Tag Archives: marilyn monroe

Marilyn Monroe and Acts of Political Bravery


On June 1, 2020, Marilyn Monroe would have turned 94 years old. Though she died at the tragically young age of 36, Monroe was refreshingly candid and unbothered by the concept of aging. “I want to grow old without facelifts,” she told an interviewer, saying she couldn’t wait to retire to Brooklyn when her career was over. If things had been different, her genes tell us that she likely would have been alive today (despite her mother’s difficult life, she lived into the 1980s and her older half-sister Berniece is still alive, turning 101 in July). But sadly, a long life was not to be, and she lives on as a young, vibrant woman frozen in time.


The image of her skirt blowing up on the subway grate, her wide, flashy smile, and her version of “Happy Birthday” sung JFK have become synonymous with that era of American popular culture. But Marilyn Monroe remains one of the most misunderstood figures of Hollywood history. The real woman behind the image was the polar opposite of what her public perceived her to be. A quiet introvert with a sweet disposition, Monroe loved children, books, animals, and writing poetry. She disliked crowds and was happiest when she could be at home with a book. Her difficult childhood had precluded her from graduating high school, but she desperately tried to make up for it by enrolling in evening UCLA extension courses as an adult, while working at the studio during the day.

She was also fiercely political and had a strong moral compass with activist instincts, and a keen interest in current events. Growing up during the Depression in a series of foster homes including time spent at an orphanage, Monroe naturally empathized with the underdog and easily saw societal ills, often relating them to the struggles of her own life. On the set of All About Eve in 1950, she relaxed between takes by reading her book, The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens. Those on set warned that she shouldn’t read the autobiography of a muckraker around the studio heads, as in era of McCarthy it might destroy her burgeoning career.


Reading Ulysses, that she was indeed reading for pleasure at the time, as photographed by Eve Arnold.

Monroe was one of the first stars to openly defy the studio system, brazenly violating her contract to study at the Actor’s Studio in New York. When she came back, she demanded director approval and had created her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions. She knew her power–she knew that she was the biggest box office draw that Twentieth Century Fox had, and could use that as leverage to break an unjust and exploitative system. When she married Arthur Miller in 1956, she found herself caught up in the maelstrom of anti-communist fervor, as Miller was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and refused to name names. Monroe was unafraid to use her power and her time with the press to voice her support for Miller’s cause.

Deeply concerned about the nuclear post-war world in addition to the witch hunts going on in the United States, Monroe closely followed the founding of SANE, the committee that advocated anti-nuclear testing policies and ultimately complete nuclear disarmament. When a Hollywood chapter was founded in 1960, Monroe became a founding and active member. She told a reporter during the era of SANE’s founding “My nightmare is the H-bomb. What’s yours?” She used her many media connections to push for Democratic and pro-peace policies that she believed would make a more just world. Below is a letter she wrote to Lester Markel of the New York Times with her ideas on presidential candidates for 1960.

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An oft-told story is one in which Monroe helped Ella Fitzgerald get an engagement at the all-white Mocambo Nightclub by phoning the club and telling them that she’d be there at the front table every night. While it seems that the story didn’t concern Fitzgerald’s booking at the Mocambo (several other Black performers had played there before, and Monroe was out of town during those dates), Monroe did indeed help Fitzgerald, her favorite singer, play the Tiffany Club in East Hollywood, and she took a front table every night she could.


Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe at the Tiffany Club, 1954.

The two developed a deep friendship, and Fitzgerald herself said about her after Monroe’s death: “She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”

Marilyn Monroe’s politics have long been hidden away or skimmed over in biographies and studies of her life. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps her political activities are antithetical to the Marilyn Monroe people think they know, and the general public would prefer to keep her one-dimensional and easy to digest. But the truth reveals a person dedicated to causes of justice and righteousness, who was not afraid to use her power as a weapon for social change.


Marilyn Monroe’s 90th Birthday–Celebrated With a Worthy Cause


Norma Jeane Baker (Mortensen on her birth certificate), who would grow up to become Marilyn Monroe. Pictured here around the time when she lived at the Los Angeles Orphan’s Home Society, now known as EMQ FamiliesFirst Hollygrove.

June 1, 2016 marks what would have been Marilyn Monroe’s 90th birthday. Her early death has frozen her in time, making it difficult to fathom the idea of Marilyn Monroe being 90 years old at all–and further, while it is confounding to think of Marilyn Monroe as a 90-year-old, 90 is young enough that she might still have been alive today, if that night on August 4, 1962 had gone differently.

