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

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.

Murder Orthodoxies: Sex, Lies and Marilyn

Marilyn’s tragic death  shocked the world in 1962, and over fifty years later, the rumours are still coming. In a new book, Murder Orthodoxies: A Non-Conspiracist’s View of Marilyn Monroe’s Death, author Donald McGovern unpicks the myths and searches for the truth. You can read my review here.

Marilyn at the Edinburgh Festival

Marilyn is a hot topic in fringe theatre, though the results aren’t always stellar. At this year’s Edinburgh Festival, she’s the subject of two new shows, reviewed by Joyce McMillan for The Scotsman.

The Marilyn Conspiracy has grabbed a few headlines although Marilyn herself isn’t depicted – it’s set in the hours after her death, as some of the main players in her final months respond to the tragedy.

“The play is desperately confusing at first, and urgently needs to use its tableau-like opening moments to let the characters tell us exactly who they are … It’s a measure of the sheer power of the story, though, that the play rivets the attention nonetheless, as the two doctors in the room, and even Marilyn’s furious friend Pat Newcomb, are gradually worn down … “

However, another audience member – MM superfan Lorraine – told me, “The Marilyn Conspiracy had all the bogus theories – the ambulance, Bobby Kennedy, injections, enemas etc … I could hear people laughing a lot at some of the theories talked about … maybe the audience all knew better!” In his review for The Stage Paul Vale agrees, describing the play as a “stifling, under-developed drama that blurs fact and fiction.”

Theatregoers whom (like myself) aren’t enthralled by conspiracy theories may prefer the lighter option…

“JoJo Desmond’s cabaret show The Marilyn Monroe Story is a fragile little piece by comparison, a brief and simply staged hour of songs and biographical narrative tracing Marilyn’s remarkable life, not least through versions of some of her most famous and fabulous costumes. Desmond sings Marilyn’s songs beautifully, in a near-perfect imitation of her breathily gorgeous voice; and she, too, observes the link with the #metoo moment. Her script, though, never soars into anything like the brilliant writing a life like Marilyn’s invites and for all her charm, she is a long way from even beginning to capture the glowing charisma of the woman herself.”

Once again, Lorraine’s view was quite different to McMillan’s. “On the whole,” she says, “the show was well-researched and the costumes and mannerisms and performances of songs were spot on … the voice was accurate and she had some beautiful costumes (including a ‘Heat Wave’ replica outfit!), and you could tell that she had studied every single movement that Marilyn does in each of the musical performances.”

Where Marilyn is concerned, a diehard fan can be more perceptive than most theatre critics. Lorraine will be posting her full review of both shows soon on the Marilyn Remembered blog.

Moschino Channels Jackie, Marilyn in Milan

Designer Jeremy Scott has always been fascinated by pop culture. In his fall 2018 ready-to-wear collection for Moschino, unveiled yesterday at Milan Fashion Week, he draws on the many myths about Marilyn and the Kennedys, adding his own farcical spin that Jackie Kennedy was really an alien, and the killer of both Marilyn and JFK. It’s fun to imagine what Marilyn would have worn in the 1960s – she was very fond of Pucci – and Scott’s designs are a sort of postmodern blend of the Space Age and Pop Art. In terms of his Marilyn-esque designs (as modelled here by Bella Hadid), I think the evening gowns work best. But although the concept is meant to be humorous, I do wish Scott had bypassed these tired old tropes which tend to turn Marilyn into what she most feared becoming (a joke.)

JFK Files Rehash Marilyn Conspiracy Theories

Today’s leading news story concerns the release of US government files on the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. Predictably, tabloid journalists have focused on the president’s rumoured affair with Marilyn before her death in 1962, but in fact, little of substance has emerged on the subject.

Prior to the disclosure, a reporter for gossip website TMZ spoke on camera with Clint Hill, the secret service agent who was in the car when Kennedy was fatally shot. When asked about the alleged Monroe affair, Hill said ‘That’s a fallacy. I never saw her, and I was with him a lot.’

The New York Post notes that an 11-page file was compiled on The Strange Death of Marilyn Monroe, a 1964 polemic by the right-wing conspiracy theorist Frank Capell, and the first to implicate the Kennedys in her death. David Marshall, author of The DD Group: An Online Investigation Into the Death of Marilyn Monroe, has reviewed Capell’s book here, while April VeVea – author of Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life – has written about Capell here. With all this in mind, you can also read the book in full here, and judge for yourself.

Documentary Rehashes Marilyn UFO Rumour

Marilyn by Bert Stern, 1962

Unacknowleged, a new documentary about UFOs written and directed by Michael Mazzola, rehashes a very old rumour: that the Kennedys ordered Marilyn’s death because she threatened to tell the secrets she knew about an alleged UFO incident at Roswell, New Mexico. You can view a clip here.

