When researching Marilyn, it’s important to know where to look. The internet can give only so much so I have compiled a go-to list, similar to my recommended books, of where you can seek very useful Marilyn information and images. Remember that not all books, documentaries and websites will be 100% accurate but I find them incredibly useful for researching Marilyn.
TIP: when using search engines, be specific about what you are looking for and then reverse the image for HQ photos. Also remember, if someone has found a particularly rare image or edited a photo and you’re reposting it, be sure to credit the user!
Frankly, I’ve never considered my own figure so exceptional; until quite recently, I seldom gave it any thought at all”
Marilyn Monroe has one of the most desirable figures in the world. Well, so the internet seems to say, each to their own, right?. Needless to say, Marilyn had a curvaceous, hourglass figure. So, how did she obtain it? First of all, this is by NO MEANS a recommended diet or workout plan, this is for informational purposes only. Every body type is different and reacts in different ways to dietary plans and workout routines. And I personally want to say YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR WEIGHT OR SIZE. Focus on your personal mental and physical health and the rest will follow.
MARILYN’S WEIGHT AND MEASUREMENTS THROUGHOUT THE YEARS
2nd August 1945 – Blue Book Modeling Agency 120lbs 36-24-34
8th February 1954 – DOD ID Card 118lbs
May 1962 Approximately 35½ – 23½ -33¼
5th August 1962 – LA Coroner Medical Report 117lbs
Growing up, Norma Jeane stood out from her classmates. Naturally, tall and skinny the children at her school nastily nicknamed her “Norma Jeane Human Bean.” A boy in her class also cruelly commented., “I hope someday your legs fill out.”
However, like many girls, Marilyn began developing a shapely figure on the cusp of teenagehood, resulting in getting attention from the opposite sex. She stated, “At twelve I looked like a girl of seventeen. My body was developed and shapely.”
As Marilyn had no money for a new blouse (her others were torn) she wore another girl’s sweater, which was too small. This accentuated Norma Jeane’s natural curves which drew in groups of boys on her way home from school. This attention she thoroughly enjoyed. These famous curves would later be a household name alongside her films, quick-witted personality and ethereal beauty.
1952 DIET AND WORKOUT
When married to James Dougherty and living in Avalon, Norma Jeane was taught how to lift weights a skill she would continue to do for much of her adult life. In 1952 Marilyn was interviewed by Pageant Magazine where she discussed her diet and workouts. She was photographed by both Andre de Dienes and Philippe Halsman using weights in 1952 with De Dienes’s images being used alongside the article.
Frankly, I’ve never considered my own figure so exceptional; until quite recently, I seldom gave it any thought at all. My biggest single concern used to be getting enough to eat. Now I have to worry about eating too much. I never used to bother with exercises. Noe I spent at leasy 10 minutes each mornng working out with small weights. I have evolved my own exercises, for the muscles I wish to keep firm, and I know they are right for me because I can feel them putting the proper muscles into play as I exercise.
She Doesn’t Like To Feel Regimented
Exercise. Each morning after I brush my teeth, wash my face and shake off the first deep layer of sleep, I lie down on the floor beside my bed and begin my first exercise. It is a simple bust-firming routine which consists of lifting five-pound weights from a spread-eagle arm position to a point directly above my head. I do this 15 times, slowly. I repeat the exercise another 15 times from a position with my arms above my head. Then, with my arms at a 45-degree angle from the floor, I move my weights in circles until I’m tired. I don’t count rhythmically like the exercise people on the radio; I couldn’t stand exercise if I had to feel regimented about it.
How To Feel Blond All Over
Sports. I have never cared especially for outdoor sports, and have no desire to excel at tennis, swimming, or golf. I’ll leave those things to the men. Despite its great vogue in California, I don’t think sun-tanned skin is any more attractive than white skin, or any healthier, for that matter. I’m personally opposed to a deep tan because I like to feel blond all over.
By nature, I suppose I have a languorous disposition. I hate to do things in a hurried, tense atmosphere, and it is virtually impossible for me to spring out of bed in the morning. On Sunday, which is my one day of total leisure, I sometimes take two hours to wake up, luxuriating in every last moment of drowsiness. Depending upon my activities, I sleep between five and ten hours every night. I sleep in an extra-wide single bed, and I use only one heavy down comforter over me, summer or winter. I have never been able to wear pajamas or creepy nightgowns; they disturb my sleep.
A Set of Bizarre Eating Habits
Breakfast. I’ve been told that my eating habits are absolutely bizarre, but I don’t think so. Before I take my morning shower, I start warming a cup of milk on the hot plate I keep in my hotel room. When it’s hot, I break two raw eggs into the milk, whip them up with a fork, and drink them while I’m dressing. I supplement this with a multi-vitamin pill, and I doubt if any doctor could recommend a more nourishing breakfast for a working girl in a hurry.
Dinner. My dinners at home are startlingly simple. Every night I stop at the market near my hotel and pick up a steak, lamb chops or some liver, which I broil in the electric oven in my room. I usually eat four or five raw carrots with my meat, and that is all. I must be part rabbit; I never get bored with raw carrots.
P.S. It’s a good thing, I suppose, that I eat simply during the day, for in recent months I have developed the habit of stopping off at Wil Wright’s ice cream parlor for a hot fudge sundae on my way home from my evening drama classes. I’m sure that I couldn’t allow myself this indulgence were it not that my normal diet is composed almost totally of protein foods.”
