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.”
Bob Bahr explores Marilyn’s spiritual side in a cover story for the Atlanta Jewish Times (dated August 30.)
“Monroe once told Paula Strasberg, her drama coach at the time, that she felt a special kinship with her newfound faith. ‘I can identify with the Jews,’ she said. ‘Everybody’s out to get them, no matter what they do, like me.’
On the front door of the home where she died, she had affixed a mezuzah with its tiny parchment scroll of sacred Jewish writings. She still had the prayer book with her personal notes written in its pages, a gift from Miller that had once belonged to the Brooklyn synagogue where he had had his bar mitzvah. On her mantle she kept a bronze menorah, which played ‘Hatikvah,’ the national anthem of the State of Israel. It was a present from Miller’s Yiddish-speaking mother.
Rabbi Robert Goldburg had worked with her during her conversion and provided her with a number of Jewish historical and religious works to study. About three weeks after her death, he wrote of his impressions of her at the time.
‘She was aware of the great character that the Jewish people had produced. … She was impressed by the rationalism of Judaism — its ethical and prophetic ideals and its close family life.’
When she rebelled against the exploitation of the Hollywood studio system, broke her contract with 20th Century Fox and fled Hollywood in 1954 for a new life in New York, it was at the urging of Milton Greene, a popular Jewish photographer with whom she founded Marilyn Monroe Productions. For a while she lived with Greene and his wife and helped take care of their year-old son.
Even before the move she lived and worked in what was largely a Jewish world. In Hollywood her agent and publicist and an early drama coach and mentor were all Jewish. She owed her early success, in part, to personal relationships with the powerful Jewish studio executive Joseph Schenck and the important talent agent Johnny Hyde, who had originally emigrated from the Jewish Ukraine. Her three psychiatrists were Jewish as well as many of her doctors. One of her closest journalistic confidants was the newspaper columnist Sidney Skolsky.
But all that accelerated when she moved to New York and enrolled in Lee and Paula Strasberg’s Actors Studio … She quickly fell in with their circle of friends, who made up the theatrical and literary elite of Jewish New York. She volunteered to be the star attraction at a United Jewish Appeal dinner.
The poet Norman Rosten and his wife and children were close friends. She was a regular at a summer of brunches and picnics and cookouts with the Strasbergs in Ocean Beach on Fire Island. She frequently dug into what Paula Strasberg called her ‘Jewish icebox’ there, with its salamis from Zabar’s on New York’s Upper West Side and the honey cakes and fancy European pastries from some of the bakeries started in New York by refugees from Nazi persecution.
It was, in the words of one Monroe biographer, ‘a year of joy,’ made even more joyful by a newfound romance with [Arthur] Miller … Gloria Steinem, the Jewish American essayist and feminist, wrote a perceptive analysis about the relationship and Monroe’s decision just before their marriage to convert to Judaism.
‘Miller himself was not religious, but she wanted to be part of his family’s tradition.”‘I’ll cook noodles like your mother,” she told him on their wedding day. She was optimistic this marriage would work. On the back of a wedding photograph, she wrote “Hope, Hope, Hope.”‘
Her public commitment to Judaism in the mid-50s was just one of the signs that Jews were winning new acceptance in America after the end of World War II and of the changes that the war had brought.
Although she’s been gone these many years, she is not forgotten. Time has treated the memory of Monroe with kindness. Her estate, most of which she left to the Strasberg family, has consistently earned tens of millions of dollars over the more than 50 years since her death … As for that prayer book that Arthur Miller took from his Brooklyn synagogue and Monroe kept to her dying day, it sold at auction last year for $18,000.”
An online entertainment sale, featuring 78 Marilyn-related lots, is set for August 19 at Julien’s Auctions. In addition to photos by Andre de Dienes, Bert Stern and George Barris, and an original nude calendar from 1955, there are also numerous documents from her personal files which shed new light on her life and career. Here are some selected highlights:
“A counter check written entirely in Monroe’s hand in black ink dated February 26, 1952, and paid to Dr. A. Gottesman, in the amount of $160. The check is drawn on Monroe’s Bank of America account. Monroe lists her address as the Beverly Carlton Hotel. Gottesman was a psychoanalyst Marilyn started seeing in the early 1950s. “
“A colorful birthday card sent to Marilyn for her 30th birthday by business manager and friend Inez Melson. In her message Melson acknowledges she’s been informed that Marilyn has transitioned the responsibility for the care of her mother Gladys away from Inez. Melson’s handwritten message reads, ‘Dearest Marilyn, This little card not only wishes you a Happy Birthday, but says “au-revoir.” I say this because Mr. [Irving] Stein was in this morning and told me of the new arrangement with the Arthur Jacobs Company with respect to taking care of all matters relating to Mrs. Eley. I am truly sorry, dear one, but you know you can always call upon me if you should ever need me. With fondest love, always, Inez.’ The original transmittal envelope is included. Melson managed Marilyn’s finances and business affairs throughout the early portion of Marilyn’s career. Interestingly, Melson ended up becoming the executrix of Marilyn’s estate after her death, which included ensuring the care of Marilyn’s mother who passed away in 1984. Inez passed away in 1985.”
