Due to her untimely passing, Marilyn Monroe is easily associated with having a sad existence in her short 36 years. The seemingly always happy, forever smiling sex goddess is often described as being secretly downcast and depressed behind that glowing exterior. It’s easy to picture her this way thanks to the consistent media portrayals of an unhinged individual who would fake a grin for the cameras when really she was miserable inside.
But was she really that person?
Marilyn said to Marie Claire reporter, Georges Belmont in 1960 that “if I’m generally anything, I’m generally miserable.” This quote written down is a disheartening one. But when you listen to the recording you can hear her light-hearted fits of laughter. She also discusses that some days she feels sociable and some days not so much, like anyone.
Marilyn had already experienced a lifetime of traumas and yet was able to see the humour behind her emotions. All of which, were entirely valid. Anyone who had experienced the trauma Marilyn had in her life, would probably also say the same thing.
Of course, with her upbringing and mental health problems (insomnia, anxiety and depression) we are quick as a society to immediately deem Marilyn as a person who was never happy. Needless to say, depressive episodes, paired with medication addiction and lack of sleep, have a dire effect on one’s mood.
Her notes and journals display the dejected and hurt words of someone clearly not happy. Many would agree, however, that their own journals rarely contain feelings of joy and happiness. Most people’s diaries would contain feelings of anger, hurt and pain. Why should Marilyn Monroe be any different?
From a young age, Marilyn was reported as being someone in need of consistency. Her orphanage report states, “If she is not approached in a reassuring and patient way (..), she looks terrified. I recommend placing her in a protective family.” She was always in need of encouragement, attention and acceptance. Completely understandable considering her constant moving around from home to home and never having a stable family not to mention the mental, physical and sexual abuse she received.
In her adult years, Marilyn still required this sense of security. But healthy and stable relationships were hard to come by (especially at the level Marilyn needed to feel secure) which certainly would cause bouts of anxiety.
NOTE: I thought I would quickly note that some have post-humously diagnosed Marilyn as having Borderline Personality Disorder. However, I do not believe in diagnosing the dead. I had contacted the Anna Freud Museum as it had been stated on various forums online that there is a medical card on display at the Museum stating Marilyn’s diagnosis. Please see their response in the screenshot below.
“I KNOW I WILL NEVER BE HAPPY”
A letter to her psychoanalyst Ralph Greenson in 1961 stated (after being institutionalized against her will due to her ailing mental state) that “I know I will never be happy, but I know I can be gay!” followed by a statement written by the poet Milton “the happy ones were never born”
This implies happiness is not a consistent state. No one is truly 100% happy. But she experienced feeling “gay”, thus confirming she did have periods of feeling carefree, lighthearted and bright. Whereas happy is a consistent, general emotional. Marilyn understood from everything she learnt through psychoanalysis and life in general, that emotions are complicated things and no one can ever be fully happy or fully sad.
Although Marilyn suffered from mental health issues, received therapy and was prescribed medication, it cannot be ignored that Marilyn wasn’t always in a depressed state.
It should also be remembered that medicine and psychology aren’t the same as it is today and therefore prescriptions can actually make symptoms worse. Some of the drugs Marilyn was prescribed are now actually banned so it could be considered that if Marilyn had received today’s level of treatment, she may not have had the difficulties she did.
It’s safe to assume that we have no idea what someone is really feeling or what their life is really like behind closed doors. People will only show what they want the world to see. And if you happen to be the most famous woman on earth, sometimes you can see through the cracks and witness the stresses of life. Just because she didn’t smile every time she left the house or sometimes didn’t bother with makeup doesn’t mean she was having a bad mental health day. It just means she didn’t want to wear make up or smile. Photos only capture so much.
We cannot fully understand all the elements of someone’s life and personal situation.
For example, No one knows for certain when Marilyn decided that she no longer cared enough for Arthur Miller to have an affair with Yves Montand in 1960. Was it when she stopped wearing her wedding ring during the filming of Let’s Make Love? Was it before the affair, during or after that she realised she wasn’t happy?
And no one knows whether she was going to rekindle her romantic relationship with Joe DiMaggio because she felt happy with him. Her last note to Joe for example can only be truly understood by Marilyn or Joe, as we don’t know what was said or done to trigger these words.
It is all speculation.
We have no clue how many days she felt happy vs feeling down. Or whether she was happy and carefree on her last day alive. Basically, there’s a lot we don’t know and it is wrong to speculate.
Memory is a funny thing. The people who knew her may only want to remember her a certain way or because of her death, certain memories are clearer than others.
So, was Marilyn a sad person? Well, yes and no. Like anyone, Marilyn had good days and bad days. But it’s important to realise that life isn’t as simple as good and bad. It’s a mixture of many emotions which cannot summarise a person’s whole existence. Many joyous events happened in her life, some we know of, some were behind closed doors. These are simple small fragments of a bigger picture.
What is very often overlooked is Marilyn’s sense of humour, her goofiness and her fun-loving side. A side I feel people should appreciate more often as it was a wonderful quality of hers. Marilyn should not be defined by the nature of her death alone.