The Last Tapes of Marilyn Monroe, a new play starring Italian actress Marianna Esposito, was staged in Milan last Saturday. While Marilyn’s alleged stream-of-consciousness tapes for Dr Ralph Greenson have never materialised, and detective John Miner’s self-proclaimed transcription is also highly questionable, the play – written and directed by Guilio Federico Janni – has nonetheless been praised by diehard fans, including Gianandrea Colombo who posted his review on the Marilyn Monroe – Italia Facebook group.
“A well-written and sincere monologue, which ‘undressed’ Marilyn from the clichés of stupidity and frivolousness. Among ‘educated’ quotations – from Shakespeare to Joyce – Marianna Esposito cried and smiled, retracing the last hours of Marilyn through the ‘relationship’ with her therapist. Being in the front row, I was able to enjoy the skill of this actress whose strong point is a mime and intense expressiveness, the ability to pass from languid glances to inconsolable crying, to stage the same effervescence of the glass of sparkling wine that her Marilyn sips during the show, telling of life, love and cinema. Marianna Esposito crosses the border between actor and spectator with firmness, direct looks and a physicality exhibited without hesitation. A minimal setting, soft lighting and the magic of a play written and certainly acted ‘from the heart’, elevates the soul of the woman behind the mask of the myth.”
Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, has died aged 91.
In 1953, he acquired Tom Kelley’s nude calendar shot of Marilyn for the magazine’s first issue, also putting her on the cover. (You can read the full story here.) ‘She was actually in my brother’s acting class in New York,’ he told CNN. ‘But the reality is that I never met her. I talked to her once on the phone, but I never met her. She was gone, sadly, before I came out here.’
In 1960, Playboy published another laudatory feature headlined ‘The Magnificent Marilyn.’ If Marilyn sometimes resented others profiteering from her nude calendar – for which she had earned a flat $50 back in 1949 – by 1962 she was considering posing for Playboy‘s Christmas issue (although some sources indicate she changed her mind.)
Lawrence Schiller’s poolside nudes, taken during filming of the unfinished Something’s Got to Give, were published by Playboy in 1964, two years after Marilyn’s death.
The women’s rights campaigner Gloria Steinem, who would later write a biography of Marilyn, went ‘undercover’ as a Bunny Girl in a Playboy club for a magazine assignment durging the 1960s, and found the experience degrading – an opinion echoed by feminists today, as the BBC reports. Cultural historian Camille Paglia takes a different view, citing Hefner as ‘one of the principal architects of the social revolution.’
Marilyn has made many posthumous appearances on Playboy covers through the years. The magazine has also revealed rare and unseen images, such as Jon Whitcomb’s 1958 painting of Marilyn (based on a photo by Carl Perutz), and illustrator Earl Moran’s photos of a young Marilyn.
Many distinguished authors have written about Marilyn for Playboy, including John Updike, Roger Ebert, and Joyce Carol Oates. More dubiously, the magazine also published detective John Miner’s contested transcripts of tapes allegedly made by Marilyn for her psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson.
Since his death was announced earlier today, Twitter users and even some news websites have mistakenly posted a photo of Marilyn with Sir Laurence Olivier, confusing him with Hefner, as Mashable reports (a final absurdity that all three would probably have found hilarious.)
In 1992, Hefner reportedly purchased the crypt next to Marilyn’s in Westwood Memorial Park for $75,000. If he is buried there, it will either pave the way for extra security measures, or make Marilyn’s final resting place even more of a spectacle.
Rightly or wrongly, Marilyn’s housekeeper Eunice Murray is perceived as being one of the most controversial figures in the mystery of her final days. In a fascinating article for HuffPost, Joel Brokaw recalls the events following Marilyn’s death in 1962, when his mother Florence suffered a nervous breakdown, and a new nanny was hired. (You can read more about Marilyn’s friendship with Joel’s father, the legendary Hollywood agent Norman Brokaw, here.)
“It was the fall of 1962 and I was aware enough of current events to know that Eunice Murray was not a run of the mill domestic worker that my father Norman Brokaw employed to take care of my brothers and me during one of my mother’s involuntary vacations at the mental hospital. Mrs. Murray was indeed in the news and for all the reasons you’d never want to make you famous.
