Saturday, August 13, 2005
Did Hollywoodís greatest female star really take her own life? Newly released transcripts of her final messages to a psychiatrist will only fuel the conspiracy theories. David Usborne reports
SOME mysteries never die even if they are meant never to be resolved. The death of Marilyn Monroe, found naked with her face down on her bed in her Los Angeles home 43 years ago on August 5, is one of those: was it really suicide, or something different? Only Marilyn herself could clear this one up.
But no one gets to speak from the grave, not even the biggest of all big Hollywood stars. Except that Marilyn has ó sort of. Listen and you might be surprised and not just by the tittle-tattle about her faked orgasms, her enemas or her love-hate respect for Laurence Olivier. She talks like a person possessed but about the future, not by thoughts of death. She wants to love more, to act Shakespeare. (It is her plan to play Juliet and have sexual intercourse on stage with Romeo.) She is also plotting to fire her housekeeper.
It may be, in fact, that the entire mythology surrounding an actress who for the 15-year span of her film-making career stopped the hearts of men the world over ó from ordinary cinema-goers to, it is said, a sitting American president ó may be about to be re-written all because of a transcript of a tape she allegedly made very shortly before her death. A tape she handed over to her psychiatrist.
Responsible for causing this sudden upheaval in the Monroe lore is John Miner, a former Los Angeles prosecutor who for some time has been telling researchers of the tape and of the written transcript he apparently made of it. Some authors have included some references to the transcriptís contents in their works. But never before has anyone taken it seriously enough to broadcast it fully to the public.
But that changed last week when The Los Angeles Times, apparently confident enough in the credibility of Miner, splashed the story on its front page to coincide with the 43rd anniversary of her passing. The significance of the lengthy text seems unmistakable: that she was not thinking about death at the time. Implication: her death was either accidental or prompted by a third party.
Miner was in the District Attorneyís office in Los Angeles at the time of her death ó she was just 36 ó and participated in her autopsy. It was during the investigation that he interviewed the psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson, who revealed the existence of the tape, saying it was a gift from Monroe just a few days before she died. He did not give the tapes to Miner. He did allow him, however, to listen to them and take extensive notes ó thence the transcripts that now come to light for all to read.
"There was no possible way this woman could have killed herself," Miner argues. "She had very specific plans for her future. She knew exactly what she wanted to do. She was told by [acting coach] Lee Strasberg, maybe ill-advisedly, that she had Shakespeare in her and she was fascinated with the idea."
Arguments will break out over the reliability of Miner, now 86, and, indeed, of the decision by The Los Angeles Times to run with his claims. His intention, it seems, is to persuade his successors in the DAís office once more to re-open the investigation into the actressís death. (Her body was found with a fatal overdose of the barbiturate nembutal.) A brief stab at re-opening the affair was made in 1982. The DAís office said then that there remained "factual discrepancies" and "unanswered questions" in the case, but declined to open a criminal investigation.
Leave aside whether she killed herself, bungled her pill taking or was actually murdered. This text of personal musings (or, as she called them, "mental meanderings") on its own isnít going to put an end to the matter. But they do make a good read, especially if you are not already a Monroe fanatic. This reader didnít know she had been sleeping with Senator Robert Kennedy or that sex between her and Arthur Miller had been so lousy.
At the very end of the tape, she frets that Bobby Kennedy is in love with her and says she had thought about asking John F Kennedy, the President, to let him down gently. She decides against it, because "he is too important to ask". She goes on: "I think what happened to Bobby is that he has stopped having good sex with his wife for some time ... Well when he starts having sex with the body all men want, his Catholic morality has to find a way to justify cheating on his wife. So love becomes his excuse."
As ever, the currents of the actressís life were hardly smooth at the time. She had not long before been fired by the Fox studios, where she had been on contract to make Somethingís Got to Give. Fox had let her go for chronic lateness and drug dependency. And there was the hangover from two failed marriages, to Arthur Miller, the playwright, and to the baseball great, Joe DiMaggio. But if Ms Monroe was depressed at all, it apparently had nothing to do with her enduring ability to attract men. Though gravity was beginning to show, she was apparently still more or less satisfied with her extremely popular figure.