Marilyn Monroe is one of the most intricate and complex personalities in all of film history. I have been fascinated by her story ever since I was old enough to comprehend it. Her psychological demons consumed her, but she put forth a million dollar smile that belied her internal struggles. She was a gifted actress, but was stuck in the sex symbol roles that would bring 20th Century Fox the most profit. Childhood memories of living in an orphanage and in foster care, reminding her that she had been an unwanted child named Norma Jeane Baker, haunted her as she lived the life as the most sought-after actress on the screen. Ultimately, these dualities destroyed her.

The child who became Marilyn Monroe was born to a 24-year-old film cutter named Gladys Baker on June 1, 1926. Gladys had severe mental illness, and was unable to care for her new daughter. After living in several foster homes, she was placed at the Los Angeles Orphan’s Home Society in 1935, near the corner of Vine and Melrose. There, she lived in a girls’ residence hall that overlooked Paramount Studio alongside several dozen other children, many of whose situations were similar to hers. She stayed for 2 years before going back into foster care, living long term with the aunt of her mother’s best friend. She returned for visits several times over the course of her life, signing the guest book as “Norma Jeane Baker” on her first visit, and “Marilyn Monroe” every time after that.


The Los Angeles Orphan’s Home as it looked in 1935.

The mission of the orphanage began to shift in the years following Norma Jeane Baker’s stay there, and became known as the Hollygrove Home For Children. It began to focus less on children who had no parents, and more on children like Norma Jeane who had parents who were unable to care for them. Its goals became more family-driven, providing resources and support to families in need of help. The home itself closed in 2005, but the organization continues to do great and needed work in the Los Angeles area.

On the anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s 90th birthday, EMQ FamiliesFirst Hollygrove is holding a fundraising drive in her honor. The modern Hollygrove is a nonprofit organization dedicated to “the social-emotional, behavioral and mental health needs of young children, teens and their families,” and aims to “heal the whole child-and the whole family – through a full range of behavioral and mental health services.” It has thought of a lovely and fun way to participate in the fundraising drive–using the hashtag #ModernMarilyn, participants are encouraged to post a picture inspired by Marilyn Monroe, along with the link to the fundraising page.

If you are so inclined, contributing to this fundraising drive would be a wonderful way to honor Marilyn Monroe’s memory this year, and a great contribution to a vital Los Angeles institution. Please follow this link to contribute or share the page with someone who can, and honor a legend while at the same time honoring Los Angeles children and families.

Happy 90th birthday, Marilyn!

Hollywood Stars as Kids


Backlots at Noir City: THE THIN MAN (1934) and CLASH BY NIGHT (1950)

As a proud Barbara Stanwyck aficionado, I was thrilled when Noir City 13 reached its halfway point on Wednesday night with a screening of two Barbara Stanwyck dramas from the 1950s–Clash By Night (1950) and Crime of Passion (1957). As both are films that I have seen before (I’ve seen 67 Barbara Stanwyck films–yes, I’ve counted), and given that transportation home gets difficult after about 9:30, I only opted to see the former last night. Regardless, I have two films to write about today, because on Monday we were treated to a showing of one of the greatest and most charming detective stories on film, Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. This is a movie I have written about several times in the past, and seen on the big screen multiple times, but viewing it at the Castro is an experience all its own.

San Francisco, in all its glory, is a town full of cinephiles. People here know their cinema, and they know how to tell the good from the bad. So when there is a packed house for a classic movie in San Francisco, you know it’s good. The theater was packed solid on Monday night.

Released right on the brink of the Production Code, The Thin Man tells the story of Nick and Nora Charles, a married detecting couple who drink their way through life and try (unsuccessfully) not to get involved in detective cases. But when a series of murders occurs and Nick knows people involved, he can’t keep himself away. Nora is just as essential to solving the murders as Nick is, and this is part of the timeless appeal of this movie.

The Thin Man is famous for its snappy dialogue and witty repartee, and for being one of the first movies to show that a husband and wife can be friends, and not just romantic partners. Nick and Nora spend the movie ribbing and joking with each other, just as good friends would do. Nora is an equal to Nick–she never once stoops below his level nor does Nick ever take the upper hand. Yet their love is never in doubt, and for its refreshing take on relationships and the position of women within marriage, The Thin Man may be considered a truly feminist movie.