WEIGHT GAIN AND PREGNANCY
In both 1958 and 1960 when Marilyn stepped off the plane to make Some Like It Hot and The Misfits, the press commented on Marilyn’s weight gain.
During the filming of Some Like It Hot, Marilyn was in the early stages of pregnancy so it’s natural she would’ve put on some weight. Nontheless it seems unnecessary to comment on her figure whether she was pregnant or not, and its unfortunate that even today the press comment on figures of both men and women and see weight gain as a negative. Marilyn was also a sufferer of endometriosis which can cause severe bloating. You can read more about endometriosis here.
1000 CALORIE DIET PLAN
In 2016, Marilyn’s personal diet plan, written by Dr Leon Krohn, was sold for $3,437.50.
Although the typed meal plan had been found in a 1958 notebook it is quite likely that it could be from after Marilyn’s 1961 gall bladder surgery where she was required to not eat fatty or rich foods, however, it is undated and unconfirmed.
This Calorie Restricted Diet/ 1000 Calories/ 100 Grams Protein, as stated by Julien’s “presents sound health advice even by today’s standards, recommending the restriction of sugar, fats and carbohydrates to whole wheat and “one small white potato boiled baked or riced” as a substitution for one slice of bread.”
The plan consists of two options for each meal, consisting mostly of fruit, vegetables and meat/fish.
Marilyn was delighted with the fact she had lost an awful lot of weight, effortlessly, on the diet prescribed after the gallbladder operation.
“And all the massages are keeping the body firm,” she said. “As a matter of fact, I think I have a better body than I’ve had since the early days at Fox. If you want to give the diet to any of your friends out here, I would certainly recommend it.”
Then, as if I didn’t know it by heart, she repeated it. “Before each meal, half a grapefruitt. The grapefruit is better than half a glass of the juice , because the bulk helps grind up fat. For breakfast, the whites of four eggs, I poach mine. The whites of eggs are among the highest concentrated protein anywhere – the yellow highest concentrated of fat. A piece of toast. Lunch, a tuna salad with greens and diet dressing. Or, the white meat of chicken or turkey. Dinner, a salad, a small baked potato, and a filet mignon, preferably charcoaled. If I get ravenously hungry mid-afternoon, a few bites of white meat of chicken, a few shrimp. Vary the steak with fish of some kind.
“I never feel the need of stuffing the face withbread, or sweets, and oddly enough, fruit…”
… I thought it’s interesting that in the diet I could pass on to other friends, she neglectede to mention the split of champagne before dinner. I think that’s the main ingredient of any diet – relax.
Mimosa by Ralph Roberts
Along with her diet, Marilyn felt that a huge part of her losing weight was down to receiving regular massages with Ralph. She said to Ralph in September 1961, “Thanks to the diet and to you, I’m sure I could make the best impression for an awfully long spell” before going to a party with Frank Sinatra.
Ralph Roberts later comments in the book on how slim she looked in March 1962, ready for Something’s Got To Give.
She removed a loose jacket she was wearing, and displayed her trim, firm body, very slender.
“Having those massages while losing all that blubber sure paid off. I went to the wardrobe at Fox the other day and tried on a dress I wore in “Gentlemen,” and it was a perfect fit everywhere but the waist and a teensy bit loose there. I’m better than I’ve ever been.”
As with all of us, our weight and body change over time. Marilyn was no exception. Marilyn’s diet and routine would change regualrly depending on what was occurring in her life at that time.
As mentioned at the start of this blog post, this article is for information purporses only. I don’t by any means believe you should attempt to follow Marilyn’s diet just because it worked for her and health and diet advice has changed a lot over the years. Please talk to your own doctor or a dietician plus trainer when planning weight loss options.
They say “love is blind” and I feel this doesn’t stop with romantic relationships. Family, friends and even dead celebrities… And believe me, I LOVE Marilyn. But she was by no means perfect. It’s slightly delusional to think she was an angel. But, I also think this is something many people actually like about her because it makes her relatable. More human if you will. But what is it about Marilyn Monroe that I dislike? What actions did she or didn’t she take that make me have some judgemental feelings towards her?
A quick disclaimer… I don’t completely feel like these events/qualities are ALL Marilyn’s fault and I will defend her on these points too, even if I don’t 100% agree. Read until the end before making comment on these “judgements”
Trigger warnings apply.
HER DEPENDENCE ON THE WRONG PEOPLE
Throughout Marilyn’s life, she had been let down by the people she loved the most. Her father, mother, grandparents, foster families… The list goes on. She clearly found it hard to maintain certain relationships and whenever true love, commitment and dedication reared their beautiful head Marilyn gripped it with both hands. And I don’t blame her. But I also feel this was her downfall.
My first issue with certain people is that she was PAYING them to be there for her. If she wasn’t paying them would they still have been as attentive? Maybe it was “stress tax”. More often than not they were paid the same (if not more) than she was.
In the early 1950s, Natasha Lytess was making more money than Marilyn was, earning $750 a week. There’s even a cancelled cheque made out to Paula Strasberg in 1960 for $10,000. In 1956, during the filming of The Prince and The Showgirl Marilyn insisted Paula be present. Lee Strasberg required that Paula receive $25,000 for ten weeks of work. She was ultimately paid $38,000 with Marilyn reducing her own salary in order to pay her.
Obviously, Marilyn had friends who were also her colleagues/employees such as Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder and Ralph Roberts but they were paid for the services they delivered. But they weren’t paid to be around Marilyn and guide her in every life and career choice.
