Marilyn Monroe is one of the most well-known American icons of the twentieth century. But did we really know her at all? A new book titled “Marilyn” reveals a deep and complicated woman full of contradiction. She was sensual but painfully insecure, devout but sexually uninhibited, disciplined but self-destructive, cerebral but naïf-like. Many of her complexities were rooted in her unstable childhood. She was born Norma Jeane Mortenson in a charity ward in Los Angeles. She grew up in eleven different foster homes, with a mother in a mental institution and a father she never knew. Diane talks with Author Lois Banner about Marilyn Monroe.

Guests

  • Lois Banner professor of history and gender studies at the University of Southern California, co-founder of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians and author of ten books, including "American Beauty."

Photos Of Marilyn Monroe

Read An Excerpt

Excerpted from “Marilyn” by Lois Banner. Copyright © 2012 by Lois Banner. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc.

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. This month marks the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death. For all the millions who saw her, she remains something of a mystery. A new book reflects on her life and legacy revealing a woman filled with contradictions.

  • 11:07:13

    MS. DIANE REHMLois Banner is the author of the new book. It's titled "Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox." She joins me to talk about Marilyn Monroe. I'm sure many of you remember her in her films, in her interviews, her many marriages. Join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Feel free to follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, it's good to have you here.

  • 11:07:49

    PROFESSOR LOIS BANNERThank you. It's good to be here.

  • 11:07:53

    REHMThank you. You say in the book, Lois, that there were many Marilyns, not just one. What do you mean?

  • 11:08:03

    BANNERWell, she had, as we all do, many personas inside herself and she brought many of them to the fore in order to create the character Marilyn Monroe who had many sides and many facets. Marilyn once said in a wonderful interview that she could be anything anyone wanted her to be.

  • 11:08:26

    BANNERSo she would react to people by intuiting what they wanted and then she would try to become that person.

  • 11:08:30

    REHMHow do you think she was able to develop that ability?

  • 11:08:37

    BANNERI think that she worked to develop it. I think she realized this was inside of her. Any person who becomes a fine actor or actress, they do have to go deep inside and to connect with various parts of their personalities to be able to play different roles on stage.

  • 11:08:59

    BANNERBut Marilyn worked at it very hard for many years. From the time she was a little girl, she was going to be an actress, she thought.

  • 11:09:06

    REHMAnd that's what I want to get at. You say she lived in 11 different foster homes.

  • 11:09:14

    BANNERThat's correct.

  • 11:09:15

    REHMHow come?

  • 11:09:15

    BANNERWell, the story is not as bad as one might initially think. Her mother had a bad nervous breakdown and was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and was put in a state mental institution. This was not a wealthy family.

  • 11:09:35

    REHMAt what age was Marilyn at the time?

  • 11:09:38

    BANNERShe was around eight years of age when her mother...

  • 11:09:40

    REHMOkay.

  • 11:09:41

    BANNER...broke down.

  • 11:09:42

    REHMAll right.

  • 11:09:43

    BANNERAnd her mother had her best friend, Grace McKee Goddard become Marilyn's guardian. And Grace had many friends and a large family and she would periodically move Marilyn from one family member to another family member. And then at one point, she put her for a year in an orphanage.

  • 11:10:09

    BANNERAnd sometimes she moved her because the family went out of town, they moved out of town. Sometimes she moved her to another family because one family wasn't treating her well. Once there was a flood and the house in which she was living with a family member was destroyed so she had to be moved to another place to live.

  • 11:10:33

    REHMAnd in one of those homes, am I correct that she was sexually abused?

  • 11:10:40

    BANNERThat's correct, she was. She was.

  • 11:10:40

    REHMAnd do we know by whom?

  • 11:10:45

    BANNERWe speculate who it was. We are not completely certain. It was, it seems, a boarder in the house. It may have been an older actor who was living as a boarder in the first of -- actually second foster family that she was with. It actually may have been her guardian's husband. There are indications, but what we have is circumstantial evidence.

  • 11:11:13

    REHMLois Banner, you're a professor of history and gender studies at the University of Southern California. What is it about Marilyn, centrally, that you, as a professor, are trying to get at?

  • 11:11:35

    BANNERI wanted to get into the complexity of her character, that's really what I wanted to see in her. I've written a lot of biographies. I like writing biography. And when I write biographies, I look at the individual in terms of the times in which they lived and I try to understand their relationship to those times and their impact on the times.

  • 11:11:58

    BANNERAnd so that's essentially -- I did a lot of work with Marilyn in many areas and that's essentially the areas in which I placed her.

  • 11:12:10

    REHMAnd you really come around at the conclusion that she was an early feminist.

  • 11:12:17

    BANNERYeah, it's a hard conclusion to reach because there wasn't really a feminist movement in the 1950s.