"I stood naked in front of my full-length mirrors for a long time yesterday. I was all made up with my hair done," she tells Dr Greenson. "What did I see? My breasts are beginning to sag a bit. My waist isnít bad. My ass is what it should be, the bester there is. Legs, knees and ankles still shapely. And my feet are not too big. OK, Marilyn, you have it all there."
The purpose of making the tape appears to be to express gratitude to Dr Greenson, who died in 1979 and who has since been named by some biographers as a possible suspect in her death. She repeatedly credits him with helping her overcome neuroses, suggesting at one moment that she would love to become his daughter. (She expresses a similar fantasy over Clark Gable, recalling a dream where she is sitting on his knee.) Apparently, it was the doctorís success in giving her the ability to enjoy sex that she celebrates the most, however.
There are also passages that briefly dissect the failed marriages. Though she was Joe DiMaggioís wife for only nine months, in 1954, she makes clear her enduring affection for him. She admits, however, that she erred in marrying Miller. "Marrying him was my mistake, not his. He couldnít give me the attention, warmth and affection I need. Itís not his nature. Arthur never credited me with much intelligence. He couldnít share his intellectual life with me. As bed partners, we were so-so. He was not that much interested; me faking with exceptional performances to get him more interested. You know I think his little Jewish father had more genuine affection for me than Arthur did."
Sex is part of what defined the public image of Monroe. No one will be much surprised that it weaves its way through so much of the transcript. Some may rock back, however, at the passages about sex with Joan Crawford.
"Oh yes, Crawford ... We went to Joanís bedroom ... Crawford had a gigantic orgasm and shrieked like a maniac ... Next time I saw Crawford she wanted another round. I told her straight out I didnít much enjoy doing it with a woman. After I turned her down, she became spiteful." Other items not to be forgotten: that while Monroe liked an occasional enema, Mae West depended on them. "She is given an enema every day and she has at least one orgasm a day ... Mae says her enemas and orgasms will keep her young until she is 100."
Slightly more serious in tone, though arguably no less startling, is Monroeís apparent determination to change gear professionally, and take on Shakespeare on film. Maybe this had to do with Monroeís belief that, after 30 films and one Golden Globe Award, for Some Like it Hot, the critics were still not taking her seriously. The plan, she says, is eventually to " produce and act in the Marilyn Monroe Shakespeare Film Festival". She says she will dedicate a whole year to studying Shakespearean acting with Lee Strasberg and then will go to Olivier for additional help.
Monroe and Olivier had been in the film The Prince and the Showgirl. Her feelings for him seem a bit mixed. "The Prince was real ... He was superficial - no, thatís not the word - supercilious, arrogant, a snob, conceited.... But, damn him, a great, great actor." She recalls a party where Olivier regales the guests with the Bard for two straight hours. " I sat and cried with joy for being so privileged," she says.
What you read in the supermarket queue may be gripping but is rarely believable. The Monroe transcripts may seem to fall in that category. But it is not just The Los Angeles Times that takes them seriously. Parts of the text were also used by the British author Matthew Smith for his book Marilynís Last Words: Her Secret Tapes and Mysterious Death. He remains convinced Miner is credible. "I believe he is a man of integrity. Iíve looked at the contents of the tapes, of course, and, frankly, I would think it entirely impossible for John Miner to have invented what he put forward ó absolutely impossible."
Similarly convinced is James Bacon, 91, a former columnist who saw Monroe shortly before she died. She was drinking vodka and champagne and popping pills. But Bacon, who took part in a symposium last week in Los Angeles dedicated to exploring alternatives to the suicide theory, insisted: " She wasnít the least bit depressed. She was talking about going to Mexico. She had a Mexican boyfriend at the time. I forget his name. This was the first house she ever owned. She was going to buy some furniture. She was in very good spirits that day. Of course, the champagne and vodka helped.".
ó By arrangement with The Independent