On Wednesday evening, as Noir City reached its halfway point, I again ventured out to the Castro to view Clash By Night, a 1950 Barbara Stanwyck drama that again skirts the limits of the Production Code. Based on a Broadway stage play by Clifford Odets, Clash By Night tells the story of a woman who marries one man, but loves another. She is torn between love and duty, and ends up making decisions that she regrets. The two love interests are played by Paul Douglas (the man she marries) and Robert Ryan (the man she loves), and the film also stars a young Marilyn Monroe, playing Stanwyck’s brother’s girlfriend, also coming to terms with issues of love. The brilliance of the story, and also the aspect that comes into conflict with the Code, lies in the fact that there is no clear villain, and the audience struggles right along with Stanwyck in trying to determine which decision is the best. Does she leave her husband, with whom she has a child, in order to follow her heart with Robert Ryan? Or does she keep her marriage together for the sake of her husband and her child? We see her conflict, and we empathize with her.

It is interesting to note the offscreen rapport between Barbara Stanwyck, the consummate professional actress of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and Marilyn Monroe, the up-and-coming starlet who was already showing signs of psychological problems and difficulties on the set. The director of Clash By Night, the great Fritz Lang, was not up to handling Monroe’s tardiness and personal problems, but Barbara Stanwyck stood up for the young actress and protected her. She gave Marilyn acting tips, shielded her from criticism, and seemed to take her under her wing as a sort of protege. The two had come from similar difficult childhoods–both had been foster children, abandoned by their parents and raised with little to no stability. Stanwyck seemed to understand what Marilyn had been through and was continuing to go through psychologically, and their positive chemistry shines through on the screen. Their scenes together are some of the tenderest in the movie, and Marilyn Monroe later said that Barbara Stanwyck was the only actress from Hollywood’s Golden Age who ever showed her kindness.

I will be seeing the classic French thriller Les Diaboliques tomorrow evening (one of my all-time favorite films, and this will be my first time seeing it on the big screen), followed by The Honeymoon Killers on Sunday. Stay tuned for a report!

Backlots at Noir City X-Mas–O. HENRY’S FULL HOUSE

Hello, readers! I’m coming to you from Los Angeles International Airport, where I am off to France for a few weeks. But before I go, and given that it’s Christmas tomorrow, I want to give you my report of Noir City X-Mas, which I attended last week at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre.

Noir City is a San Francisco tradition. The main festival attracts film fans nationwide, and has become an integral part of San Francisco film culture. San Francisco itself has a noir feel to it, and has been the setting for many key films of the genre, so it seems fitting that this city has the honor of hosting Noir City every year.

And for the past 5 years, film fans have enjoyed an extension on the main Noir City festival–Noir City X-Mas, in which Christmas-themed noir films (or Christmas-themed films with a noir connection) are shown at the Castro Theatre. This year I attended with a friend of mine, and we enjoyed a showing of a film I have been wanting to see for many years.

O. Henry’s Full House (1952) is not a noir per se (though one sequence certainly is), but, as Noir City founder Eddie Muller pointed out beforehand, the history of the author O. Henry is one right out of the noir playbook. Employed by the First National Bank of Austin in 1891, he was charged with embezzlement in the mid-1890s and spent three years in jail, where he wrote many of his stories. The movie consists of a series of short vignettes, all written by O. Henry and featuring a smattering of the brightest stars in Hollywood. A young Marilyn Monroe appears alongside Charles Laughton, Anne Baxter alongside Jean Peters, Jeanne Crain with Farley Granger, and Fred Allen with Oscar Levant, in a very funny sequence that was originally cut from the film called “The Ransom of Red Chief.”

Fred Allen and Oscar Levant, perhaps two of the dryest comedians ever to exist, seem a match made in cinematic heaven. But for 1952 audiences, their comedic stylings were too much to handle. Described by Eddie Muller as “postmodern” comedians ahead of their time, many of the jokes in “The Ransom of Red Chief” went over the heads of 1952 audiences and hence the sketch was deemed a waste. But today, this sequence is uproariously funny and a supreme example of O. Henry’s legendary ironic wit. The story of two drifters who scheme to kidnap a child for ransom and their choosing of the most ill-behaved child in town, both Allen and Levant are at the top of their game and the little boy looks to be having a ball of a time playing the most obnoxious child on the planet.

