Norman Farberow 1918-2015

farberow-obit-master675Norman Farberow, the psychologist who contributed to the official report (or ‘psychological autopsy’) on Marilyn’s untimely death, has died aged 97, the Telegraph reports. With colleague Dr Robert Litman, who also participated in the inquiry, Farberow founded the pioneering Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Centre. Ironically, he passed away on September 10 – which also marked World Suicide Prevention Day.

Norman Farberow (left) with Dr Theodore Curphey and Dr Robert Litman announce their findings after an investigation into the death of Marilyn Monroe (August 17, 1962)
Norman Farberow (left) with Dr Theodore Curphey and Dr Robert Litman, announcing their findings after a medical investigation into the death of Marilyn Monroe (August 17, 1962)

“Marilyn Monroe’s fatal drugs overdose in 1962 had shone a very public light on the issue of ‘unpredicted death’. Farberow was at the head of a team of psychiatrists tasked with producing an ‘autopsy’ on the actress’s likely state of mind. By questioning those in contact with her in her final weeks, Farberow learnt that she had made previous attempts on her own life and had struggled with fluctuations in her mood. The team’s report recommended a verdict of suicide.”

Barbara Leaming on Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn

Leaming Jackie Untold Story

The October issue of Vanity Fair includes an article by Barbara Leaming about Jacqueline Kennedy, focusing on the aftermath of her husband’s murder in November 1963. ‘The Winter of Her Discontent‘ is an extract from Leaming’s upcoming book, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story.

“The untold story of how one woman’s life was changed forever in a matter of seconds by a horrific trauma.

Barbara Leaming’s extraordinary and deeply sensitive biography is the first book to document Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ brutal, lonely and valiant thirty-one year struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that followed JFK’s assassination.

Here is the woman as she has never been seen before.  In heartrending detail, we witness a struggle that unfolded at times before our own eyes, but which we failed to understand.

Leaming’s biography also makes clear the pattern of Jackie’s life as a whole. We see how a spirited young woman’s rejection of a predictable life led her to John F. Kennedy and the White House, how she sought to reconcile the conflicts of her marriage and the role she was to play, and how the trauma of her husband’s murder which left her soaked in his blood and brains led her to seek a very different kind of life from the one she’d previously sought.

A life story that has been scrutinized countless times, seen here for the first time as the serious and important story that it is. A story for our times at a moment when we as a nation need more than ever to understand the impact of trauma.”

This is not Leaming’s first book on the subject: Mrs Kennedy (2001) focused on Jacqueline’s thousand days as First Lady. And prior to this, another Leaming biography – entitled simply Marilyn Monroe – was published in 1999.

In her Vanity Fair article, Leaming reveals that in the months after her husband’s assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy considered suicide. The death of Marilyn Monroe just a year before – then widely believed to have been a clear-cut suicide – played on her mind, as she confided to a Jesuit priest, Father Richard T. McSorley, in early 1964.

“By May 19th, Father McSorley found himself growing fearful that Jackie, as he wrote, ‘was really thinking of suicide.’ The priest had briefly hoped she might be doing better, but the way she talked now spurred him to take a different view. Speaking again of the prospect of killing herself, Jackie told him that she would be pleased if her death precipitated ‘a wave’ of other suicides because it would be a good thing if people were allowed to ‘get out of their misery.’ She disconcerted the priest by insisting that ‘death is great’ and by alluding to the suicide of Marilyn Monroe. ‘I was glad that Marilyn Monroe got out of her misery,’ J.F.K.’s widow maintained. ‘If God is going to make such a to-do about judging people because they take their own lives, then someone ought to punish Him.’ The next day, after Father McSorley strove to persuade Jackie that suicide would be wrong, she reassured him that she agreed and that she would never actually attempt to kill herself.”

 

What ‘Fragments’ Taught Us About Marilyn

 

Writing for the Huffington Post, psychologist Romeo Vitelli considers a new study by Spanish psychiatrist Mercedes Fernandez-Cabana. Originally published in the medical journal, Crisis, the article speculates on what Marilyn’s personal writings, as collected in Fragments, may tell us about her possible suicidal intentions in the years leading up to her death.

But most of the writings date from the mid to late 1950s, and as far as we know, Marilyn left no suicide note when she died in 1962. These are Vitelli’s own thoughts on the investigation:

“Studying Fragments was made easier by the dates of the letters and notes left behind by Marilyn Monroe. Using the dated material as a timeline in the years leading up to Monroe’s death, Fernandez-Cabana and her colleagues were able to group the Fragments materials into four time periods ending in 1962. Statistical analysis showed a significant rise in health concerns, death issues and personal pronoun use over time. Also, the period just before her death showed a significant decrease in negative emotions, anxiety, and religious ideas.

Though there were no clear indications of suicidal intention in any of Marilyn’s Monroe’s writings, the notes written shortly before her death suggest a strong sense of isolation. The LIWC evidence does not reflect what has been typically found that depressed individuals but may indicate that her suicide death was an impulsive decision rather than a planned act.

In discussing Monroe’s death, Mercedes Fernandez-Cabana and her fellow authors avoided commenting on the elaborate theories that were raised about her possibly being murdered for political reasons. Also, the lack of any notes written in the critical few weeks leading up to Marilyn Monroe’s death means that important data may be missing from the final analysis.”

Liz Smith on Marilyn’s Last Cheque

Last week, the Huffington Post reported a forensic psychologist’s comment on Marilyn’s last signed cheque, for a chest of drawers, dated August 4th. (The cheque is due to be sold by Heritage Auctions on July 24th.)

“‘People about to kill themselves frequently engage in self-soothing behaviors,’ Dr. S. David Bernstein told The Huffington Post. Shopping sprees are definitely one of those behaviors, he said. ‘Spending — and giving things away — make us feel good,’ he said.

But this was a single purchase, Bernstein said. ‘A single item — especially something practical like a chest of drawers and of a low value like this — suggests a frame of mind of “I’m going to be here for awhile,”‘  he said. ‘If I were doing a psychological autopsy, this would be intriguing. This would be more consistent with someone who is not suicidal.’

Bernstein says buying a chest of drawers that you are going to fill up with things is an action taken by someone who ‘plans to be around awhile,’ not about to end their life. ‘It’s an inconsistent behavior’ for someone planning suicide, he said.”

The check was signed by Marilyn, but written by someone else – possibly her housekeeper, Eunice Murray. Personally, I don’t think this item tells us anything significant about Marilyn’s state of mind on that day. She had been purchasing furniture regularly since moving into a new house several months before.

Veteran columnist Liz Smith considers the story in her latest Chicago Tribune column.

“Last week, a check Monroe wrote out a day before she died was put up for auction. It was also ‘analyzed.’ The purchase was for a chest of drawers for her new home in Brentwood. A forensic psychologist chimed in and insisted this was proof positive Monroe was not ‘planning to commit suicide.’ Well, gee. Nobody ever said she was planning it. If that had been the case she certainly would have had a touch up to her roots, not to mention a manicure and pedicure. (These things were noted by the police who first saw her body.) Suicide often just ‘happens’ to people who struggle with depression, and who also have an inordinate amount of medication handy, as the chronically sleepless Marilyn did. But the ‘she was murdered’ posse are pleased with one more notch on their side.”