The future of Rockhaven Sanitarium, formerly a pioneering clinic for women suffering from mental illness where Marilyn’s mother Gladys lived for 14 years, is once again in jeopardy, as Lila Seidman reports for the Los Angeles Times. (You can read my review of Elisa Jordan’s book about Rockhaven here.)
“Plans to turn the former Rockhaven Sanitarium in north Glendale into a park and boutique-commercial center have been scrapped, with city officials recently severing ties with the local developer heading up the project.
Following closed-session deliberations on Feb. 5, City Council members decided not to extend a contract with Gangi Development that was first initiated at the end of January 2017, city spokesman Dan Bell confirmed on Tuesday.
The council’s decision disheartened Matthew Gangi, the project’s principal lead, who said he still hasn’t given up on the vision the council approved in November 2016.
According to Matthew Gangi, the city had asked him and his family associates to personally guarantee yet-unspecified improvement requests to the site, which some family members would not do because they felt they were already offering substantial money and effort to improve the city-owned property, Gangi said.
Under the original proposal, businesses and nonprofits would have moved into the former sanitarium’s 14 buildings that Gangi Development had planned to rehabilitate.
Prospective tenants included a farm-to-table restaurant, a sustainable winery, a hatha yoga studio, creative lounge and native-plant-seed shop, Matthew Gangi said.
Remaining space on the property that’s been designated a historic district would have become a park, with a planned performance stage and several demonstration gardens, he added.
The roster of businesses was selected, in part, as an homage to the property’s original incarnation when it opened in 1923 as a progressive women’s mental-health facility, according to Matthew Gangi.
The Gangi project was supported by Friends of Rockhaven, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the property.
‘Naturally, we’re devastated,’ said Joanna Linkchorst, president of Friends of Rockhaven. ‘We’d hoped we had found the solution. We thought that finding someone who would [handle the project] privately, that the city would be willing to have a park there — a remarkable park.’
Speaking for the nonprofit, Linkchorst said the organization is convinced the city will now attempt to sell off the 3.5-acre property it purchased for $8.25 million in 2008.”
Rockhaven Sanitarium was once home to Marilyn’s mother, Gladys Monroe, and a female-led sanctuary for mentally ill women at a time when they were often mistreated. You can read my review of Elisa Jordan’s new book about Rockhaven here.
A wide range of Marilyn-related items, including her 1956 Thunderbird, will be up for grabs at Julien’s Icons & Idols auction on November 17. Another high-profile item is the white beaded Travilla gown worn by Marilyn when she sang ‘After You Get What You Want, You Don’t Want It’ in There’s No Business Like Show Business, purchased at Christie’s in 1995; as yet it’s unclear whether this is the same dress listed at Julien’s in 2016.
Marilyn owned several pairs of checked trousers, wearing them repeatedly throughout her career. This pair, seen in one of her earliest modelling shoots, was purchased from Sak’s Fifth Avenue.
A number of photos owned by Marilyn herself are also on offer, including this picture with US troops, taken on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; a set of publicity photos for Love Nest; a photo of Joe DiMaggio in his New York Yankees uniform; and Roy Schatt‘s 1955 photo of Marilyn and Susan Strasberg at the Actors Studio.
A postcard from the Table Rock House in Niagara Falls was signed by Marilyn and her Niagara co-stars, Jean Peters and Casey Adams, in 1952.
This publicity shot from River of No Return is inscribed, ‘To Alan, alas Alfred! It’s a pleasure to work with you – love & kisses Marilyn Monroe.’
A set of bloomers worn by Marilyn in River of No Return (as seen in this rare transparency) is going up for bids.
Among the mementoes from Marilyn’s 1954 trip to Japan and Korea are two fans and an army sewing kit.
Also among Marilyn’s personal property is this ad for There’s No Business Like Show Business, torn from the December 24, 1954 issue of Variety.