Not to mention they gave her little space to breathe… I feel this created more anxiety in her. I feel Marilyn was so desperate for emotional security that she was happy to literally PAY for it and let lines be crossed in the meantime.
For example, Lee and Paula Strasberg were her acting coaches. They were paid extraordinary sums (as shown above) to be with Marilyn on set although it created immense tension with the rest of her colleagues. Marilyn was willing to risk that. She’d dine and stay at their home. She was treated like a second daughter to them which must have been hard on their ACTUAL children. Let’s not forget they encouraged psychoanalysis which resulted in her taking prescription drugs… More on that later.
Another example was her psychoanalyst Ralph Greenson who saw or spoke to Marilyn several times a day. But this was not for social visits. It was paid work. Of course, it must have been hard on Greenson and his family to constantly live the life of Marilyn’s therapist but they still had her stay and dine in their home too. Marilyn depended on their sessions as well as the coaching of Paula and Lee Strasberg. Seeing the therapist and taking acting lessons with Lee and Paula brought up a lot of emotions for her, leading to the medication she would be prescribed.
NOT GIVING UP MEDS & DRINKING WHEN PREGNANT
When I fell pregnant there was no question I was going to give up the medication that could have caused harm to my baby. This is why I find it shocking that Marilyn didn’t despite being warned by her own Doctor.
By 1958, Marilyn was heavily dependent on her medication which at that time consisted of barbiturates.
According to Donald Spoto’s biography: “Both for sleep and as a tranquillizer, she had been taking Amytal, a brand name of the barbiturate amobarbital, and now she guiltily recalled Leon Krohn’s warning, as she wrote the Rostens: “Could I have killed it by taking all the Amytal on an empty stomach? I took some sherry wine also.” For weeks she was inconsolable, convinced that the drug abuse she now freely admitted had caused the spontaneous abortion.”
Dr Leon Krohn stated, “She often told me how she longed for a child, but I cautioned her that she would kill a baby with the drink and the pills—the effects of those barbiturates accumulated, I told her, and it would be impossible to predict when just one drink will then precipitate a spontaneous abortion.”
I feel, based on losing her baby in 1957, this was a careless error. One that, I am sure, hurt her immeasurably. But this is the sad tale of addiction and the naivety that it may not happen to you. I’m sure she didn’t feel she would be putting the baby at any risk. But it was and is not a risk ever worth taking. And I feel a huge deal of sadness for Marilyn. How much blame she must have put on herself when she lost that second child is inconceivable and possibly caused a huge amount of strain on her mental health and marriage with Arthur.
Edit: I have had my head bitten off for this one… But at the end of the day, Marilyn was told to stop at the risk of losing the baby. And she didn’t. There was a miscarriage scare and she was told it was nothing. But then it did happen. This isn’t an attack on Marilyn. It’s an attack on addiction. Those are the horrible and unfortunate facts that poor Marilyn and Arthur had to face. Whether the medication and occasional drink actually played a part in her losing the baby, I don’t know, but the early months of pregnancy are the riskiest and therefore it is a sad fact that Marilyn’s medication dependency took over.
APPARENT LACK OF CONSIDERATION FOR OTHERS
Connected with her dependence on others, I feel that Marilyn being late to appointments and shutting herself away was her way of having some control.
Did she sit and cry in front of the mirror attempting to “become her”? I doubt it. That’s a romantic tale from the likes of Truman Capote (a known fantasist). She suffered from anxiety and I doubt Marilyn shutting herself away and being hours late for an appointment was about trying to turn on the Monroe-isms. But I don’t think her anxiety about appearing in front of others was totally the issue here.
I feel that although her tardiness was incredibly rude and her lack of real explanation was inconsiderate, it’s clear she wanted some say on when “the people” would get to see her. And it was HER say, not theirs. For this, I do not blame her. She even discussed her tardiness stating, “I am invariably late for appointments – sometimes as much as two hours. I’ve tried to change my ways but the things that make me late are too strong and too pleasing.” Marilyn did things for herself including taking her time getting ready or having long baths to help her relax.
Sadly, this would not be understood by her fellow cast and crew giving her an incredibly negative reputation, even resulting in her being fired in 1962.
Marilyn became infamous for her lateness, hence her introduction by Peter Lawford at the Madison Square Garden, “the late Marilyn Monroe.” Ironically, she had been on time and her coming on the stage late was planned.
No matter what, if a relationship is not going well, being unfaithful is not the answer. It’s unfair to all parties, especially those who are being cheated on.
I get that she felt distanced from Arthur, especially after losing the babies and him writing all the time (it was his job after all) and whatever other troubles they were facing, those we may never entirely know. However, Marilyn’s response to an affair with Yves Montand during Let’s Make Love was not the way to deal with her marital issues.
We cannot analyse relationships we aren’t a part of but I don’t think cheating on your partner will fix much. If anything, it’s a cry for help and the marriage should’ve ended the moment she considered sleeping with a married man. The same goes for Yves.
OVEREXAGGERATING AND CREATING PITY
Marilyn’s tales of woe begin with chatting about her childhood and how she lived the life of Oliver Twist. A poor girl, whose mother died and she was whisked away to an orphanage where she was forced to clean, wistfully looking out at the RKO Studio water tower dreaming of her future.
But this isn’t exactly true.
