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 Goes From Hollywood to Poland

Marilyn graces the latest cover of Poland’s legal journal, Dziennik Gazeta Prawna (dated September 13-15), accompanying an interview with filmmaker Andrzej Krakowski about sexual behaviour in Hollywood, in which he refers to her rumoured – and much exaggerated – affair with John F. Kennedy. The main headline apparently translates as ‘Women in Bed, Not in Politics.’ (Sex was probably the last thing on Marilyn’s mind in this 1952 photo, however, as it was taken at her bedside after being admitted to hospital for an appendectomy.)

Thanks to Marco at Marilyn Remembered

Marilyn’s Subway Scene at 65

Marilyn with co-star Tom Ewell

On the night of September 15, 1954 – 65 years ago today – Marilyn filmed the iconic ‘subway scene’ from The Seven Year Itch to an adoring crowd. It is also said to have ended her marriage to Joe DiMaggio, though in truth they were already heading for a split. Over at Marilyn Remembered, Lorraine Nicol recalls one of the greatest promotional stunts of all time, with input from Fox publicist Roy Craft, and crewman Paul Wurtzel, who operated the industrial fan beneath the grate – and the many imitations which still abound in popular culture. (You can read a selection of past ES Updates posts on the ‘subway scene’ here.)

“The post-midnight hours of September 15th 1954, outside of the Trans-Lux Theatre near 52nd Street on Lexington Avenue, a luminous Marilyn wearing a white pleated halter dress, stepped over a subway grating. With a crew member operating a powerful fan positioned below the grille, the stage was set for a legendary scene. Hordes of reporters and spectators (estimates range from several hundred to five thousand) watched the crew film take after take of history-making moment.

The postscript of the film of this New York sequence was unusable. Her skirt had flown up to her waist, and the cheers of the crowd were clearly audible. The famous scene’s true setting was the controlled atmosphere of a Twentieth Century FOX soundstage. Unlike the iconic images that exsist, in the finished film Marilyn’s skirt billows up only slightly above her knees and a full body shot is never shown. Back in New York, a fifty-two foot high picture of The Girl with the upswept skirt was mounted above the marquee of Loew’s State Theatre at Times Square.”

Marilyn Book News: The Starlet, the Spy and the Blue Book Years

Marilyn and Me, Ji-Min Lee’s novel set in Korea, is now available in the US under a different title: The Starlet and the Spy. As any classic film buff will tell you, a starlet is an aspiring actress and by 1954, Marilyn was a global megastar. However, it’s a worthwhile read. Marilyn’s part in it is actually quite small, as the main character is her (fictitious) translator, a young woman confronting the trauma of war. I struggled to relate to her story – at times, it felt more like an outline for a movie – but it was interesting to revisit the conflict from an insider’s perspective, and Lee writes about Marilyn with care and imagination.

Also coming soon is a paperback reissue of Michelle Morgan’s excellent Before Marilyn: The Blue Book Modelling Years – and you can read an extract here.

‘Some Like It Hot’ Leads the Way in Laughter

Screenshot by Classic Film on Flickr

Some Like It Hot is featured (of course) in a chronological list of The 50 Best Comedy Movies of All Time over at Film School Rejects today, bridging the gap between silent comedians like Buster Keaton, screwball comedies starring Grant, and a wide range of comedies in the modern era.

“Marilyn Monroe was never taken seriously as an actress and comedienne, but just watching her keep up with comedy legends Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot is enough to see she was funnier than people gave her credit for. The film is really one of the most stacked comedies ever, with the aforementioned stars and director/screenwriter Billy Wilder and cinematographer Charles Lang (SabrinaThe Magnificent Seven, etc). It’s the perfect older comedy for people who swear that older movies aren’t funny. The smart dialogue isn’t delivered too quick for modern audiences. It’s silly enough to never get boring, but not outrageous enough that it’s campy. Some Like It Hot is a layered comedy that somehow springs more jokes the more you revisit it, but once you’ve seen it one time, you’ll gladly watch again.”

Emily Kubincanek

Stirring the Pot: Marilyn, the Media and Celebrity Suicide

Immediately following Marilyn’s death in 1962, a spike in suicide among young American women was widely reported. Dr. Mary V. Seeman, now a Professor Emerita at the Institute of Medical Science in Toronto, has recalled how the news led her to make a rash decision as a young trainee doctor, in an article for the Psychiatric Times.

“I was a second-year psychiatry resident in New York City at the time, and I remember exactly where I was when I heard of her death. The sad news shook the staff and dazed the patients in our all-women’s hospital ward … The women patients for whom I was responsible were particularly devastated by the news of her death because they identified with her in so many ways. Many had experienced similar childhoods in foster care, had aspired to be film stars, and had suffered through difficult relationships. Like Marilyn, they often had suicidal impulses.