The highlight of the movie is perhaps its best-known sequence, “The Gift of the Magi,” in which Jeanne Crain and Farley Granger are a poor couple very much in love with each other, but with little money for Christmas presents. Desperately wanting to give the other a gift, each of them makes a huge sacrifice–Jeanne Crain cuts and sells her hair while Farley Granger pawns his beloved watch. Their presents for each other? A watch holder and a barrette. Though initially rather materialistic in tone, the sketch ends on a humanistic tone, in which each of them realizes that their love is enough.

All sequences feature wonderful twist endings, and each one is introduced by none other than John Steinbeck, who is the perfect accidental curmudgeon with his pipe, raspy voice, and cranky expression. It’s great fun to see Steinbeck on film, in his only film appearance despite so many of his novels turned into movies.

Thank you to the Film Noir Foundation, for giving us Noir City X-Mas for these past few years. I very much look forward to next year!

The Making of a Hollywood Legend

Judy Garland, one of the most prominent and visible legends of Hollywood cinema.

In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked those it considered to be the top 50 screen legends–25 male, 25 female–actors whom they considered to have had a considerable impact on our film culture and the cinematic landscape of Hollywood. The rules stipulated that in order to be considered for “legend” status, the actor had to have either 1) made his screen debut in or before 1950, or 2) died, thus leaving a completed body of work. This resulted in a list comprised of mostly actors from the classical era of Hollywood (a term that denotes the years between 1927 and 1963), but featuring several exceptions from influential stars who have since passed on. The list was released with great fanfare, and as a 13-year-old already enthused about classic Hollywood, I was just so happy to see my favorite stars’ names in print that I didn’t stop to think about whether or not I agreed with the rankings. I took the list as the be-all, end-all on who was the best in the business.

Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, who got the number one male and female spots on the list, together in THE AFRICAN QUEEN.

A few weeks ago, I decided on a whim to revisit the list. What I found gave me an entirely new perspective on what the list meant. I realized that this was not a list of the best actors in the business, but rather of the biggest legends. And I got to thinking about what that meant.

What is a legend? The word, by its very nature, connotes something immortal. And in order to stand the test of time, one must have qualities that go above and beyond what is seen in the normal course of life. In the movie industry, it seems to take on a unique form–a screen legend has contributed, in one way or another, to the formation of our psyche as moviegoers–they are indelibly linked to our concept of what makes up our cinematic landscape.

And how does one become a legend? I would say that it’s a combination of talent and star power, with a certain element of being in the right place at the right time in terms of audience taste. Marilyn Monroe, for example, is a clear example of how the combination of those three things can make an explosive Hollywood legend. Monroe, blessed with charisma, a huge amount of intelligence and winning talent (her talent would often be seen through the lens of the dumb blonde characters she played, one of the hardest characters to play well), she also reaped the benefits of coming onto the Hollywood scene when something new and different was welcomed. Nobody had ever seen anybody like Marilyn Monroe before, and her novelty fascinated and enthralled filmgoers. Her tragic early death, less than 15 years after her screen debut, has frozen her legend in time, and we see her as an essential part of cinema history.

Marilyn Monroe talks about her fame

For Monroe, though she had extraordinary talent, the primary vehicle by which she became a legend was unquestionably her star power. Though the difference is sometimes hard to visualize, I would say that star power is a certain energy and appeal that is so attractive to audiences that it keeps bringing them back. Talent, on the other hand, is a skill set that the performer brings to the table and though he or she may not have this certain je ne sais quoi that comes with star power, their abilities leave audiences enthralled and hence, they keep coming back. A prime example of this is Judy Garland in the early part of her career. When Judy Garland first came to MGM in 1935, she was an average teenager in every way–there was nothing unusual about this 13-year-old that would give her any staying power…that is, until she opened her mouth and sang a song. Out came the voice of a woman decades older, with emotion far beyond her years. And it left audiences agape.

Judy Garland sings “Bill” from Show Boat in 1935. She was 12 years old.

After those initial years, after developing a signature vocal and performance style at MGM and in her concert life, Judy Garland would acquire a great deal of star power, and she is now perhaps the greatest legend ever to come out of the entertainment world.