Marilyn was not forced to clean toilets or wash one hundred dishes at the orphanage. Her mother wasn’t dead. She told stories about her mother being deceased, but really she didn’t want the world to know her mother was mentally ill. The truth is Marilyn was both great at publicity as well as being immensely private. And yes, most of her childhood was unprivileged and unstable but it wasn’t as horrific as many others. She was not the only celebrity to have a difficult upbringing but some fans act as if she was.
Other white lies Marilyn told include:
She did not find her childhood piano in an auction house during her modelling days as told in My Story. She bought it back from Aunt Ana who originally purchased it from Grace when Gladys went to the hospital.
That she was going to focus on her marriage and not so much on her career when she married Joe DiMaggio. He quit his job as a sports commentator as it was believed that they would have. quieter life but Marilyn was just as busy as ever.
Marilyn said in 1956 that she had never seen Joe DiMaggio play baseball however there are photographs of Marilyn at a charity game in March 1952 where he played.
She made out that she lived with strangers throughout her childhood however most of the people knew Grace or Gladys and cared for her the best they knew how.
That she was not in a relationship with Arthur in February 1956. However, letters from April and May 1956 show their relationship wasn’t anything new…
Do I blame Marilyn for these very natural and human qualities that she possessed? Not at all. We all make mistakes and as Osgood says, “Nobody’s perfect.”
Marilyn had her troubles and very valid reasons for her negative characteristics. They were shaped and brought on by her personal experiences and outside influences. This is something I have learnt to accept in many people… And I am still learning too. That perhaps there is a reason behind the actions people take, whether we agree with them or not. Empathy and compassion are important traits I feel we need more as a society but definitely not to the point of delusion where we accept people’s bad behaviour. There is a fine line. And I feel it is important to recognise what we don’t like about the people we love so we can look deeper at what makes them act in a certain way, thus creating sympathy when and where it is deserved.
I’ve been asked a few times “what item of Marilyn’s would you like to own?” so I had a flick through the 1999 Christie’s catalogue and decided to share my top 5 items. This is if I was a millionaire, which I am not… A girl can dream.
WHITE BABY GRAND PIANO
In 1933, Marilyn’s mother Gladys purchased a property for her and her daughter in order to provide stable family life for the two of them. It was at this time she also purchased a Franklin Baby Grand Piano.
Unfortunately, in 1935 Gladys had to sell the property as well as the piano to pay off existing debts.
How Marilyn got back the piano after Gladys sold it is foggy… According to My Story, Marilyn found the piano at an auction house and paid for it with her modelling money. But documents show that in 1945, Norma Jeane sold the piano to Ana Lower for $100. When she took ownership of it again, I don’t know for certain.
She is first photographed with her piano in 1953. Whether this the actually one from her childhood cannot be verified and we can only go by Marilyn’s accounts.
EDIT: My dear friend April clarified a few points. Gladys never sold the piano… It was Grace. Who then sold it to Ana. Then Norma Jeane bought it back from Ana. I had always misread the document!
Marilyn had the piano painted between 1953 and 1958, likely in 1954 based on when she was interviewed for My Story. An item from her childhood (even if it’s not the EXACT same one) is a beautiful sentiment. It’s Marilyn’s connection to her beginning, her past and was clearly something very important to her.
Price realised USD 662,500
Estimate USD 10,000 – USD 15,000
A Sorry Song, no place, no date. The poem reads:
I’ve got a tear hanging over my beer (?) that I can’t let go
it too bad I feel sad when I got all my life behind me
if I had a little relief from this grief then I could find a growing stare (?) to hold on to
A poem, written with her own hand is an incredibly personal item and provides a true connection to her creativity and mind.
Price realised USD 36,800
Estimate USD 6,000 – USD 8,000
When Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio first got married the platinum band, set with thirty-five baguette-cut diamonds was not her wedding ring. The original ring photographed on their wedding day and throughout their Asia trip had belonged to Joe’s mother, Rosalia, who died in 1951. The eternity band Marilyn wore from that point on, up until their divorce, is first seen in April 1954, three months after the wedding.
The fact that Marilyn kept this ring, as well as other items related to Joe, shows her continued respect and love for him all the way up until she died. Not only is the ring beautiful, but it displays the special relationship between the couple even after they were divorced.
Price realised USD 772,500
Estimate USD 30,000 – USD 50,000
BLACK COCKTAIL DRESS & COAT
This black cocktail dress was worn by Marilyn in the 1960 film Let’s Make Love. The sleeveless dress was constructed with a bodice of coffee-coloured chiffon, embroidered with black scrolling foliage and a matching cropped jacket. She also wore it to the 1959 ceremony for the presentation of her David Di Donatello Award at the Italian Consulate in New York, at a luncheon for Nikita Khrushchev as well as during hair and make-up tests for Something’s Got To Give in 1962.
In September 1961, she was going to have the dress sent over from her apartment in New York to LA for a party she was attending with Frank Sinatra. Instead, she purchased and wore the Norman Norell mermaid dress she later wore at the Golden Globes in 1962.
I love the simplicity of the dress and it was clearly a favourite of Marilyn’s. I was definitely torn between this dress and some of her Pucci items, as well as the JFK gala dress but I absolutely adore this outfit and the gala dress would’ve been too easy a choice!
Price realised USD 79,500
Estimate USD 20,000 – USD 30,000
MAKE UP CASE
One of the most iconic and recognisable qualities of Marilyn was her make-up and, of course, beauty. Everyone wants to know her secrets. So, to be able to own some of those tools and products would be nothing short of incredible. The black case with five metal drawers contained an assortment of make-up comprising:
Three lipsticks by Max Factor labelled LS/7-22/N.I.
