Marilyn, Dr. Greenson and ‘Box 39’

Marilyn by Bert Stern, 1962

A spurious report published in UK tabloid The Sun suggests that the truth about Marilyn’s death may be held in a mysterious box file.

“Private detective Becky Aldrige told Sun Online how she discovered the box of papers ‘restricted until 2039’ which she believes may contain the answers as to how and why the screen legend died back in 1962 – in a university library in Los Angeles.  

The strange box belongs to Marilyn’s personal psychiatrist Dr Ralph Greenson … ‘Box 39’ is stored in the special collections section of UCLA library but sealed to the public until 2039 – although the list of contents – which is public – shows it contains various documents and letters relating to Marilyn.

‘I’m 100% positive Marilyn Monroe did not commit suicide – not if you go by all the facts of the case,’ Becky revealed.
‘There’s so many unanswered questions and there shouldn’t be. Marilyn Monroe was the only person whose organs and tests and everything that had been with her death disappeared. How does this happen unless it’s a cover up?'”

However, the box is not as mysterious as Ms Aldrige seems to believe. All those documents were made available to Donald Spoto while writing his biography of Marilyn, published in 1992. After Spoto alleged that Greenson had accidentally killed Marilyn with an enema (a theory which has found little favour with medical experts), his surviving relatives decided to seal the documents. The theory proposed by author Donald Wolfe and others that Greenson killed Marilyn by ‘hot-shot’ has also been widely criticised.

In fact, ‘Box 39’ consists mostly of Greenson’s correspondence with fellow psychiatrists Dr Anna Freud and Dr Marianne Kris, who had also treated Marilyn in the past. As another Monroe biographer, Gary Vitacco-Robles (who is also a practicing psychotherapist) points out, Spoto should have focused more on Marilyn’s physician, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, and his liberal use of prescriptions.

And regarding Aldrige’s claim that Marilyn’s organs were removed, only tissue samples were taken and their disposal was standard procedure in 1962. Donald McGovern, author of Murder Orthodoxies: A Non-Conspiracist’s View of Marilyn Monroe’s Death, comments further on her autopsy:

“In his memoir, Dr. Thomas Noguchi noted that Dr. Raymond J. Abernathy, the head toxicologist at the time, tested Marilyn’s blood and her liver but did not test the organ dissections since the results clearly indicated an ingested overdose and suicide … Marilyn’s liver contained three times the volume of barbiturates than her tested blood. Therefore, Marilyn was not administered a hot shot and certainly not directly into her heart. The branch of pharmacology known as pharmacokinetics explains scientifically why the volume of barbiturates in Marilyn’s liver precludes the use of an enema and an injection.”

Natalie Trundy 1940-2019

Actress Natalie Trundy has died aged 79, the Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.

The daughter of an insurance executive, Natalie made her Broadway debut at twelve years old, and modelled and acted on television as a teenager. She met the press agent Arthur P. Jacobs on the set of her first film in 1956, and went on to star with Dean Stockwell in The Restless Ones (1957.) She also appeared in episodes of TV’s Bonanza and The Asphalt Jungle, a series based on the 1950 movie.

After her first marriage was annulled, Natalie was cast in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962), a family film produced at Twentieth Century Fox, starring James Stewart and Maureen O’Hara, with a script by Nunnally Johnson (How to Marry a Millionaire) and directed by Henry Koster (O. Henry’s Full House.) It is believed that she became engaged to Jacobs, who was eighteen years her senior, at around this time, although they would not marry until 1968.

On August 4th, 1962 – the eve of her 22nd birthday – Natalie was celebrating at a concert at the Hollywood Bowl with Jacobs, plus director Mervyn LeRoy and his wife. (At first it was thought to be a Henry Mancini concert, but it since emerged that pianists Ferrante & Steicher were performing there on that night.) According to Natalie, a messenger came to their box at around 10:30 pm, bringing news to Jacobs that his client of seven years, Marilyn Monroe, was either dead or dying at her home in Brentwood. Jacobs asked the LeRoys to drive Natalie home to her apartment on Canon Drive, just a few doors away from where Marilyn’s publicist, Pat Newcomb (then part of Jacobs’ company), lived.

Marilyn with Arthur P. Jacobs, 1955

Interviewed by author Anthony Summers, Natalie said she thought the call came from Newcomb. She later told another biographer, Donald Spoto, that she ‘had the distinct impression’ that the message was actually from Marilyn’s lawyer, Milton Rudin. ‘Arthur said it was horrendous,’ she recalled. ‘He never gave me any details, and I never asked him. He said only that it was too dreadful to discuss.’ She didn’t see him again for two days. Natalie’s account has been added to the many controversies surrounding Marilyn’s time of death.

Natalie and Arthur

In January 1963, Natalie appeared in an episode of The Twilight Zone. A few months later she was hit by a car and suffered a ruptured disc in her back, and would spend the next year recovering in a back brace. She went on to play roles in four of the Planet of the Apes movie series, which Jacobs produced. He died in 1973, and Natalie took over his production company and sold the franchise rights to Fox.

