The second installment of American Icon: Where Healing Meets Life, a new vodcast series from Nina Boski and Monroe biographer Gary Vitacco-Robles, will air today, May 8, at noon PST. It will be repeated at 3 pm and 6 pm; for Eastern time please add 3 hours, or 8 hours in the UK – and tune in here.
“We will be discussing a serious topic of Marilyn surviving the complex traumas of childhood sexual/physical abuse & neglect, its impact on her life, & resources available today for those experiencing the long term impact of trauma. During May as Mental Health Awareness Month, MM is helping us talk about painful & challenging issues to end stigma & start the healing journey. The three-part ‘vodcasts’ will be archived on YouTube as part of the American Icon documentary.”
American Icon: Where Healing Meets Life, a five-part ‘vodcast’ (video podcast) hosted by Monroe biographer and counsellor Gary Vitacco Robles and Nina Boski (who also presented the Goodnight Marilyn online radio show) will start this Wednesday, May 1st, at midday PST (or 8pm BST.) As part of Mental Health Awareness month, Nina and Gary will discuss how mental illness and addiction shaped Marilyn’s all-too-brief life. To watch this series, follow the American Icon Facebook page here.
In a recent post for Marilyn Remembered, Gary shared his own perspective on the difficulties she faced:
“Marilyn Monroe was likely challenged with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), episodes of Major Depression and mixed episodes of depression and mania, placing her on the Bipolar Disorder Spectrum. She was also a survivor of childhood trauma & adverse childhood experiences who struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. During Marilyn’s era of limited treatment options, she was prescribed dangerous, addictive medications which led to misuse of prescribed drugs. These mental health disorders are now better understood and treatable with effective & safe interventions and mood stabilizing medications.
Marilyn’s mother, Gladys, was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and spent most of her life institutionalized. Marilyn’s maternal grandmother, Della, was diagnosed on the Bipolar Disorder Spectrum (then called Manic Depression Psychosis]. Marilyn’s maternal great-grandfather, Tilford, took like own life by hanging; suicide is usually the manifestation of a severe psychiatric illness. Her maternal uncle, Marion, took off one day and never returned to his family, possibly a manifestation of an undiagnosed genetically linked mental illness. Marilyn’s early childhood of complex trauma combined with an intergenerational genetic background of mental illness, increased her risk for mental illness & suicide. Many people who admire Marilyn relate to her history of childhood abuse & depression.
[Marilyn’s internist, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, confirmed her Bipolar Disorder diagnosis & her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, wrote at length about her symptoms of BPD which remain in his archive]”
Marilyn is featured in a new book by Geoffrey Mark. ELLA: A Biography of the Legendary Ella Fitzgerald is fully illustrated, and in the text, Mark describes the two iconic women as ‘true girlfriends, each had the other’s back as both felt overworked, put-upon, and under-appreciated by the men in their lives as well as their employers.’
The story of Marilyn’s helping Ella secure a nightclub engagement in Hollywood has been somewhat exaggerated over the years (more info here), but there does seem to have been a genuine affinity between them. Geoffrey Mark gave his take on their friendship in an interview with Stephanie Nolasco for Fox News.
“Mark told Fox News Fitzgerald’s estate gave his book ELLA their blessing and he had full cooperation from the star’s recording companies. Mark also assisted Fitzgerald in her later years and befriended her inner circle. Mark insisted that despite Fitzgerald’s sweet, sunny voice that easily lit up any stage, few fans know the full measure of the cruelty she endured as a child before finding fame.
‘It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances,’ said Mark. ‘Ella’s mother died in a car accident. And the man who was her mother’s companion, turned to Ella for comfort. He drank too much and forced himself on Ella, forcing her to run away from home… And because she ran away… the government grabbed her and stuck her in this awful place where children were sent — far away from where she was living.’
‘Marilyn Monroe began going to Ella Fitzgerald’s concerts and nightclub gigs,’ Mark explained. ‘She struck up a conversation with her and what they found out was they had both been teenagers forced out on their own, they had to survive for themselves, they both had to deal with being women in a business that was completely dominated by men… And Marilyn saw how Ella was treated sometimes for being black, for being overweight and for being in the jazz world.'”
Gary Vitacco-Robles, author of this year’s outstanding, two-volume biography – Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe – has been interviewed by Bill Biss for Edge Media Network. In the article, Gary reveals his starting point for this mammoth project:
“EDGE: It’s interesting that the very first chapter you wrote was on her film ‘Niagara.’ How did you happen to begin there?
Gary Vitacco-Robles: ‘Niagara’ was a film-noir done in color that had a lot of symbolism in it. Also, I thought it was a great depiction of post-war fear of sexuality and about women’s emerging sexuality. There was so much to deal with and that was kind of on the level that I wanted to explore Marilyn’s life. The movie was considered so scandalous at the time. I thought it gave me a lot of dimensions. Her films would be the anchor and I would just thread between the films what was going on in her personal life.”
Having worked as a psychotherapist for over 20 years, Gary used his professional expertise to build a nuanced portrait of MM:
“I’m really not aware of a mental health professional writing about Marilyn. Her story is just so right for that. There’s these armchair psychologists… mostly men are writing about Marilyn and they are very misogynistic. They will believe any speculation that maybe she was very sexually promiscuous, but then they’ll completely dismiss any information that she was an abuse survivor. That appalled me. You can’t really tell Marilyn’s story without talking about childhood abuse.
Now, we know so much about complex trauma and she was a survivor of complex trauma and that accounts for so much of her life. It just puts everything in place. People want to judge her or they don’t look at her life in the context of that. This is a woman who suffered from a mood disorder, horrible childhood abuse and still was able to make it, become successful and inspire people. The fact that she had a tragic ending does not dismiss the fact that she was incredibly resilient.”