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.

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.”

The Character Assassination of Marilyn

Marilyn by George Barris, 1962

In an article for The Independent, Andy Martin explores the subject of public humiliation, citing Marilyn’s ‘dumb blonde’ stereotyping as a prime example of character assassination. He also looks at her marriages and battles with directors, although I would argue that it is her continuing misrepresentation in the media – and in particular, false and degrading conspiracy theories – that is most damaging to her legacy today.

“Consider the case of Marilyn Monroe. Unequivocally one of the icons of the 20th century …The ‘Stradivarius of sex’ as Norman Mailer described her. But therein lies the rub. Did she necessarily want to be some kind of instrument? Does anyone? … Anything is possible, but more likely she was the victim of humiliation.

There is a case for saying that Joe DiMaggio, her baseball player husband, was humiliated on account of the shoot when she is standing on a subway grate and her dress is being blown up in the air and she is trying to hold it down … She is exposed. But it is DiMaggio – coming from a working-class Italian-American family – who feels humiliated …

She was certainly no airhead, no kind of ‘bimbo.’ You would think that, all in all, the Monroe-Miller combination ought to have been workable. But it wasn’t … He wanted an All-American Girl to symbolically get him off the hook of the McCarthy black list … Maybe Monroe could save him. But she needed him to save her. And instead of that he humiliated her … Laurence Olivier was another of her humiliators (an ugly word, I know, but then it is ugly) …

She almost certainly committed suicide. Overdosed on barbiturates. Or, rather like Amy Winehouse, abdicated life … No one can coincide (at least, not for very long) with their own myth. But everyone else wanted her to be nothing but the thing she was supposed to be. She strove to be something else, quite what she never knew, or was never allowed to know. She was asked to get back in her box. But she didn’t want to. So she ended up in a box anyway. No living being wants to be reduced to a thing, like a frying pan. Not even a Stradivarius.”

How Marilyn Helped Writer to Confront Abuse

Author Joy McCullough has revealed how a youthful fascination with Marilyn spurred her to write a play, and how her subsequent decision to volunteer at a YWCA helpline for sexual assault victims triggered memories of an abusive relationship with her high school pastor, in an article for Signature Reads.

Joy’s debut novel, Blood Water Paint, is based on the life of Artemisia Gentileschi, a 17th century painter who was raped in her teens, and after taking the perpetrator to court, expressed her rage in art. While some might say that Marilyn wasn’t an ideal role model for a self-harming adolescent, it may be that her own tragic history of sexual abuse and mental illness that started Joy on the long and painful journey towards confronting her own demons.

“I was fascinated by Marilyn Monroe – her life, her death, her sexuality, her victimization. The play I wrote about her won an award and was staged by the university.

In my apartment the next school year, I hung a poster of Marilyn gazing directly at the camera, wearing an enormous tulle skirt and clutching the bodice to her chest. I’d never articulated why Marilyn became an obsession. Like my gut need to volunteer for the YWCA, I had followed a driving instinct. But sitting alone in that room, staring at that poster, the connections became clearer.

With Marilyn gazing out at me, I wielded a knife against my own skin. I wanted to see blood – a visible, logical reason for the pain that only intensified the longer I tried to dismiss it.

I didn’t believe Marilyn had intentionally taken her own life, but however it ended, it had been in deep pain and loneliness. If I stayed alone in my room with only my knife and a poster of a long-dead film star for company, I could end the same way.”

Dissecting Marilyn’s ‘Ditz Voice’

Marilyn at her breathiest, singing ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ in “Some Like It Hot”

In an article for Atlas Obscura, Jody Amable examines the breathless tone (or ‘ditz voice’) famously associated with sexy female stars from Marilyn to Kim Kardashian. It’s an interesting piece, though in Marilyn’s case, the ‘baby voice’ was partly an attempt to conceal her lifelong stutter (as discussed by Gerald McDermott here.) As careful study of her movies will reveal, her ‘breathiness’ has been greatly exaggerated by impersonators.

“A version of this voice has existed since sound met film and, in a way, since a little before that. Actresses of early film played mostly damsels in distress or wide-eyed young women, and by the time talkies took over, women were still portrayed as less headstrong, more head-in-the-clouds … Along with these girlish figures came a girlish voice—high-pitched, a bit breathy, and a little bit unsure, evident in Clara Bow’s pouty purr, and even Betty Boop’s singsong.

Shortly after the advent of sound in cinema, the scrappy, spunky flappers of the ‘20s were relegated to supporting characters—’the gangster’s moll, the cocktail waitress,’ says [Max] Alvarez. Musicals of the era, says Alvarez, were bastions of these kinds of wise-cracking wacky sidekicks …The speaking voices filling these film’s chorus lines were still childlike as in the decade prior, but started to show signs of the modern-day ‘sexy baby voice‘: a little bit breathy, a little bit nasal, and with fewer harsh consonant sounds.