First impressions do matter. There was something that didn’t quite add up about her. To a nine-year-old, she seemed nice enough. But warm and openhearted she definitively was not. She was caring, responsible and totally stalwart, but with more in common to an English butler, tinged with a cold and slightly standoffish manner.
It had been only a matter of a few weeks if not days before Mrs. Murray showed up in her late model Dodge Dart to our Laurel Canyon home that she had became part of one of those infamous, iconic moments of history. Early one morning before dawn, she noticed the light on behind her employer’s locked bedroom door. Inside was the most famous woman in the world at that time, lying naked on the bed and quite dead, clutching a telephone in her hand. It was Marilyn Monroe.
For the rest of her days, Mrs. Murray was ensnared in all sorts of conspiracy theories. What a perfect storm between the mysterious suicide of the most iconic film actress in history and intrigue with the Kennedy family! Had she given Marilyn an overdose in the form barbiturate-laced enema as some have theorized? Did she have the inside scoop about the affairs with President Kennedy and his brother Robert? Had Robert been at the home that evening? Could he have killed her with a lethal injection because a leak about the alleged affair could have destroyed JFK’s reelection campaign? Were the pill bottles on the bed stand planted there? Everyone believed that Mrs. Murray had to know the truth, but why wasn’t she telling anybody? She was an easy target of suspicion in the category of ‘the butler did it.’
I can only guess how my father came to hire Mrs. Murray to be our nanny. True, my father had a personal connection to Marilyn. He took the then up and coming starlet around to studio auditions in the late 1940s and early 1950s when she was the paramour of his uncle Johnny Hyde, a powerful movie agent. He told us at that time that he was somewhat embarrassed about driving her around in the old jalopy he had. So, he removed the old fashioned running boards on the side of the car to make it look more presentable.
My best guess was that Mrs. Murray had been a referral from a professional. Perhaps my mother was also a patient of Marilyn’s psychiatrist Dr. [Ralph] Greenson. Dr. Greenson was known to place Mrs. Murray as a housekeeper/companion to his patients. Timing is everything. Mrs. Murray was available and could use a new gig (and perhaps a place to hide out). She did have an apartment in Santa Monica. Her next-door neighbor was Stan Laurel of the golden age of film comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. Mrs. Murray said that I could come with her to meet him, an invitation I regretfully did not accept.
Both as it related to parenting and mental illness in America of the early 1960s, there was not a lot of sensitivity or higher consciousness for that matter. If the answer wasn’t in Dr. Benjamin Spock’s ubiquitous book on child-rearing or if you didn’t have a strong and active grandparent in the home, you were on your own. Doctors did make house calls though, and the milkman delivered. The options for emotionally sick people like Marilyn Monroe and my mother were crude and often barbaric compared to today’s treatments. Mother’s little helpers like Milltown was my mother’s go-to. The shock treatments she got as the next step up when the medicines didn’t give relief were highly disturbing for a child like me to think about.
Sometime later in the summer of 1963, my mother returned home. By that time, Mrs. Murray had had enough of my brothers and me. What drove her over the edge was driving us a dozen or more times a month to night games at Dodger Stadium, waiting hours at a nearby friend’s house, ear glued to Vin Scully’s voice to know when to fish us up. My father wisely bought us the season tickets to give us a healthy escape from our messed up childhoods. Mrs. Murray did little to hide her burn out, becoming progressively grouchier. The last straw was one night when the game went into extra innings and didn’t pick us up until 1 a.m. My brother David recalls that although most cars didn’t have air conditioning back then, the air in Mrs. Murray’s car that night was cold as ice. So, as soon as Florence Brokaw was stable enough and showed capacity to more or less manage her responsibilities, Mrs. Murray quit and she and her Dart turned around in the driveway and disappeared forever out of my life.”
As all true fans will know, Marilyn loved to read – and was a gifted writer herself. Norman Rosten, the ‘Bard of Brooklyn’, was one of her closest friends. On her Sunset Gun blog, Kim Morgan transcribes Marilyn’s eloquent letter to her psychoanalyst, Dr. Ralph Greenson, written during a 1961 hospital stay – and relates how another Brooklyn poet, John Ashbery, came to read it, over half a century later.