One highlighter and two Elizabeth Arden cream eyeshadows in gold-tone tubes named “Autumn Smoke” and “Pearly Blue”
Two Elizabeth Arden “Eye Stopper” eyeliners, one brown and one black
One cream “Light Green” eyeshadow in a pot by Leichner of London
Two bottles of nail polish by Revlon, one “Cherries a la Mode”, the other “Hot Coral”, and a bottle of cuticle oil
An eyeliner and a box containing flash eyelashes by Glorene of Hollywood
A bottle of black liquid eyeliner
A box of “Hollywood Wings”
Two bottles of perfumed lotion from the “Quintess” line by Shisheido, in their box
Anita d’Foged “Day Dew” cream make-up and cover-up
Two pots of Erno Lazlo make-up
A box of tissues
A selection of matchbooks, including one printed MMM and others from restaurants including Sardi’s
Two paper fans
Three satin purses
Two pocket mirrors
A bottle of smelling salts
Price realised USD 266,500
Estimate USD 1,000 – USD 1,500
If I had purchased all of these items for their realised price I would have spent a grand total of $1,817,800 (!!!) You can view the items sold at Christie’s here.
What 5 items would you buy and what would the total cost have been?
Below is a guest post by David Chirko, a psychologically oriented researcher and author who contacted Our Marilyn Monroe to discuss Marilyn’s mental health through a clinical lens. These are references held from researchers and are not necessarily the opinions of Our Marilyn Monroe.
I personally do not believe in diagnosing those who are no longer with us because the information is all second hand. That said, I am always keen to understand the science and what may have triggered certain behaviours. I found this article to be an interesting one to share. I do think Marilyn follows many of the traits mentioned but I want to clarify once again that I am not stating Marilyn suffered from these conditions officially. There is absolutely nothing wrong with suffering any sort of mental illness but I don’t like saying someone suffered an illness when I wasn’t the one treating her if that makes sense… I understand also that medical science was very different in the past and appreciate that now if Marilyn were to be treated, she is likely to have been diagnosed with the below. Please read the below with an open mind and understand that these are simply what others have researched in observing Marilyn’s psychological profile.
References, as well as a final note, can be found at the end of the article.
The foreword to Cassandra’s Daughter (1999), by psychoanalytic psychotherapist Joseph Schwartz, Ph.D. (physics), proclaims that “Psychoanalysis is arguably the… most important intellectual development of the twentieth century. It shares boundaries with literature, psychiatry, and academic psychology…” Those boundaries now extend to the motion picture arts, because many movie stars have been psychoanalyzed. One of them, Schwartz explains, like “…Marilyn Monroe…are…gods of success….” (p. 15). Schwartz compares the famous of today to Greek gods who, via their mythologies, reflected the elements of a fractured society’s experiential core. I will deconstruct part of that core, by separating the bruised and misunderstood person that was Norma Jean Baker, from the mythical, legendary goddess that was invented in Marilyn Monroe, through her involvement with psychoanalysis.
Marilyn, the Thespian
Writer and professor Sarah Churchwell, Ph.D. (English/American literature), states in her 2013 Freud Museum London podcast, The Many Minds of Marilyn Monroe (alluding to her 2005 book, The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe), in the beginning, Marilyn wasn’t an adroit actress. However, she had charisma, nevertheless screen moguls didn’t extol her for this and, Churchwell adds, she often wasn’t paid well, comparatively. Marilyn was sexually harassed, but sometimes arduous to work with. Miss Cellania (2011) asserts that director Billy Wilder found her “erratic” and forgetful of her lines, in Some Like It Hot (1959). Lorraine (2002), says Wilder once quipped, “It was hell at the time, but after it was over, it was wonderful”
Churchwell says Marilyn didn’t always get male support. For instance, Arthur Miller idealized her, but thought her past was opprobrious. Churchwell defends her, declaring she wasn’t angelic, but perfectionistic; not crazy, but ferocious. For Marilyn, her failures superseded everything and she was dissatisfied over having little education. No, she was not the stereotypical, dumb blonde. Although she wasn’t so fragile, being looked upon as only an icon perturbed her.
The Psychodiagnostic Bible: DSM
Marilyn Monroe, as will be shown, would probably display just about all of the symptoms necessary to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, or BPD, found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition), or DSM-5 (APA, 2013, p. 663). To meet the criteria one must exhibit five or more of the following features:
1. Eschewing imagined or real abandonment;
2. Interpersonal relationships that are intense, but not stable, with fluctuating extremes, from devaluation (belittling others), to idealization (exalting others);
3. Identity disturbance, where sense of self or self-image is unbalanced;
4. Impulsivity in a couple of areas that may damage a person, like careless driving, episodes of impetuous eating, financial overspending, improper and/or exorbitant use of drugs, and indiscriminate sexual exploits;
5. Repeated suicidal, or self-mutilating (like cutting), behaviour;
6. Emotional instability, stemming from mood, such as anxiety, dysphoria (depression), or irritability;
7. Feelings of chronic emptiness;
8. Anger management issues;
9. Passing, stress-based paranoid ideation (entertaining of thoughts) or symptoms of dissociation (disconnected mentally/behaviorally from sense of self in the here and now).
