When you think of Marilyn Monroe, you might think of a blonde actress who donned a white dress and stood above a subway grate in The Seven Year Itch, but there’s so much more to her.
Born Norma Jeane Mortenson, the rising star hit her stride in the 1950s with roles in films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire. But behind the charm and popularity lay a troubled personal life. In addition to three marriages that ended in divorce—including one with baseball star Joe DiMaggio and another with playwright Arthur Miller—Monroe struggled with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. The official cause of her 1962 death was due to the latter.
In Anthony Summers’ Goddess, the Pulitzer Prize nominee dives head-first into the life of Monroe—using 600 interviews with people who knew the star on both professional and personal levels to do so. Though it’s been mere speculation for over 50 years, Summers manages to establish that both President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert were involved with Monroe and had a hand in covering up the circumstances of her death.
Read on for an excerpt from Goddess, and then download the book.
THE HOUR BEFORE MIDNIGHT, Saturday, August 4, 1962, in Los Angeles. In the auditorium of the Hollywood Bowl, under a sickle moon, the crowd was listening to the bittersweet strains of the Henry Mancini orchestra.
Abruptly, unnoticed by most of the concertgoers, there was a minor disturbance. An attendant, whispering apologetically, passed an urgent message to a man seated in one of the higher-priced seats. The man rose, walked to a telephone, and listened. Then he spoke a few terse sentences, summoned his wife, and hurried to his car.
In the night hours that followed, as Los Angeles slept, there would be other little incidents, more comings and goings. Telephones would jangle at bedsides around the city, rousing doctors, a prominent lawyer, leading figures in show business, and private detectives. A famous actor, brother-in-law of the President of the United States, would place a call to Washington. Some of the actor’s neighbors, in their fine houses on the beach, would be roused from sleep by the clatter of a helicopter. An ambulance would be summoned to an unpretentious house in the suburbs, on a mission the driver says he cannot recall.
The public would learn nothing of these nocturnal events, nor, so far as we know, were they recorded by any official body. Yet the event that triggered them was the news story of the year, one that received more coverage than even the Missile Crisis, the near-nuclear war that followed a few weeks later. Marilyn Monroe was dead.
Exactly twenty years later, in 1982, the Los Angeles District Attorney reopened inquiries into a case that had never ceased to be the subject of rumor and controversy. His brief was limited. Was there sufficient evidence to open a criminal investigation? Could Monroe have been murdered? After four months the DA was advised that the evidence ‘fails to support any theory of criminal conduct.’ This, though, had been only a ‘threshold investigation.’ It was indeed; the investigators did not even interview the detective who attended the scene of the death.
The 1982 report acknowledged that ‘factual discrepancies’ and ‘unanswered questions’ had surfaced during the Monroe inquiry. Privately, officials today make it clear that they felt they had stumbled into a morass of untruth and obfuscation. Marilyn Monroe may, they surmise, have died by her own hand. Yet they feel something was indeed covered up in 1962.
That something involved Monroe’s relations with President John Kennedy and his brother Robert — and, in particular, Robert Kennedy’s activities at the time Monroe died.
The DA’s men shrug ruefully when they discuss the Kennedy angle. ‘We were not asked,’ says one, ‘to investigate a political cover-up.’ With far less excuse, the press at the time preferred the easy wallow in pathos to serious reporting. Afterward, for all the profusion of writing about Marilyn Monroe, no qualified writer attempted a professional inquiry into the last days of the woman most firmly enthroned as the goddess of her century. Norman Mailer, who caused a stir with his book hinting at murder, came to regret ‘not giving it my best effort.’
Who was the woman who turned herself into ‘Marilyn Monroe’? She had a body, in truth, not so unlike other female bodies. How did she make us notice her more than any other woman, in her time and on into the end of the century? How much of this alchemy was achieved by talent, how much in the carefully chosen embraces of powerful males? What was at the hidden center of the phenomenon that was Marilyn Monroe?
Behind the hyperbole and the hysteria there was a child who grew to be a woman, who was a symbol of love yet essentially lonely, who died famously but in folly at the age of thirty-six. She postured as the world’s mistress, yet yearned for monogamy and motherhood. The profile was crude while the pursuit was for culture. The brilliance of the actress masked a seriously disturbed psyche. The private person read philosophy and planned gardens, yet drowned in drugs and alcohol. Marilyn Monroe anticipated a decade that trumpeted fulfillment and achieved only confusion.
She told her last interviewer: ‘When you’re famous you kind of run into human nature in a raw kind of way … People you run into feel that, well, who is she — who does she think she is, Marilyn Monroe? It’s nice to be included in people’s fantasies but you also like to be accepted for your own sake.’
With another reporter, a few months earlier, she had mused, ‘I wonder how I’ll feel when I’m fifty?’ Then, her mind turning to birthdays, she mentioned that she was born under the sign of Gemini.
‘What kind of people are Geminis?’ the reporter asked.
‘Jekyll and Hyde. Two in one,’ came the reply.
‘And that’s you?’
‘More than two. I’m so many people. They shock me sometimes. I wish I was just me! I used to think I was going crazy, until I discovered some people I admired were like that, too.’
Marilyn — and we may call her Marilyn because that is how she is known from Connecticut to the Congo — never saw her fortieth birthday, let alone her half-century. Were she alive today — hard to believe — she would be in her late eighties. Yet her life long remained as unreliably reported as her death had been.
I thought it time to grant this goddess a measure of reality. Who do we think she was?
Want to keep reading? Download Goddess now.
Featured still of Monroe as Rose Loomis in "Niagara" via Wikipedia
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