LA Coroner to Speak on Marilyn’s Death

On October 20, Craig Harvey, the recently retired Chief Coroner for Los Angeles County, will speak about Marilyn’s death and take questions from the audience, as part of a day-long ‘Through the Valley of Death‘ tour, visiting sites associated with Hollywood tragedies, and hosted by  Scott Michaels (Dearly Departed Tours) and Elisa Jordan of LA Woman Tours, who commented today…

“Craig is the recently retired lead investigator for the Los Angeles County Coroners Office and the leading authority on Marilyn’s passing. Because there have been so many investigations, news stories, books and questions (from people like me!), it has been Craig’s job to consult the actual case records, both coroner and police, to answer any and all questions accurately. Because of his position in the coroners office, he is also (obviously) an expert on procedure, including procedures that were in place in 1962. Craig isn’t a Marilyn fan and doesn’t have an agenda. He just happens to be the guy who ended up with this job. This may be our only chance to ask a person of this caliber questions about Marilyn so I wanted to make sure everyone knows.

Disclaimer 1: This is part of an *all day* event that is also filled with non-Marilyn stuff. So if you want to hear Craig, you have to attend the other stuff too (but the other stuff is really fun so you’ll want to go!)

Disclaimer 2: I helped plan this event, which means there will be no disrespect of Marilyn.”

Murder Orthodoxies: Sex, Lies and Marilyn

Marilyn’s tragic death  shocked the world in 1962, and over fifty years later, the rumours are still coming. In a new book, Murder Orthodoxies: A Non-Conspiracist’s View of Marilyn Monroe’s Death, author Donald McGovern unpicks the myths and searches for the truth. You can read my review at Immortal Marilyn.

Scandals and Puzzles: Marilyn’s Latest Covers

Marilyn takes centre-stage in a new LIFE special, Deaths That Shocked the World, available via Amazon.

She also makes a rather odd appearance in this week’s National Enquirer, with the bizarre claim that Frank Sinatra was her killer. Fake news, anyone?

And on a lighter note, the latest issue of Take a Break’s Wordsearches Collection puts a Seven Year Itch spin on their regular cover character – although the brown bob and baseball cap are an unexpected twist on Marilyn’s bombshell style!

Thanks to Fraser Penney

Marilyn at the Edinburgh Festival

Marilyn is a hot topic in fringe theatre, though the results aren’t always stellar. At this year’s Edinburgh Festival, she’s the subject of two new shows, reviewed by Joyce McMillan for The Scotsman.

The Marilyn Conspiracy has grabbed a few headlines although Marilyn herself isn’t depicted – it’s set in the hours after her death, as some of the main players in her final months respond to the tragedy.

“The play is desperately confusing at first, and urgently needs to use its tableau-like opening moments to let the characters tell us exactly who they are … It’s a measure of the sheer power of the story, though, that the play rivets the attention nonetheless, as the two doctors in the room, and even Marilyn’s furious friend Pat Newcomb, are gradually worn down … “

However, another audience member – MM superfan Lorraine – told me, “The Marilyn Conspiracy had all the bogus theories – the ambulance, Bobby Kennedy, injections, enemas etc … I could hear people laughing a lot at some of the theories talked about … maybe the audience all knew better!” In his review for The Stage Paul Vale agrees, describing the play as a “stifling, under-developed drama that blurs fact and fiction.”

Theatregoers whom (like myself) aren’t enthralled by conspiracy theories may prefer the lighter option…

“JoJo Desmond’s cabaret show The Marilyn Monroe Story is a fragile little piece by comparison, a brief and simply staged hour of songs and biographical narrative tracing Marilyn’s remarkable life, not least through versions of some of her most famous and fabulous costumes. Desmond sings Marilyn’s songs beautifully, in a near-perfect imitation of her breathily gorgeous voice; and she, too, observes the link with the #metoo moment. Her script, though, never soars into anything like the brilliant writing a life like Marilyn’s invites and for all her charm, she is a long way from even beginning to capture the glowing charisma of the woman herself.”

Once again, Lorraine’s view was quite different to McMillan’s. “On the whole,” she says, “the show was well-researched and the costumes and mannerisms and performances of songs were spot on … the voice was accurate and she had some beautiful costumes (including a ‘Heat Wave’ replica outfit!), and you could tell that she had studied every single movement that Marilyn does in each of the musical performances.”

Where Marilyn is concerned, a diehard fan can be more perceptive than most theatre critics. Lorraine will be posting her full review of both shows soon on the Marilyn Remembered blog.