  • 11:12:23

    REHMRight.

  • 11:12:23

    BANNERIt began after her death, soon after her death. I look on her as, first of all, she thought of herself as a career woman. She was very proud of working. She wanted to be a success in her career. She did some very amazing feminist things.

  • 11:12:43

    BANNERShe founded her own production company and that was very unusual for women in Hollywood in that period. She fought the Hollywood studio moguls because they were very difficult to women and they were trying -- they didn't really like Marilyn. They considered her to be a dumb blonde and they didn't want to place her in dramatic roles. And they didn't want to pay her much money. And finally, they fired her in the summer of 1962 and she fought back hard.

  • 11:13:20

    REHMIn effect, she controlled her own career after a certain point.

  • 11:13:26

    BANNERShe was controlling her career, by and large, almost from the very beginning. She was the one who was making the decisions and the moves. She, very cleverly, got to her side some fabulous mentors and they gave her a lot of advice. But as Marilyn often said about the group that was around her, they really helped me, but I was the one who put everything together. I made the final decisions.

  • 11:13:55

    REHMYou know, it's interesting because she never knew her father and yet she had to deal with this world of very controlling men. How did those two facts come together?

  • 11:14:13

    BANNERWell, she lived in a time, right after the Second World War, when fatherhood was considered absolutely crucial and key to a girl's development, more than at any other time in American history. So she actually did find out who her father was. She contacted him. She tried to see him.

  • 11:14:34

    BANNERHe wouldn't see her and then she just gave the whole thing up in the last couple of years of her life. When he tried to contact her, she wouldn't see him. But on his deathbed, he told someone that, in fact, the reason he had been unwilling to see her was because he didn't want his second wife to know that he had an illegitimate child. That's because the stigma against illegitimacy was so strong in the 1950s.

  • 11:15:04

    REHMAnd yet, once she became a star...

  • 11:15:07

    BANNERWell, then he was -- he did contact her at that point, yes.

  • 11:15:11

    REHMBut she did not want to have anything to do with him at that point.

  • 11:15:15

    BANNERNo, she'd had too much from him. In other words, he'd never contacted her so she said, at this point, I don't want to see you. I take it as a certain sign that she was getting better, feeling better. She did suffer from some form of bipolar disorder and I think that the ability to say I don't need my father at this point in time may have indicated some improvement in her condition.

  • 11:15:39

    REHMHow do we know she was diagnosed or suffered from bipolar disorder?

  • 11:15:47

    BANNERThe signs are pretty clear. The psychiatrist who treated her, especially her last psychiatrist, Ralph Greenson, he couldn't tell if it was paranoid schizophrenia or if it was a bipolar condition. But the cycling is very apparent. Her friends talk about it. She was up/down, up/down quite constantly, which is characteristic of bipolar disorder.

  • 11:16:10

    BANNERWhat's interesting to me about Marilyn that so many biographers have missed is that she wasn't just down, that she would get depressed when something happened that seemed out of her control. She would get depressed, but then she would pull herself together and then she would go into what they call the hypo-manic phase where she was really together, really able to do what she wanted so that -- you know, historically, many famous men and women have had some form of bipolarity.

  • 11:16:43

    BANNERVirginia Wolf, for example, is a major example of that, or Byron. A lot of the male and female poets suffered from this particular condition, which can be -- in a sense, can make one soar into very creative parts of the brain at the same time that it can make one depressed and unhappy.

  • 11:17:05

    REHMDo you believe that her mother's condition had anything to do with Marilyn's condition?

  • 11:17:13

    BANNERWell, we think today even that there is some hereditary element in these particular neuroses or psychoses. I don't know that it's been proven that there is. In Marilyn's day, they believed inevitably that it was passed down to the children and they also believed it was almost inevitably degenerative.

  • 11:17:37

    BANNERSo Marilyn thought that she was going to go insane at some point in her life and it was a constant irritant in the back of her mind.

  • 11:17:46

    REHMDid she talk with people about that?

  • 11:17:49

    BANNEROh yes, oh yes. When she was feeling bad about herself, she would go into this. Her friends then would have to calm her down about it. I'm sure she talked to her therapist about it. She was in Freudian therapy for much of her adult life. It may or may not have helped her. We're not completely certain.

  • 11:18:06

    REHMIt's interesting, when I knew you were coming on and had gone through your book, I then got the film, "Marilyn" because I wanted to see what Hollywood had done with it. Did you see the film and if so, what did you think?

  • 11:18:27

    BANNERThe most recent one?

  • 11:18:28

    REHMYes.

  • 11:18:29

    BANNERWell, I thought that Michelle Williams did a good job of portraying someone like Marilyn. I didn't think she was actually Marilyn.

