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Essay What Really Happened to Marilyn

What Really Happened To Marilyn?

By Josh Barnard

Whenever a greatly beloved public figure dies, especially when they’re taken before their time, the public suffers a great shock. When the shock wears off, the public is left wanting to know why it happened. Sometimes, though, there is no clear explanation, or the one given doesn’t seem to make sense. Such is the case of Marilyn Monroe, the most legendary actress ever to grace the silver screen. She was found dead in the guest house of her Los Angeles home, and the official ruling was a suicide by overdose of sleeping pills. However, to many people this explanation of her death just doesn’t ring true. Since her death on the night of August 4th, 1962, nearly forty years ago, many theories on the events surrounding her death have been brought up for consideration. Each new theory has its strong points and its weaknesses, but not everyone is able to agree on what the one true explanation is.

To understand some of the theories on what exactly happened to the vibrant actress, it is important that one first understand some of her turbulent past, and some of the events leading up to her mysterious death.

The woman that history will know forever as Marilyn Monroe began her life as a shy little girl named Norma Jeane Mortenson, born to a single mother in Los Angeles on June 1st, 1926. Norma Jeane’s father left her mother before Norma Jeane was born, so the little girl grew up never knowing who her father was. This early abandonment would haunt her for the rest of her life, instilling in the impressionable young girl a permanent fear of being left alone in the world and a constant need for support from others. This need to be with someone would ultimately be Norma Jeane’s downfall, leading her to seek support from people who were unworthy of her trust.

Her mother, mentally unstable and an alcoholic in an era before alcoholism was recognized as a disease, was unable to give Norma Jeane the upbringing she needed, and so when her mother was institutionalized, Norma Jeane was sent from foster home to foster home until there were no more families available to take her in. The only choice was to place her in the Los Angeles Orphans’ Home. This was another heavy blow to the child’s self-esteem- it made her feel as though she wasn’t anyone on the world, and that, along with the accompanying feeling of being completely worthless, hurt more than anything else that she’d ever experienced.

A short while before she turned eleven years old, Norma Jeane moved in with her mother’s best friend, Grace McKee, and her husband Doc. Doc, an extremely heavy drinker, made sexual advances towards Norma Jeane, so she was once again sent to a series of foster homes. She was assaulted in at least two of the foster homes, and possibly more, all before she was twelve years old. Each time Norma Jeane was taken out of one the foster homes, it sent a strong message to her. Since it was she, the victim, who was being punished for these assaults, she reasoned, then she must be bringing the attacks upon herself.

Eventually, a marriage was arranged for Norma Jeane to be wed to James Dougherty, the son of the McKee’s neighbor, because Grace and Doc were moving, and were unable to bring her along. Norma Jeane was given the option of either dropping out of high school and getting married, or returning to the Los Angeles Orphans’ Home. Rather than endure spending more time in the oppressive atmosphere of the orphanage, Norma Jeane accepted the marriage arrangement. However, she was again left with the now familiar sense of abandonment when her new husband joined the Merchant Marines to go and fight when World War II broke out. Like many military wives did, Norma Jeane took a job in a defense factory. One day a photographer showed up to take pictures for a magazine story about women working to defend the country. He saw Norma Jeane, took some pictures of her, and told her that she was pretty enough to model. He then put her in contact with a modeling agency, who in turn found her a film agent. A little more than a year later, she had divorced James Dougherty, negotiated a contract with Twentieth Century-Fox, and changed her name to Marilyn Monroe.

After some initial difficulties in locating work, she found one particular agent named Johnny Hyde who had friends in high places, and was able to get Marilyn noticed. Her career took off rapidly, one successful movie after another. She was attracting a good amount of attention from people in all walks of life. She caught the eye of powerful men, men with influence both famous and infamous, men with greatly varied roles to play in the public spotlight. Some of these men may have played a darker role, one hidden from the public spotlight, when they planned and executed a horrendous plot to end the life of America’s most famous sex symbol. One such man was none other than John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States.