In 1974, she married Gucci executive Roberto Carmine Foggia, and they had two children, Alessandra and Francesco. Her last screen credit was a 1978 episode of Quincy, M.E. She would marry twice more, and spent years volunteering at Mother Theresa’s hospice in Calcutta, India.

Marilyn, Bobby Kennedy and a ‘Scandalous’ Conspiracy

The Fox News documentary series, Scandalous: The Death of Marilyn Monroe, has now concluded. While some viewers voiced concerns about sensationalism in the early episodes, most fans watching in the US seem satisfied by the verdict.

“I’m one of the experts interviewed for this three-part special on Marilyn Monroe,” historian Elisa Jordan says. “I’m pleased to be a part of something that gets closer to the truth about her death and debunks a lot of the ridiculous conspiracy theories surrounding her. If you happen to catch it, it’s worth watching. (And I would say that even if I weren’t in it.)”

Fellow contributor Donald McGovern, author of Murder Orthodoxies (reviewed here), has spoken about the dubious origins of conspiracy theories linking the Kennedy brothers to Marilyn’s untimely demise.

“‘The conspiracy theories about Marilyn’s death as they exist now. Did not exist in the 60’s. They grew exponentially from the 60’s to where we are now,’ said Donald McGovern, in the final episode of the Fox Nation series, Scandalous: The Death of Marilyn Monroe.

The documentary details how a right-wing writer [Frank Capell] the head of an anti-Communist group [Maurice Reis], and the first police officer to arrive on the scene of Monroe’s death [Jack Clemmons], conspired to point the finger at [Robert] Kennedy.

The three conspirators met in the months after Monroe’s death, and according to McGovern, ‘that’s when they first got the story from Reis about the Kennedy-Marilyn involvement.’ The show delves into the plan to push the narrative that Monroe did not die of a drug overdose, as the coroner had concluded, but that she was killed on orders from Kennedy.

Central to this scheme was the involvement of one very powerful New York gossip columnist. ‘Walter Winchell serialized what essentially was a theory. That Bobby Kennedy and Marilyn had had an affair and that Bobby Kennedy had Marilyn murdered. I don’t know that Winchell ever comes out and says that. But it’s insinuated,’ recounted McGovern.

The theories surrounding Monroe did not end there.  They re-surfaced in the 1970’s, around the 10th anniversary of her death, when novelist Norman Mailer wrote an instant best-selling book, Marilyn: A Biography. In the final chapter of that book, Mailer turns the Capell-Reis-Clemmons conspiracy on its head and suggests that Monroe was killed by the conspirators.

Fox News

Stirring the Pot: Marilyn, the Media and Celebrity Suicide

Immediately following Marilyn’s death in 1962, a spike in suicide among young American women was widely reported. Dr. Mary V. Seeman, now a Professor Emerita at the Institute of Medical Science in Toronto, has recalled how the news led her to make a rash decision as a young trainee doctor, in an article for the Psychiatric Times.

“I was a second-year psychiatry resident in New York City at the time, and I remember exactly where I was when I heard of her death. The sad news shook the staff and dazed the patients in our all-women’s hospital ward … The women patients for whom I was responsible were particularly devastated by the news of her death because they identified with her in so many ways. Many had experienced similar childhoods in foster care, had aspired to be film stars, and had suffered through difficult relationships. Like Marilyn, they often had suicidal impulses.

As it was summertime when this happened, the head of our ward was on vacation in Europe. This left me temporarily in psychiatric charge. Once I realized how deeply Marilyn Monroe’s death had affected my patients, I knew that some form of intervention was urgently needed. I immediately invited whoever wanted to do so to join a support group that I would lead … Our group of eight got off to a good start. We cried and shared our feelings. The women talked about their suicidal urges. ‘Her life was so great compared to mine,’ one woman said. Everyone agreed, as she added: ‘She was rich; she was beautiful; she was talented. Look at all the men who loved her!’

‘This group is a catharsis,’ I proudly pronounced to my fellow residents.

But this is what happened next. Three of the women in the group attempted suicide, one very seriously. Fortunately, all three survived. The head nurse, frightened by what had happened, contacted the head of our ward in Europe. He immediately cut his vacation short and returned to New York. The first thing he did was to stop the group. Then, he gave me the worst dressing down of my life. I thought it was the end of my residency, but he allowed me to stay. What came to an end was my early confidence in myself as a therapist. Since then, there has always been a seed of doubt when I see a patient. I now ask myself, ‘By stirring the pot, am I perhaps doing more harm than good?’

Human beings are very easily influenced. What my Marilyn Monroe group had done was to bring together eight vulnerable women who, with the complicity of their group leader, had laid fertile ground for intense behavioral contagion. I had unknowingly created a suicide cluster. Out of a mix of would-be Marilyn Monroes, raw emotions, media prodding, and myself as a greenhorn therapist, the belief had emerged that suicide was the answer to distress.