“While in New York this February, I carried this letter in my bag, wandering around the snowy city, almost afraid I’d lose it if I left it in my hotel room. It’s a sad letter, and I was clinging to it, for my own reasons beyond research. A friend gave me a copy of the *real* letter … he found the papers years ago while working on a Monroe documentary about the making (and unmaking) of Something’s Got to Give. I was doing research for a current project and this letter was essential. The third day in the city, it was my honor to visit the poet John Ashbery at his apartment in Chelsea. He noticed me pulling out the six-paged typed papers from a magazine I was giving him — I said — ‘This was written by Marilyn Monroe.’ He wanted to read it. I handed it to him and, to my delight, he read it aloud, beautifully, commenting on how lovely the first paragraph was. He joked, ‘Watch out. I might steal some of this!’ He scanned through M.M.’s raw, powerful and frequently witty words, reading passages he liked. The moment was tremendously moving, listening and watching John read (‘Was it Milton who asked, The happy ones were never born?’) and I asked if he would sign the letter. I felt the occasion needed to be marked — John Ashbery reading original writing by Marilyn Monroe. Two titans. He happily laughed and signed the letter. I thought that would make Marilyn happy.”
This letter from Marilyn Monroe to John Huston, in which she rejects a part in the director’s planned film on Sigmund Freud (from the Margaret Herrick Library of AMPAS), was posted today by James Grissom on the Follies of God Facebook page. The letter was also discussed recently on the Stars and Letters blog.
Marilyn was advised against this project by her controversial psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson, who had just begun treating her and would do so until her death, less than 2 years later. He was in contact with Anna Freud, who objected to the film being made. Marilyn had seen her as a patient a couple of times, and would leave part of her estate to the Anna Freud Children’s Clinic in London.
Monroe wrote to Huston on November 5, 1960 – shortly after they completed The Misfits. Although I strongly believe she had the capacity for more serious work, I think this role would have been traumatic for her personally. It certainly was for Montgomery Clift, as he clashed with Huston many times during filming.
Suzannah York replaced Marilyn as ‘Cecily’, a character loosely based on Freud’s patient, Anna O., opposite Clift in Freud: The Secret Passion (released four months after Marilyn’s death, in December 1962.)
“November 5, 1960
I have it on good authority that the Freud family does not approve of anyone making a picture of the life of Freud– so I wouldn’t want to be a part of it, first because of his great contribution to humanity and secondly, my personal regard for his work. Thank you for offering me the part of ‘Annie O’ and I wish you the best in this and all other endeavors.
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
Arnold Schulman became a playwright and screenwriter after taking classes at the Actors Studio. He became the second writer to work on the beleaguered Something’s Got to Give. He shared his memories of Marilyn’s last, unfinished movie with author Patrick McGilligan for the 1997 book, Backstory 3: Interviews With Screenwriters of the 60s. (The book also includes an interview with George Axelrod, who adapted The Seven Year Itch and Bus Stop for MM.)
“I know from reading David Brown’s autobiography, ‘Let Me Entertain You’, that you had at least one not-marvelous experience in Hollywood in the sixties, working with Cukor again, this time on the last, never-completed Marilyn Monroe picture: ‘Something’s Got to Give’.
I haven’t read David’s book, but I’ve been told he said I wore a kimono and sat on the floor when I wrote. Clearly, I was crazy, so he fired me. I still wear a kimono and sit on the floor when I write, and lots of people think I’m crazy— maybe I am—but David and I recall the situation differently. Actually, I quit. Cukor wanted me because we had such a good experience on the Magnani picture, but when I found out what they were doing to Marilyn, I quit. They were setting her up. A guy from the advertising business named Peter Levathes had come in as head of the studio, having taken over from [Spyros] Skouras, who was kicked out, as I recall, because Cleopatra  went so much over budget. Levathes had to prove himself a hero. He had to prove he wouldn’t take any shit from any star. He wanted to humiliate Marilyn into quitting and then sue her, I was told.
You were Marilyn’s friend?
From way back. I met her when she first left Hollywood and came to join the Actors Studio. I got a call one night from Lee Strasberg, and he said, ‘I’ve got two tickets to a poetry reading at the Y. I can’t go. Will you take the person I’m supposed to go with?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ I had no idea it was Marilyn until she opened the door. This was at the peak of her fame. I didn’t have a car or anything, so we had to catch a cab. We got mobbed. We finally got to the Y. I’m thinking, ‘Why does she want to go to the Y? Why didn’t Lee tell me who I was going with?’ And, of course, the program couldn’t go on, because everybody left their seats to catch a glimpse of her. We escaped through a side door and ran up the street with a mob chasing us, and finally wound up on 125th Street in a dinky Chinese restaurant I knew about. That’s how I met her, and we became good friends.
