Finding reliable sources is a tricky job, especially when those sources are meant to have been friends or close in some way to Marilyn Monroe. But who within Marilyn’s circle of friends or her acquaintances can be deemed as reliable and who can’t?
This is a sensitive topic because a few of these people are still alive OR have families who are still very assured by their relative’s version of the truth. This is all completely my own opinion based on what I have read and researched. It’s important to remember with any post, I have not read every book, seen every interview etc. so some of those mentioned may have said things untrue and vice versa. But we are generally speaking when talking facts here! I don’t think all of those with stories about Marilyn are intentionally lying when they are making errors. Some definitely are but I will mention those when the time comes…
Here are some of the people who “knew” Marilyn and are often immediately deemed trustworthy sources… But are they?
It is important to remember that people’s memories, especially over time can adjust the narrative to how things really are. It’s human nature so I don’t necessarily believe that all of those who have told inaccurate stories are doing it intentionally.
MILTON GREENE – Photographer and friend
All I did was believe in her. She was a marvelous, loving, wonderful person I don’t think many people understood.Milton Greene
Although rumoured to have met in 1949 at a party, it’s more widely believed Marilyn met Milton in 1953. He was already a very well known photographer for LOOK Magazine. Their friendship and partnership became a bond that Marilyn didn’t share with any of her other photographers. Marilyn fans can agree that Milton captured many sides to Marilyn and some of her most beautiful images were taken by him.
Despite the rumour which is portrayed in My Week With Marilyn and quoted in some books (one being by Norman Mailer) it is likely they were never romantically involved with one another. Marilyn and Milton’s friendship began when she was already a year into being with Joe DiMaggio and considering how jealous he is often portrayed, it’s unlikely he’d have been okay with her spending all her time with Milton if there was a chance they had an affair. Perhaps the affair happened when Marilyn wasn’t with Joe? Then I would find it odd he would have Marilyn live at home with him and his wife. Did it happen? Who knows!
Marilyn had briefly lived with Milton and his wife Amy, with Marilyn even doing her Person to Person interview with Richard R. Murrow in their home. An interview that many viewers feel is quite uncomfortable. Why? You can see that Marilyn is less at the forefront of the interview. Probably the presence of Milton’s wife, Amy who seemingly has more to say than Marilyn (we shall discuss her more shortly).
However, they all got along and Milton supported Marilyn, her career and her plans to create her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions in which they were partners.
In 1956, during the filming of Bus Stop, it is said Milton had a large creative impact on the movie, including Cherie’s make-up.
Marilyn’s friend and makeup artist stated that:
“Milton Greene was a pain in the butt. He worked his way in there and he kind of represented her, but he didn’t design her makeup. Marilyn and I had a meeting before the shoot began, and she decided that being a chanteuse who was asleep all day, in the nightclub all night and never seeing the sun, she had to be absolutely white. Well, Milton Greene came up with the idea of putting clown white on her, but hell, I used a little clown white and mixed that with some other colours to make it a little more natural. Otherwise, it would have been too damned white. I think it was still too white, but she wanted it that way. I tried it a shade or two darker and it made her look so much prettier, her teeth stood out better, but I was overruled and so I thought, ‘What the hell, I don’t care.’”
It is believed their friendship started to deteriorate when she married Arthur Miller. The story goes that Arthur disliked Milton and his closeness to Marilyn. Amy, Milton’s wife, said, “Arthur was always jealous of Milton, which is interesting in a way. Arthur had another life. Why should he be jealous?”
Their friendship really began to fall apart in 1956 during the filming of The Sleeping Prince as Marilyn felt Milton had betrayed her by becoming friendly with Laurence Olivier, whom she was having difficulties with during production. Shortly you will see an excerpt of a letter where Arthur discusses taking control and Marilyn not needing to have a personal relationship with Milton.
Their last photoshoot together took place in January 1957 by which point Arthur and Milton were both blaming one other for the struggles occurring within MMP. However, there was never any proof of foul play on Milton’s part. But Marilyn still felt torn between her friend slash business partner and her husband. She chose the latter.
Milton was in Paris when he heard of Marilyn’s death in 1962. He didn’t believe she killed herself intentionally. Her death must have been incredibly hard for him considering how close they were and how things ended. It’s a deep shame Milton and Marilyn never touched base after her divorce from Arthur. Perhaps there was something more there?
So, can Milton be trusted as a source of information on Marilyn and her life? I have not read anything that implies he’s a sensationalist other than information about the supposed affair, which may or may not be true. I personally don’t think it is. It’s likely that in his later years he may have come up with stories about his relationship with Marilyn. Most of the anecdotes about Marilyn and Milton, come from Amy and she has never implied an affair took place.
AMY GREENE – Milton Greene’s wife
She didn’t mean anything in my life one way or the other, she meant something in my husband’s life. I was never jealous of Marilyn.Amy Greene
Amy Greene was a model who married Milton in 1953, the same year he met Marilyn. Amy was Milton’s second wife and they were married until his death in 1985.