Among Marilyn’s assorted correspondence is a latter dated August 22, 1954, from childhood acquaintance Ruth Edens:
“I have long intended to write you this letter because I have particularly wanted to say that when you used to visit me at my Balboa Island cottage, you were a shy and charming child whose appeal, it seems to me, must have reached the hearts of many people. I could never seem to get you to say much to me, but I loved having you come in and I missed your doing so after you’d gone away. I wondered about you many times and was delighted when I discovered you in the films. I hope the stories in the magazines which say you felt yourself unloved throughout your childhood, are merely press-agentry. In any case, I want you to know that I, for one, was truly fond of you and I’m proud of you for having developed enough grit to struggle through to success … I hope you are getting much happiness out of life, little Marian [sic]. I saw so much that was ethereal in you when you were a little girl that I fell sure you are not blind to life’s spiritual side. May all that is good and best come your way!”
Marilyn’s loyalty to the troops who helped to make her a star is attested in this undated letter from Mrs. Josephine Holmes, which came with a sticker marked ‘American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.‘
“My dear Miss Monroe, I was so happy to hear from Mr. Fisher about your visit to the Veterans Hospital. When I spoke to Mr. Alex David Recreation he said the veterans would be thrilled, probably the best present and tonic for them this holiday and gift giving season. I am sure it will be a wonderful memory for you, knowing you have brought happiness to so many boys, many have no one to visit with them. Thank you, and may God bless you and Mr. Miller for your kindness.”
Marilyn wore this hand-tailored black satin blouse for a 1956 press conference at Los Angeles Airport, as she returned to her hometown after a year’s absence to film Bus Stop. When a female reporter asked, ‘You’re wearing a high-neck dress. … Is this a new Marilyn? A new style?’ she replied sweetly, ‘No, I’m the same person, but it’s a different suit.’
Letters from Marilyn’s poet friend, Norman Rosten, are also included (among them a letter warmly praising her work in Some Like It Hot, and a postcard jokingly signed off as T.S. Eliot.)
Among Marilyn’s correspondence with fellow celebrities was a Christmas card from Liberace, and a telephone message left by erstwhile rival, Zsa Zsa Gabor.
File under ‘What Might Have Been’ – two letters from Norman Granz at Verve Records, dated 1957:
“In the September 5, 1957, letter, Granz writes, ‘I’ve been thinking about our album project and I should like to do the kind of tunes that would lend themselves to an album called MARILYN SINGS LOVE SONGS or some such title.’ In the December 30, 1957, letter, he writes, ‘… I wonder too if you are ready to do any recording. I shall be in New York January 20th for about a week and the Oscar Peterson Trio is off at that time, so if you felt up to it perhaps we could do some sides with the Trio during that period.'”
Also in 1957, Marilyn received this charming card from the Monroe Six, a group of dedicated New York teenage fans, mentioning her latest role in The Prince and The Showgirl and husband Arthur Miller’s legal worries:
“Marilyn, We finally got to see ‘Prince and the Showgirl’ and every one of us was so very pleased. We are all popping our shirt and blouse buttons. Now we will be on pins and needles ‘til it is released to the general public. You seemed so relaxed and a tease thru the whole picture and your close ups, well they were the most flawless ever. You should be real pleased with yourself. No need to tell you what we want for you to know now is that we hope everything comes out all right for Mr. Miller and real soon too. Guess what we are working on now. We are trying to scrape up enough money for the necessary amount due on 6 tickets to the premiere and the dinner dance afterwards. Well again we must say how happy we are about T.P.+T.S. and we wanted you to know it. Our best to you.”
Among the lots is assorted correspondence from Xenia Chekhov, widow of Marilyn’s acting teacher, Michael Chekhov, dated 1958. In that year, Marilyn sent Xenia a check which she used to replace her wallpaper. She regretted being unable to visit Marilyn on the set of Some Like It Hot, but would write to Arthur Miller on November 22, “I wanted to tell you how much your visit meant to me and how glad I was to see you and my beloved Marilyn being so happy together.”