What was her condition at the time when you were working on the script? Was she deteriorating, as everybody has written?
I didn’t see any of that. When I was with her, she was bright, warm and loving, and in good shape.
She wasn’t demanding?
Not at all.
She was on time for everything?
She didn’t have to be on time. This wasn’t even preproduction. I hadn’t written a word. But her agent would call and request things—I remember one thing in particular—and Fox would deliberately say no, doing everything to make her quit. She wanted her regular hairdresser, I remember. No—she couldn’t have her regular hairdresser. Whatever she wanted, the rule was, she couldn’t have it. Gradually, it became clearer and clearer what was going on—and then I overheard conversations about it between the executives. As soon as I realized it, I went ape. I think I grabbed David Brown, who is about two feet taller than I am, and shook him against the wall; if not, I wanted to, which is probably closer to the truth. I called Marilyn and told her. She understood what was happening, but there was nothing she could do about it.
You think they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams—driving her to her death?
It’s not that cut and dried. But they certainly didn’t contribute to her will to live.
Cukor was party to this?
He knew about it.
The whole thing was shocking to me. She asked me to come back and write the picture and be on her side. I told her I was on her side, and that is why I got out of it. I told her she had to get out of it. ‘If I go back,’ I told her, ‘I’m powerless.’ I have terrible guilt about that experience, still. Terrible guilt. The lingering feeling, however irrational, that if I had gone back, I might have made a difference, and she might still be alive today.”
David Brown was the original producer on Something’s Got to Give. He later said of Schulman, ‘He was a great writer, but I was somewhat alarmed when I passed his office and saw that he had removed his desk, and was writing in a yoga position. Bear in mind that the myth of Hollywood is much less than the reality.’
Author Keith Badman adds further detail in The Final Years of Marilyn Monroe (2010), claiming that Marilyn was dissatisfied with Schulman’s script. However, given that Nunnally Johnson’s original adaptation – which she loved – had been rejected, this may be a reflection of her growing concerns about the production rather than a personal attack on Schulman.
“He quit the film in protest when he discovered the menacing treatment Marilyn had been receiving from certain members of the Hollywood hierarchy. He had encountered the actress for the first time in 1955 during her first spell in New York and regarded her as a true and trusted friend. However, friendship meant little in the Hollywood movie industry and Marilyn soon made it clear she was unhappy with several parts of Schulman’s work. Her loathing of it was manifested in several handwritten notes, scrawled across the screenplay’s front page and across several pages inside. ‘This is funny?’ she asked. ‘Not funny,’ she maintained. ‘Not a story for me,’ she insisted.”
In late 1961, Brown was fired and replaced by Henry Weinstein, a rather inexperienced young producer who was a good friend of Monroe’s psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson. Schulman was later replaced by Walter Bernstein, who told biographer Donald Spoto, ‘Everbody was aware that Greenson had put Marilyn in a cocoon-like situation. I always felt that she had become an investment to people like him…’
The upcoming sale of Marilyn’s medical files (at Julien’s in November) has spawned many sensationalist headlines. As I said in a previous post, I don’t approve of this sale. However, the files have raised some important points which have largely been overlooked – so I’m going to briefly address some of these issues here.
Most of these stories pertain to plastic surgery, but the files (from the collection of Dr Michael Gurdin) actually prove what sites like Danamo’s MM Pages have been saying all along – that Marilyn had very few surgical enhancements:
“1. Prior to the shooting of Ladies of the Chorus, (1948) Dr. Walter Taylor, an orthodontist specializing in cosmetic surgery, fixed her front teeth, which protruded slightly.
2. In 1950, Johnny Hyde arranged for her to have her nose and chin surgically perfected. The details are unknown. Rumor has it that they removed a piece of dead cartilage from her nose and added cartilage to her chin.”
The sale of the files was originally reported in an interesting article by Eric Kelsey and Sharon Reich for Reuters:
“The set of six X-rays and a file of doctors’ notes that offer a partial medical history of the Gentlemen Prefer Blondes actress from 1950 to 1962, are expected to fetch between $15,000 and $30,000 at auction on November 9-10, said Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills, California.