This 2011 article by Nick Redfern for the Mysterious Universe website sums up an outlandish, and (in my opinion) highly improbable conspiracy theory.

“By far the most controversial piece of unauthenticated documentation pertaining to UFOs concerns none other than the late Hollywood legend, Marilyn Monroe. It was during a press conference in 1995 that Milo Speriglio – an investigative author now deceased, who wrote three books on Monroe’s death: The Marilyn Conspiracy; Marilyn Monroe: Murder Cover-Up; and Crypt 33: The Saga of Marilyn Monroe – revealed the document to the world’s press.

Incredibly, according to the document, which surfaced via a California-based researcher of UFOs named Timothy Cooper, President John F. Kennedy had guardedly informed Monroe that he had secret knowledge of the controversial incident at Roswell, New Mexico in July 1947. As a result of Kennedy’s revelations to Monroe, the CIA took keen note of any and all developments as the story progressed. Or, at least, that is what we are led to believe, and what the document implies.

The bulk of the contents of the document are focused upon telephone conversations between Howard Rothberg, the former owner of a New York-based antique store, and Dorothy Kilgallen, the well-known celebrity gossip columnist of the 1950s and 1960s, who was herself the subject of a secret 167-page FBI file.

According to Speriglio: ‘[Rothberg] also dealt with a lot of photographers who used to film Marilyn. He got a lot of information about her from them, and he would feed it to Dorothy Kilgallen.’ Interestingly, Speriglio also revealed that the document was the subject of an investigation that was being undertaken by no less than ‘two federal agencies.’ To date, however, the names of those specific agencies have not been revealed.

When the document surfaced, Vicki Ecker, then the editor of UFO Magazine, said: ‘To put it succinctly, the document suggests that on the day she died, Monroe was going to hold her own press conference, where she was planning to spill the beans about, amongst other things, JFK’s secret knowledge of UFOs and dead aliens.’

Indeed, the document, ominously dated only two days before Monroe’s controversial death on August 5, 1962, tells the whole, remarkable story. Notably, at the top of the page it clearly states: ‘References: MOON DUST, Project’ (which was a genuine U.S. operation designed to capture, understand, and exploit overseas advanced technologies, such as Soviet spy-satellites.)

But, with all that said, where are things at today with respect to this most curious and extremely controversial document? Well, Tim Cooper left the UFO scene years ago, and has utterly washed his hands of the document – as well as many other questionable documents on crashed UFOs that he secured from Deep Throat-type sources in the 1990s.

And the CIA? The Agency officially denies having any files, at all, on the Hollywood hotty – despite the ironic fact that the very first document in the FBI’s ‘Monroe File’ was copied to the CIA! As for the players in the saga, they’re all gone to their graves.”

‘Marilyn: Missing Evidence’ on Channel 5

UK television’s Channel 5 will broadcast a new, hour-long documentary – Marilyn Monroe: Missing Evidence – tonight at 8 pm. It is produced by Dan Chambers, the channel’s former Director of Programmes, and David McNab, who has an extensive track record in innovative, CGI-led factual TV. Director Renny Bartlett is best known for his work on the Animal Planet series, I Shouldn’t Be Alive.

The synopsis seems to indicate a theory akin to Donald Wolfe’s in his controversial book, The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe, while the claim of recordings made inside Marilyn’s home suggests either detective John Miner’s widely-disputed ‘transcripts’ of tapes made by Marilyn for psychoanalyst Dr Greenson (still not found), or Private Investigator Fred Otash’s unconfirmed allegations of wire-tapping.

At this stage, it’s very unlikely that any new or conclusive evidence will emerge. I remain sceptical, but will give you my verdict after I’ve seen the documentary.

“Investigating the evidence that supports some of the world’s most notorious conspiracy theories. Though she officially committed suicide, some people have long claimed that the FBI, the Mafia and even the Kennedy family may have been involved in Marilyn Monroe’s death. This programme looks at some of these claims, and also reveals the contents of tape recordings made inside Monroe’s house on the fateful day of August 5, 1962, which suggest her psychiatrist may have been responsible for her death, working under pressure from eminent individuals in high places.” Radio Times

UPDATE: You can read Andrea Pryke’s review over at her blog, The Monroe Report.

‘Victim’ Revisited

British author Matthew Smith’s Victim: The Secret Tapes of Marilyn Monroe (2003) was an update of his 1996 book, The Men Who Murdered Marilyn. After a further US release, Marilyn’s Last Words (2005), Victim remains in print and on Kindle – proof, if nothing else, that scandal will always find an audience. (Smith has also written books about the assassination of President Kennedy.)