In April 1959, Marilyn received a letter from attorney John F. Wharton, advising her of several foundations providing assistance to children in need of psychiatric care, including the Anna Freud Foundation, which Marilyn would remember in her will.
This telegram was sent by Marilyn’s father-in-law, Isidore Miller, on her birthday – most likely in 1960, as she was living at the Beverly Hills Hotel during filming of Let’s Make Love. She was still a keen reader at the time, as this receipt for a 3-volume Life and Works of Sigmund Freud from Martindale’s bookstore shows.
After Let’s Make Love wrapped, Marilyn sent a telegram to director George Cukor:
“Dear George, I would have called but I didn’t know how to explain to you how I blame myself but never you. If there is [undecipherable due to being crossed out] out of my mind. Please understand. My love to Sash. My next weekend off I will do any painting cleaning brushing you need around the house. I can also dust. Also I am sending you something but it’s late in leaving. I beg you to understand. Dear Evelyn sends her best. We’re both city types. Love, Amanda Marilyn.”
Here she is referencing her stand-in, Evelyn Moriarty, and Amanda Dell, the character she played. “Dearest Marilyn, I have been trying to get you on the telephone so I could tell you how touched I was by your wire and how grateful I am,” Cukor replied. “Am leaving for Europe next Monday but come forrest [sic] fires come anything, I will get you on the telephone.”
There’s also a June 30, 1960 letter from Congressman James Roosevelt (son of FDR), asking Marilyn to appear on a television show about the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for Cancer Research, to be aired in October. Unfortunately, Marilyn was already committed to filming The Misfits, and dealing with the collapse of her marriage to Arthur Miller.
In 1961, movie producer Frank McCarthy praised Marilyn’s performance in The Misfits:
Rather touchingly, Marilyn owned this recording of ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come,’ sung by Adriana Caselotti. The record copyright is from 1961, but Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was originally released in December 1937, when Marilyn was just eleven years old.
This pen portrait was sketched by George Masters, who became Marilyn’s regular hairdresser in the final years of her life.
On July 5, 1962, Hattie Stephenson – Marilyn’s New York housekeeper – wrote to her in Los Angeles:
“My Dear Miss Monroe: How are you! Trusting these few lines will find you enjoying your new home. Hoping you have heard from Mr. and Mrs. Fields by now. Found them to be very nice and the childrens [sic] are beautiful. Got along very well with there [sic] language. How is Maff and Mrs. Murray? Miss Monroe, Mrs. Fields left this stole here for you and have been thinking if you would like to have it out there I would mail it to you. Miss Monroe Dear, I asked Mrs. Rosten to speak with you concerning my vacation. I am planning on the last week of July to the 6th of August. I am going to Florida on a meeting tour. Trusting everything will be alright with you. Please keep sweet and keep smiling. You must win. Sincerely, Hattie.”
Hattie is referring to Marilyn’s Mexico friend, Fred Vanderbilt Field, who stayed with his family in Marilyn’s New York apartment that summer. She also alludes to Marilyn’s ongoing battle with her Hollywood studio. Sadly, Hattie never saw Marilyn again, as she died exactly a month later. Interestingly, the final check from Marilyn’s personal checkbook was made out to Hattie on August 3rd.
After Marilyn died, her estate was in litigation for several years. Her mother, Gladys, was a long-term resident of Rockhaven Sanitarium, which had agreed to waive her fees until her trust was reopened. In 1965, Gladys would receive hate mail from a certain Mrs. Ruth Tager of the Bronx, criticising her as a ‘hindrance’ due to her unpaid bills. This unwarranted attack on a sick, elderly woman reminds one why Marilyn was so hesitant to talk about her mother in public.