Marilyn had spent professional and personal time with the Greenes and became a part of the family.
In 1955, Marilyn and Milton interviewed for Person to Person, live on TV. Despite the interview being intended for Marilyn Monroe and Milton to discuss their new production company, Amy was also present. A few fans have commented on the bizarre set-up of the interview with Amy getting involved, despite her not being a part of the newly formed Marilyn Monroe Productions. But I personally find it good to hear about what Marilyn was like from Amy, especially with Marilyn present.
Amy has rarely shied away from discussing Marilyn, Marilyn’s life and her relationships. In fact, although Amy is the source of Joe DiMaggio’s abuse rumours in Anthony Summers’s book Goddess she has stated countless times on camera that this is not true. But what do we believe?
Amy is also known among Marilyn fans as being a straight talker which some love and some don’t. Despite my own personal feelings about how Amy talks about Marilyn, I don’t think she is a dishonest person. What I do think is that age can sometimes fog our memories and how we perceive the past.
GEORGE BARRIS – Photographer
When I first caught sight of Marilyn, she was leaning out the window of a brownstone on fashionable 61st Street on the East Side of Manhattan, posing for a film scene. Actually my first glimpse was of her behind. When I took some photos of that now famous backside, the sound of the camera’s shutters surprised her. She quickly turned around, spotted me and smiled. I took a dozen more pictures, we both laughed and the ice was completely broken. She certainly had a sense of humour. I subsequently followed Marilyn around for days, interviewing her and taking photos. She was great to work with.George Barris
George Barris is often credited as being a close friend to Marilyn. And I do believe they got along really well, that much is obvious in the photographs. But Barris is only known to have photographed Marilyn in 1954 and 1962 with little or no correspondence in between (from what I have seen).
Barris took the last professional photographs of Marilyn a few weeks before she passed away and it is believed they had planned to write a book together. Sadly, because of her death, this didn’t happen. However, George wrote the book anyway, but it wasn’t published until 1995.
Although the book doesn’t depict anything groundbreaking or new, I don’t see how he could remember the conversations word for word unless, of course, Barris wrote everything down immediately after the sessions, which is also very possible. It’s also said he had interviews with her for the book, which is more than likely where the conversations stemmed.
It’s a lovely book and most everything checks out as being factually correct and in Marilyn’s tone. But whether Marilyn said all of the contents verbatim is a mystery as with any book written posthumosly. He isn’t what I call a liar, as I don’t think he is. He was obviously good enough to Marilyn for him to attend her funeral. But I feel their friendship is slightly exaggerated by his daughter Caroline.
NATASHA LYTESS – Acting coach
My only protection in the world is Marilyn Monroe. I created this girl – I fought for her…I am her private property, she knows that. Her faith and security are mine.Natasha Lytess to lawyer Irving Stein
Natasha Lytess met Marilyn in 1948 and was her acting coach for seven years, tutoring her for twenty movies.
Marilyn was always kind to Natasha, even selling the only item she had from Johnny Hyde (her agent) after he died so she could help Natasha with her rent.
Natasha always upheld that she was the reason for Marilyn’s success and was rather bitter and aggressive in how she spoke to her. This was probably in part to how Marilyn terminated their relationship. After discovering Natasha was supposedly going to write a book about Marilyn, she cut her off, refusing to see or speak to her. Whenever Marilyn was asked about Natasha, she was still polite about their work and how she had helped her.
I personally find most of what Natasha says to be very resentful and borderline obsessive even going as far as to say she and Marilyn had a sexual relationship (Marilyn stated in her biography she was not a lesbian, but who knows!). This is not to say she didn’t help her career or perhaps there were some feelings involved, or that she is untrustworthy. She bigs herself up more than anything and seems to be rather self-centred at times.
LEE & PAULA STRASBERG – Acting coaches and friends
I saw that what she looked like was not what she really was, and what was going on inside her was not what was going on outside, and that always means there may be something to work with. In Marilyn’s case, the reactions were phenomenal. She can call up emotionally what is required for a scene. Her range is infinite.Lee Strasberg
Paula Strasberg met Marilyn in 1954 and later met Lee when she came to New York to begin working at the Actor’s Studio. Marilyn was just one of some of their famous students (including Paul Newman, James Dean, Marlon Brando and Al Pacino) and many were surprised by her dedication.
It wasn’t long before the Strasberg family, including their daughter Susan, were a large part of Marilyn’s life. Susan had said she and Marilyn were like sisters despite feeling as if there was no love or energy left for her from her parents as it was all devoted to Marilyn. And it is true Marilyn received much self-assurance from them, always turning to Paula whilst on set as opposed to her Director.
Despite their encouragement of psychoanalysis and enforcing The Method, I do genuinely believe they cared for Marilyn, even if they were being paid a lot of the time to do so. Saying that I don’t think it was healthy or professional on their part to be so involved with everything Marilyn did in both her work and private life. I feel they should’ve either been friends or colleagues, not both.