The notes written by Hollywood plastic surgeon Michael Gurdin appear to confirm speculation that Monroe, who epitomized glamour and set a standard of movie star beauty during the latter part of Hollywood’s golden era, went under the knife for cosmetic reasons.
The seller, who is so far unnamed, received the items as a gift from Gurdin.
Gurdin’s notes include references to a 1950 cartilage implant in Monroe’s chin, which he observed to have slowly begun to dissolve.”
What intrigues me most about the files is that they also mention the mysterious injury to her nose that Marilyn suffered in June 1962. It was attributed to a fall in the shower, although some biographers have disputed this.
Following the incident, Marilyn visited Gurdin’s office with her psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson. These files are under the pseudonym ‘Joan Newman‘ – probably after Greenson’s daughter, Joan, and Leo Rosten’s novel, Captain Newman M.D., which was based on Greenson’s wartime experiences. Marilyn was reading the book in the weeks before her death. It was filmed in 1963, with Gregory Peck in the lead role.
At the time of her visit to Gurdin, Marilyn weighed 115 lb. And at 5 ft 6, this makes her quite slim – certainly not the plus-size beauty that some have claimed. Like all women, MM’s weight fluctuated at times – but even at her heaviest, she was still only 140 lb.
Finally, the files also reveal that Marilyn suffered from neutropenia – a low level of a white blood cell type, which can make patients vulnerable to bacterial infections.
Maybe this could help to explain why Marilyn was so susceptible to viruses throughout her short life. Also during filming of Something’s Got to Give, she caught a cold which quickly developed into acute sinusitis. Unfortunately, her bosses at Fox were unsympathetic, and her repeated absences from the set led to her being fired.
“The X-rays are dated June 7, 1962, after Monroe saw Gurdin following a late night fall and two months before the actress would die at age 36 from an overdose of barbiturates. The death was ruled a probable suicide.
The X-rays include Monroe’s frontal facial bones, a composite right and left X-ray of the sides of her nasal bones and dental X-rays of the roof of her mouth.
A set of three chest X-rays of Monroe from 1954 sold for $45,000 at a 2010 auction.
A self-published memoir by Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Norman Leaf in 2010 claimed that Monroe underwent cosmetic surgery on her chin in 1950, citing the same notes made by Gurdin, Leaf’s medical partner.
Leaf also states in his memoir that Monroe underwent a slight rhinoplasty procedure on the tip of her nose.
A radiologist’s notes included in the lot determined that there was no damage to Monroe’s nose from the fall, but a recent evaluation of the X-rays found a minute fracture, the auction house said.
Doctors used the name ‘Joan Newman‘ as Monroe’s alias on the X-rays which list her height as 5 feet, 6 inches (1.68 m) and her weight as 115 lb (52 kg).
Gurdin’s notes were first drawn up in 1958 when the actress complained about a ‘chin deformity’ and the note listed her married name, Marilyn Miller. She was married to playwright Arthur Miller from 1956 to 1961.
The notes also indicate that Monroe suffered from neutropenia, a low level of a white blood cell type, in 1956 while in England and had an ectopic pregnancy in 1957.”
In an article for the Huffington Post, Dr Lois Banner – author of a new biography of Marilyn, due out next month – pinpoints two areas where Marilyn defied expectations: firstly in her lifelong quest for self-improvement, and secondly in her liberated views on sex.
Banner also makes an interesting comparison between Monroe and her previous biographical subject, anthropologist Margaret Mead.
“By 1960 Margaret was often in Hollywood; her sister was married to screenwriter Leo Rosten, who was Ralph Greenson’s best friend. Margaret came to Greenson’s weekly salons, where he played the violin with a group of amateur chamber musicians and the guests discussed ideas. It’s said that Margaret was the only person who could out-argue Greenson; in fact, her ideas about male insecurity and women’s need for equality came to dominate his psychiatric theories after Marilyn’s death. Marilyn sat in a corner at the soirees and didn’t enter into the conversations, but it’s possible that she and Margaret were at a session together. The week Marilyn died she was reading Rosten’s novel about Greenson, Captain Newman, MD. That book might have led her to Margaret’s writings and to a better understanding of her situation as a woman in a man’s world. It had that impact on Ralph Greenson.”