Petition Launched to Save Rockhaven

The campaign to save Rockhaven, the former sanatorium run by women for women, is continuing with the Friends of Rockhaven community group campaigning to have the building opened to the public. It is a site of architectural and historical note, and was an oasis of progressive healing for the mentally ill during a time of widespread ignorance and prejudice. Marilyn’s mother, Gladys Baker Eley, lived there for fourteen years, and it seems to have finally brought her some peace of mind after many unhappy years spent in and out of state asylums. Please sign the petition to save this Glendale landmark here.

On This Day: Marilyn Leaves the Polyclinic

On July 11, 1961 (fifty-seven years ago today), Marilyn left New York’s Polyclinic Hospital after undergoing gallbladder removal surgery on June 29. The Associated Press reported her as saying she felt wonderful, adding that although she was “almost crushed” by the awaiting crowd, she “appeared to enjoy the commotion.” However, while Marilyn certainly did smile for the cameras, news footage shows her looking delicate and frightened by the frenzied mob surrounding her. She would spend several weeks recovering at home with half-sister Berniece Miracle.

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: A Proto-Synaesthete?

Norma Jeane by Richard C. Miller, 1946

In an article for the New Yorker, no less, Robin Wright says, ‘I have something in common with Marilyn Monroe – and you might, too.’ That shared condition, she claims, is synaesthesia…

“Marilyn Monroe had a condition called synesthesia, a kind of sensory or cognitive fusion in which things seen, heard, smelled, felt, or tasted stimulate a totally unrelated sense—so that music can be heard or food tasted in colors, for instance. Monroe’s first husband, Jim Dougherty, told Norman Mailer about ‘evenings when all Norma Jean served were peas and carrots. She liked the colors. She has that displacement of the senses which others take drugs to find. So she is like a lover of rock who sees vibrations when he hears sounds,’ Mailer recounted, in his 1973 biography of Monroe.”

While Marilyn was never diagnosed with synaesthesia, there’s a good reason for that – it wasn’t an established concept during her lifetime, although Wright believes it has been described in literature for centuries, noting that many artists, musicians and writers exhibit aspects of synaesthesia.

Maureen Seaberg first suggested that Marilyn might have been a synaesthete in a 2012 article for Psychology Today – a hypothesis supported by Mona Rae Miracle. (It would be interesting if a psychologist could examine other incidents from Marilyn’s life from this perspective.)

Marilyn photographed by Milton Greene, in costume for ‘Bus Stop’ (1956)

“It didn’t disturb me that Mr. Mailer did not refer to Ms. Monroe’s displacement of the senses specifically as synesthesia — no one was using that word in 1973. I decided to follow up with her survivors and spent months seeking them until an email arrived from her niece, Mona Rae Miracle, who with her mother, Berniece Baker Miracle, wrote a well-received biography of her famous aunt herself, titled My Sister Marilyn.

‘Synaesthesia is a term Marilyn and I were unaware of; in the past, we simply spoke of the characteristic experiences with terms such as extraordinary sensitivity and/or extraordinary imagination … Marilyn and I both studied acting with Lee Strasberg, who gave students exercises which could bring us awareness of such abilities, and the means of using them to bring characters to life. As you know, the varied experiences can bring sadness or enjoyment … Marilyn’s awesome performance in Bus Stop (the one she was most proud of) grew out of the use of such techniques and quite wore her out.'”

Unveiling Marilyn’s Beautiful Scars

Surgical scars can be seen on Marilyn’s tummy in two of her final photo shoots, with George Barris (left) and Bert Stern (right), and in her ‘nude’ swim scene for the unfinished Something’s Got to Give, as Mehera Bonner reports for Marie-Claire. Marilyn underwent an appendectomy in 1952, and had her gallbladder removed in 1961, a year before she died. She also underwent several operations to alleviate her endometriosis and help her to have children, sadly without success. While surgical procedures are considerably more sophisticated today, our expectations have also increased. While there’s something rather liberating about these gorgeous, unaltered shots, it’s also important to remember that Marilyn – who exerted rigid control over her photo shoots, if not her movies – may herself have wanted to airbrush these photos had she lived long enough to fully review them. In fact, she vetoed many of Stern’s images, marking the rejects with an orange ‘X’; but after her death, he published the session in its entirety.

Now you see her, now you don’t: Marilyn in ‘Something’s Got to Give’

“Though she was famous for her perceived ‘perfection’ and ‘flawlessness’ (all the eye-rolls at the inherent sexism that goes into these terms), Marilyn Monroe had a pretty big scar across her stomach—which appears in both the Last Sitting and in Something’s Got to Give.

The scar itself is the result of gallbladder surgery that occurred before Stern’s famous images were taken. He says Marilyn was self-conscious about it, and called upon her hairdresser George [Masters] for reassurance before shooting. When Stern noticed the scar, he reportedly remembered Diana Vreeland saying to him, ‘I think there’s nothing duller than a smooth, perfect-skinned woman. A woman is beautiful by her scars.’

Diana Vreeland is right: women *are* beautiful with scars. But she’s also incorrect about women without them being dull. Either way, the sometimes-removal of Marilyn’s scar offers a fascinating insight into beauty standards in Old Hollywood—did she ever truly have agency as to how her body was portrayed?

Ironically, Something’s Got to Give was the first time Monroe was ‘allowed’ to expose her belly button on film—as most of her previous swimwear moments were high-waisted. Before her death, she’s said to have quipped ‘I guess the censors are willing to recognize that everybody has a navel.’

Guess what? Everyone has scars too—even Marilyn.”

