Marilyn Monroe: Suicide or Murder?
When I started my family history research journey, I never expected to find anyone of historical significance in my family tree, but boy, was I wrong! Not only have I found dozens of well-known historical figures ranging from royalty to today's Hollywood celebrities, but I've also found relatives who have left their mark on our world's history.
My research has taken over 2 decades worth of work thus far, and there is no end in sight as to the amount of work that lies ahead. The only thing that limits my research is my own desire to find out more information, and then document my findings. As I have mentioned before, each person that I find and add to my family tree takes hours and hours of work to ensure that the information that I am adding is true and accurate.
Some relatives are, of course, easier to document than others, whether or not they are well-known historical figures. The world's history is, more often than not, modified to suit the person's image. Information may be embellished or ignored altogether depending on how that particular person is being presented to the world. Some historical figures are made out to be saints, while others are demonized for their actions while they were alive. Sorting through this information can be daunting, and one must use their own judgement to present the facts in a way that is as unbiased as possible. At least that's what I believe and I try to maintain an objective view of each person when I write up their brief bio for publication on my website.
While I have written briefly about Marilyn Monroe before, I have recently found myself mulling over the events in August, 1962 surrounding her death. I've also been giving thought to other possible related events that had happened, were happening, or happening not long after her death. This is the reason for this particular blog post - to pose some thoughts on how Marilyn's death ties into other events during that time period.
Born Norma Jean Mortenson on June 1st, 1926 in Los Angeles, California, this future actress would become known around the world as Marilyn Monroe, her screen name. Marilyn Monroe was my distant paternal cousin - 22nd cousin 2x removed to be exact. Our common ancestors were Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford and his wife, Elizabeth Plantagenet, Countess Consort of Holland. This is Marilyn's paternal family assuming that her father was Charles Stanley Gifford as is widely reported. Marilyn's mother, Gladys Pearl Monroe and Marilyn's birth father were never married, and it appears that Charles Gifford had no active role in Marilyn's life.
Marilyn's difficult childhood is well documented. Her mother suffered from schizophrenia and spent time in a state institution and Marilyn was made a ward of the State. Marilyn spent a significant amount of her young childhood being shuffled around to several foster homes, and spent time in an orphanage, However, she never lost sight of her dream to become an actress. Marilyn landed a brief contract with Fox in June, 1946, and 6 month contract was renewed in February, 1947 which allowed Marilyn time to watch other actors and learn how to sing, dance and act. She received her first small roles in films, but her contract was not renewed in August, 1947. Undaunted by this setback, Marilyn continued to pursue her dream of becoming an actor.
Marilyn began a "friendship" - one that was sexual in nature, with studio executive Joseph M. Schenck of 20th Century Fox. Schenck convinced his friend, and co-founder of Columbia Pictures, Harry Cohn, to sign Marilyn in March of 1948. It was at Columbia that Marilyn was transformed into the platinum blonde bombshell that we all know today. Marilyn only appeared in one film at Columbia called Ladies of the Chorus in which she played the lead. The movie was a low budget film and was not a commercial success. Marilyn's contract was not renewed with Columbia and she once again returned to modelling.
Marilyn finally got her big break when she was cast in films by Joseph Mankiewicz and John Huston, both legendary directors. Marilyn's limited role in Huston's The Asphalt Jungle brought her to the attention of Photoplay, an American fan magazine and moved her from being a model into being a serious actress. In December of 1950, Marilyn was signed to a 7-year contract with 20th Century Fox. By the end of 1952, Marilyn had several film roles to her credit, although the majority of her roles played on her sex appeal rather than on her actual acting abilities. This did not sit well with Marilyn who wanted to expand her acting credits to include more serious dramatic roles.
As Marilyn's fame increased, so did her reputation for being difficult to work with. Whether this was a ploy on Marilyn's part to gain more control over her roles - she didn't want to just play the sexy "dumb" blonde roles - or her perfectionism I don't know. However, from what I have researched about Marilyn Monroe, and other celebrity relatives, people that take this path in life are often a lot less comfortable with themselves than their public personaes would have us believe; they are often less sure of their own abilities and lack the confidence that they project to the general public. This may have been the case for Marilyn and perhaps her demands to reshoot scenes or consult with her acting coaches was a sign that she did not want to project a poor image to the movie watching public.