Today, this is called the Werther effect after the widespread emotional reaction to the 18th century novel The Sorrows of Young Werther by the famous German writer Goethe. The story is about an unhappy lover who ends his life with a pistol. At publication, the book precipitated a massive wave of imitative suicides throughout Germany and much of Europe. This response was not unlike what took place the month after Marilyn Monroe’s death when there was a 10% increase in suicides in the United States.

Are there lessons here for clinicians? I think there are. In the wake of a celebrity suicide, it is wisest to express neither shock nor surprise to one’s patients. Patients who are at risk need to be assessed, monitored, and seen often. Their grief needs to be acknowledged. They also need assurance that you understand, are available, and that there are ways, admittedly difficult, by which one can overcome adverse circumstances and survive anguish …

My own experience suggests that overzealous intervention is not a good idea and that it is best to check with elders in the field who are more experienced before leaping into unknown therapeutic territory. Sensitive topics such as thoughts of suicide need private one-on-one discussion, not group therapy. Membership in a group transforms a person and the results of such transformations can be difficult to foresee.”



Robert Frank 1924-2019

Robert Frank, who was considered one of the most important photographers of all time, has died aged 94. Born in Switzerland, he moved to the United States in 1947. Perhaps his most famous work of photojournalism was a 1958 book, The Americans. Frank became an avant-garde filmmaker, capturing beatnik culture in Pull My Daisy (1959); and he also shot the cover of the Rolling Stones’ 1972 album, Exile On Main St.

Although Frank never photographed Marilyn, he shot these images of a child on the beach in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, reading the front page of the New York Daily News, headlined ‘Marilyn Dead’, while his family appears unconcerned, in August 1962. The first photo was featured in a 2004 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, I Wanna Be Loved By You: Photographs of Marilyn Monroe from the Leon and Michaela Constantiner Collection. Robert Frank died at home in Nova Scotia on September 9, 2019.

Marilyn Gets ‘Closer’ on TV and Podcast

Speculation about Marilyn’s death makes the pages of Closer in the USA this week (alongside cover star Meryl Streep.) If you’re wondering where all these stories are coming from, it’s partly the Fox News series Scandalous, but also a new podcast, The Killing of Marilyn Monroe. If conspiracy theories aren’t your thing, it might be worth waiting for Marilyn Monroe: Behind the Icon, an upcoming podcast from biographer Gary Vitacco-Robles.

Fox News Gets ‘Scandalous’ With Marilyn

Marilyn’s life and death is the subject of a new 3-part documentary in the Fox News Channel series, Scandalous. It began last night, and will continue over the next two Sundays. It’s being aired in the US and Australia, but not as yet in Europe. Interviewees include authors Gary Vitacco Robles, Charles Casillo, Donald McGovern and Keith Badman, plus Elisa Jordan of LA Woman Tours and photographer Larry Schiller and Leigh Weiner’s son Devik. This alone could make it worth watching, although fans have already complained about the use of Marilyn’s autopsy photo on both the show and tabloid coverage.

57 Years Ago…

“You know, she would stop whatever she was doing to wave to truck drivers and cabbies who yelled ‘Marilyn!’ to her. She had a lot of their standards … That’s the element, the quality, which every young girl in America could recognise.

I think the major reason for her myth becoming larger and larger every day, for the legend growing on such a gigantic scale, is not the tragedy of her life. It’s the joy of the girl; she presented the joyous moment of a vibrant woman.

More important, she represents the freedom which kids have today. Only, she was fifteen or twenty years ahead of the times, so she paid the price for her freedom.

Anyway, I want to show the nice moments in her life. I think in my own way I don’t gloss over what we look upon as vicious in life. What the hell! You’ve got to be tough to survive in the movie world. And in individual relationships with people. In the emotional life.”

Sam Shaw, The Joy of Marilyn in the Camera Eye

Remembering the Real Marilyn

Marilyn by Milton Greene, 1956

As we reach the 57th anniversary of Marilyn’s death, Megan Monroe reminds us of her true legacy in a timely blog post.

“So many people and society tend to view Marilyn as a victim, passed around from man to man and used throughout her lifetime. This both angers and frustrates not just me, but many fans, who have spent years taking the time to research legitimate sources and find out who Marilyn herself was. Often her death is viewed as a conspiracy-fueled, gossip-loving debate, so much so that she ends up no longer seeming like a young woman anymore, but an object of fascination.

It seems to me that it’s easier for people to believe in the distasteful lies and conspiracies that surround not just Marilyn, but many other celebrities and icons before and after her. People cannot comprehend someone as beautiful, talented and loved as her to have any demons or hardships … In the end Marilyn ends up being turned into a former shadow of her true self, which is just not acceptable to me and so many others – therefore, I will continue to try and dispel the lies and bring back her true character.

Furthermore, Marilyn’s death does not define her – intended or accidental it is still and will always be a tragedy, but, it does not take away from her 36 years of life and the achievements she made during and after her lifetime … Ultimately, this was the real Marilyn, the person that so often gets lost in the publicity of hearsay and money making headlines. “