The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe Illuminates Her Sadness

Youn 1982, Los Angeles District Attorney John Van de Kamp reopened the case of Marilyn Monroe’s death, which had long been considered a “probable suicide”—only to close it a few months later, reaffirming the coroner’s original 1962 assessment after the actress’s body was found in her Brentwood home. A British newspaper suggested to the court that Anthony Summers, an Irish journalist, might open his own investigation. This led to 650 interviews taped and ultimately to a 1985 publication. Goddess: The Secret Lives Of Marilyn Monroe which presented new and credible evidence about the events surrounding Marilyn’s death. The documentary has been shaped from the taped interviews that were not available to the general public. The Unheard Tapes that Explain Marilyn Monroe’s MysteryEmma Cooper directs and Summers serves as the guide. The results are often a little more prurient than they need to be, and the film’s revelations aren’t so much world-rocking as very, very sad. This film has no answers to all of the mysteries. The effect is just another cloud of sorrow trailing in the wake of Marilyn’s complicated and troubled time on Earth.

Marilyn Monroe: The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe is a beginner’s guide in a way, tracing Marilyn’s life from her early years in foster homes and orphanages (she never knew who her father was, and as an adult was haunted by memories of sexual abuse), through her ambitious start in Hollywood in the late 1940s and her ascension to over-the-top stardom in the following decade. Here are clips from film, news footage and voice-over recordings that feature all of Marilyns. The actress freely shares her anxieties and wishes. Actors Studio was where she studied to become a professional actor. She was married to famous and respected men—Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller—who didn’t understand her and were sometimes cruel. Miller was particularly disillusioned by the woman that he thought was his goddess. The film claims that Miller once said Marilyn was as flawed as his first wife. Although he also accuses her of infidelity – he uses a stronger and more demeaning term for her behaviour

There were also her friendships and relationships with John F. Kennedy and Robert; evidence indicates that she was in a sexual relationship with either one of them over time, both before and after John F. Kennedy’s election. Actor and Rat Pack member Peter Lawford, the men’s brother-in-law, offered his Malibu house as a hideaway for these assignations.

This three-way friendship points directly to the shady circumstances surrounding Marilyn’s death—there’s no real news there, but even today, the degree of the brothers’ involvement with the star, and how it may have influenced or even caused her death, is still a subject of speculation. Summers’ research revealed significant timeline differences and additional evidence which strongly suggests a cover-up. Goddess,This is where their credibility is strengthened further by the aural evidence that he taped his interviews.

Summers’ methods and conclusions are sound, and as a reporter retracing the steps he took 40 years ago, he shows a suitable degree of respect, and sometimes even anguish, for his subject. However, there is much more. Marilyn Monroe: The Mystery of MarilynIt leaves a bitter aftertaste. Summer conducted interviews with Marilyn’s friends and close acquaintances, with the wife and daughter of the psychiatrist who treated her (and who was one of the first to know about her death), and with a number of cigar-chomping old-Hollywood players. Most of these people are now gone, of course, so the documentary uses actors to mime the words we hear on the tapes; these performers are seen in low-lit rooms, sometimes only half-glimpsed, wearing ‘80s-appropriate clothing.

The approach is a solution to a serious problem. But on the other—there’s no kind way to put it: It’s cheesy. It’s jarring to hear the ultra-famous deep-gravel voice of John Huston (who directed Marilyn in The misfits) emanating from an actor who has none of Huston’s brutish charisma. Worse yet is the old-school Hollywood agent, Al Rosen, who lays out for us, in no uncertain terms, exactly how Marilyn became a star: by sleeping with various members of Hollywood’s old-guard power brokers, including former 20th Century Fox chief Joseph Schenck, who would have been in his seventies at the time. Rosen, portrayed by a barely visible suit-clad actor clutching a phone receiver, first tells Summers of a “black book,” which listed all the young, fresh aspiring actresses who “could be laid.” He barrels on: “Oh sure, Schenck was a human being, you know what I mean? She had a bunch of ’em, he wasn’t the only one.”

No one should be shocked by the concept of the casting couch. No one, not even those who love Marilyn Monroe or the Marilyn image, will judge her for what she did along her journey to stardom. What’s more, hearing this now 40-year-old testimony from a relic of old Hollywood serves as a reminder of how the business used to work—and in that context, that it took until 2017 for Harvey Weinstein to fall seems all the more remarkable.

Read more reviews by Stephanie Zacharek

And yet hearing an old coot salivating about how Marilyn used to “put out” comes off as yet another instance of how, even in 2022, we just can’t let Marilyn alone. You can either love or pity Marilyn. We also have the option to feel genuine compassion for her. Marilyn Monroe: The Mystery of Marilyn forms a welcoming envelope for all those feelings: no matter how many times we see her face, it’s impossible not to be struck by her physical radiance and the thoughtful intensity that informed it.

And yet, there’s always the leering, insinuating observer lurking in the corner. Marilyn Monroe: The Mystery of Marilyn includes so many interviews—many with people who were deeply pained by what had happened to her—that it may seem unfair to single out a few of the movie’s more crass figures. Yet, the film was a great experience. Marilyn Monroe: The Mystery of MarilynFeeling not only sad, but also dirty. Perhaps our shared fascination with her compels us to be a bit complicit. Maybe I’d just rather not be reminded.

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