The recent sale of Marilyn Monroe's personal belongings at Christie's generated $13.4 million. So why aren't any of her loved ones among the beneficiaries?
Topics: Entertainment News
When Marilyn Monroe died in 1962, she left an estate valued at $92,781. In her will, she bequeathed her money to her half-sister, her mother and a few of her friends. Her will also stated that her personal effects and clothing were to go to Lee Strasberg, the acting coach, “it being my desire that he distribute these among my friends, colleagues and those to whom I am devoted.” Their value at the time was $3,200.
Recently, Christie’s New York auctioned off those same belongings for an astonishing $13.4 million. Of that sum, $612,600 went to the Literacy Partners, $441,650 to the World Wildlife Fund and the rest — $12.3 million — to one Anna Mizrahi Strasberg, widow of Lee Strasberg, a woman whom Marilyn Monroe had never even met. She is said to be thrilled.
The only other beneficiary of Monroe’s estate is the Anna Freud Centre in England, an institute dedicated to researching the effects of long-term psychoanalysis and psychotherapy on emotionally disturbed children.
While Marilyn displayed some degree of dependence on her analysts and her acting mentor throughout her lifetime, her biographers suggest that, toward the end of her life, her relationship to both had cooled significantly. Did Marilyn intend for her legacy to end up where it did?
Since her death, international licensing deals have generated more money than Marilyn earned during all her years in Hollywood. Since 1992, licensing and royalties have resulted in more than $1 million a year in revenue to the estate. With companies such as the Franklin Mint now rushing to cash in on the public interest fueled by the auction, that amount is sure to increase in 1999.
A recent visit to the estate’s Web site reveals that 122 companies are licensed to sell products bearing Marilyn’s image, while 52 companies have permission to use her image in advertisements or promotions. In addition to the ubiquitous posters and T-shirts, there are Marilyn checkbook covers, Venetian blinds, cookie jars, Christmas ornaments, shoulder pads, camera straps, stockings, stocking hangers, billiard cues and cue cases.
The serpentine story that culminated in the Christie’s auction began long before Monroe had become merely an image for sale.
In the fall of 1956, Marilyn was in London filming “The Prince and the Showgirl” with Laurence Olivier. With her were her husband, Arthur Miller, and her psychotherapist, Dr. Margaret Hohenberg. As Hohenberg could not remain with Marilyn during the entire four-month shoot, she referred her famous patient to another analyst in London.
Donald Spoto, author of the definitive “Marilyn Monroe: The Biography,” writes that Hohenberg “whisked [Monroe] off to meet her old friend Anna Freud” and that the star subsequently had “several therapy sessions” with her. Spoto provides no evidence of this, but his assertion is supported by Peter Swales, a historian who has researched the subject for his own as-yet-unpublished book.
Swales claims that he was told by two sources (Paula Fichtel, the Freud family’s maid since the 1920s; and Hohenberg herself), that these sessions took place. In correspondence with Swales, however, Miller “cast all kinds of doubt” upon the likelihood of these meetings.
“To further complicate matters, Fichtel may not be an entirely reliable source. According to Anna Freud’s biographer, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Fichtel was “a paranoid, and ancient by the time Peter Swales came on the scene.”
“Paula Fichtel told all kinds of things to all kinds of people which then made their way into the literature and were taken as fact,” says Young-Bruehl. She also claims that Fichtel “has contributed a huge amount of falsehood to the history of psychoanalysis.”
Was Marilyn treated by Anna Freud? The answer remains unclear, though there is evidence to suggest that Freud played an important role in Marilyn’s life later on. Whether or not a meeting between the world’s most celebrated sex symbol and the daughter of the world’s most famous sex theorist actually took place, Anna Freud may have been better qualified to treat Marilyn than the actress’s own doctors. According to both Spoto and Swales, Marilyn’s analysts were worse than unhelpful.
“Marilyn wasn’t killed by Hollywood,” John Huston said upon learning of her death. “It was the goddam doctors who killed her. If she was a pill addict, they made her so.”
Huston had personally witnessed the hold that Monroe’s therapists had on her life. In 1960, she expressed an interest in starring in his film about Sigmund Freud, and Huston was keen on casting her in it. Anna Freud, however, was adamantly opposed to the project. According to Young-Bruehl’s book “Anna Freud: A Biography” Freud’s (ultimately unsuccessful) attempts to stop the film’s production were bolstered by the efforts of an influential friend in Los Angeles, Dr. Ralph Greenson.
A psychotherapist with a thriving practice in Beverly Hills, Greenson counted Marilyn as one of his patients. According to Spoto, only a few days after Marilyn agreed to be in Huston’s film, she changed her mind. “I can’t do it,” Marilyn told the director, “because Anna Freud doesn’t want a picture made. My analyst told me this.”
Young-Bruehl scoffs at the idea of Freud exerting pressure on Monroe through her colleague.
“Absolutely not. I mean, no analyst of principal — and she was certainly a very rigorous person — would instruct another analyst to be the courier of a message,” she said. “That would be a violation of the kind of consulting relationship that Anna Freud had established with Greenson.”
But, according to Spoto, Greenson’s sense of ethics were a different matter. Marilyn had been referred to Greenson by yet another one of her therapists, a woman named Marianne Kris. Kris, in turn, had come to know Marilyn through Freud, and she also shared a Manhattan address with Lee Strasberg. While Kris treated Marilyn in New York, Greenson treated her in California. Marilyn was to have access to a psychoanalyst at all times.