“A September 8, 1956 letter to Marilyn from Mary Lee Fairbank reading in part, ‘We’ve just got back and looking forward to having you both for dinner – what night? How many? Who particularly do you want to meet – political, (undecipherable), fluff, philosophical, scientifical (sic).’ The original envelope, also included, is addressed to Mrs. Arthur Miller, Parkside House, Englefield Green, Surrey, where Marilyn and husband Arthur Miller stayed for four months while filming The Prince and the Showgirl.” [Possibly from Mary Lee Fairbanks, who married actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in 1939.]
“An April 2, 1957 letter to Marilyn from Margaret Hohenberg, M.D., reading, ‘I am sending you your file for the sessions you had during March. I hope you are getting along in your new analysis, yet I want to repeat what I said last time over the phone: Whenever and for whatever reason you may want to see me again – you will be always welcome.’ Hohenberg was Marilyn’s psychoanalyst from 1955 through early 1957.”
“An original program for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof from its run at the Erlanger Theatre in Chicago, IL for the week of July 7, 1957 signed by American character actor and producer/director Delos Smith. On the cover, Smith wrote, ‘How sweet of you to ask my autograph! We are closing Saturday, then I go to Kansas for two weeks on income taxes, then back to N.Y. Read page 13. Love, Delos.'”
“An August 21, 1957 letter from [theatre director] John Gerstad. The letter reads, ‘Dear Miss Monroe, Arnold Schulman introduced us in Sardi’s quite a few months ago. Arnold figured that since I had directed The Seven Year Itch for Broadway and you had made the picture that we should meet. This is just to tell you how much I enjoyed your picture The Prince and the Showgirl, particularly your fetching performance. I hope this note finds you in good health. Sincerely yours, John Gerstad.’ Also included, a carbon copy of a December 5, 1957 letter sent to Gerstad from Marilyn, reading, ‘I am sorry it took so long to answer your note. It was very nice of you to write telling me that you enjoyed my performance in The Prince and the Showgirl. Thank you for your kindness. Warmest regards. Sincerely …'”
A November 13, 1957 handwritten letter to Marilyn from Stefan Lorant, which reads, ‘I have sent you the picture in which Lincoln looks like your husband. I hope you like it. It was so good to meet you at Amagansett. With kindest regards to you and your husband, Stefan Lorant.’ Lorant is referred to as a pioneering Hungarian-American filmmaker, photojournalist, and author. Included is a carbon copy of the response letter dated December 4, 1957 reading, ‘I am so happy with the picture you sent me of Lincoln. It was kind of you to remember. My husband loves it a much as I do, and we both feel it is probably one of the best of the Lincoln portraits. Thank you again for your thoughtfulness. Perhaps we will be seeing you again soon. We haven’t seen Mary Bass since the summer but we hope to. With kindest regards from my husband and myself.’ Mary Bass was the executive editor of Ladies’ Home Journal.”
“A small notecard dated November 13, 1957 with a very unusual message. The card reads, ‘Please forgive this extreme personal intrusion: It is my utmost desire to learn if you were adopted from an Iowa orphanage around 1935. I am looking for a browneyed (sic) sister formerly named Geraldine. Sincerely, Ruth Webb.’ Included is a carbon copy of the response letter dated December 5, 1957 reading in part, ‘For your information, I am not the person you describe, as I have never even been in Iowa. I hope you will find the person you are looking for.’ Interestingly, Marilyn herself signed the original letter, and not a secretary as was the case for a great deal of Marilyn’s correspondence.”
“A July 16, 1958 letter to Marilyn from Dr. Eugen Grabscheid that reads in part, ‘I am sorry to hear that the complaints after your flight have increased. I am very sure that everything will come out all right as long as the treatment is not overdone.’ This letter is likely referencing Marilyn’s flight from New York to Los Angeles on July 7, to meet with director Billy Wilder about Some Like it Hot.”