Monroe first came to Kennedy’s attention at a party in the White House, where Monroe was performing. Kennedy was impressed by her performance, and told her so. Marilyn was attracted to the young president, and Kennedy reciprocated the attraction. Thus their relationship started. Initially just a friendship, things progressed at a rapid pace, and their relationship soon developed into an affair. Although Monroe and Kennedy thought that they were concealing their activities, it was actually common knowledge among White House officials and the Hollywood elite. At one point, one of Kennedy’s advisors actually pulled him aside and told him that he ought to be more discreet with his affair. One final event would prove to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. At President Kennedy’s forty-fifth birthday celebration, held at Madison Square Garden and broadcast live to home televisions across the nation, Marilyn performed a searing rendition of “Happy Birthday” while wearing a dress that was so tight that she literally had to be sewn into it. At this point President Kennedy, who was deeply embarrassed and angry over Marilyn’s performance and his wife’s refusal to attend the celebration because she “didn’t want to be made a fool of”, decided that enough was enough, and cut off all communication between himself and the controversial starlet. After she persisted in her attempts to contact him, Kennedy sent his brother Bobby to end the affair and explain to Monroe that her repeated calls were to stop at once. Bobby, however, didn’t merely deliver the message and leave. He took advantage of the vulnerability of the fragile woman, and started his own affair with her.

During the course of Bobby’s affair with Marilyn, Bobby told Marilyn much information about what he was accomplishing in his role of Attorney General, particularly news concerning his campaign against organized crime, top secret information about the Cuban Missile Crisis, and details about a government plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. After meeting with Bobby, Marilyn would often go home and write in her diary, a little red book that was one of her most prized possessions, concerning all that she and Bobby had talked about.

Marilyn’s affair with Bobby was short lived, however, because Bobby felt that his public image as a devoted family man was being threatened every time he had a rendezvous with Marilyn. In order to cut off communication with her, Bobby had the telephone number to his White House office changed, as well as his home phone number. He then sent a messenger, much as his older brother had done, to tell Marilyn that their relationship was over, and to stop trying to contact Bobby. She received no explanation, no goodbye.

This second complete cutoff fell heavily on the fragile actress, bringing back the childhood feelings of abandonment and worthlessness that had followed after her father left, as well as memories of what that abandonment had done to her mother. She experienced a vast array of feelings, from anger to desolation, confusion to loneliness. In the midst of this plethora of feelings, Marilyn managed to get Bobby on the phone one last time, at which point she told him that she was going to ‘tell all’ at a press conference she’d scheduled for August 5th, 1962. Sadly, she never made it to that conference. She was found dead the night of August 4th, of an apparent suicide.

Of all of the multitude of theories as to what actually went on during that fateful summer night, the one that has the most supporting evidence points the finger of blame at John and Bobby Kennedy. When Marilyn threatened to go public with the affairs that she’d carried on with both men, the theory proposes, both men must have visualized both of their careers going down the drain. In addition, Marilyn possessed information that constituted a possible breach in national security, and had handwritten notes and letters from both brothers that would substantiate her claims, not to mention prove both brothers’ adulteries. The theory advances the idea that after Marilyn threatened Bobby with going public, Bobby panicked. Those who favor this theory hypothesize that Bobby, although supposedly out of town that night paid a visit to Marilyn’s new home in Brentwood, California with her current psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, and Peter Lawford, the Kennedy brothers’ brother-in-law. A highway patrolman came forward and stated the he pulled over a vehicle that night, and when he found the driver to be Bobby Kennedy, he let the car go. This effectively proves their presence in the area that night. While they were at Marilyn’s home, they either gave her an injection with enough barbiturates to kill her, or used a medicated enema to deliver the fatal dose. It had become commonplace, and indeed the fashionable thing to do among Hollywood stars to have an enema, so it wouldn’t have really raised any suspicions for that type of equipment to be found in Marilyn’s home. The enema theory is slightly more plausible than the injection theory, since the autopsy says there were no needle marks found on Marilyn’s body, but to many people the autopsy report itself is suspect since there are dozens of eyewitness reports stating that Marilyn had been receiving vitamin shots on the set of “Something’s Got To Give”, her prophetically titled last film, within the last few weeks. In addition, police weren’t called until three to four hours afer her body was found, and when they arrived, Eunice Murray, Marilyn’s housekeeper, was washing Marilyn’s bed sheets, possibly to remove any evidence.Also suspicious is the fact that every time Murray was questioned about the events of that night, she gave a slightly different version of her story, altering dates and other details.

