Marilyn Monroe

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Monroe, Marilyn,

1926–62, American movie actress, b. Los Angeles as Norma Jean Baker or Norma Jeane Mortenson. Raised in orphanages after 1935 and first married at 14, Monroe, who began her career as a pin-up model, became a world-famous sex symbol and, after her death, a Hollywood legend. She was noted for her distinctively breathy singing style and seductive film roles, and she was also a superb light comedienne. At first patronized by critics, she studied acting and won more challenging roles. Her death from a barbituate overdose at age 36, a possible suicide, only increased her mystique. Her films include Niagara (1952), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), The Seven-Year Itch (1955), Bus Stop (1956), Some Like It Hot (1959), and The Misfits (1960). Monroe's second husband was Joe DiMaggioDiMaggio, Joe
(Joseph Paul DiMaggio) , 1914–99, American baseball player, b. Martinez, Calif. One of the most charismatic of 20th-century sports figures, "Joltin' Joe" joined the New York Yankees of the American League in 1936 and quickly rose to stardom, winning the
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; her third, Arthur MillerMiller, Arthur,
1915–2005, American dramatist, b. New York City, grad. Univ. of Michigan, 1938. One of America's most distinguished playwrights, he has been hailed as the finest realist of the 20th-century stage.
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See the controversial study by Norman Mailer (1973) and the play After the Fall (1963) by Arthur Miller; S. Buchthal and B. Comment. ed., Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters (2010) and L. Banner, ed., MM—Personal: From the Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe (2011); biographies by F. L. Guiles (1969), G. McCann (1988), M. Zolotow (rev. ed. 1990), C. E. Rollyson (1993), D. Spoto (1993), B. Leaming (1998), and L. Banner (2012); J. Meyers, The Genius and the Goddess: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe (2010); study by S. Churchwell (2005).

Marilyn Monroe
Norma Jeane Mortenson
BirthplaceLos Angeles, California, United States
Actress, model, singer, film producer
Enlarge picture
Marilyn Monroe was one of the most famous actresses of her day. Her mysterious death in 1962 led to considerable speculation that it was engineered so she would not talk about alleged affairs with President Kennedy and his brother Robert.

Marilyn Monroe

The official ruling that Marilyn Monroe died by her own hand has never been accepted by her millions of fans or by conspiracy theorists.

When Marilyn Monroe was found dead on the morning of August 5, 1962, her death was immediately enshrouded with mystery and controversy, and she will always be remembered along with such movie stars as Jean Harlow, Lupe Velez, George Reeves, Bruce Lee, and Natalie Wood, whose deaths are clouded by allegations of suicide or homicide.

Few of Harlow’s fans accepted the official studio decree of death due to uremic poisoning. Those who vicariously savored the erotic cinematic adventures of Lupe Velez were reluctant to acknowledge the Mexican spitfire’s forlorn suicide note. Loyal fans continue to believe that television “Superman” George Reeves was the victim of murder, rather than depression. And followers of real-life superman Bruce Lee “know” that he was assassinated by the secret Kung Fu society of the Black Hand. The official account of the drowning of Natalie Wood, according to her admirers, simply contains too many contradictions and unacceptable elements to support a finding of accidental death.

Although Marilyn Monroe’s fits of temperament and bouts of depression were well publicized and a drug overdose would seem a likely cause of death, the final verdict that she died by her own hand has never been acceptable to millions of her devoted fans or to hundreds of skeptical investigators. Those who firmly express their doubts that the actress committed suicide have suggested that she may have been murdered to silence her accounts of steamy sexual affairs with no less than the president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, and his brother Robert, the nation’s attorney general.

It was around 3:00 A.M. on August 5, 1962, when Marilyn Monroe’s housekeeper, Eunice Murray, noticed that there was still light in the actress’s bedroom and decided to inquire why she was not yet asleep. Murray’s concern grew when she found that the bedroom door was locked and she was unable to receive any type of response from her employer.

Summoned by Murray, Marilyn’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, arrived at the actress’s Spanish-style bungalow in the Brent-wood section of Los Angeles in less than half an hour. After his own unsuccessful attempt to rouse Marilyn by rapping loudly on the bedroom door, Greenson grabbed a poker from the fireplace and used it to smash a bedroom window. He found his famous patient lying naked in bed, covered with a blanket and a sheet. She clutched the telephone receiver in a lifeless hand.

Dr. Hyman Engelberg, the actress’s personal physician, arrived within the hour and pronounced the cinematic goddess officially dead. It was Dr. Engelberg who had prescribed the sleeping medications on which she had apparently overdosed. Every reader of movie fan magazines was well aware of Marilyn’s celebrated bouts of insomnia. On this fateful evening, her wish for peaceful sleep had been ultimately fulfilled.

