Beautiful Ghost

How famous men were the death of the world’s greatest sex symbol:

After poet Edith Sitwell met Marilyn Monroe she described the star as a ‘beautiful ghost’. It’s an image we’ve all grown up with. Sensual and innocent, tough and fragile, the icon is out of all proportion to her talent. But the image also masks a deeper, darker story.

Marilyn started her career around the time wannabe actress Elizabeth Short was murdered in LA. As in The Black Dahlia case, Marilyn probably supplemented her early income with some casual work as a call girl. She didn’t meet a maniac, but she wound up dead anyway – butchered only after landing on the mortuary slab of pathologist Dr. Thomas Noguchi on the 5th August 1962.

Her real wounds were made decades earlier. With no father and abandoned by her mentally-ill mother, Marilyn was fostered. In later life, she maintained she had been sexually abused. Her psychiatrist Dr. Greenson doubted her, but the story has the ring of truth.

She said she ‘hadn’t understood’ till she was 11 years old. Suddenly, with a tight sweater, the former tomboy saw how men were attracted. But, married off at sixteen to local boy Jim Dougherty, her quest for movie stardom – the admiration of countless men – ran counter to her emotional stability.

Indeed, handsome, rich, famous, powerful men wanted to have her. But no-one wanted to keep her.

Even her first mentor, Johnny Hyde, let her down. The elderly agent moved her into his home and paid for plastic surgery. Too frail for a full relationship, he died without leaving her the house in his will as promised. His family kicked the struggling actress out.

She enjoyed beguiling men, though by most accounts she had little interest in sex. On a trip to entertain U.S troops in Korea, she discovered her magnetism for men en masse, freaking out the macho Italian in her second husband Joe DiMaggio.

Lusting after her while listening, many men found wit and warmth in Marilyn. But director Billy Wilder described her as ‘the meanest woman I ever met’ and co-star in Some Like It Hot, Tony Curtis, said making love to her on-screen was like ‘kissing Hitler’.

In the tapes of her interview for Life magazine, journalist Richard Meryman is enchanted. It’s hard to hear why. What strikes you is her laugh, shifting in a single breath from a chuckle to a high-pitched ‘hee-hee-hee’ like a fork scraped on a plate – the sound of a needy, brittle personality shattering.

By then, her third marriage – to playwright Arthur Miller – had dissolved, perhaps because he’d harvested her own dissolving personality for the movie Misfits. She’d also been fired from her final movie, aptly titled Something’s Got To Give. Her luminous beauty, emotional frailty and abberant acting are all captured on clips on Youtube. After take after take, her co-star Dean Martin asks hopefully “That’s a good one, right?” It isn’t.

When Marilyn died, it seems fairly certain that neither the mafia nor the FBI were lurking in the bushes, waiting to bump her off and frame the Kennedys.

More likely, Marilyn’s was fatally attracted to ‘leading’ men. DiMaggio was the most famous U.S. sportsman of the era; Arthur Miller the top dramatist; Yves Montand the toast of Broadway. Then there’s Sinatra, at the top of the music world. And then, neither last nor least, there’s John F Kennedy at the top of the world. And you know what the ‘F’ stands for? Yes, Francis.

While the young President entertained Marilyn as one of many women, it seems she entertained hopes, perhaps delusions, of becoming First Lady. Even after JFK passed her on to his little brother Bobby – at the time Attorney General and a proud Catholic father of seven children.

One guess is that, on the unhappy day, a happy Marilyn expected a visit from Bobby, maybe a proposal. But when Rat Pack member and Kennedy brother-in-law, Peter Lawford rang to invite her to a party, it’s alleged the plan merely included her among a number of women she regarded as, at best, good time girls. Distraught at being treated like a piece of meat, she retreated into booze and pills. Sure, she took the overdose, but men killed her.

I’m producing a stage play for next year’s Edinburgh Festival based on the last hours of Marilyn Monroe.