“A carbon copy of an October 21, 1958 letter to Marilyn from Rex Taylor in reference to Marilyn’s interest in painting. The letter reads in part, ‘I just talked with Jon Whitcomb who tells me you are quite interested in painting. He also tells me that you would like too (sic) take the Famous Artists Painting Course. At Jon’s request we are making you a scholarship student but I am at a loss as to where to forward the textbooks since, as I understand it, you will be in Hollywood for sometime (sic) before returning to New York City,’ and ‘I thought you might be interested in seeing a recent story on the army of Hollywood painters.’ Included with the letter is a reprint of a story referencing film stars taking up painting with a picture of Tony Curtis featured.” (Marilyn did subsequently take this course, and some of her artwork survives – more info here.)
“A small notecard originally affixed to a floral arrangement with a personal message from Oscar winning American actress Eva Marie Saint and her husband American television director and producer Jeffrey Hayden. The notecard reads, ‘We are so happy about the beautiful news. Best Wishes.’ The greetings are likely in response to the news that Marilyn and husband Arthur Miller were expecting a child. Sadly Marilyn miscarried in December, 1958. Also included, the original carbon copy response letter from Marilyn to the couple reading, ‘Thank you so very much for the beautiful flowers and the good wishes. My best to you both.'”
“A July 23, 1959 letter to Marilyn from Mrs. Frank Klein, regarding an article her daughter had written for speech and drama class during her freshman year in high school. The assignment was to write about the voice of a well-known personality. The typed article, also included with this lot, reads in part, ‘Marilyn Monroe’s voice is high-pitched and soft-toned. Her manner of speaking is breathless and rapid. Her voice has an appealing little girl quality. It convey’s (sic) Miss Monroe’s screen personality, the only one with which I am familiar, to perfection.'”
More fan mail, including a torn-up 1958 letter from Phil D’Agostino, asking Marilyn to send two signed photos daily for 2 months; a small photo sent by Myrna E. Phaire, who also gave Marilyn artwork previously sold at Julien’s; and an unsigned drawing.
“A Western Union telegram from publicist Pat Newcomb, addressed to Marilyn at her 444 East 57th Street, New York apartment, dated April 16, 1961 reading, ‘Hey friend. You know I knew even before and that I understand, but please call me today. I want to talk to you. Love, Pat.’ It’s unclear what this telegram is referencing. A number of events were occurring in Marilyn’s life at this time. Just five days prior to the date of this telegram Marilyn attended an opening day baseball game at Yankee Stadium with former husband Joe DiMaggio. They’d been on vacation together in Florida just weeks prior. In early March Marilyn was released from Columbia Presbyterian hospital. On March 7, Marilyn attended the funeral for August Miller, the mother of third husband Arthur. “
“A greeting card from Rupert Allan, who handled Marilyn’s publicity and press inquiries for several years. The card’s message from Allan reads in part, ‘I am already much better after a day in the sun: none of the pressures of the office, and the fabulous mineral waters and whirlpool bath treatment for my pinched nerve. It is so hot and relaxing.’ Included is the original transmittal envelope date stamped May 4, 1961.”
“A small red gift tag with an attached red ribbon. The tag reads, ‘Happy Christmas, 1961,’ and ‘George Cukor,’ written in silver ink in Cukor’s own hand. Interestingly, research indicates that Cukor agreed to direct Something’s Got to Give in November of 1961, and this card was likely attached to a Christmas gift he gave to Marilyn considering they’d soon be working together again.”
“A small notecard, presumably originally affixed to a floral arrangement due to its size and artwork, with a personal message from two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters. The card reads, ‘All your fellow students from the Actors Studio California branch at the moment thinking of you.’ The card is signed, ‘Shelley W.'” [UNDATED]
“A small notecard with embossed letters reading ‘WADLEY & SMYTHE, NEW YORK.’ The handwritten note on the card reads, ‘May the days of your years be gentle always. Sincerely, Joan Blondell.’ A comparison of Blondell’s known autograph resembles the signature on the card, indicating it’s very likely she wrote the note herself. Blondel starred in more than 100 productions both in film and television, her most notable being her performance in the 1951 film The Blue Veil, for which she received an Academy Award nomination. Younger generations will recognize her as Vi, one of the waitresses at the Frosty Palace in the 1978 cult classic, Grease. [UNDATED]
“An oversized birthday card with an image of Marilyn on the cover together with an image of Brigitte Bardot. The card’s cover reads, ‘Brigitte Bardot or Marilyn Monroe.’ The message inside offers the bearer a night with Bardot or Monroe for $2.00 with the coupon printed in the card. A handwritten message on the card’s inside cover reads, ‘Tell M.M.M. I’ve saved up $1.62 already yet. Love, Del’ under a greeting that reads, ‘For your Birthday.’ An interesting yet crass greeting card featuring Marilyn herself (and likely without her approval) sent to the film star by a fan. [UNDATED]
UPDATE: The nude calendar, and check to Dr. Gottesman were the biggest sellers among the Marilyn-related lots – more details here.