Before 5:00 A.M. Detective Sgt. R. E. Byron and two police officers had examined the death room and the entire house and found nothing that indicated any act of violence perpetrated upon the deceased. They noted the twelve to fifteen bottles of various medicines clustered on a night table near the star’s bed.

Two deputy coroners arrived to wrap Marilyn Monroe’s body in a pale blue blanket and strap it onto a stretcher. The corpse was placed in a station wagon and transported to the Westwood Village Mortuary. Later it was transferred to the county morgue for the coroner’s inquest and the official ruling regarding the cause of death—an overdose of barbiturates, a possible suicide. The reigning love goddess of the Hollywood screen was dead at the age of thirty-six.

Since the time of Marilyn Monroe’s death, numerous books, plays, motion pictures, and television productions have presented possible scenarios for the manner in which one of the most powerful families in the nation may have ordered the death of one of the most popular actresses in the movies. An almost equal number of presentations have protested the outrageousness of accusing the Kennedy family of having Marilyn Monroe killed in order to eliminate a potential scandal. The Kennedy defenders remind us of the actress’s monumental temper tantrums, her much-publicized bouts of depression, and her apparent emotional instability.

According to a number of Monroe’s friends, she had planned to call a press conference for Monday, August 6, 1962. Some of these individuals speculate that Marilyn was going to discuss such topics as her relationship with Bobby, the Bay of Pigs, and how the Kennedys had used the mob.

Jeanne Carmen, a friend of Marilyn’s, was interviewed on a Reporters Special Edition television program entitled “Marilyn—A Case for Murder.” According to Carmen, Marilyn “was going to talk to the press the following day or on Monday and people might have been desperate.” On the same program Marilyn’s former husband Bob Slatzer said that Marilyn “told me on Friday evening prior to her death, ‘If Bobby doesn’t call me, I’m going to call a press conference on Monday morning, and I am going to blow the lid off this whole damned thing!’” And investigative reporter Krista Bradford stated on that same show that Carmen and John Danoff (a private detective who had bugged Monroe’s home at her request) “reported that Marilyn had told them that if Bobby Kennedy did not make a commitment to her, she would reveal her involvement with him and his brother, John Kennedy. She had threatened to make the announcement on August 6, a day after she died.” (August 5 was the legally recorded date of her death.)

On that last night of Marilyn Monroe’s life, Peter Lawford called about 7:45 to invite her to a party. According to the actor, who was married to Patricia Kennedy, sister of John and Robert, Marilyn sounded heavily drugged and finally managed to mumble that Lawford should say good-bye for her to his wife, to the president, and to himself. Marilyn received several more calls that night, including one from Jose Bolanos, an alleged sometime lover, at about 9:30. Bolanos claimed that she told him she was about to reveal something that would be shocking to him and the entire world. When he attempted to question her further, she set down the phone without hanging up, explaining that she heard a disturbance at her door. She never returned to the telephone.

Eunice Murray and her son-in-law Norman Jeffries were at the house the night of Marilyn’s death, and Jeffries told Donald Wolfe, author of The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe, that Robert Kennedy and two unknown men came to the door between 9:30 and 10 and ordered them to leave the house. Murray and Jeffries went to a neighbor’s home and waited until they saw the men leave about 10:30. According to Jeffries, when they returned to Marilyn’s home, they saw her lying naked, face down on her bed, holding a telephone.

Eunice Murray called for an ambulance and then summoned Dr. Greenson. While they were awaiting medical assistance, Jeffries said, Peter Lawford and Marilyn’s press agent, Pat Newcomb, arrived at the house. According to Jeffries, they were in a state of shock.

Ambulance driver Ken Hunter arrived in the early morning hours and stated that he found Marilyn in a coma, apparently due to an overdose of sleeping pills. He told Anthony Summers (The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe) that she was taken to Santa Monica Hospital, where she died. Summers theorizes that Marilyn’s body was returned to her home in order to implement the cover-up.

Donald Wolfe interviewed one of Marilyn’s neighbors, Elizabeth Pollard, who said that she was playing cards with a group of friends when they saw Robert Kennedy walk into Marilyn’s home with two unidentified men, one of whom was carrying a black medical case. Elizabeth and her friends recognized Kennedy immediately.

At 4:24 A.M. on August 5, Sgt. Jack Clemmons of the West Los Angeles Police Department received a call from Dr. Hyman Engelberg that Marilyn Monroe had committed suicide. When Clemmons arrived at the house, Engelberg, Greenson, and Eunice Murray were present. Clemmons recalled for Wolfe that Marilyn was lying face down on a pillow, her arms by her side with the right one slightly bent, and her legs were stretched out straight.