Paula was almost universally disliked by everyone on set which I feel didn’t help Marilyn’s cause. In addition, Paula had often made more from being on set than Marilyn did, taking home $3,000-$5,000 a week. The general feeling amongst many fans and biographers is that they exploited Marilyn.
Marilyn and Strasberg’s relationship became more distant when she moved back to Los Angeles in the 60s, which I feel not also benefitted Marilyn but also Paula who had supposedly had a breakdown in 1962.
Despite feeling as if the relationship with the Strasberg family crossed into unhealthy territory, that isn’t to suggest they aren’t reliable sources of information. If anything they were some of Marilyn’s closest companions hence why they were the main benefactors of Marilyn’s estate when she died. Any stories told about Marilyn show just how vulnerable and dependent she was on them, which is completely plausible by other people’s accounts too.
JOE DIMAGGIO – Husband and friend
I could never talk about her. Never.Joe DiMaggio
Joe didn’t really discuss Marilyn after her death other than Earl Wilson in 1974. This is something I admire greatly. I feel that those who knew and respected Marilyn best kept quiet the most, as they didn’t have anything to gain from talking about their private lives. Therefore, all we can go by in terms of how he felt or their friendship is the letters they exchanged. You can read more about their relationship here.
ARTHUR MILLER – Husband
Her face seemed puffed (with crying) and not especially beautiful but she could hardly move a finger without striking the heart with the beauty of its curving lineArthur Miller
Arthur Miller and Marilyn met in late 1950/early 1951 and he would recall in interviews and in his book that when they met she was crying. This was likely due to the recent death of her agent Johnny Hyde (18th December 1950).
Marilyn had been photographed before this meeting reading Miller’s work and even had said in an article that Arthur Miller was one of her favourite men. According to Sidney Skolsky, columnist and buddy of Marilyn’s, she stated, not long after her marriage to Joe DiMaggio, she was one day going to marry Arthur Miller! Not that this is necessarily true. Safe to say Marilyn admired him greatly. Kelly from SilverTechnicolor even pointed out a framed picture from 1951 which looks similar to Arthur.
They had an affair whilst he was still married to Mary Slattery. Their relationship already being on the rocks, they were divorced with Slattery stating it had nothing to do with Marilyn. In 1955, their relationship became public before they were then engaged and married in 1956.
Their marriage, like many, faced difficulties. She had an affair with co-star, Yves Montand in 1959 however Marilyn and Arthur didn’t get divorced until November 1960.
According to the Ralph Roberts Marilyn had kicked Arthur out, screaming that she was done with him and had been for years. She told him to “Go to hell and don’t come back.”
He then married photographer Inge Morath, who had photographed Marilyn and the cast of The Misfits on set.
Much is said about Arthur and the choices he made in their marriage. Some I feel are justified, some not so much. His conduct after Marilyn’s death also is what bothers many fans.
Being a writer, he is very romantic and poetic in his words. But for some, the straw that breaks the camel’s back comes down to After the Fall which he began writing whilst married to Marilyn, and released as a play after her death. After the Fall was and still is heavily criticised in how the characters clearly represent his late ex-wife and himself, their marriage and their private difficulties. Some fans defend this as an artist’s way of expressing himself. But the majority feel the play was written in poor taste.
How does this affect how we view his trustworthiness? I personally have never felt Arthur had lied about Marilyn or their marriage. But I also feel that being a writer can often change his perception of their past together. Reading some of his letters, he seemed pretty jealous and a little controlling whereas he has sometimes put the shoe on Marilyn’s foot as being the needy one. But for me, it’s clear they both had some self-esteem issues. You can see more of the letters here.
JAMES DOUGHERTY – Husband
Norma Jeane was always a butterfly. She was beautiful all of her life, within and without. During our courtship and marriage I never stopped loving to be with her, to stare at her, to laugh with and love her. We had a wonderful, joyful marriage. But in the end, it was not enough for Norma Jeane. Like all beautiful butterflies, she had to fly away.James Dougherty
James Dougherty (aka Jimmy) met Norma Jeane when she was a teenager and they married shortly after her sixteenth birthday, primarily to keep her from returning to the orphanage. But they attempted to make their marriage work. Things got a little trickier when Jimmy joined the merchant marines, leaving Norma Jeane practically alone. This is when she was spotted at work by David Conover, an army photographer. She began modelling and it wasn’t long before her career came first.
They got divorced in 1946, after four years of marriage.
Jimmy had done a few interviews and released two books about his marriage with Norma Jeane, however, I cannot confess to having read it mostly because it’s not particularly easy to obtain in the UK. However, Jimmy spoke about Marilyn in a very kind and respectful way, never seeming to exaggerate anything to the extreme like some of those who knew her.
Thanks to April for her help on this!