman and told him I was trying to track down the mystery of whether or not Monroe and DiMaggio had ever owned a home in Palm Springs. I said Dada told me Glassman had taken a photograph of him with DiMaggio and the KKR heads at a Dinah Shore golf reception at the Hilton when DiMaggio mentioned he and Monroe had owned a  Palm Springs house. Glassman confirmed he had taken a picture of them at the Hilton.

‘Unfortunately,’ he deadpanned, ‘no one was wearing a picture on their lapel of DiMaggio and Marilyn in front of their Palm Springs home.’

So I started checking the rumors of Marilyn and DiMaggio owning a house on Rose Avenue. The Internet abounds with reports saying Marilyn lived there … Public records show the house was built in 1961 – one year before Marilyn died … and six years after she and DiMaggio divorced. The house was owned by Audrey Blanchard for more than 40 years until her death in May at age 94. On Dec. 12, 2008, her attorney, Philip S. Klatchko of the Palm Springs firm of Klatchko & Klatchko, contacted the owner of Locations Unlimited, Sylvia Schmitt, demanding she cease and desist spreading the erroneous information that Monroe once lived at Blanchard’s house.

‘In recent months, she has had numerous people come to her front door claiming that her home had been identified by the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce or its representatives as having once been owned or occupied by Marilyn Monroe,’ Klatchko wrote to Schmitt (then Jenette) a day after talking to her. ‘This claim or assertion is absolutely false and the people coming to her door are an annoyance and a nuisance.’

Tour buses were regularly stopping in front of Blanchard’s home, Klatchko said, and erroneously calling it Monroe’s house. Postcard manufacturers and other businesses were doing the same.

‘After full discussions with those local business entities … they each agreed to stop their reference to Mrs. (sic) Monroe,’ Klatchko wrote. ‘The matter had been laid to rest because in fact there was no truth to the allegation. It has only been more recently that the unwanted visitors to the home have started reappearing.’

Schmitt, who books celebrity homes for movie shoots and rentals, took the reference to Monroe’s house out of her map of celebrity homes. But she probably wasn’t the source of the problem. She says she gained her information from the tour guides who trained her. She passed along one hilarious story of a man who just made up stories as he went along. But more conduits of misinformation simply convey stories that haven’t been thoroughly vetted…

Unfortunately, the city is still perpetuating these myths and now someone is paying for it. Last week, someone burglarized the Blanchard house. TMZ reported it was Monroe’s place and a local TV station repeated that error.”

Remembering Marilyn in Monterey

Marilyn makes the cover of Carmel magazine’s Summer/Fall issue, with an article by Michael Chatfield about her links to the Monterey area inside, which you can also read here.

“Marilyn, like so many others then and now, succumbed several times to the tempting siren call of the Monterey Bay area. The Salinas Californian documented her first known visit of August 5, 1948: ‘…she came here to help promote a diamond sale at Carlyle’s Jewelers…’

The starlet stayed around for about a week, staying at the Jeffrey Hotel on Main Street. While here, she evidently made appearances at several service club luncheons. It was at one of those meetings that representatives of Castroville, an agricultural town 15 miles from Salinas that— then and now—specializes in the growing of artichokes, had the bright idea to make the ambitious future movie star the ‘California Artichoke Queen.’

A few years later, Marilyn returned to Monterey County, this time to do what she had set her sights on doing: act in a Hollywood movie. Some scenes for the 1952 potboiler Clash by Night were filmed on Cannery Row, then a still-bustling sardine-processing district. She was by no means the international superstar she was to become: Marilyn’s salary for this film was $500 per week.

Two years later—when Marilyn was a big star—she put in an appearance a little bit south of Monterey County. She and the Yankee Clipper tied the knot in a San Francisco civil ceremony on January 14, 1954, and proceeded south toward Los Angeles by automobile. The newlyweds spend their first night as man and wife at the Motel Inn in San Luis Obispo.

The next day, a reporter from the local newspaper spotted the celebrities having lunch at that establishment and phoned his newsroom to summon a photographer. San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune snapper Paul Nelson arrived on the scene and immediately spotted them. According to a November 13, 2013 story published by that paper (now the Tribune), Nelson said to DiMaggio, ‘I’m with the press. I would like to shoot your picture but I know you’re on your honeymoon. You name it.’

‘My wife doesn’t have any make-up,’ Joltin’ Joe replied. ‘I’d really rather not.’ And that was that. Respecting their privacy, Nelson retreated. What a contrast that story illustrates. In today’s tabloid press, the couple would probably have a name like ‘Marjoe,’ or ‘Monaggio’ and be relentlessly hounded by paparazzi.”

Thanks to Peter Gonzalez

Vernon Scott Remembers Marilyn

Marilyn with Vernon Scott in 1953

Vernon Scott was a famous show-business writer who knew Marilyn throughout her career. This is an extract from an article he wrote for his syndicated UPI column on August 8, 1962, commemorating her death. (He would survive her by forty years – you can read more about Mr Scott here.)

“The beautiful girl-woman had nothing left now. She couldn’t work under the terms of her studio contract although there were scores of offers. Nor could she lose herself in another romantic entanglement … The heartbreak of her marriages to Miller and DiMaggio had wrung her almost dry of emotion. What, then, was there left for the most glittering glamour girl in memory?