Psychiatrist Jerold Jay Kreisman, M.D., and health and medical writer Hal Straus, A.B. (history), discuss (1991), borderline personality disorder, covering its many facets and causes while alluding to how it was exemplified in Marilyn Monroe.
The roots of BPD (pp. 48-50), can be social, neurobiological, or, as in Marilyn’s case (mainly) developmental. Concerning the etiological (causative) factors, at the age of 18 to 30 months, the child attempts autonomy; their experiences and feelings are not given value by absent parents. A stable sense of self is not ratified; therefore they incessantly worry over being abandoned and crave attachment.
At two to three years, is the “individuation-separation phase,” where the child disengages from the caregiver and develops a distinct sense of self, sculpting boundaries between others and itself. This is complexified by conflictual desires of autonomy versus dependency and closeness needs, and fears of being abandoned versus fears of being engulfed.
“Splitting,” a defence mechanism, occurs; seeing an individual as two personas—i.e., the good, against the bad, mother. When absent, the infant yearns for her return. Normal integration of all mother’s bad and good traits replaces the split. Separation anxiety is overcome via “object constancy”; the good object (mother) is always there. Marilyn didn’t achieve this; not knowing who she, or her mother, was. (Kalb  says her mother sometimes denied being her mother [pp. 23-4].) Without a stable sense of self, she became dependent, feeling abandoned and always supplicating love.
Churchwell (2013) states Marilyn had a distressful childhood because she never knew her own father and her mother was consigned to a mental institution when she was eight. She experienced trepidation over inheriting her mother’s schizophrenia. Marilyn stayed in an orphanage and foster homes when young, therein was “probably” molested.
Kreisman and Straus describe (p. 36) Norman Mailer’s volume Marilyn (1973), wherein he elaborates on how Monroe sought an identity. This is quintessential to being “real,” extinguishing the emptiness in oneself, thereby releasing good, sincere feelings. When actors act a part, the “Method” is exercised as they emotionally act out, similar to what occurs in psychoanalysis. Once reaching the depths, they are encapsulated by their role and experience enlightenment, as their identity is fulfilled. This is what BPD sufferers struggle with when they are compelled to fake an identity. The authors mention (p. 40) Norman Rosten’s book, Marilyn: An Untold Story (1973),wherein the writer remembered how Marilyn loathed being alone because it propelled her into a perpetual and frightening void. Kreisman and Straus then describe how director Lee Strasberg offered her the nurturance she was deprived of as a child. Nevertheless, when a man that was a father figure deserted her, or passed on, like Clark Gable (p. 56), or when she was childless, rebuffed, and incriminated professionally, she felt devastated. Marilyn was then “found out,” becoming only Norma Jean, again—and who was she? Her persona obliterated, she plunged into depression. At least three times she attempted suicide. She manipulated her lovers later in life.
Churchwell believes that her mental illness was connected to drug use, not falling under a distinct clinical category. She supposes that, as a symptom of drug addiction, paranoia plagued her and was prevalent just before her death, but no one knows exactly when it commenced. Though hampered by depression, Churchwell wasn’t certain it was her circumstances causing it. In the end, Marilyn could not have been that depressed from being fired during the production of Something’s Got to Give, because she was rehired.
Psychoanalysts to the Rescue
Churchwell (2013) says Marilyn went to Strasberg’s acting studio at the end of 1955. He implored his pupils to undergo psychoanalysis and operated his acting workshops like they were therapy sessions. Strasberg wanted a thespian’s emotions to supplant their character. Apsychologist apprises us that Marilyn “…was treated by five different psychoanalysts between 1955 and…‘62….” (Marilyn and the Therapists, 2012). Churchwell states Strasberg referred Marilyn to the (Hungarian born) New York psychiatrist, neurologist and psychoanalyst Margaret Hohenberg, M.D. (who treated her 1955-57). She further says that Hohenberg, after flying from New York to London, recommended she see Anna Freud, who was Viennese born, later emigrating to Britain. She was also the daughter of psychoanalysis founder Sigmund Freud. In the summer of 1956 “Anna Freud…saw Marilyn for a few sessions….” (Green, 2011, p. xxxvii) at Anna’s house, while she was filming The Prince and the Showgirl, in England.
Anna is quoted saying Marilyn was “Emotionally unstable, highly impulsive, and needing continuous approval from the outside world; she cannot bear solitude and tends to get depressed when faced with rejection; paranoid with schizophrenic elements” (Marilyn and the Therapists, 2012).
Some, like Irish author and blogger Mary Kelly Godley (2012), believe Monroe suffered Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), admitting many with BPD are misdiagnosed with NPD, and the converse.
Churchwell avers, upon returning to New York, Marilyn saw Viennese born, British, later American, physician and psychoanalyst Marianne Kris (or Kris-Rie), M.D. Kris later recommended psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Ralph (Romi) Greenson, M.D., from Los Angeles, who was close to Anna Freud. Churchwell states, “For what it’s worth, Dr. Greenson diagnosed her (Marilyn) with borderline personality disorder” (24:49, 2013), which, Churchwell opines, in Marilyn’s case was connected to PTSD.
In early 1961, after the failure of TheMisfits, Churchwell explains that a well-intentioned Kris mistakenly enjoined Marilyn to go to the Payne Whitney mental hospital in New York. During her sojourn there she was on barbiturates and threatened to hurt herself, and was thus restrained by force. Marilyn became rancorous, felt betrayed, and dejected. Joe DiMaggio got her out and she was transferred to a general care facility, Columbia Hospital in New York. Marilyn later chided Kris over her ordeal at the mental hospital, which she never completely attained recovery from.