The AFI seemed to draw heavily on star power in forming its list of legends, or at least it seemed that way to me when I examined it again a few weeks ago. It is often very difficult to separate personal taste from assessments of star power and talent, and your humble author is certainly not immune to judgments based on taste. I tried to reconstruct the list based on what I thought were better rankings, and I posted it to the Backlot Commissary (for those of you unfamiliar with Backlots, the Commissary is our Facebook group where we can post content and have discussions). But I’m not happy with my list and keep making revisions, because I have come to the conclusion that there is very little possibility of being objective when it comes to ranking of legends.

Below is the AFI list. Do you agree with it? Leave a comment, and let’s discuss! I look forward to hearing your commentary.

1. Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn

2. Cary Grant, Bette Davis

3. James Stewart, Audrey Hepburn

4. Marlon Brando, Ingrid Bergman

5. Fred Astaire, Greta Garbo

6. Henry Fonda, Marilyn Monroe

7. Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor

8. James Cagney, Judy Garland

9. Spencer Tracy, Marlene Dietrich

10. Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford

11. Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck

12. Gregory Peck, Claudette Colbert

13. John Wayne, Grace Kelly

14: Laurence Olivier, Ginger Rogers

15: Gene Kelly, Mae West

16: Orson Welles, Vivien Leigh

17: Kirk Douglas, Lillian Gish

18: James Dean, Shirley Temple

19: Burt Lancaster, Rita Hayworth

20: The Marx Brothers, Lauren Bacall

21: Buster Keaton, Sophia Loren

22: Sidney Poitier, Jean Harlow

23: Robert Mitchum, Carole Lombard

24: Edward G. Robinson, Mary Pickford

25: William Holden, Ava Gardner

The Poetry of Marilyn Monroe

A draft of one of Marilyn Monroe’s poems, in her own hand.

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

August 5, 2013 marks 51 years since the death of Marilyn Monroe. Though I try to keep Marilyn to a minimum on this blog because of her overwhelming overexposure in the media, the fact remains that Marilyn may well be the most fascinating personality to come out of classic film. The appeal that she holds for the public is evident–it is difficult to walk into any gift shop without seeing her face plastered on posters, shirts, lunchboxes, wallets, purses, and mugs. She has become a sex icon for the ages, and more than any other star, she sells. But amid all the financial gain she brings to businesses Marilyn Monroe continues to be exploited, just as she was in life, robbed of her essence and dignity as a human being for the sake of profits. That is precisely what she was trying to get away from, and thus whenever I see Marilyn memorabilia in a gift store, I feel a twinge of sadness.

Whenever I do mention Marilyn on this blog (which is usually on her birthday and the anniversary of her death), I try to make it count. She was a fascinating human being, the complete antithesis to how the public perceived her. An introspective, observant, intelligent woman who read voraciously and was unusually articulate about herself and her craft, the blonde bombshell image crafted for her only served to exacerbate her inner conflicts and demons.

A talented writer and frequent poet, Marilyn often turned to writing as therapy in a life that overwhelmed her. Today, on the anniversary of her death, I will not pay tribute with the pictures and videos that defined her public life, but instead what defined HER, the woman who deserved so much more than what the cards dealt her.

I have selected what I consider to be some of her most expressive poetry, and I give it to you now in hopes that you will get an inner glimpse of the woman behind the face. Interspersed are drawings that Marilyn sketched during a stay on Fire Island in 1955.

Thanks for reading.

Life – 
I am of both your directions 
Existing more with the cold frost 
Strong as a cobweb in the wind 
Hanging downward the most 
Somehow remaining 
Those beaded rays have the colors 
I’ve seen in paintings – ah life 
they have cheated you… 
thinner than a cobweb’s thread 
sheerer than any 
but it did attach itself 
and held fast in strong winds 
and singed by leaping hot fires 
life – of which at singular times 
I am of both your directions – 
somehow I remain hanging downward 
the most 
as both of your directions pull me. 

Entitled “Life is wonderful, so what the hell.”

I left my home of green rough wood, 
A blue velvet couch. 
I dream till now 
A shiny dark bush 
Just left of the door. 
Down the walk 
Clickity clack 
As my doll in her carriage 
Went over the cracks- 
“We’ll go far away.” 
Don’t cry my doll 
Don’t cry 
I hold you and rock you to sleep 
Hush hush I’m pretending now 
I’m not your mother who died. 
Help Help 
Help I feel life coming closer 
When all I want is to die 
– Marilyn Monroe – 

Entitled “Lonely.”