Shining a Light on Marilyn

Photo by Hans Knopf, 1956

In an article for the Biography website, Sara Kettler sheds light on some lesser-known aspects of Marilyn’s personality including her struggle to overcome a traumatic childhood and mental health problems; her passion for justice and equality; and her charitable nature.

“Monroe was generous throughout her life, a trait that was apparent even as she spent time in institutions and foster homes. She gave an acting teacher a valuable fur coat and offered money to people in need; shopping companions would often find Monroe had sent them items she’d ostensibly purchased for herself. She was especially generous with children, and offered assistance to child-focused charities like the Milk Fund for Babies and the March of Dimes.”

Collecting Marilyn’s Medical Mysteries

Over at Atlas Obscura, Eve Kahn explores the darker side of celebrity memorabilia, and the market for medical items such as pillboxes, prescriptions and X-Rays of stars like Marilyn who died in unusual circumstances.

“Scott Fortner, a major buyer and scholar of Marilyn Monroe’s former possessions who loans widely to museums, owns bottles for her prescription eye drops and anti-allergy pills. He has bought related paperwork, too … Because of his focus on objects that she owned, he says, he is not much interested in medical records such as her chest x-rays that hospital staff may have taken home. And he would firmly draw the line against acquiring anything invasive, prurient and morbid …

Fortner points out that there is plenty of other illuminating and emotionally powerful material to collect instead, which she would have wanted her fans to know about. Throughout her tumultuous career, while shedding husbands and movie personas again and again, she somehow remembered to preserve her own memorabilia down to the drugstore receipts and eyedroppers. ‘She saved everything,’ Fortner says. ‘She didn’t throw anything away.'”

Dr Ramon Acosta Pastor 1929-2016

Marilyn leaving the New York Polyclinic with Dr Ramon Acosta Pastor after gallbladder surgery in 1961. (Photo collage by Fraser Penney)
Marilyn besieged by fans as she leaves hospital  with Dr Pastor in 1961. (Photo collage by Fraser Penney)

Dr Ramon Acosta Pastor, a surgeon who treated patients including Marilyn during a long, distinguished career, has died aged 86, as Edmund Silvestre reports for the Philippine Star.

“MANILA, Philippines – Dr. Ramon Acosta Pastor, one of the surgeons who operated on Marilyn Monroe at a New York City hospital in 1961, passed away on Oct. 5 in his native Batangas City in the Philippines. He was 86.

He became closely acquainted with the late Hollywood icon when she underwent cholecystectomy (gallbladder surgery) on June 29, 1961 at the defunct Polyclinic Hospital in Manhattan and which was widely covered by the media. It was Dr. John Hammet, one of New York’s top surgeons, who led the surgical team.

Dr. Pastor’s photo beside Monroe appeared in several news publications, including the front page of The New York Times, wherein he is seen shielding Monroe from a mob of fans and members of the press while leaving the hospital after she was discharged on July 11, 1961.

That chaotic moment, the star of Some Like It Hot said in an interview, was the time she most feared for her safety.

‘It was scary. I felt for a few minutes as if they were just going to take pieces out of me. Actually, it made me feel a little sick. I mean I appreciated the concern and their affection and all that, but — I don’t know — it was a little like a nightmare. I wasn’t sure I was going to get into the car safely and get away.’

Dr. Pastor managed to walk Monroe into her limo unscathed. He hopped with her into the car and stayed by her side until she reached home.

The famed actress and sex symbol was reportedly complaining of pain from an intestinal disorder when she was rushed to the hospital from her apartment at 444 East 57th Street in Manhattan.

According to a New York Mirror story, Monroe awoke in distress in the morning of June 28, 1961, prompting her secretary, May Reis, to call her primary physician at Polyclinic. After diagnosis, the doctor decided her condition warranted immediate hospitalization. She was carried to the ambulance on a stretcher, with [ex] husband Joe DiMaggio joining her in the ambulance.

Dr. Pastor’s elder brother, Antonio, who was staying with him in New York City at the time, related that Dr. Pastor told him he took care of Monroe for two weeks after the surgery, personally attending to all her medical needs.

‘Marilyn Monroe instructed him not to accept any visitors while she’s recuperating, except Joe DiMaggio,’ said Antonio, recalling a conversation he had with his younger brother.

Still in the hospital on the Fourth of July, Monroe complained of the noise coming from fireworks, Antonio said, adding, ‘Dr. Pastor said he gave her the best possible solution — putting cotton in her ears.’

It was the fifth time that Monroe was hospitalized in just 10 months, according to reports.

The three-inch horizontal scar in the upper quadrant of Monroe’s abdomen as a result of the surgery was visible in the photos taken by lensman Bert Stern for the book The Last Sitting, commissioned by Vogue magazine in late June 1962, just six weeks before Monroe died.

‘Ramon was a very gifted doctor and he was very proud of having the honor of operating on Marilyn Monroe,’ said an old-time friend, Dr. Rebecca Magbag, a New York geriatrician, who is also a native of the Philippines. ‘But he was also very humble that he really didn’t talk much about it.’

‘He’s a very nice and warm guy, very handsome, very charming, compassionate with his patients and treated everyone equally,’ Dr. Magbag also said. ‘As an eligible bachelor at the time, a lot of women were swooning over him.’

Born on Nov. 23, 1929 in Batangas City to Dr. Juan Pastor and Concha Acosta Pastor, Dr. Ramon was a 1955 medical graduate of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. He took his internship at Yonkers General Hospital in New York and finished his training in general surgery at New York Polyclinic Medical School and Hospital, in which he served as chief resident during his last year of training.

He became a diplomate of the American Board of Surgery, but decided to turn his back on a lucrative medical career in the United States and returned home a year later to better serve the underprivileged in his small town in Batangas City.”