Despite the comments that abound about Marilyn being difficult to work with, one cannot argue with the fact that she was a truly talented performer. If you doubt this fact, watch Marilyn's performance in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes when she signs her signature song Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend. I bet that you would be hard pressed to argue that Marilyn was not loaded with talent after watching that scene carefully!
By 1955, Marilyn was a huge box office draw for 20th Century Fox, but her contract had not changed since 1950. This meant that Marilyn was earning far less than other stars who had less box office appeal than she did. Marilyn also had confrontations with 20th Century Fox's Darryl F. Zanuck, the studio head. He had a personal dislike for Marilyn and would only allow her to make films that played on her sex appeal, refusing to allow her to do any serious dramatic roles as she wanted to do. Zanuck and the studio's owner, Spyros Skouras focused the studio's efforts on entertainment films rather than films of a more serious nature in order to maximize profits. In January of 1954, Marilyn was suspended by Zanuck for refusing to start filming yet another musical for 20th Century Fox which made front page news.
On January 14, 1954, Marilyn married baseball great Joe DiMaggio at the San Francisco City Hall. This was the 2nd marriage for both Marilyn and DiMaggio, both having previously been married and divorced (Marilyn had been married to James Dougherty from 1942-46). Marilyn's marriage to DiMaggio did not last long due to his abusive, jealous outbursts, violent behaviour and heavy drinking. She filed for divorce after 9 months.
One of Marilyn Monroe's most iconic film scenes from The Seven Year Itch - the one where she stands over a subway grate and the wind from the train blows up her dress - was the cause of a significant fight between her and DiMaggio who was infuriated with the crowd of fans that had gathered to watch the shoot (an intentional studio publicity stunt). The couple fought and argued just off of the set, and the fight continued later that evening in their hotel suite. This was the pivotal end of the couple's troubled marriage.
After shooting of the movie wrapped, Marilyn left Hollywood and headed to the East Coast where she, along with photographer MIlton Greene, founded their own studio called Marilyn Monroe Productions. This action by Marilyn triggered a year long lawsuit by Fox. Marilyn contended that Fox had voided her contract for refusing to pay her the promised bonuses. While the suit was being fought by Milton Greene and Marilyn's lawyers, Marilyn moved to New York City and began studying acting under Lee Strasberg at The Actors Studio. Marilyn's relationship with the Strasberg's would last the rest of her life, and Lee Strasberg ultimately ended up with all of Marilyn's personal possessions upon her death.
Realizing that Monroe was the main reason behind their success at the box office, 20th Century Fox eventually gave in to Marilyn's demands for more pay, bonuses and control over a number of factors involving scripts, choosing her directors and much more. Monroe's victory over the studio was later deemed to be a pivotal moment in the demise of the "studio system" that had been in place for decades. Marilyn and Fox signed a 7-year contract in 1955, This would turn out to be Marilyn's final studio contract.
Marilyn also began dating the playwright Arthur Miller in 1955. The pair had known each other for several years and their affair turned serious after Monroe's divorce from DiMaggio was finalized in October of that year, and Miller had separated from his wife. The pair married on June 29th, 1956 in White Plains, New York. The public did not all welcome this coupling, including Walter Winchell who did not like Miller due to his purported ties to communists within the US (remember, this was when the House Un American Activities investigations were going on - a modern day "witch hunt" to uncover communists within the USA). Miller wasn't Monroe's only ties to people that were accused of being communists as Paula Strasberg (Lee's wife) had also been accused of being a communist. With her marriage to Miller, who was Jewish, Monroe converted to Judaism which caused her films to be banned in Egypt.
Marilyn's last film was The Misfits, which was directed by John Huston and the screenplay written by Monroe's husband, Arthur Miller. Miller had written the script in order to give Marilyn the dramatic role that she wanted, but she was not happy to see that he had based parts of the script on her life, and she thought that her character was inferior to the male characters in the movie. After they finished filming, Marilyn and Arthur formally separated and divorced in January, 1961.
Marilyn returned to California permanently after her marriage to Arthur Miller fell apart (they had split their time between living on the East and West coasts during their marriage) and purchased a modest home in Brentwood, an affluent area of Los Angeles and home to many notable celebrities to this day.