  • 11:18:39

    REHMLois Banner, she's the author of the new book titled "Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox." Short break, right back.

  • 11:20:03

    REHMAnd welcome back. Louis Banner is with me. She's professor of history and gender studies at the University of Southern California. Her newest book is titled, "Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox." And of course there is one Marilyn and that is Marilyn Monroe. You write that the sexual abuse that she experienced as a child was formative in molding her adult character. How so?

  • 11:20:42

    MS. LOUIS BANNERWell, if you read the studies on childhood sexual abuse you'll find that it usually has very grave impacts on girls. It can fractionalize personalities. It can cause dissociation, a variation on multiple personality disorder. It can cause sex addiction. It can cause lesbianism. In other words, one's sexuality can become seriously off what is considered the normative behavior. I can't say that all of this happened in Marilyn's case, but I see the sex addiction quite clearly.

  • 11:21:21

    MS. LOUIS BANNERI see the inability to say no to a man, the need to have a man in her life. That's very much there in Marilyn's case.

  • 11:21:32

    REHMWhat was it about Hollywood that so drew her?

  • 11:21:38

    BANNERWell, in Marilyn, you can see Hollywood as it operates in terms of its very difficult way that they treated women, the way that women were placed into difficult positions that was hard for them to occupy. A tough, tough woman like Bette Davis made it with difficulty through Hollywood. Someone like Marilyn, who wanted so much to be a dramatic actress and whom the moguls have simply type-cast as a dumb blond, she had a terrible time in Hollywood. She had to fight her way the whole time.

  • 11:22:15

    REHMBut what drew her there in the first place? What was it?

  • 11:22:19

    BANNEROh, well, her mother and her guardian had come from other parts of the country to try to make it as Hollywood actresses. And when they didn't make it they had gone into working in the film editing studios in very low positions. And they had raised Marilyn to believe that she could be the next Jean Harlow. And she'd really picked that up from them. And no matter what talent or anything, she was going to do it. She was going to make her life famous. And she was going to justify everything that they had told her.

  • 11:22:54

    REHMNow, just before the break we were talking about the film, the recent film, "Marilyn," in which she had difficulty learning lines, she didn't show when she was supposed to, she would run to her room crying, especially in that film with Laurence Olivier, whom you called difficult at best. But you also point out that she's suffered from dyslexia and a stutter. How do we know that?

  • 11:23:33

    BANNERThe dyslexia's pretty clear because she couldn't spell. And that is so characteristic of people who can't spell. That there is some problem with the brain as it's trying to, you know, read and/or learn lines. And the stuttering, she talks about a lot. When she was a child she could hardly speak, the stuttering was so bad. She managed to get some control over it as she aged. But I believe that the mouth movements she often uses, the funny mouth movements are an attempt to control the stuttering.

  • 11:24:08

    BANNERAnd one of her big problems was if she could get the first lines out on something she had to say she was fine. But if she didn't, she would start stuttering and then they'd have to stop the film. And then they'd have to redo the scene. That was a lot of what had to do with her difficulty. The other issue with "Prince And The Showgirl" is that she was a great star by the time that film was made. And Laurence Olivier treated her like a nobody. The other issue was that she was the official producer on that film. She had the right to intervene in the shooting and to tell Olivier what to do.

  • 11:24:49

    BANNERAnd she did. And he got furious. He thought he was the great star. He was the great director. And she was a nobody. And she told one of her friends that what she did to get back at Olivier was simply not to get there on time. He was told how to film her. Joshua Logan had no trouble at all filming Marilyn. You had to simply let her go and let the camera run. She had her own unique way of being able to act in film. And Logan told Olivier that. And Olivier wouldn't do it. He wanted Marilyn to be exactly like every other actress in the way she reacted to the camera.

  • 11:25:35

    BANNERSo that's a lot of the problems she had on "The Prince And The Showgirl." Her endometriosis was very bad during "Prince And Showgirl." There's pretty good evidence she had a miscarriage. Her husband, Arthur Miller, was there. He was not easy either. He was very difficult. They always had problems in their marriage with who was the star. And Arthur always tried to intervene in her filmmaking. He would always go to the director and say what he thought should be done. Sometimes he would intervene to the point where he would rewrite scripts. So Marilyn had all this to deal with. She had, you know, the very difficult director, Laurence Olivier.

  • 11:26:23

    BANNERShe had the difficult husband on the set with her. It was their honeymoon after all. And then her partner, the…

  • 11:26:37

    REHMCoach?

  • 11:26:37

    BANNER…well, yeah, she had Strasberg.

  • 11:26:40

    REHMYes.

  • 11:26:41

    BANNERShe had Paula Strasberg.

  • 11:26:41

    REHMRight.