Victim, like Smith’s other Monroe books, is based on the alleged tapes she made for Dr Ralph Greenson. However, the tapes have never been found, and Smith (along with other authors) relied on the memories of John Miner, an assistant to the prosecuting attorney during the original investigation into Marilyn’s death, who claimed that Greenson had played him the tapes. Miner created the ‘transcript’ decades later.

In 2005, Melinda Mason wrote ‘Songs Marilyn Never Sang‘, an article disputing the credibility of the Miner transcripts, for her MM and the Camera website.

Now a thoughtful review of Victim has been published on the Literary Lollipop website…

“Published in 2003, Victim is already more than ten years old, but the content could’ve been from the 1970s or 1980s…I’m skeptical of the legitimacy of Monroe’s words because of a point Smith makes himself throughout this book, on more than one occasion. He admits and argues how easy it is to splice tapes together, to form sentences and thoughts that weren’t originally intended. There were a few moments when Monroe’s statements felt orchestrated, conveniently sexualized or titillating. I could be completely wrong, but that is my interpretation – forever the pessimist.”

Robert Wagner Remembers Marilyn

Marilyn with Robert Wagner, 1954

Actor Robert Wagner is now 84, and still busy – both onscreen, and in print. He began his career at Twentieth Century-Fox in 1950.

On June 14, 1951, Wagner made a screen test alongside one of the studio’s most promising starlets. “I was the guy they always used when the studio was making screen tests of new actresses,” he told author Warren G. Harris in 1988. “And believe me, no job is more dead-end than that. The only interesting thing that came out of it was when they were testing a new kid and asked me to do a couple of scenes with her. Her name was Marilyn Monroe.”

Screen test for ‘Let’s Make It Legal’, 1951

On the strength of this test – a love scene – Wagner was cast alongside Marilyn in a romantic comedy, Let’s Make It Legal, starring Claudette Colbert. The pair never acted together, but became friends and were often pictured together at Hollywood parties. Wagner, who had affairs with many beautiful actresses, was never romantically involved with MM.

“Nothing happened easily for Marilyn,” he said later. “It took a lot of time and effort to create the image that became so famous.”

In recent years, Wagner has published two books: Pieces of My Heart (2008), an autobiography; and the just-published You Must Remember This, a memoir of Hollywood’s golden age, in which he recalls Marilyn’s tragic death.

“It’s odd how your mind associates certain people with certain events. In August 1962 I was in Montecatini, Italy, the same time as Sheilah Graham [the Hollywood gossip columnist.] I was on the terrace of my hotel when she leaned out a window and yelled, ‘Marilyn Monroe died! Marilyn Monroe died!,’ to the world at large, in exactly the same way she would have announced that her building was on fire. That was how I found out that the girl I had worked with twelve years earlier, and who had since become a legend in a way nobody could have foretold, was gone.”

Marilyn with Sheilah Graham, 1953

Wagner is no stranger to tragedy. His wife, Natalie Wood, drowned in 1981 during a yachting trip. Her death, like Marilyn’s, is the subject of endless speculation.

Natalie was the child star of Marilyn’s first film, Scudda Hoo, Scudda Hay! She admired Marilyn, and spoke with her at a party weeks before her death.

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, 1959

Natalie married Robert in 1957 and they divorced five years later, but were remarried in 1972. There are shades here of Marilyn’s relationship with Joe DiMaggio, who had grown close to her again in the years before her death.

Dr Thomas Noguchi, so-called ‘Coroner to the Stars’, performed autopsies on both women. He was demoted in 1982, after speaking too freely in the media about the case, and in that year’s reopened investigation of Monroe’s death. His career has since recovered, however.

Wagner featured on Photoplay cover with MM, 1954

In Pieces of My Heart, Wagner criticised Noguchi:

“Noguchi was a camera-hog who felt he had to stoke the publicity fire in order to maintain the level of attention he’d gotten used to. Noguchi particularly enraged Frank Sinatra, who knew the truth and, in any case, would never have allowed anyone who harmed Natalie to survive.”

Natalie’s case would also be reopened in 2011, when the captain of the boat claimed that a fight with Wagner had led to her drowning. The official cause of death was later amended from accidental drowning to ‘drowning and other undetermined factors.’ Wagner was ruled out as a suspect.

In You Must Remember This, he speculates on the proliferation of conspiracy theories in the internet age:

“Intellectually, I understand the perception that the rich and privileged are invincible. That’s why some people need to believe, for example, that Marilyn Monroe was murdered by the Kennedys…The randomness of life and death can be terrifying, so a certain kind of person seizes on minor discrepancies of memory or the garbled recollections of marginal personalities to cast doubt on a reality they don’t want to acknowledge.”