Although I did not know Marilyn (she died before I was born), I do have a close "6 degrees of separation" moment with this Hollywood icon: my new neighbour spent a significant amount of time in Los Angeles as part of her job, and during one trip a colleague of hers took her to see Marilyn Monroe's old home. While they were there, they saw a neighbour and my friend's colleague got out of the car and spoke to him. My friend joined them and they had a conversation about Marilyn Monroe and it turned out that he had been living there when Marilyn lived next door. From what I have been told, my friend was told that she (Marilyn) was a lovely lady and a pleasure to have as a neighbour. This story was told to me casually one day during one of our many conversations that we have had since I've moved to my new home, and before I had mentioned that I was a distant cousin of Marilyn Monroe.
On August 4th, 1962, Marilyn died at her Brentwood home. She was found dead in her locked bedroom by her psychiatrist, Ralph Greenson after he had been summoned by Marilyn's housekeeper, Eunice Murray, who had been staying at Marilyn's home. Eunice had awakened during the night and, noticing that Marilyn's bedroom light was on (it shone under the door), she knocked on the door and called out to Marilyn but did not receive a response. Sensing something was wrong, she called Greenson who entered Marilyn's room through a bedroom window and found her lifeless body in the bed.
The official cause of Marilyn's death was an overdose of barbiturates and was listed as a "probable suicide". Marilyn was 36 years old at the time of her death.
Prior to her untimely death, it was revealed that Marilyn had been prone to psychiatric problems that included severe fears, frequent depressions and abrupt and unpredictable mood changes. Marilyn had overdosed in the pasat, possibly intentionally, but had always recovered. She had also spent time in therapy and had previously been hospitalized to treat her depression. These facts are all readily available and seem to support the idea that Marilyn may have intentionally ended her own life on the night of August 4th, 1962. However, the coroner's report clearly states that the cause of death was probable suicide rather than outright stating that her death was due to suicide.
At the time of Marilyn's death, she had been involved in affairs with brothers John and Robert Kennedy, the President of the United States and the Attorney General of the United States. Her affair with John Kennedy may or may not have ended in the spring of 1962, but her affair with Robert Kennedy was quite possibly only ended on the night of her death. There are a number of stories about these affairs, and I believe that most people believe that the affairs took place, but clearly there is no concrete evidence that came up during that time period.
President Kennedy was known to have been a womanizer, as was his brother Robert (Bobby). I have read that this type of misogynistic behaviour has been documented as being believed and handed down to the Kennedy males by their father, Joseph Kennedy. It was Joseph Kennedy who pushed his boys into politics, starting with his eldest son, Joseph Kennedy Jr. It was Joseph Jr. who Joseph Sr. had been grooming to become President of the United States before his untimely death in August, 1944 during World War II. Joseph Sr. had openly flaunted his affair with a much younger woman in front of his wife, Rose, with little care for Rose's feelings. I have read that Joseph Sr. encouraged his boys to take mistresses, and by many accounts, the boys followed their father's advice.
There are many accounts of Marilyn's relationship with the Kennedy brothers, some public such as Marilyn performing her unforgettable version of Happy Birthday at President Kennedy's 45th birthday celebration in New York City, as well as other lesser known interactions. There are also reports that Robert (Bobby) Kennedy met and argued with Marilyn at her home the night that she died. While no one has come out and said that they believe that either of the Kennedy brothers were involved in Marilyn's death, they could have been involved in a cover-up or "cleansing" of the events.
However, in an interview that Marilyn's ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio gave to Dr. Rock Positano and his brother, John Positano for their 2017 autobiography Dinner with DiMaggio: Memories of an American Hero, DiMaggio told them that he thought that they killed her.
Were the Kennedy's really capable of committing murder to cover up a scandal? I'm not sure if John and Robert Kennedy were, but what about their father, Joseph Sr.? He was a man that, by all accounts, would stop at nothing to see his family achieve the greatness that he wanted. Kennedy had also been actively involved in Hollywood and had made huge profits reorganizing and refinancing several Hollywood studios, including merging several studios that he had acquired into the famous R.K.O. Studios. Kennedy seemed to have been quite ruthless in his pursuit of wealth and power and in protecting the Kennedy family's image, including having a lobotomy performed on his eldest daughter, Rosemary Kennedy to control her depression, mood sings and occasional violent episodes. This procedure was arranged by Kennedy without the knowledge of his wife; she only learned of the procedure after it had been performed. If the man was capable of doing this to his own daughter, what else was he capable of to protect the Kennedy family image?