O, Time 
Be kind. 
Help this weary being 
To forget what is sad to remember. 
Loose my loneliness, 
Ease my mind, 
While you eat my flesh. 
– Marilyn Monroe – 
To the weeping Willow 
I stood beneath your limbs 
and you flowered and finally clung to me 
and when the wind struck with … the earth 
and sand- you clung to me. 
– Marilyn Monroe –

The Double Identity of a Pop Culture Icon

Around age 14, circa 1940.

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

On June 1, 2013, Marilyn Monroe would have turned 87 years old. It is difficult to imagine what the rest of her life would have been like, had she survived whatever took place on that mysterious night of her death at the age of 36. She was at the height of her fame professionally, but struggling with deep psychological problems that constantly threatened to derail her. At the height of her problems was an inability to reconcile two identities–the fatherless foster child Norma Jeane Baker, and the internationally famous sex symbol Marilyn Monroe. Eerily, her birthday falls under the astrological sign of Gemini, the twins. Maybe neither of these identities truly defined her. She strove desperately to improve herself as an actress, taking classes at the Actor’s Studio and earning considerable respect from Lee Strasberg, who called her one of the most naturally talented students ever to come through the studio. She fought for civil rights and was a particular champion of Ella Fitzgerald, securing her an engagement at the previously all-white Mocambo club by promising the owner that she would be there, in the front row, every night. She was a voracious reader, taking a special interest in biographies of Abraham Lincoln and was a devoted admirer of Albert Einstein. Perhaps she so passionately threw herself into these interests to cobble together her own, self-styled identity, to take the best of both worlds she had lived and put them together to create a mosaic of her own experience. I don’t often talk about Marilyn. I have too much respect for her and how she handled life to perpetuate this false myth of her as a goddess-like, immortal creature devoid of humanity. It is nearly impossible to mention her name without unconsciously perpetuating this iconic image that has landed her, tastelessly, on mugs and T-shirts and postcards and lunchboxes in every seedy tourist trap in town. But on her birthday, she deserves to be spoken of and remembered. Not as a pop culture legend, but as a woman and a real, flesh-and-blood human being. That is what I strive for when I do speak about her, and what I feel is my responsibility to her, as a person with a voice through my blog. So for her birthday, a day late, I am paying tribute to the woman as she was. These are the images that I think most represent the face of the real, natural person she strove to maintain against the current of crass commercialism. Happy birthday, Marilyn.

With her adored foster mother, “Aunt” Ana Lower, and family friends, circa 1938.

Rare video with another foster mother, Grace Goddard (also her legal guardian), who appears in the dark blue dress.

An early modeling shot.

A quiet moment with third husband Arthur Miller.

At her wedding to Miller. Monroe had converted to Judaism, and was a practicing Jew for the rest of her life.

Speaking to reporters after returning from studies at the Actor’s Studio.

The Death of Marilyn Monroe–Theories and Challenges in Validation

Before I delve into any depth on the touchy and fragile subject of Marilyn Monroe’s death, I would like to emphasize that I am trying very hard to be neutral and stick only to the absolute facts of the event. There is much capitalization on the scandalous aspects of Marilyn’s death, in books, TV specials, gossip columns, and magazines, and it can be extremely difficult to wade through the rumors to pick out what is known to be true about the event. I have too much respect for Marilyn Monroe as a person to allow rumors about her death to be rehashed by myself, so this post is going to stick only to the facts, and I will cite information wherever it is possible so that you may go directly to the source and examine for yourself. This is not gossip, not scandal, not personal opinion (I will try to refrain from giving my personal opinion, if you’re interested we can discuss it in the comment section, but the post is info only), it is an attempt to carefully examine an event that has stumped experts for 50 years.

Sometime between late August 4 and early August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe died at her home at 12305 5th Helena Drive, in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles. The initial autopsy revealed an enlarged liver and congestion in the lungs and stomach, and toxicology tests soon revealed that there was an incredibly high level of chloral hydrate in her blood, as well as far above the lethal dose of the drug Nembutal. The drugs were both used as sleep aids for the famously insomniac Monroe. Her blood levels being so high (it is estimated that she would have had to take 60-70 Nembutal and 17-18 chloral hydrate tablets to reach this level), her death was ruled a “probable suicide” on the official death certificate. An accidental overdose would have been next to impossible given the sheer amount of drugs in her body.

View Marilyn Monroe’s death certificate here.

View the initial autopsy report here.