Clemmons was skeptical of suicide upon even cursory examination of the scene. He had investigated numerous suicides and, he told Wolfe, “contrary to the common conception, an overdose of sleeping tablets causes victims to suffer convulsions and vomiting before they die in a contorted position.”

The preliminary autopsy of Marilyn Monroe was conducted by Dr. Thomas Noguchi, and later Coroner Theodore Curphey announced the finding that the actress had died from an overdose of barbiturates. The official conclusion was that there was no physical evidence of foul play in the death of Marilyn Monroe.

Conspiracy theorists see a number of possible scenarios that point to the murder of Marilyn Monroe:

  1. Marilyn had an affair with President John F. Kennedy. JFK had quite a track record of affairs with beautiful women, so it is likely that he would indulge himself with one of the sexiest movie stars of that era. Peter Lawford recalled that Marilyn had unrealistic ideas that the president would divorce Jackie and make Marilyn the First Lady of the United States. Marilyn’s letters and telephone calls to the White House were becoming enough of an embarrassment to the administration that someone might have decided it was time to end the relationship permanently.
  2. Marilyn Monroe was having affairs with both of the Kennedy brothers, and she was in a position to bring an unprecedented scandal to the White House, tattling to the nation that she was sleeping with both the president and the attorney general.
  3. Robert Kennedy arrived at Marilyn’s house that night in the company of two Secret Service agents to inform her personally that Jack was ending their relationship. While JFK is rumored to have had affairs with countless women, Robert is not. He may have been doing a favor for his brother by personally delivering a message that could not be put in writing. After Robert and the agents left, Marilyn became extremely despondent and took an overdose of sleeping pills.

As Donald Wolfe states in The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe, “Marilyn Monroe was in a position to bring down the presidency”; she had JFK’s “notes and letters and was privy to Kennedy’s involvement with Sam Giancana,” the Chicago Mafia boss. Moreover, according to Wolfe, “That the Kennedy brothers had discussed national security matters with the film star added to an astonishing array of indiscretions.”

And of such indiscretions are conspiracy theories hatched—theories of murder that tend to grow stronger with the passing of years since Marilyn Monroe died.

In his book UFOs and the Murder of Marilyn Monroe (2011), Dr. Donald R. Burleson cited a CIA memo issued on August 3, 1962, just before Monroe’s death, expressing the agency’s extreme displeasure over the fact that the Kennedy brothers had been indiscreet in discussing highly classified information with the actress. Burleson contends that Marilyn had written down details of the President’s visit to a secret air base to witness the debris retrieved from the Roswell UFO crash and the bodies of the alien crew. When the Kennedys began distancing themselves from the actress, she threatened to tell about the government cover-up of alien visitation, the “secret of secrets.” When a wiretap of Marilyn’s telephone revealed her plans to hold a press conference in which she would “tell all,” Attorney General Robert Kennedy fearfully directed the CIA to terminate Marilyn Monroe.

Monroe, Marilyn (b. Norma Jean Mortenson)

(1926–62) movie actress; born in Los Angeles. For most of her childhood and teen years she was in foster homes or an orphanage because her father abandoned her, while her mother, Gladys Monroe Baker, had to work and then was in a mental hospital. (Norma Jean grew up using her mother's last name, Baker, and at age 16 discovered that her father was probably not Mortenson.) In 1942 she married James Dougherty, an aircraft factory worker, and when he went to sea in the merchant marine she took a job in a target airplane factory. Asked to model to illustrate an article in Yank magazine, she soon quit her job to become a full-time model and in 1946, after divorcing Dougherty, she went to Hollywood to try to become an actress. Signed by Twentieth-Century Fox, she changed her name to Marilyn Monroe, but for the next few years she had only minor roles in several movies; during one period of unemployment she posed nude for a pin-up calendar that would later become a collector's item. Not until her small roles in two 1950 movies—The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve —did her career take off, and, promoted as a slightly ditzy blonde exuding a breathless sexuality, she became a star and celebrity. She was married to former baseball star Joe DiMaggio for about nine months during 1954, and then, determined to shed her image as a sex symbol, she began to study at Lee and Paula Strasberg's Actors Studio in New York City. She did give two of her more sophisticated performances—in Bus Stop (1956) and Some Like It Hot (1959)—and she was married to the playwright Arthur Miller (1956–61) and even starred in a movie he wrote for her, The Misfits (1961); but her life continued in its roller coaster fashion: she was briefly hospitalized in a mental clinic, she was dropped from a movie for failure to show up on time, and she was taking drugs for her various problems. She took her own life with an overdose of barbiturates, and after several years in which she was discussed almost entirely in terms of a sex goddess, she came to be perceived as a symbol of the exploitation of women by Hollywood and men in general.