Churchwell apprises us, after Marilyn’s passing, her bequest was made to Kris, who was a friend of Anna’s. Marianne was given instructions to gift it to her chosen charity, which was the Hampstead Clinic in England, where Anna was director. It received over a quarter of Marilyn’s estate (Asbury, 1980). The will was exacted while she was treated byGreenson. Psychoanalyst Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Ph.D. (philosophy), states that he “…had to live with the fact of her suicide” (1988, p. 412). Greenson, therefore, sought Anna Freud for solace. Anna averred, in her January 20, 1963 return post to him, “I am terribly sorry about Marilyn… I know exactly how you feel because I had…the same thing happen with a patient…who took cyanide… One goes over and over in one’s head to find out where one could have done better and it leaves…a terrible sense of being defeated. But…in these cases, we are…defeated by something…stronger than we are and for which analysis, with all its powers, is too weak a weapon” (p. 413).
Churchwell elaborates on Marilyn’s quasi-contractual, but close, arrangement with Greenson, wherein she desired attentive care. He meant well but was too ambitious and egoistic. Greenson would have Marilyn over for dinner, wherein she advised his teenage daughter on girl issues. He suggested staff for Marilyn’s house, as well as friends and romantic partners. He even conversed with film executives, intervening on her contracts. Perhaps Greenson stepped over the boundaries to make her stronger for analysis, so the whole scenario was a skosh experimental in nature.
Clarification Through a Modern Personality Profile
In 2020, Marilyn’s BPD diagnosis was confirmed by psychologist Todd Grande, Ph.D., who analyzes Monroe’s mental condition. He declares that many spurious psychiatric terms have been applied to her that are not even in the DSM. Grande goes on to aver that, examining characteristics in her and events in her life, she: experienced trauma earlier on; had a childhood that was unstable because of its peripatetic nature, not staying with any (foster) family for long; was suicidal on a number of occasions; had quite a few stormy romantic liaisons with men and, moreover, she and the men she encountered endeavored to manipulate one another; spawned rescue fantasies—her desire to save someone–that became her de rigueur; displayed intelligence, shyness and insecurity; became addicted to various drugs; battled sundry painful physical conditions (like gall bladder disease and endometriosis [Markel, 2016]) and chronic insomnia, maintaining bad work habits perhaps connected to that lack in sleep, but could be intentionally destructive, which was not derived from a dearth of slumber; had a mother who was a paranoid schizophrenic; was “vain” (according to a letter she penned to Greenson); and attained a level of fame accompanied by intense pressure.
Next, Grande applies “The Big Five” model of personality, which goes by the acronym OCEAN, to describe Monroe’s character:
Openness – was high; open to new experiences, curious intellectually, enjoyed art, was creative, relished adventure;
Conscientiousness – was low; didn’t exhibit a good work ethic, consistently late to the studios and oblivious to how her actions cost them time and money;
Extraversion – was high; outgoing, cordial, asserted herself;
Histrionic personality disorder: a cynosure, sexually/physically provocative, but this may have been merely the movie role she played;
Borderline is the most plausible, considering the comorbidity (bits of other disorders), paranoia, early traumas and that which caused her death when treating uncontrollable insomnia: the use of drugs (Nembutal barbiturates and chloral hydrate sedatives [Markel, 2016]).
Who was Marilyn Monroe? She was the little girl next door, who couldn’t burgeon into that adorable flower, because of childhood traumas, abandonment, and identity confusion. This spawned her borderline personality disorder, with a concomitant addiction to drugs to battle that, and the manufactured, fantastical icon she became. An intelligent, creative, generous, warm, adventurous, and beautiful woman always remained.
Finally, writer Sarah Churchwell didn’t think psychoanalysis was deleterious to Marilyn but, perhaps it wasn’t the optimum therapeutic modality for her, either. Psychoanalysts, who did their best, at least educated her and, I think in the long run, all of us, about Marilyn and Norma Jean.
American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (Fifth Edition; DSM-5). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Miss Cellania. (2011, November 9). A Few Facts You May Not Know About Some Like It Hot. Neatorama. https://www.neatorama.com/2011/11/09/a-few-facts-you-may-not-know-about-some-like-it-hot/
Rosten, Norman. (1973). Marilyn: An Untold Story. New York, NY: Signet Books.
Schwartz, Joseph. (1999). Cassandra’s Daughter A History Of Psychoanalysis. New York, NY: Viking.
Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth. (1988). Anna Freud A Biography. New York, NY: Summit Books.
Note from Our Marilyn Monroe: I am not qualified myself to say if any of the above sources are incorrect however when attempting to find proof of Marilyn being diagnosed with BPD in her lifetime, I came across forums which stated that there are medical records on display at the Anna Freud Museum confirming she had BPD*.
Because of this, I contacted the Anna Freud Museum to see if they had any record of Marilyn being BPD or whether they had a medical card discussing Marilyn’s mental health. The AFM responded stating there is no such card or document in their archives or on display. They also mentioned if there are documents that exist, it would be morally wrong to display such a private item. I am yet to read or see any clarification that Marilyn was diagnosed with this in her lifetime. Marilyn had been prescribed medication to assist with insomnia, anxiety as well as stimulants. Many of the medication she took was also to treat depression. This is all I can confirm!