However, this theory came to be doubted when some circumstances involving her death came to light. At 4:25 AM on the morning of August 5, Sergeant Jack Clemmons of the Los Angeles Police Department was called by Dr. Hyman Engelberg, Marilyn’s personal doctor, to say that Marilyn had just committed suicide. Clemmons arrived on the scene and when he entered the bedroom, he saw that Marilyn was lying face down in a flat-out position, with no sign of the convulsions and vomiting that accompany a death involving drugs. There were pill bottles strewn around the scene, but no water with which she could have swallowed them.

12305 5th Helena Drive.

Around 7:15 PM on August 4, the day before her death, she had a phone conversation with Joe DiMaggio, Jr. (her former stepson) about his engagement to a girl of whom Marilyn did not approve. She was allegedly elated to hear that he was breaking it off, and was in a great mood after the conversation. But when Peter Lawford called a half an hour later, he described her as sounding drugged and making suicidal comments. She talked to a number of other people within the same time frame, who described her the same way. It is clear that something happened between 7:15 PM and 8:45 PM on the night of August 4. Just what happened is something we will likely never know.

With stepson Joe DiMaggio, Jr.

I feel that given the evidence, it is necessary to share some of Marilyn Monroe’s mental health history. Her mother was a paranoid schizophrenic who was in and out of institutions all throughout Marilyn’s childhood, forcing Marilyn to be raised in a series of foster homes and a 3 year stint in an orphanage. These early experiences forged some serious psychological scars and issues with abandonment, affecting the course of her life and her struggles. Though schizophrenia is a highly heritable disorder, there were no signs that she had inherited it from her mother. There are, however, signs that Marilyn may have had a minor form of bipolar disorder known as cyclothymia, alternately causing waves of euphoria and waves of depression. Given this speculation, one might say that Marilyn may have had a sudden cyclothymic mood change in that half an hour, leading her to suicidal thought and action, but in most cases, cyclothymia doesn’t work that quickly and the depression is not so severe.

If we are to develop the observations of Sergeant Clemmons, it would lead us down the path of investigating for murder. When Clemmons first arrived on the scene, he talked to Eunice Murray, the housekeeper, who told him that she had seen a light under Marilyn’s door around 3:00 in the morning and tried to go in to check on her, but found the door locked. It was then that she called Marilyn’s psychiatrist, Dr. Greenson, to come help. Upon analysis of the room, Clemmons found that Marilyn’s room had deep pile carpeting, making it impossible to see a light under the door. Murray could have seen light through the crack between the door and the wall, but even if she did, her story about the locked door doesn’t add up–Marilyn’s room door had no functioning lock.

Housekeeper Eunice Murray.

Many in the Marilyn Monroe community have long blamed Eunice Murray for Marilyn’s death, due to her strange story and odd behavior (she was found calmly doing laundry the same morning that Marilyn was discovered). Another very pervasive theory is that Marilyn was known to be the holder of many confidential Kennedy family secrets, and rumors circulated for years of a diary in which she kept them. The diary has never been found, and the rumor is now considered to be untrue. However, a neighbor of Marilyn’s testified that she saw Robert Kennedy at the house the night of Marilyn’s death, accompanied by two men, one of whom was carrying what appeared to be a black medical suitcase. Could the Kennedys have feared that she would reveal their confidential information, and decided it would be better if she were dead? This is a hypothesis that seems ridiculous at the outset, but has garnered a following of informed people who swear by this theory.

50 years have passed, and it is relatively certain that we will never know the true cause of Marilyn Monroe’s death. Most of the closest people to her have now passed away, and it’s unlikely that any new evidence will show up without the help of people who were there. In a recent Huffington Post article, forensic expert Max Houck noted that had Marilyn’s death occurred today, the investigation would have been wholly different. “The good news is we’re very advanced from 50 years ago,” he wrote. “The bad news is, we’re still trying to put it in context.” Without any new evidence and no way to do any further tests on her body, it seems that the rumors will never be quelled, and the speculation will continue for as long as Marilyn’s memory lives on.

If you would like to read more about the unadulterated, bias-free facts of Marilyn Monroe’s death, I would recommend the following sources:

This analysis, beautifully and thoroughly compiled by a great fan who really took the time to learn the hard, true facts.

There are so many BAD books about Marilyn Monroe, and only a select few good ones. This is one of the good ones. Spoto is very thorough, and knows his subject inside and out. If you are to learn about Marilyn’s death from a trustworthy source, this is the place to go. Barbara Leaming’s book is also good.