Another possibility is that Marilyn's death was arranged by the still powerful studios. For decades the studios controlled almost all aspects of actor's lives, including forcing woman actors to have abortions performed often against their will. There are many examples of actresses who had abortions arranged by the major studios: Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Ava Gardner, Jean Harlow, Fay Wray and, the main person in this post, Marilyn Monroe.
The big studios had absolute control over their contract actors, paying them mostly modest salaries no matter how famous they were, and controlling every aspect of their lives. If an actor rebelled, they were almost always blacklisted, their character destroyed through vicious public smear campaigns, and they never worked in film again. Gay actors were forced to marry in order to cover up their sexual identities, and others were forbidden to marry their choice of mate because the studio did not "approve" of the match.
Harry Cohn, the co-founder of Columbia Pictures had known ties to organized crime in his relationship with Johnny Roselli. Jack Warner was another studio head who had ties to organized crime. It is also known that Frank Sinatra had deep ties to organized crime and that he and buddy Peter Lawford (both of whom knew both the Kennedys and Marilyn Monroe) knew Sam Giancana very well. Organized crime operated in Hollywood, extorting studios in order keep the unions that they controlled cooperating. It is important to note that Joseph Kennedy also had ties to organized crime which helped him smuggle liquor from Canada into the US during prohibition and undoubtedly helped him when he purchased and organized the studios into R.K.O.
Apparently Peter Lawford, friend of Frank Sinatra, was also a close associate of the Kennedy brothers in addition to Marilyn Monroe and Sam Giancana. Lawford is purported to have arrange dalliances with various women for the Kennedys Sinatra and, of course, for himself. One of those women was Marilyn Monroe.
JFK's presidential campaign in 1960 also benefited heavily from campaign donations made by the Chicago syndicate.
Finally, Marilyn's 2nd husband, Joe DiMaggio, purportedly had ties to Sam Giancana as well. In this writer's opinion, this is an important point to ponder.
If Marilyn did not intentionally or accidentally overdose and commit suicide, is it possible that she was murdered? If she was murdered, who did it? Was it John or Bobby Kennedy? I don't think so. As President, JFK would have had a security detail with him at all times, and this many years after Marilyn's, JFK's and RFK's deaths, surely someone would have talked, even if they were former Secret Service agents.
Was Marilyn murdered under the orders of Joseph Kennedy Sr. in order to keep her quiet and thereby protect his son's reputations and his own dreams of glory? Again, this is unlikely, but not entirely improbable. Joseph had had a stroke prior to Marilyn's untimely death, and the stroke had severely limited his ability to speak, and also paralyzed his right side. Still, he had the connections to organized crime....
Was Marilyn murdered by an angered studio head at 20th Century Fox? Marilyn's steadfast refusal to allow the studio to control her life and the hard fought lawsuit that she won against Fox was pivotal in ending a decades long system which lined the pockets of the big studios while abusing the actors. This made enemies for Marilyn, on top of existing enemies at 20th Century Fox who already disliked her. Could someone closely invested in the studio have been responsible for her death? Did they have the help of organized crime?
Did organized crime kill Marilyn as a message to the Kennedy brothers, or to possible shift suspicion onto them, in particular to RFK who had been relentlessly pursuing them? If Marilyn was murdered, then this would seem the most likely explanation to this author, especially considering that President Kennedy was assassinated a little more than a year after Marilyn's demise.
Whatever the real story is behind the death of Marilyn Monroe, the end of her life came too soon, and no matter how you look at things, it was a tragedy that continues to touch the world 60 years later. The investigation into Marilyn's death was not, in my opinion, handled very well, and far too many questions remain. Marilyn was involved with many unscrupulous people and her on-screen persona seems to greatly diverge from the reality of her life. In the end though, isn't that what Hollywood is all about - selling us the dream?