“For decades, the mild climate of the Crescenta Valley served as a haven for those seeking mental health rest and relief from lung ailments. In 1923, registered nurse Agnes Richards decided it was the perfect place to open a sanitarium, one that would set itself apart from the rest. Rockhaven Sanitarium catered to female residents only and, with few exceptions, exclusively employed women. It was a progressive treatment center that prided itself on treating residents with dignity and respect. The center’s high ideals and proximity to early Hollywood attracted residents like Billie Burke; Marilyn Monroe’s mother, Gladys; and Clark Gable’s first wife, Josephine Dillon.”
Hot off the press, Marilyn’s Monsters is a graphic novel by Tommy Redolfi which retells her story as a dark fairytale. Now available with a preface by cult filmmaker David Cronenberg, it was previously published in France as Marilyn in Holy Wood. You can find out more and view sample pages here.
Also just published, Samantha Barbas’ Confidential Confidentiallooks at the forces behind the notorious scandal magazine which exposed the secrets of Marilyn and other 1950s stars.
Also due in October is Rockhaven Sanitarium, a history of the pioneering women’s psychiatric clinic where Marilyn’s mother Gladys lived for almost fifteen years, authored by LA Woman Tours boss (and friend of this blog) Elisa Jordan. (You can read more about Rockhaven’s history here.)
The campaign to save Rockhaven, the former sanatorium run by women for women, is continuing with the Friends of Rockhaven community group campaigning to have the building opened to the public. It is a site of architectural and historical note, and was an oasis of progressive healing for the mentally ill during a time of widespread ignorance and prejudice. Marilyn’s mother Gladys lived there for fourteen years, and it seems to have finally brought her some peace of mind after many unhappy years spent in and out of state asylums. Please sign the petition to save this Glendale landmark here.
In January, exhibitions featuring Milton Greene and Douglas Kirkland’s photographs of Marilyn opened in London and Amsterdam. In New York, the Museum of Modern Art paid tribute to Marilyn’s choreographer, Jack Cole. Also this month, James Turiello’s book, Marilyn: The Quest for an Oscar, was published. And Edward Parone, assistant producer of The Misfits, died.
In April, a special edition of Vanity Fair magazine – dedicated to MM – was published. A campaign to save Rockhaven, the former women’s sanitarium where Marilyn’s mother Gladys once lived – was launched. And actress Anne Jackson – wife of Eli Wallach, and friend to Marilyn – passed away.
In May, Marilyn graced the cover of a Life magazine special about ‘hidden Hollywood’, and Sebastien Cauchon’s novel, Marilyn 1962, was published in France. Cabaret singer Marissa Mulder’s one-woman show, Marilyn in Fragments, opened in New York, while Chinese artist Chen Ke unveiled Dream-Dew, a series of paintings inspired by Marilyn’s life story. The remarkable collection of David Gainsborough Roberts was displayed in London. Finally, Alan Young – the comedian and Mister Ed star, who befriended a young Marilyn – died.
In July, the birthday celebrations continued in Marilyn’s Los Angeles hometown with tributes from painter David Bromley, and another Greene exhibition. A new musical, Marilyn!, opened in Glendale. Rapper Frank Ocean appeared alongside a Monroe impersonator in a Calvin Klein commercial. And Marni Nixon, the Hollywood soprano who sang the opening bars of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, passed away.
August 5th marked the 54th anniversary of Marilyn’s death. Also this month, it was announced that Seward Johnson’s ‘Forever Marilyn’ sculpture may return permanently to Palm Springs. April VeVea’s Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life was published, and Marilyn’s role in Niagara was featured in another Life magazine special, celebrating 75 years of film noir.
In September, Marilyn: Character Not Image – an exhibition curated by Whoopi Goldberg – opened in New Jersey. Terry Johnson’s fantasy play, Insignificance, was revived in Wales. Two locks of Marilyn’s hair were sold by Julien’s Auctions for $70,000. And author Michelle Morgan published The Marilyn Journal, first in a series of books chronicling the Marilyn Lives Society; and A Girl Called Pearl, a novel for children with a Monroe connection.