56 Years Ago: Marilyn Remembered at Westwood

Yesterday, the Marilyn Remembered fan club hosted their annual service at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles. Among this year’s speakers were actresses Kathleen Hughes and Terry Moore; author Lois Banner; Juliet Hyde-White (daughter of Marilyn’s Let’s Make Love co-star, Wilfrid Hyde-White); Susan Bernard (author, and daughter of photographer Bruno Bernard); and the advice columnist Jeanne Phillips (known to millions as ‘Dear Abby’.)

You can re-watch the live stream here.

56 Years Ago: Goodbye, Marilyn

On August 4th, 1962 – a balmy Saturday evening not unlike this one – Marilyn Monroe bid her housekeeper goodnight and retired to the bedroom of her modest Los Angeles home. She would never wake again, and on Sunday morning, the world learned of her death. On this sad anniversary, here’s an ode to America’s dream girl from an indigenous poet.

“Marilyn Monroe

drives herself to the reservation. Tired and cold,
she asks the Indian women for help.
Marilyn cannot explain what she needs
but the Indian women notice the needle tracks
on her arms and lead her to the sweat lodge
where every woman, young and old, disrobes
and leaves her clothes behind
when she enters the dark of the lodge.
Marilyn’s prayers may or may not be answered here
but they are kept sacred by Indian women.
Cold water is splashed on hot rocks
and steam fills the lodge. There is no place like this.
At first, Marilyn is self-conscious, aware
of her body and face, the tremendous heat, her thirst,
and the brown bodies circled around her.
But the Indian women do not stare. It is dark
inside the lodge. The hot rocks glow red
and the songs begin. Marilyn has never heard
these songs before, but she soon sings along.
Marilyn is not an Indian, Marilyn will never be an Indian
but the Indian women sing about her courage.
The Indian women sing for her health.
The Indian women sing for Marilyn.
Finally, she is no more naked than anyone else.

–from Tourists, Part 3″

Remembering Barbara Bates

Barbara Bates, ‘All About Eve’

Among the cast of All About Eve (1950), three would die in tragic circumstances: Marilyn, George Sanders, and Barbara Bates, who appears as wannabe actress Phoebe in the final scene. Although her screen time was brief, it amounts to one of the greatest endings in Hollywood history. Interestingly, her part was reportedly considered for Marilyn before she was cast as Miss Caswell. Barbara also appeared in another early Monroe film, Let’s Make It Legal (1951).

Barbara as Phoebe in ‘All About Eve’
Barbara with Marilyn in a publicity shot for ‘Let’s Make It Legal’

Barbara was born in Denver on August 6, 1925, and came to Hollywood in her teens after winning a beauty contest. There she met Cecil Coan, a publicist for United Artists. They were married, and despite Barbara’s extreme shyness, she submitted to his designs to make her a star, appearing in such films as Johnny Belinda, June Bride and Cheaper By the Dozen. Like Marilyn, Barbara alternated between bit parts and posing for cheesecake, but her career didn’t take off as Marilyn’s did.

By the mid-1950s, Barbara’s emotional instability made her increasingly unreliable, and her last screen credit was in a 1962 episode of the British TV series, The Saint. After her husband was diagnosed with cancer, Barbara gave up acting to care for him, but the strain made her depression worse. A year after his death in 1967, Barbara was remarried to a childhood friend in Denver. But sadly this still wasn’t enough to turn her life around, and in early 1969, she was found dead by gas poisoning in a car inside  her mother’s garage.

‘Let’s Make It Legal’ cast photo – Barbara at left, Marilyn at right
Barbara and Marilyn with Macdonald Carey in a scene from the movie

Marilyn Fans Respond to Celebrity Deaths

This last week has seen at least three suicides among people in the public eye, including fashion designer Kate Spade, chef Anthony Bourdain, and Inés Zorreguieta, younger sister of the Dutch Queen. Perhaps inevitably, this tragic news has led to some rather irresponsible headlines about an alleged epidemic, with some journalists citing the reported spike in suicides among young American women shortly after Marilyn’s death.

Marilyn’s death was ruled a ‘probable suicide’, although wild rumours and conspiracy theories have abounded ever since. While I personally would never rule out any possibility, having studied the evidence over many years I consider it highly unlikely that Marilyn was murdered. (This is my own opinion, and I don’t presume to speak for the membership of Everlasting Star.)

The recent unfortunate events have led to some soul-searching within the Marilyn fan community, and a serious examination of the mental health problems she faced. At the same time, an excellent article in the latest issue of American History explores her addiction to prescribed drugs, now the leading cause of death in Americans aged under 50 (see here.)

Psychotherapist Gary Vitacco Robles, author of Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, discusses these issues in a new blog post, ‘Myth-Busting Suicide.’