*Borderline Personality Disorder was not officially diagnosable until 1980 (although the phrase was used as early as 1938). But other terms were used such as “borderline schizophrenia” and “emotionally unstable personality disorder” (EUPD).
Michelle Morgan is a well-established author, novelist, biographer, researcher and friend. I have been talking to Michelle since I emailed her in 2012 fan-girling over her biography Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed. We began chatting on Facebook and the rest is history.
Since then she has created a library of other books on subjects that not only include Marilyn but also Madonna, Carol Lombard and Thelma Todd as well as novels including The Webs Weave. You can view her books and purchase them here.
Firstly, I want to say a big thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions! You are a pillar in the Marilyn community due to the wonderful work you have done with your Marilyn biographies, because of this
That’s such a lovely thing to say. Thank you! I’m thrilled to answer your questions and honoured to be asked.
Do you ever feel that there’s a certain amount of pressure riding on the books you put out? What happens if it later turns out some of the information you included to be is found to be incorrect for example?
No, I don’t feel any pressure to be honest, because if I allowed myself to feel that way, I’d just worry too much and never get anything done. I am really grateful to have such a lot of support in the Marilyn community, and my readers are always a huge source of strength to me. Of course, I will always have some detractors, but I can’t please everyone, so I just concentrate on my work, do my best and hope that when my books are out, my readers will enjoy them.
As for finding later that my information is incorrect, well that would only be corrected if there was a new edition. Of course, the older my books get, the more new information has been revealed from auctions etc., which sometimes alters certain events or timelines, but there’s nothing I can do about that when I’m writing. I wish I was psychic and could predict these things, but alas I’m not.
Have there been any topics you’ve thought “NOPE!” when writing about Marilyn?
There are certainly subjects that I don’t particularly enjoy writing or talking about. Marilyn’s death for instance, and the Kennedy rumours. I’ve turned down projects that only want to concentrate on that topic because I have no interest in that. I’d rather concentrate on Marilyn’s life and the wonderful things she achieved.
It’s not long until your new book When Marilyn Met The Queen (3rd March 2022) is released! I know this has been a HUGE project for you as it’s your specialist subject! How do you feel now it’s finally being released? Is it easier now you’ve got a few (quite a lot) of books under your belt?
It all seems like a dream, to be honest with you. I’ve wanted to write this book for thirty years, which is bonkers when you think about it! Back then, I couldn’t get a publisher or agent interested in it, because they thought it was a niche subject, and wouldn’t sell. I kept researching on and off for the next three decades – and used some of what I learned in ‘Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed’ – but I still really wanted to write a full book about the England trip. It is so strange to me that in 2020 when the world was going crazy, I was finally given the opportunity to write it, and now the rights have been sold to the States and Romania (so far), and my publisher is hoping for more. I couldn’t be happier!
I think that writing this book was definitely easier now that I’m an established author. I don’t even know how many book projects I’ve worked on, but it’s somewhere in the region of 25 I think. When I first wanted to write ‘When Marilyn met the Queen’ (or Marilyn in England as it was called then), I was a 21-year-old who had absolutely no writing experience whatsoever. None! There was also no Internet back then; the Olivier files were not deposited; there were no searchable newspaper archives that I could have easily gone to, so if the book had been commissioned, it would have been full of dry facts, probably written in a very stilted way.
My previous books have given me a great deal of experience in writing and researching, and I am so happy with the way this book has come out. I’ve written it in a very show-don’t-tell kind of way, and I think that has worked really well with the subject. While the book is obviously about Marilyn’s trip to the UK, there are also stories of how she influenced fans, the public, businesses and even MPs. The result is that ‘When Marilyn met the Queen’ is a book not only about Marilyn’s experience of Britain but Britain’s experience of Marilyn.
Do you feel like it is easier or harder to focus on one part of Marilyn’s life?
I certainly enjoy writing about particular parts of Marilyn’s life. I’ve written three books of that nature now – ‘Before Marilyn’, ‘The Girl’ and now ‘When Marilyn met the Queen’. It is great because I have so many words to play with, and can really get into the subject much better than I could be writing about Marilyn’s whole life. For instance, the hardback of ‘Private and Undisclosed’ was 80,000 words and went from birth to death. ‘When Marilyn met the Queen’ is more words than that, and primarily covers the second half of 1956.
A follower of mine asked whether you felt that all that has been said on Marilyn has now been done. Do you feel this is the case?
I think there is always more to find out about Marilyn. New information comes out all the time, so there are always opportunities to discover something new and unreported. At the moment I don’t have any Marilyn books on my schedule, but if something interesting came up, then of course I would want to write it.
Is there room for any more biographies or are we just going to see more and more fabricated stories come out because there’s nothing left to be said? Or do you think the truth and the real Marilyn will emerge with younger generations revisiting Marilyn and questioning what’s been said?
I think that if a new biography was based on recently discovered documents, letters, etc., then it would be wonderful. But I wouldn’t be in the least bit interested in something that was fabricated. We could certainly do without any of those in the future! As for the younger generations, I think that it would be terrific if they revisited Marilyn’s life and researched the truth. My daughter Daisy is a staunch supporter of Marilyn. If she ever sees anyone being disrespectful online, she goes straight in and puts them right. I’m proud to have raised a fan, who is only concerned with sharing the truth about Marilyn’s life. Long may that continue.
Thanks once again for your time, Michelle, I cannot wait to read your new book!