Marilyn Monroe was one of the world’s most photographed women, but her mother Gladys, who suffered from severe mental illness, was a more shadowy figure. In an article for the Los Angeles Times, Katherine Yamada reveals how Louie Deisbeck of the Glendale News-Press, who died in January this year, captured a rare image of Gladys Eley (her deceased third husband’s name) as a 60 year-old on the run from Rockhaven Sanitarium in July 1963.
“Less than a year after Monroe died, the 60-year-old Eley fashioned a rope out of two uniforms, climbed through an 18-inch-square closet window and lowered herself to the ground. After climbing over the wire mesh fence surrounding the property, she began walking.
Twenty-four hours later, she was discovered some 15 miles away in a church on Foothill Boulevard. She had spent the night in the church’s utility room, sitting near the water heater to keep warm.
The minister who found her called the police; they were soon followed by Glendale News-Press photographer Louie Deisbeck and a reporter.
Deisbeck, who had been with the newspaper since 1957, had many contacts in the city.
‘Police and firemen contacted him all the time in those days, they knew to call him directly at home,’ his son Rusty said in a recent phone interview.
Deisbeck was met at the church by two female police officers. ‘It was real hush hush,’ his son recalled.
After he got the photo — the first taken of Eley in more than 20 years [although several family photos of Gladys were taken in the late 1940s] — Deisbeck raced back to the News-Press, leaving the reporter to get the story.
The police officers told the reporter (who did not get a byline in the July 5, 1963 article) that Eley stated she wanted to get away from the sanitarium and practice her Christian Science teaching. After determining that she was unharmed, they returned her to the sanitarium.
Deisbeck’s photo earned front-page coverage in many newspapers.
‘That was the most famous picture he ever did,’ son Rusty said. ‘He sold it to magazines and newspapers all over the world.'”
When measuring practical considerations versus historic interest, politicians might want to consider the tale of Marilyn’s former San Fernando Valley home – dubbed the ‘Dougherty House‘ – as its demolition in 2015 has prompted a campaign for councilman Paul Krekorian to be recalled, reports LA Curbed.
Following the controversial demolition of the ‘Dougherty House‘ in June, Danny Jensen reports for LAist that another Marilyn-related location – the former Rockhaven Sanitarium, where her mother Gladys was a resident from 1953-67 – is also the focus of controversy.
“The future looks uncertain for L.A.’s oldest sanitarium, which was originally built as a humane mental health facility for women in Los Angeles county.
The Rockhaven Sanitarium in Montrose opened in 1923 as an alternative to the grim treatment offered to women in many mental institutions at the time. And now the group Friends of Rockhaven is hoping to save the historic site, after preservation plans by the city of Glendale fell apart and developers proposed other uses, according to the L.A. Weekly. Home for a time to some of Hollywood’s early notables—including Billie Burke who played Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard Of Oz and Marilyn Monroe’s mother—the 3.5 acre property was nicknamed the Screen Actor’s Sanitarium. The mental health facility was first developed by early feminist Agnes Richards and features small cottages where residents lived.
Richards helped women escape from the cells of mental wards throughout California and across the country, offering Rockhaven as a refuge from places where they were commonly abused and mistreated. The aging property includes 15 buildings that are a mix of Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival styles, which feature names like the Rose Cottage and the Willows. The sanitarium was designed to be a serene, landscaped complex for healing, rather than an intimidating, American Horror Story-style institution. The interiors of the buildings have remained largely untouched for years.
In 2008, Glendale bought the property for $8.25 million from Ararat Home of Los Angeles, which had used the site for nursing care for the elderly since 2001. The city had hopes to develop Rockhaven into an historic park with a community center and library, but after the recession hit, the plans fell apart. When Glendale’s plans fell though, developers then set their sights on Rockhaven with a variety of plans that included home for female veterans, an all-girls’ school, and condos. But the city put the brakes on those plans when the Friends of Rockhaven argued that they would compromise the site’s historic architecture and legacy.
