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. “

Barris Photos and More at Heritage Auctions

Photos of Marilyn taken by George Barris in 1962 (taken from the original negatives, and signed by Barris) will go under the hammer for a starting price of $500 each at the Heritage Auctions‘ Entertainment, Music & Posters sale, set for July 20-21. Photos by William Carroll, Andre de Dienes and Kashio Aoki are also on offer, plus images from Ray Anthony’s ‘My Marilyn’ party, the hand-print ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and a silk-screen print by Bert Stern.

Among the more unusual items are a newspaper clipping accompanying an original photo of Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio on Redington Beach in Florida; and a grave marker from Marilyn’s crypt at Westwood Memorial Park, plus vintage photos and slides of fans paying their respects.

UPDATE: Marilyn’s grave marker sold for $7,500 – view results here

Cléo, Meet Marilyn (From 5 to 7)

In a tribute to filmmaker Agnès Varda, who died last week aged 90, Genna Rivieccio notes on her Culled Culture blog the parallels between Marilyn’s life and the tragic young heroine faced with a cancer diagnosis played by Corinne Marchand in Cléo From 5 to 7, the movie released just a few months before  Marilyn’s death, and which helped to launch the French New Wave.

“Although Cléo is beautiful and has a relatively successful singing career, the dark shadow potentially case by the reaper above her won’t go away, nor is it remedied by seeing a fortune teller at the outset of the movie, one who confirms all her worst fears about waiting for some potentially fatal test results from her doctor.

Distraught at first over the reading, Cléo insists to herself that ‘as long as I’m beautiful, I’m alive,’ because ‘ugliness is a kind of death’ so how can she be suffering from it if she’s not aesthetically hideous? Even so, she is aware that if she is dying, it’s only the inside that will matter now–not from a personality or ‘good person’ standpoint, but in terms of it affecting whether or not her demise is imminent. To that former notion, however, Cléo suddenly becomes hyperconscious of the vacuity of her life. Buying hats, lounging around, cursing men. What does it all mean? And what can she do to go on preserving that vacuous little life? Thus, she tells her maid, Angèle (Dominique Davray) that she’ll kill herself if it turns out to be cancer. Angèle does little to comfort her, noting that ‘men hate illness’ and that Cléo ought not to wear a new hat on Tuesday as it’s bad luck.

So, too, did Cléo, a singer who bemoans wanting to project more poignant lyrics but then grows filled with melancholy as she sings a new composition filled with too much death imagery to bear. She wants to remain as she always has been in order to survive, to feel somewhat happy: at the surface of things. Unfortunately, like Marilyn Monroe before her, the woman endlessly preoccupied with her image and looks ends up driving any potential for real and meaningful love away. And as we all know, especially Narcissus, a reflection can’t reciprocate anything, nor love or hate you as much as you do it. Cléo’s childlike [im]maturity, is, in fact, directly related to her self-obsession. In being faced with the reality that her death is imminent, however, she is forced to come to grips with certain truths both about herself and existence that she never would have otherwise.”

PS: And if you should doubt Marilyn’s influence on the nouvelle vague, this photo taken by George Barris just weeks before her death is glimpsed briefly  in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a 1964 musical directed by Varda’s husband, Jacques Demy, and starring lifelong MM fan Catherine Deneuve. (According to IMDB, the film is set in 1957 which makes it a goof.) And in Demy’s 1963 film Bay of Angels, Jeanne Moreau donned a Monroesque blonde wig to play an unhappy divorcee (not unlike Roslyn in The Misfits) who becomes addicted to gambling.

Marilyn Haunts the Front Pages

Following a recent cover story in Yours Retro magazine,  the 60th anniversary of Some Like It Hot also makes the front page of the latest Weekly News, plus a centrefold tribute from Craig Campbell.

On the weird side of Marilyn fandom, in Take A Break: Fate & Fortune‘s May issue, Emma Pearce of Cornwall shares her belief that MM is haunting her home – via a reproduction of a painting by Renato Casaro which she found in a rubbish tip (depicting Marilyn as Jesus, with Bogart and Elvis among her disciples, in a pastiche of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper.) Maybe the ghost isn’t Marilyn, but an angry critic?

Further afield, the second issue of German magazine Nostalgie features a lovely Monroe cover. Sadly, the usual conspiracy theories about her death are trotted out inside.

Thanks to Fraser and Johan