Another theory is that her psychiatrist, Ralph Greenson, is the person who is responsible for Marilyn’s death. She began seeing him for appointments in 1960, and he quickly gained a large amount of influence over her. In his own words, he “was going to be her one and only therapist.” Dr. Greenson believed in using large quantities of drugs for therapy, and prescribed her Nembutal and Chloral Hydrate, the two drugs found in her system during her autopsy. Greenson grew more and more controlling over Marilyn as time passed, at one point convincing her not to do a film, though her better judgment told her she ought to. He also kept her on a steady supply of barbiturates. He eventually began to tell people that Marilyn suffered from schizophrenia in order to make himself more prominent among his peers. At this point, two versions of this particular theory are formed. The first holds the opinion that Marilyn’s death was indeed accidental. It advances the idea that another psychiatrist had, without the knowledge of Dr. Greenson, prescribed another strong barbiturate, which Marilyn may have taken at some point on August 4th. Then, after being summoned to Marilyn’s home, Dr. Greenson may have found her in a greatly distressed state (after she received the message from Bobby Kennedy telling her not to contact him) and, with no harmful intent, gave her the medication (possibly the medicated enema) which, coupled with what was already in her system, would have been enough to cause her death. When asked about Marilyn’s pill problem, director John Huston had this to say, “Marilyn wasn’t killed by Hollywood. It was the goddamn doctors who killed her. If she was a pill addict, they made her so.”

The second version of this theory paints a somewhat darker picture of Dr. Greenson. It postulates that Marilyn saw how Dr. Greenson was manipulating her and cutting off all of her relationships one by one, and that she decided to do something about it. She may have done or said something to Greenson indicating her need to distance herself from him, and he may have reacted badly. One author, Donald Spoto, who wrote a biography on Marilyn even showed that Greenson had actually physically beaten the actress at one point several months before her death, a claim validated by a visit to the doctor for a possible broken nose and two black eyes. The theory states that Greenson may have visited Marilyn, possibly in an attempt to convince her to continue receiving his therapy, and found her already under the influence of some kind of barbiturate. At this point it’s possible that he decided to end her life rather than be forced to give up his monopoly on her. Whether either of these theories is true or not, it’s apparent that her counseling and drug t herapy through Dr. Greenson did more harm than good. Spoto points this out, saying “His tactic was disastrous. Instead of leading his patient to independence, he did exactly the opposite…he was certain he could prevail on her to do anything he wished.”

Of course, all of these theories may just be a typical grief reaction of the public responding to the death of a star who was loved by all. Had this happened a few months earlier or later, the suicide theory would be more plausible. But the idea that Marilyn would commit suicide at that particular time in her life doesn’t make sense. She had recently been engaged to remarry baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, a wedding that was scheduled to take place on August 8th, just three days after her supposed suicide. She had been rehired to work on a film she had recently been fired from, at a significant raise in pay. Also, she had just bought her new home in Brentwood, a gesture that represented her attempt to take back control of her life.

On top of all of these things is the physical evidence that there was more to the story than appeared. For one, though Marilyn supposedly died of an overdose of sleeping pills, there was absolutely no pill residue found in her stomach. In addition, there was no drinking vessel found, suspicious since Marilyn refused to take so much as one pill without something to drink (the estimated number of pills she would have needed to take to produce the level of chemicals found in her blood was somewhere between forty and fifty, all within five minutes or so.) Raising further questions were the bruises on Marilyn’s left side, bruises consistent with bruises that would appear on someone who was forcibly held down.

Faced even with this wide array of evidence pointing to foul play, some people still feel that this is an open-and-shut suicide case, and maybe they’re right. Perhaps people are just unwilling to come to terms with the fact that sometimes bad things happen to wonderful people. Or maybe not…

Whichever theory is actually true, there can be no doubt that this talented and gorgeous actress as taken from her public far before her time. However, though she may be gone physically, she’s still very much here in spirit, a fact shown by the huge number of fans she still retains today, almost 40 years after her untimely death. Marilyn Monroe is the very definition of a legend, and she can rest in peace knowing that though she may be gone, she’ll never be forgotten.

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