“I hear the public reactions to a publicized suicide such as, ‘He seemed happy’ and ‘She was planning for the future.’ The suicide seems incongruent with a recent, apparently positive mood state. However, people are at higher risk when they appear to being doing well and planning for the future. They now have the energy to complete the suicide which they didn’t have when they were experiencing major depressive symptoms.”

Scott Fortner addresses Marilyn’s death specifically on his MM Collection Blog today:

“In spite of the evidence that proves she died of an overdose of prescription drugs consumed orally, conspiracy theories surrounding Marilyn’s death are plentiful … Sadly though, these conspiracy theories, in a way, help keep her legend alive. Fans simply can’t accept the fact it was either intentional or accidental, and I am regularly surprised at the frequency in which people I talk to bring up, and believe, the outrageous theories.”

Over at Immortal Marilyn, Leslie Kasperowicz believes that fans need to confront these issues openly to support those at risk and end the stigma of suicide.

“Marilyn’s death could have – should have – been one of the biggest blows to that stigma.  But instead, by choosing to look for conspiracies and murder, we took away her impact.  An impact that may have helped the people named above and so, so many others, had we let the blow fall.  Who were we protecting?  Not Marilyn. She is already beyond protection.”

How Marilyn’s Addiction Became America’s Scourge

Marilyn is on the cover of American History‘s latest issue (dated August 2018), with an article inside by Robert Dorfman, Emily Berquist Soule, and Sukumar Desai MD, about her struggle with addiction to prescribed drugs and ultimate death by overdose prefigured the national opioid crisis, which has now reached epidemic proportions. Although the subject matter is bleak, the piece is well-researched and insightful. You can also read it in full here.

“Then, as now, abuse of drugs was nationwide. But if prescription drug abuse had an epicenter in the 1950s, it was in Los Angeles at Schwab’s Pharmacy on Sunset Boulevard, where Orson Welles shopped, Ava Gardner worked the soda fountain, and F. Scott Fitzgerald reportedly had a heart attack buying cigarettes. At the pharmacy counter, celebrities and regular folks could get their prescriptions filled. In 1950s Hollywood, that meant barbiturates for nerves and amphetamines for energy and weight loss. One studio employee claimed that in those days most Hollywood actors were on prescription drugs.

In that era, when psychological treatment was the province of the very privileged or the very ill, pharmaceuticals seemed to hold great promise for treating mental illness. More patients got relief without undergoing lobotomy, previously the recommended treatment. But the medical community knew prescription pharmaceuticals were addictive. Studies in the 1950s showed the best treatment for such addictions to be hospital detox followed by inpatient psychological care. Those convicted under federal drug laws could be forced to undergo such treatment, but Marilyn’s drug use never became a criminal matter. Her treatments were strictly voluntary.

It is impossible to know whether Marilyn Monroe took her own life or was self-medicating and miscalculated. Many friends insisted she died by accident. But in her final interview, Marilyn called celebrity ‘only a temporary and partial happiness,’ adding in an aside on her career that ‘it might be kind of a relief to be finished.’ Days later, she was.”

Marilyn Book News: The Girl, Hollywood and More

2018 is shaping up to be another great year for Marilyn’s book-loving fans. Marilyn: Lost and Forgotten, featuring 150 images from Colin Slater’s Hollywood Photo Archive, is set for publication in October. For those who can’t get enough of those classic Hollywood beauties, a companion volume – Venus in Hollywood: Portraits from the Golden Age of Glamour – is due in November.

Michelle Morgan’s latest book, The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch, and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist, will be published in May. For the latest updates, follow Michelle’s blog here.

Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon, a full-scale biography by Charles Casillo, will follow in August.

Looking further ahead,  Amanda Konkle’s Some Kind of Mirror: Creating Marilyn Monroe, a scholarly look at her film performances, will be published in February 2019. (Only the Kindle version is available for pre-order as yet.)

In related interest, Marilyn graces the cover of Samantha Barbas’ Confidential Confidential: The Inside Story of Hollywood’s Notorious Scandal Magazine, due in September. (The notorious ‘Wrong Door Raid’ is also featured in Jim Heimann’s Dark City: The Real Los Angeles Noir, just published by Taschen.

Reno, a 2016 play by Roy Smiles about Marilyn’s conflicted relationships with husband Arthur Miller and director John Huston during the tumultuous filming of The Misfits, will be published shortly by Oberon Modern Playwrights (the Kindle version is currently available for pre-order.)

And finally, Elizabeth Winder’s Marilyn in Manhattan is now available in Turkish; and Marilyn Monroe: 1926-1962, a new study of her untimely death by Eva Enderström, has been published in Sweden.