As it was summertime when this happened, the head of our ward was on vacation in Europe. This left me temporarily in psychiatric charge. Once I realized how deeply Marilyn Monroe’s death had affected my patients, I knew that some form of intervention was urgently needed. I immediately invited whoever wanted to do so to join a support group that I would lead … Our group of eight got off to a good start. We cried and shared our feelings. The women talked about their suicidal urges. ‘Her life was so great compared to mine,’ one woman said. Everyone agreed, as she added: ‘She was rich; she was beautiful; she was talented. Look at all the men who loved her!’

‘This group is a catharsis,’ I proudly pronounced to my fellow residents.

But this is what happened next. Three of the women in the group attempted suicide, one very seriously. Fortunately, all three survived. The head nurse, frightened by what had happened, contacted the head of our ward in Europe. He immediately cut his vacation short and returned to New York. The first thing he did was to stop the group. Then, he gave me the worst dressing down of my life. I thought it was the end of my residency, but he allowed me to stay. What came to an end was my early confidence in myself as a therapist. Since then, there has always been a seed of doubt when I see a patient. I now ask myself, ‘By stirring the pot, am I perhaps doing more harm than good?’

Human beings are very easily influenced. What my Marilyn Monroe group had done was to bring together eight vulnerable women who, with the complicity of their group leader, had laid fertile ground for intense behavioral contagion. I had unknowingly created a suicide cluster. Out of a mix of would-be Marilyn Monroes, raw emotions, media prodding, and myself as a greenhorn therapist, the belief had emerged that suicide was the answer to distress.

Today, this is called the Werther effect after the widespread emotional reaction to the 18th century novel The Sorrows of Young Werther by the famous German writer Goethe. The story is about an unhappy lover who ends his life with a pistol. At publication, the book precipitated a massive wave of imitative suicides throughout Germany and much of Europe. This response was not unlike what took place the month after Marilyn Monroe’s death when there was a 10% increase in suicides in the United States.

Are there lessons here for clinicians? I think there are. In the wake of a celebrity suicide, it is wisest to express neither shock nor surprise to one’s patients. Patients who are at risk need to be assessed, monitored, and seen often. Their grief needs to be acknowledged. They also need assurance that you understand, are available, and that there are ways, admittedly difficult, by which one can overcome adverse circumstances and survive anguish …

My own experience suggests that overzealous intervention is not a good idea and that it is best to check with elders in the field who are more experienced before leaping into unknown therapeutic territory. Sensitive topics such as thoughts of suicide need private one-on-one discussion, not group therapy. Membership in a group transforms a person and the results of such transformations can be difficult to foresee.”



Robert Frank 1924-2019

Robert Frank, who was considered one of the most important photographers of all time, has died aged 94. Born in Switzerland, he moved to the United States in 1947. Perhaps his most famous work of photojournalism was a 1958 book, The Americans. Frank became an avant-garde filmmaker, capturing beatnik culture in Pull My Daisy (1959); and he also shot the cover of the Rolling Stones’ 1972 album, Exile On Main St.

Although Frank never photographed Marilyn, he shot these images of a child on the beach in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, reading the front page of the New York Daily News, headlined ‘Marilyn Dead’, while his family appears unconcerned, in August 1962. The first photo was featured in a 2004 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, I Wanna Be Loved By You: Photographs of Marilyn Monroe from the Leon and Michaela Constantiner Collection. Robert Frank died at home in Nova Scotia on September 9, 2019.

Marilyn at the May Fair Hotel

As reported here recently, three of Marilyn’s movie costumes (including this Travilla gown she wore to sing ‘River of No Return’). plus her black cocktail dress worn at a 1958 press conference to announce filming of Some Like It Hot, will be on display at London’s May Fair Hotel from September 24 – October 21, before going under the hammer at Julien’s on November 1. More details on the exhibit (including a series of film screenings) have now been revealed by Forbes.

“The four movies these outfits feature in are also to be screened at the hotel’s own cinema, May Fair Theatre. See a screening of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on the evening of September 27th; catch There’s No Business Like Show Business on October 11th; book a ticket for River of No Return on October 15th; and finally, take a seat for Some Like It Hot on October 18th.  

Tickets to these screenings are available as a part of dinner and drinks packages, following the movie with limited-edition cocktails in May Fair Bar and perhaps including dinner at the hotel’s Mediterranean restaurant May Fair Kitchen before you find your way to the theatre.”