Leading ladies like Katharine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall portrayed feisty women through deeper voices as America entered the Rosie the Riveter era. It wasn’t until the 1950s, when women were less vital in the workforce, that softer voices took center stage again. And boy, did they ever. ‘We think of blondes as being dumb because we tend to think of Jean Harlow and Marilyn,’ says Alvarez. Though Marilyn was famously influenced by ‘30s screen siren Jean Harlow, her bubblier, breathier speaking style—most notably, her immortal rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’—still have a stranglehold on the voices used to denote ‘sexy, but not very smart.’

The unnaturally high pitch used over the years is all a diversion tactic, says Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at UC Berkeley, Robin T. Lakoff. Sounding ‘masculine’ often invites ridicule, so, whether they do it consciously or subconsciously, these hyper-feminine, childlike voices and mannerisms associated with un-serious women could be the result of them over-correcting to stave off criticism.

 It’s also important to note that the actresses cast as wisecracking sidekicks or tawdry sex maniacs were generally savvy and intelligent in real life  … Marilyn Monroe famously attended the prestigious Actor’s Studio to hone her craft … Though Kim Kardashian’s vocal fry is a far cry from Marilyn Monroe’s breathy lilt, the aim is still the same. ‘What people will not want to hear is it’s still with us,’ says Lakoff. ‘[They] still wanna please and [they] don’t wanna frighten.'”

‘Projecting Marilyn’ at London’s Freud Museum

Marilyn at UCLA, 1952 (Photo by Mel Traxel)

Projecting Marilyn is a course created by Mary Wild, to be held over three evenings in April at the Freud Museum in London. Marilyn was a great admirer of Freud, and to this day a portion of her estate still benefits the Anna Freud Children’s Centre, also in London. Looking at different stages of her career and with clips from her movies, Projecting Marilyn considers ‘the creation of Marilyn Monroe’s onscreen persona, and the psychological underpinnings that shaped not only how she projected herself, but also the ways in which film audiences continue to respond to her.’

Making Sense of Marilyn

Making Sense of Marilyn, a new book by Andrew Norman, has just been published, reports the Daily Mail It is 144 pages long with 32 black and white photos, and is now available at the Book Depository (with free postage worldwide), and on order from Amazon stores worldwide.

“Author Andrew Norman, who worked as a GP in Dorset before a spinal injury ended his medical career, has previously penned biographies of such famous faces as Sir Francis Drake, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, T. E. Lawrence, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen and Robert Mugabe.

He says that, despite probable suicide and a host of contradictory reports about her life, there do still exist enough reliable materials to shed new light on the star. ‘Trustworthy and reliable first-hand accounts of Marilyn do exist,’ he writes.

Following Marilyn’s death, Inez Melson, Marilyn’s business manager from 1954 to 1956, was appointed by attorney Aaron R. Frosch who was a witness to Marilyn’s will and the court to act as administrator. It is thanks to Inez that two filing cabinets containing Marilyn’s personal effects were saved for posterity.

Norman added: ‘Film documentaries of the life and death of Marilyn contain invaluable, first-hand, eyewitness accounts from such important people in her life as George Barris, Hyman Engelberg, Eunice Murray, and Cyd Charisse.

‘In this way, by teasing out what is authentic from what is inauthentic, it is possible to shed new light on the enigmatic character of Marilyn Monroe, who is regarded, arguably, as the world’s most famous ever movie star.

‘To make sense of this complex, endlessly fascinating, and all too fragile person, it is necessary to embark on a journey that proves to be both rewarding, and an infinitely moving experience.'”

Making Sense of Marilyn is 144 pages long with 32 black and white photos, and as the table of contents indicates, brings a psychological perspective to Marilyn’s life story.

“Preface; 1 Birth: Parents: Forebears; 2 Childhood; 3 George Barris: Marilyn’s Confidante; 4 The Legacy of Marilyn’s Childhood; 5 Childhood Sexual Abuse, and its Possible Consequences for Marilyn; 6 First Marriage: James Dougherty; 7 James Dougherty’s Observations About Marilyn; 8 Early Success: Popularity: A Scandal; 9 Second Marriage: Joe DiMaggio; 10 Third Marriage: Arthur Miller; 11 Further Success for Marilyn; 12 Myths And Rumours; 13 Marilyn in Profile; 14. Marilyn’s Continuing Need For an Attachment Figure; 15 Encounters with Psychiatrists and other Would-Be Diagnosticians; 16 Marilyn and Borderline Personality Disorder; 17 Arthur Miller: After the Fall; 18 Mental Disorders in The Family: The Origin of Marilyn’s Condition; 19 Something’s Got to Give; 20 Death of Marilyn; 21 Epilogue.”