Marilyn Inspires Fan in Health Battle

A terminally ill young woman says that making herself up in Marilyn’s glamorous style gives her courage to fight for her health, Metro reports.

“25-year-old Tiffany Senter, from Shasta County, California, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was just seven days old – and was not expected to make it past two weeks old.

Tiffany said: ‘I was bedridden whilst waiting for my second lung transplant, so started to practice different make-up looks to give me something to do. When searching tutorials online, I started to realise how much I loved old-fashioned, pin-up looks, which naturally led me to Marilyn Monroe.’

‘As time went on, looking at quotes of hers and realising how much she accepted her own flaws and wasn’t the conventional beautiful woman that you’d see on magazine covers today, I started relating to her – because my disability has left me with flaws too.’

‘Now I use Marilyn Monroe as my everyday inspiration, and transforming into her and having her ethos is giving me reason to fight – despite knowing my illness is now terminal …. I know that at some point there won’t be any other options and that I will die – but I’m trying to stay positive. I have been told that I wouldn’t reach my teenage years, and no one thought I would ever make it to 25, so I know I can fight against this prediction too!’

Alongside continually raising awareness for cystic fibrosis, Tiffany admits that transforming into her inspiration, Marilyn Monroe, has helped her to continue her fight. She said: ‘I know I am dying, but when I look in the mirror and my make-up and hair is done like Marilyn Monroe’s, it makes me feel so much better.’

‘She’s a real woman and she had flaws, but always embraced them. For years I have been covered in scars and have many other flaws, and Marilyn makes me feel like I can accept them. People often tell me how much I look like her too, which gives me great confidence, and overall has made me realise I can still be beautiful with my flaws.’”

Marilyn’s Letter to Greenson in the ‘Enquirer’

Thanks to A Passion for Marilyn

Marilyn’s 1961 letter to Dr Ralph Greenson, written while she was recuperating in New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital after a period of depression led to a brief and terrifying stay in the psychiatric ward at Payne Whitney, is the subject of an article in this week’s National Enquirer. Author Mark Bego, who has written biographies of Madonna and others, brought the letter to the magazine’s attention.

Unusually for the Enquirer, the story is fairly accurate, if sensationalised – and not, as they claim, a ‘blockbuster exclusive’. The letter was first published in its entirety by Donald Spoto in 1992, and is also featured in Fragments, the 2010 collection of Marilyn’s personal writings. (You can also read it on the Letters of Note blog.)

You can find the Enquirer article in the latest issue, dated January 28 (with Lisa Marie Presley on the cover.) However, as noted by All About Marilyn today, the same article also appears in the current issue of the National Examiner (with Betty White on the cover), although the Examiner is currently available in the US only.

On Marilyn, Acting and Mental Illness

Marilyn plays a mentally disturbed woman in ‘Don’t Bother to Knock’ (1952)

In Actresses and Mental Illness, a new academic study, author Fiona Gregory focuses on stars like Vivien Leigh and Frances Farmer, whose psychological problems are as well-known as their dramatic talents. In her introduction to the book, she also mentions Marilyn.

“Marilyn Monroe stands as one of the best-known examples of an actress whose life was impacted by mental illness. Actors’ and directors’ accounts of working with Monroe make frequent reference to unprofessional behaviour (lateness, inability to learn lines, conflicts with colleagues), drug addiction and visits to psychiatrists. While rumours and coded reports of Monroe’s illness circulated during her lifetime, much of the detail of her particular problems and the treatments she pursued has emerged posthumously. Each further revelation – of a psychiatrist visited; a drug treatment tried; a suicide attempt hushed up – has added to the picture of ‘Marilyn Monroe’ as icon of suffering. It’s a picture suffused with irony – imagine, that one of the most beautiful and celebrated women in the world, with seemingly every personal and professional opportunity, should be made so uncomfortable in her own skin by the demons in her mind!

In the biographical record, Monroe’s suffering – taking as its form chronic self-doubt, an unstable sense of self, and a seeming inability to forge healthy relationships – is framed as fundamentally connected to her professional identity as a performing woman. Above all, Monroe is represented in terms of her inability to formulate a stable, coherent identity … In such narratives, the creation of an alternate identity becomes a strategy to mask an essential emptiness. The notion of actress as cypher, evacuated of meaning unless she is performing, recurs in fictional and biographical representations of the actress…

In 1955, Monroe recorded a dream in which her acting coach, Lee Strasberg, ‘cuts me open’ in an operating theatre, only to find ‘… there is absolutely nothing there – Strasberg is deeply disappointed but more even – academically amazed that he had made such a mistake. He thought there was going to be so much – more than he had ever dreamed possible in almost anyone but instead there was absolutely nothing…’

Here, Monroe becomes an eloquent commentator on the fears and insecurities of the performing woman, and on the questions of identity, ambition and meaning that circulate around her. This autobiographical artefact puts emptiness at the core of Monroe’s own psyche. The fact that it is Strasberg – the man who stood as her authority on acting – who has found her out suggests that it was in her own professional realm that Monroe desired to achieve significance but feared she would be found wanting. Monroe’s dream literalises the fear of the ‘nothing’: that the glittering surface will be revealed to mask an essential absence – a lack of talent, a lack of worthiness – that recurs in fictional and biographical representations of the actress and in actress’ own meditations on self.”

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 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.”