The Friends of Rockhaven has now organized as a nonprofit corporation is looking to raise money to turn the property into a publicly accessible park. They also hope to obtain California Historical Landmark status for the Sanitarium. But considering Glendale spends $50,000 a year to maintain the property, there are more than a few hurdles for the group to get past. The city also just agreed to let the Crescenta Valley Water District tap a well beneath the Sanitarium to provide water to about 1,200 homes in the area.”
In a related article for LA Weekly, Liana Aghajanian explores Rockhaven’s unique history.
“Beyond its ornate entry gate and picturesque transom windows sit the sanitarium’s largely untouched rooms — the walls of the dining room, sitting rooms and bedrooms still lined in peeling floral wallpaper, sofa sets neatly arranged, Murphy beds at the ready. Family photos lie on a table; a dressy coat hangs abandoned.
[Mike] Lawler, who was raised by a single mother and has four daughters, sees Rockhaven as a monument to women’s dignity, a mental health industry game-changer that must be saved.
He belongs to Friends of Rockhaven, whose president, Joanna Linkchorst, wants to ensure the site is preserved as a public space. Her love affair with the sanitarium began on her first visit.
The duo has led tours through the sanitarium, a sprawling and serene complex that housed around 125 residents at its peak and is, they say, one of the most endangered historic spaces in the Los Angeles area.
In a bid to save the facility, in 2008 Glendale bought the property for $8.25 million from Ararat Home of Los Angeles. But now, city officials sound almost tongue-twisted about its status.
‘We do not have the ability to go and either try to realize what was kind of nebulously described and envisioned for that site, but at the same time we can’t simply divest in the property because of the expectations of a number of the stakeholders have,’ says Glendale city manager Scott Ochoa. ‘So we’re in this position where we’re floating somewhere between the ceiling and the floor.’
Former Glendale city councilman John Drayman led the city effort to preserve Rockhaven as a historic park or library, saving it from demolition. But no funds were appropriated beyond the acquisition price, Ochoa says. After the recession, the idea of reviving the site fizzled, and so did Drayman’s influence — he was convicted last year of embezzlement, perjury and filing false tax returns.
‘Rockhaven lost all momentum,’ Ochoa says.
Linckhorst has joined forces with Lawler, former head of the Historical Society of Crescenta Valley and author of Murder and Mayhem in the Crescenta Valley, and an expert on the stories of the region. Lawler says the sanitarium’s own story began in the 1920s when Richards came to the Crescenta Valley — then famed for having the healthiest air quality in the United States — with six patients and some chickens. Richards was bent on helping her charges escape cells in mental wards throughout California and the nation where women were commonly abused.
Rockhaven quickly earned the nickname the ‘Screen Actors Sanitarium’ thanks to its famous clientele such as Burke; Broadway actress Peggy Fears; Babe Egan (front woman of Babe Egan’s Hollywood Redheads); and Monroe’s mother, Gladys Pearl Baker, who slipped away from Rockhaven several times while Marilyn paid $250 a month for her care.
At the end of the 1920s, when Richards wanted to expand her sanitarium, she was met with opposition from the community. One resident accused Richards of being unfit to run it. The flinty nurse sued the resident in a $100,000 slander case and won, although she was granted just $500 in personal damages.
‘This land was purchased with the promise that it would be a park,’ Lawler says. ‘If [the city] won’t create a park there, like they said they would, then we’ll do it ourselves.’
But with Rockhaven owned by Glendale, which spends about $50,000 a year to maintain the site, a number of bureaucratic issues stand in the way, and it’s not clear what the group’s next move should be. For now, the city has agreed to give them time to look for independent funding.
‘We’re certainly aware that it’s there, and we’re trying to find solutions for it — it’s not something that anybody is going to forget about,’ says Glendale city council member Laura Friedman.
Rockhaven stands as a hopeful feminist symbol of humanity during inhumane times — one that may or may not survive the wrecking ball.”