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.
“It wasn’t until I realised that Marilyn Monroe is considered (among other things) as one of the great failures of psychotherapy that I started to look into her life. Like most people, I knew the general outline of her life: fame, films, love affairs and early death. My PhD supervisor had been keen on her and papered the walls of her bathroom with pictures. If we wanted to use it, her students uttered the code phrase ‘I’m just going to visit Marilyn’. So I’d seen pretty much all of the pictures. But when I began to read her story, it felt like a novel gone wrong, written by someone who couldn’t resist putting too much over-the-top plot in it. And the thought that one of her last, and most influential, therapists was implicated in her death seems extraordinary.”
St Vincent – aka musician Annie Erin Clark – performed ‘Surgeon’, a song inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s writings, now available as a free download from her forthcoming album, Strange Mercy, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art on Thursday, reports the Times:
‘St. Vincent ended her concert at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Thursday night with an emotionally complicated plea. “Best, finest surgeon,” she sang coolly, fingers skittering along the neck of her guitar. “Come cut me open.”
The song was “Surgeon,” with lyrics inspired by an entry in Marilyn Monroe’s diary, and St. Vincent made its queasy hunger feel palpable, even, somehow, during the mounting vulgarity of the synth-guitar solo that she used as a coda.
Surgery isn’t a bad metaphor for the process by which St. Vincent, a k a Annie Clark, creates her music. But she’s rarely if ever the one being operated on. What she does is traumatic but controlled, unsentimental but not uncaring. She can seem clinical, but she knows what she’s doing in there.’
The song is based on a piece published in Fragments, the 2010 collection of Marilyn’s writing. It was written on Waldorf-Astoria stationary (MM lived at the hotel in 1955.)
This may be an account of a dream. It is filled with characters from Marilyn’s life at the time – Lee Strasberg, Arthur Miller, Milton Greene, Dr Hohenberg, the Rostens – and suggests Marilyn’s intense fear of not living up to their expectations.
Like many of Marilyn’s undefined pieces, it has the quality of a prose poem. The bolded parts denote spelling anomalies, while the crossings-out are her own.
Best finest surgeon – Strasberg
waits to cut me open which I don’t mind since Dr H
has prepared me – given me anesthetic
and has also diagnosed the case and
agrees with what has to be done –
an operation – to bring myself back to
life and to cure me of this terrible dis-ease
whatever the hell it is –
Arthur is the only one waiting in the outer
room – worrying and hoping operation successful
for many reasons – for myself – for his play and
for himself indirectly
Hedda – concerned – keeps calling on phone during
operation – Norman – keeps stopping by hospital to
see if I’m okay but mostly to comfort Art
who is so worried –
Milton calls from office with lots of room
and everything in good taste – and is conducting
business in a new way with style – and music
is playing and he is relaxed and enjoying himself even if he
is very worried at the same time – there’s a camera
on his desk but he doesn’t take pictures anymore except
of great paintings.
Strasberg cuts me open after Dr. H gives me
anesthesia and tries in a medical way to comfort
me – everything in the room is white in fact but I
can’t even see anyone just white objects –
they cut me open – Strasberg with Hohenberg’s ass.
and 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 dreamed possible in
almost anyone but
instead there was absolutely nothing – devoid of
every human living feeling thing – the only thing
that came out was so finely cut sawdust – like
out of a raggedy ann doll – and the sawdust spills
all over the floor & table and Dr. H is puzzled
because suddenly she realizes that this is a
new type case of puple. The patient (pupil – or student – I started to write) existing of complete emptiness
Strasberg’s hopes & dreams for theater are fallen.
Dr H’s dreams and hopes for a permanent psychiatric cure