In a recent magazine story she said, ‘I was brought up differently from the average American child because the average child is brought up expecting to be happy.’ Again, she said, ‘Fame may go by and so long, I’ve had you fame.’ In death Marilyn could not say, ‘So long, I’ve had you, life.’ She had only a tiny piece of life, and for those of us who knew and admired Marilyn Monroe there remains soul-scaring remorse that none was able to provide her with the knowledge that she was indeed loved and cherished.”

Thanks to Deb Skylar

Patient Remembers Payne Whitney

Marilyn was briefly committed to New York’s Payne Whitney Psychiatric Hospital by her analyst, Dr Marianne Kris, following a severe depressive episode in 1961, but was so disturbed by the experience that she called upon ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, who demanded her immediate release. She then spent six weeks recuperating in another hospital.

Author Steven Gaines has described his own five-month residency at Payne Whitney after a suicide attempt in 1962 when he was just fifteen years old, in an interview with Michael Musto for Out magazine.

“You thought Payne Whitney was going to be basically a fancy hotel.

I was shocked because it turned out the first week you go there—this is why Marilyn Monroe signed herself out—you go on the seventh floor and there were 24 patients, and a lot of them were in shock therapy and very ill. They put me in a quiet room, and I was kicking the door, so they shot me up and put me in a padded cell the first night. But the third floor was entirely different, and I spent most of the time there. That was very much like a hotel.

But very regimented.

Yes. You had to have breakfast at a certain time, make your own bed, and have therapy every day.

When Marilyn died a year and a half after her release from Payne Whitney, how did you react?

When it happened, I was in the hospital. Everybody was so upset. We thought, ‘This isn’t gonna work.’

So you were allowed to walk out of the establishment, but not go home?

Right. When you got to the fourth floor, you were allowed walk privileges. On the fifth, some people even went to work and were allowed to go home for weekends. At my grandfather’s shop—a corset emporium that also sold a full line of women’s clothing—my grandmother would say, ‘She’s a Friday customer.’ That would mean the mental home let you out for the weekend.”

The Drugs That Killed Marilyn

Dr Howard Markel has written an article for PBS about Marilyn’s fatal overdose. While there are some inaccuracies – for example, he says she had been drinking alcohol when she died, which is incorrect – his citing her prescription drug addiction as a ‘modern epidemic’ rings true.

“Lonely and harassed, Marilyn found getting to sleep especially difficult. To counteract her insomnia, she often cracked open a Nembutal capsule (so that it would absorb faster into her bloodstream), added a chloral hydrate tablet (an old fashioned sedative better known in detective stories as a ‘Mickey Finn’, or ‘knockout drops’,), and washed them both down with a tumbler of champagne. This is a particularly lethal cocktail, not only because each of these drugs increase, or potentiate, the power of the other, but also because people who take this combination often forget how much they previously consumed, or whether they took them at all, and soon reach for another dose.

What remains most cautionary to 21st century readers is that the majority of the substances Marilyn was abusing were prescribed to her by physicians, all of whom should have known better than to leave a mentally ill patient with such a large stash of deadly medications. The barbiturates that killed her are rarely, if ever prescribed, today. Nevertheless, Monroe, like Judy Garland, Michael Jackson, Prince, and too many other famous Hollywood stars who overdosed, was adept at manipulating her doctors to prescribe the drugs she craved and felt she needed to get through her tortured days and nights. This treacherous course worked, albeit haphazardly, until it didn’t work anymore and resulted in a talented young woman dying far too young.

Marilyn once told a reporter, ‘the [best] thing for me is sleep, then at least I can dream.’ Sadly, Marilyn Monroe’s overdose represents the darker side of medical progress. Five decades after she died, and with the development of so many new, addictive, and potentially lethal painkillers and sedatives, this epidemic has only grown worse. Today, physicians, nurses, family members, and patients are all still struggling to grapple with its effects and stem its deadly tide.”

Will Marilyn Return ‘Forever’ to Palm Springs?

Last seen in Bendigo Park, Australia, Seward Johnson’s giant sculpture, ‘Forever Marilyn’, may soon make a permanent return to Palm Springs, California, due to its immense popularity with local residents and tourists during a two-year stay from 2012-14, as Palm Springs Life reports.

“The sculpture, which is currently owned by the New Jersey-based Seward Johnson Atelier, Inc., would potentially reside in the City’s proposed new downtown park currently under construction.

P.S. Resorts is currently negotiating a title sponsorship agreement with the RumChata Foundation to cover half the cost of bringing the sculpture back to Palm Springs and working on a plan to acquire the additional funds needed for the purchase through private donations.

Marilyn Monroe has a rich history in Palm Springs. She once owned a home in the city’s Movie Colony neighborhood and she was first discovered by her Hollywood agent at the historic Racquet Club.

‘Forever Marilyn was a wildly successful tourism booster for our destination,’ according to Mary Jo Ginther, Director of the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism. ‘Marilyn has traveled to other cities, but no other city has embraced her with as much love and appreciation as Palm Springs. We are thrilled she may soon return again to forever become a part of the magic that makes our city like no place else.’

To donate, visit www.DonateForeverMarilyn.com to make a contribution.”