In his book, Spoto devotes a great deal of space to Greenson and his bizarre influence on Marilyn. Spoto points out that the doctor, initially merely the actress’s therapist, went on to become her behind-the-scenes business manager and agent; and involved himself in her professional and personal life to a degree that appears to have been obsessive.
Spoto alleges that on the night of Aug. 5, 1962, Greenson instructed Marilyn’s housekeeper to administer a chloral hydrate enema to help her sleep. According to Spoto, Greenson had observed earlier that evening that Marilyn was “somewhat drugged,” the result of her having taken Nembutal (another sedative), which had been prescribed by her physician.
“In his haste that evening,” says Spoto, “Greenson perhaps overlooked one crucial factor: the adverse interaction of the two drugs.”
While Greenson may not have been criminal in his actions, Spoto contends that, at the very least, he was irresponsible.
As for Marianne Kris — who as a child was practically a member of the Freud family (Sigmund called her his “adopted daughter” and Anna remained a lifetime friend) — she too appears to have had a lapse in judgement in her treatment of Marilyn.
In February 1961, Marilyn had become very depressed. She had just divorced Arthur Miller; her film “The Misfits” was getting panned by critics; and her career prospects were looking dim. According to Spoto, “she stayed at home in her darkened bedroom, playing sentimental records, subsisting on sleeping pills and rapidly loosing weight.” Alarmed by her condition, Kris had Marilyn committed to a New York psychiatric institution on Feb. 5.
By all accounts, this was a nightmare for Marilyn. Not only had she not given her informed consent, but she was placed in a locked, padded cell with a group of the hospital’s most mentally disturbed patients. She may have been depressed and even suicidal at the time, but was she deranged? She seems to have been treated as if she were.
The hospital granted her one phone call, and Marilyn tried, unsuccessfully, to reach a friend. Finally, she got through to her first husband, Joe DiMaggio. She hadn’t spoken to him for almost six years.
“Joe Dimaggio is her savior in the hour of need,” says historian Swales. The very night Marilyn called, DiMaggio flew to New York from his home in Florida and demanded that she be released from the clinic. She was released four days later, and then spent nearly a month in rehabilitation at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital (where, as was revealed in a letter she wrote during her stay, she read a volume of Sigmund Freud’s letters to pass the time).
Although Marilyn never saw Marianne Kris again, Kris remained in her will. Kris continued to correspond with Greenson and Freud regarding Marilyn, and is said to have regretted her decision to commit her. In Susan Strasberg’s book, “Marilyn and Me,” Kris is quoted as saying, “I did a terrible thing, a terrible, terrible thing. Oh, God, I didn’t mean to, but I did.”
“What follows for Marilyn are several months of being really — you could almost say down-and-out. Really at her lowest,” says Swales. “And Marilyn now decides she’s going to go to California and start life all over again. So, out she goes.”
In January 1962, Marilyn purchased the home in which she was to die just seven months later. The contract was drawn up by her new attorney, Milton Rudin, who also represented his brother-in-law, Dr. Ralph Greenson.
On July 30, Marilyn went to see Rudin with the intention of drafting a new will. Rudin refused to comply with her wishes, claiming he could not certify she was of “sound and disposing mind.” This was clearly not an opinion shared by DiMaggio. Marilyn and DiMaggio had set a date to remarry on Aug. 8.
“Marilyn insistently says, ‘I want to change my will,’” says Swales, “And so she makes an appointment with the brother-in-law [Rudin], and that appointment was set for the Monday following the Saturday-Sunday during which she died. Do you get it?”
Given her recent experiences, it seems likely that Marilyn would have taken Kris out of her will and put DiMaggio in. But the will was never changed, and Kris eventually left her portion of the estate to the Anna Freud Centre. Had Rudin complied with Marilyn’s request, says Swales, “There would have been no bequest to the Anna Freud children’s clinic, guaranteed.”
Swales also believes that Lee Strasberg would have been cut out of the will. “The whole relationship had cooled and she had begun to see him as, well, to put it cruelly, a bit of a predator. She still was in awe of the man and all of that, but she was certainly ambivalent by then.”
The sentiment was seconded by Marilyn’s half-sister, Berniece Miracle. As Miracle told Life magazine in 1994, “They did help her, but she wondered if they were taking advantage.”
Miracle inherited $10,000 when Marilyn died. Swales believes she would have inherited more had Marilyn been allowed access to her will. The sisters “had reestablished communication in that last year or so of Marilyn’s life,” he says.
Other logical heirs would have been her future husband, DiMaggio; the so-called Brooklyn poet Norman Rosten; Rosten’s wife and their child. “I knew Norman Rosten personally,” Swales says. “We hung out a bit when I was doing the basic research on Marilyn. And there’s no question about it, he was perhaps her most loyal and closest friend in the world.”
The Anna Freud Centre receives 25 percent of the proceeds of the Monroe estate. As an odd footnote, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis also donated $10,000 to the Anna Freud Centre in the late-’60s. Her psychoanalyst at the time was Marianne Kris.
Some have remarked that Strasberg’s sale of Marilyn’s intimate possessions at Christie’s last week, televised before millions, was in questionable taste. Maureen Dowd called it “creepy.” And there is something creepy about such a blatant dismissal of Marilyn’s wishes.
When Marilyn entrusted Lee Strasberg with the task of distributing her belongings “among my friends, colleagues and those to whom I am devoted,” an auction at Christie’s was probably not what she had in mind.
It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to figure that one out.
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