“I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.” This is a sad, but most certainly true, assertion from a woman who continues to be one of the most iconic women of our time. Mystery surrounded her in life, and in death. But alas, that may be exactly how she intended it to be.
Fifty-one years have passed since her naked, unconscious body was found in her bungalow. She was only 36. Those who knew Marilyn said she was often misunderstood. She was not the dumb blonde she might have portrayed in her films, she was smart and driven, but she could be unprofessional and exasperating to work with.
A collection of newspaper articles after Marilyn’s death.
I think it’s fair to say that the majority of us have some kind of fascination with Miss Monroe. I for one am borderline obsessed with her. It’s hard to put my finger on why but I think that’s exactly what it is. She was perceived as a terrible actress, however, it is almost impossible to take your eyes off her and she steals every scene. For this very reason, I believe her presence makes her one of the greatest actresses of our time.
So whatever happened to this bright young woman, in the last few days leading to her untimely death?
Well, whatever happened, it has been concluded that she stayed mostly indoors digesting news both good and bad, and large quantities of substances. Her career appeared to be back on track; she had struck a deal to make two new pictures with 20th Century Fox. However, she was struggling with depression, resulting in her mass consumption of chemicals. She was practically living in a world where it was New Years Eve, every day of the week – imagine how you’d feel!
Conveniently, Marilyn lived close by to her psychotherapist, Dr Raplh Greenson, in a modest, Spanish-style bungalow. In the early hours of August 5, 1962, Ralph made a house call. When no one answered, he peered through the French windows her saw the actress’s body laying on the bed. Despite all the evidence, no convincing account of her death has ever been established. Every theory is riddled with questions, doubts and contradictions.
The story unfolds:
- Late July 1962 – Marilyn reluctantly set off for Lake Tahoe with a friend and his wife, Pat – the sophisticated, movie-struck younger sister of President John F. Kennedy – on Frank Sinatra’s private jet (as you do). Marilyn didn’t really want to go, but her friend didn’t want to turn down Sinatra (would you turn him down?!) so she went along.
- Sinatra had planned it all perfectly. He was super keen to see Marilyn (the pair had an affair the previous year) and even though he knew their relationship wasn’t going anywhere, he was still very much in love with her. Despite Sinatra’s good intentions, this last weekend would push the actress over the edge. There are varying reports on the state of Miss Monroe when she landed. However, a fact that nobody disputes, is that Marilyn was in a state later that night while out on the town. Witnesses described her as angry, confused and clearly under the influence of alcohol or drugs. As tended to happen, everybody wanted to meet her, share her magic, and Marilyn just couldn’t cope.
- Sinatra was alarmed by her erratic behaviour and removed her from the establishment to avoid embarrassment. Marilyn was forced to return home to her bungalow.
Monroe with Peter Lawford and Frank Sinatra at the Lawfords’ home, 1961, the year before her death.
- August 1 – Things were looking up. Fox re-hired Marilyn to finish the picture, ‘Something’s Got to Give’. Two days later, Life magazine published a long, sympathetic interview, filled with Marilyn’s wit and core intelligence.
- August 4 – The last full day of Marilyn’s life, is almost impossible to decipher. Dozens of people have either claimed or have been alleged to have visited her bungalow. Almost certainly there was a visit from Dr Greenson.
- August 5, Midnight – The housekeeper saw a light under Marilyn’s bedroom door. She said that she had knocked to check that all was well, and upon receiving no answer, called Dr Greenson. He arrived within half an hour and, after seeing the body on the bed, broke in through the French windows.
Marilyn during filming of ‘Something’s Got to Give’
Conspiracy theories have been raging ever since, implicating; the Kennedys, Lawford, the Mafia, the studio honchos, the Sinatra clan, and the FBI. All have been aided by the absence of medical proof of the cause of death.
The post-mortem examination is a shambles. Few proper tests were done, no basic records were kept and her vital organs destroyed. Evidence suggests that Marilyn’s body contained large doses of sleeping tablets. If Marilyn was not murdered, the only credible alternatives are suicide or accident. But would a woman whose career looked to be getting back on track really kill herself? Interviews around the time were upbeat and positive, but perhaps this was all a front?
Was an accident the most likely possibility? Even this explanation isn’t without its problems. Her death had been ruled a ‘probable suicide’, but those who knew her found it hard to believe she would kill herself. Forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht told People he had “a strong suspicion she might have been injected.”
The scene of Marilyn’s death in her Bungalow, August 5th 1962.
But by who?!
The plot thickens with news that the FBI files on her case have gone missing. Dr. Thomas Noguchi wrote in his 1983 memoir, “… until the complete FBI files are made public and the notes and interviews of the suicide panel released, controversy will continue to swirl around her death.”
I sometimes wonder if Marilyn would be amused by all these conspiracy theories or if she would just shrug it off and ask to be left alone. Whether her death was by accident or intention, or if circumstances were different, Marilyn is true Hollywood legend. As a child she seemed destined for a life of ordinariness until, one day a photographer said: “You’re beautiful.”
Picture of Youth and innocence: Norma Jean before she was Marilyn. 1949.