Marilyn Monroe got a lot of attention from HBO last year, with a documentary and a feature film about her trip to England to work with Lord Laurence Olivier. Both films are immensely entertaining and supplement each other, although the documentary glosses over Marilyn’s murder by pretending she actually committed suicide, when, in fact, some hit men were sent to her house late at night to administer a deadly enema, perhaps to protect the new President JFK, or maybe just to involve him in a huge scandal that successfully tarnished his squeaky-clean image and left many people wondering ever since if he actually ordered the hit, which I consider extremely doubtful given his peaceful disposition and distaste for violence.
Right before she died, Marilyn met separately with Sam Giancana and Bobby Kennedy and there seemed to be heroic efforts under way to keep her alive, although ultimately someone obviously decided she had become a serious liability had to go. Marilyn was extremely intelligent, despite the ditzy image, and probably picked up a lot of sensitive info through her many affairs with the rich and powerful, including the Kennedy brothers, who were locked in an epic battle with Teamster honcho Jimmy Hoffa at the time, a man they actually helped place into power before deciding he was more corrupt than the man he’d replaced (Dave Beck) as head of the biggest and most powerful union in America.
Marilyn was one of the greatest movie stars of all time, an absolute natural who never met a camera that didn’t love her. When she finally got control over her film career, the first thing she wanted to do was work with Olivier, who was considered the greatest actor in the world at the time. Marilyn bought the screen rights to a hit British play Olivier had recently starred in, and hired Olivier to direct and co-star with her, replacing Vivien Leigh, Olivier’s wife at the time (who’d played opposite him in the London stage version). That marriage was already on the rocks, perhaps because Olivier had trouble deciding whether he liked boys or girls better.
In the film, My Week With Marilyn, the Vivian Leigh character says something to the effect her husband is looking forward to having an affair with his new co-star. Marilyn, however, was madly in love with Arthur Miller at the time and had just tied the knot with him, even though Miller crassly broke news of their engagement to the press while in Washington being interrogated by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He slyly used their engagement to amp up his public persona at a crucial time in his career.
While in England, however, Marilyn discovered Miller’s notebook contained some savage commentary about her personal life, which created the first serious riff between them, and although the marriage would continue for a while longer, Marilyn briefly banished Miller from the set and had an affair with a 20-something assistant director. Was that the stumbling block that turned Olivier against her? The fact she passed up on an affair with the world’s greatest actor to consort with his hand-picked assistant?
For whatever reason, the collaboration turned sour right away and the two began clashing on the set. Olivier positively hated the Stanislavski techniques that had inspired Lee Strassberg’s “method.” Marilyn had recently turned to Strassberg and his wife Paula to help tune up her acting skills, although the Strassbergs tried to explain she was a natural who didn’t need a lot of training. Marilyn was a very gifted comic and had she been given the right roles to play, instead of all those ditzy ones, she easily would have evolved into a truly great comedian, and not just the sex symbol everyone wanted her to be.
One day early into the shoot, Marilyn asked Olivier for some motivation for a scene and he replied, “Just act sexy, isn’t that what you do?” Well, that was the end of their working relationship and Marilyn spent the rest of the film torturing Olivier for making that demeaning comment. In the film, Olivier and Marilyn watch the daily rushes together and she seems confused and insecure, while he, of course, is the “great actor.” But anyone who actually looks at that final film (which was a flop) can immediately see Marilyn acted the pants off Olivier. She seems fresh and honest, while his performance is a stiff as a board and there is zero chemistry between them. Olivier was so troubled after this first attempt at directing that it would take another 14 years before he agreed to direct another film.
I sure wish Marilyn hadn’t fallen for Miller. That was the start of something bad. Supposedly, she didn’t become a pill freak until after discovering Miller’s diary. Like many male writers (me included), Miller wasn’t good at writing female parts and his greatest play, Death of a Salesman, revolved around a son’s relationship with his father after discovering the dad was unfaithful to his wife while out on the road, not exactly something that would surprise anyone these days, but something that had immense shock value in the 1950s. After marrying Marilyn, Miller began work on his first film script, The Misfits, which would soon become Marilyn’s final film. But instead of writing a script that featured his wife’s comic abilities, he portrayed her as a ditzy blonde whose primary role was to act sexy to keep men entertained. The film was suspended for two weeks, supposedly to allow Marilyn time to get rehab treatment for her pill addiction, but the real reason was director John Huston had gambled away all the film’s cash at a nearby casino during a late-night visit and there was no money to pay anyone.
If only Marilyn had stuck with Joe DiMaggio. Unlike Miller, who ended up using her, Joe was a solid dude who tried hard to separate Marilyn from the toadies surrounding her. When Marilyn was forced into a psyche ward (supposedly for being suicidal) Joe came to her rescue, got her released and proposed a second time. But instead, Marilyn headed back to Hollywood, where she would die at age 36, and her murder that has been covered up ever since.
If you want to look for the reason she was killed, look no farther than the gossip item printed by Dorothy Kilgallen, the most powerful journalist in America at the time. Kilgallen blew the lid off JFK’s affair with Marilyn and there likely would have been growing press interest in that scoop had Marilyn not died very soon after that column appeared. Plus after that column, both Kennedy brothers would have been forced to cut off all contact with Marilyn and give her the same treatment Frank Sinatra was getting, no doubt due in part to Kilgallen outing Frank as a friend of the Sicilian men of honor society. Her death killed the story about the affair for a while, although JFK, Kilgallen, and RFK would very soon follow Marilyn to the other side. The story we are told today is that Marilyn was given an enema designed to kill her, but was still breathing while unconscious the next morning, so her doctor gave her a shot in the heart that ended her life instantly, all at the insistence of Bobby Kennedy, or so the story goes….