  • 11:26:42

    BANNERAnd then she had Green. She had Milton Green who was the painter who was her partner. And then she had Arthur. And none of them got along. She was in the middle of a very, very difficult situation.

  • 11:26:54

    REHMTake us back, Louis, to Marilyn Monroe's first husband. Who was he? How did she get involved with him?

  • 11:27:02

    BANNEROh, you mean James Dougherty. Okay. She was 16 years of age. And Grace Goddard was leaving town. And Grace tried to find someone to place Marilyn with, another adoptive situation. She had been living with Grace. And Grace couldn't find that for her. So Grace noticed that living next door to them was the Dougherty family. And James Dougherty was a star in high school. He was a football player. He was the quarterback on the football team. He was the star of the dramatic club. He was just a hero in the high school and in the small town in which they lived.

  • 11:27:43

    BANNERSo Grace, who schemed like you'd never dreamed of scheming, she decided that Marilyn and James should marry. That was…

  • 11:27:52

    REHMHow did James's mother or father feel about that?

  • 11:27:57

    BANNEROh, his mother and father were totally in favor of it. One thing you have to understand -- and this is the context in which this occurs -- in the second World War in the 1950s people regularly married at the end of high school.

  • 11:28:10

    REHMQuite young.

  • 11:28:10

    BANNERSo my sister married at 17. I almost married at 17. It was standard. My whole high school class, by the time they graduated from high school they were all married. That's what you did. You married at very young ages. So Marilyn, when this was all proposed to her, it was fine. I mean she was marrying the high school star. It took her a good six months to figure out that he was a dolt and that she didn't really want to be married to him.

  • 11:28:38

    BANNERBut she really didn't do anything about it substantially 'cause she felt secure. When she was working in the industries -- it was World War II and she was Rosie the Riveter. And she was putting varnish on training planes in an aircraft plant. And, you know, the classic story, the photographer photographing beautiful women for the Army magazines. He walks by, sees Marilyn, looks three times and says can I photograph you? And then her amazing homogeneity shows through in those photographs. And her husband is dead in the water and she's off on a modeling career.

  • 11:29:18

    REHMAnd how early in that modeling career does she pose for those posters in the nude?

  • 11:29:27

    BANNEROh, the nude photo is a couple years. We're talking '42 when she marries, about '44 when she meets the photographer. The nude photos taken in 1949. And it isn't revealed until 1952 that she is the model in the nude photo.

  • 11:29:43

    REHMAnd by then she is already in Hollywood?

  • 11:29:48

    BANNERYes. Oh, yes. By '52, you know, her stardom is already starting. So, yeah, and it's a huge scandal. No major Hollywood film star had ever posed in the nude, except for Joan Crawford and those were private photos. They were never seen publicly. This photo of Marilyn in the nude was everywhere. It was hanging in barbershops, in gymnasiums, etcetera. Any place men gathered there was the nude photo of Marilyn. And it was very embarrassing to her. She could have been fired by Fox. She had a morals clause in her contract.

  • 11:30:28

    BANNERBut she rode the whole thing out. And apparently what did it was the joke when they asked her what did you have on when the photo was taken. She said, Chanel No. 5 or the alternative statement was, the radio. And the whole country howled with laughter about it. And then she did a very nice interview in which she talked about she was only a working-class girl. She wasn't making any money.

  • 11:31:00

    REHMWas she paid highly for that photograph?

  • 11:31:04

    BANNERWell, it doesn't seem like she was paid a lot, but it was double what she'd make for a regular photo. She was paid $50 for the shoot.

  • 11:31:13

    REHMI would have thought that photograph -- you have two in the book…

  • 11:31:19

    BANNERYeah, yeah.

  • 11:31:19

    REHM…in color. I would have thought that they were under strict copyright at this point, but no. You have them in your book.

  • 11:31:29

    BANNEROh, well, I had to pay the photographer. The photographer has gotten rights over the two photographs. But at the time they were taken Marilyn signed away her rights. And the photographer then sold them to a company that did calendars. And then he sold the rights and photographs on the open market. And that's how Hugh Hefner got them for Playboy. And they were in end of the year 1953 edition of Playboy.

  • 11:32:00

    REHMSo after she had already become…

  • 11:32:03

    BANNERYes.

  • 11:32:03

    REHM…a Hollywood star.

  • 11:32:04

    BANNEROh, yes. Oh, yes. Hefner was very, very clever. And he was nervous because there was some fear that, you know, the moral censors might come after him and he might wind up in jail, but nobody did. He got by. Things were changing at that point in time. The old laws on morality were breaking down slowly. So no one prosecuted him for putting them in Playboy.

  • 11:32:27

    REHMLouis Banner. She's an author. She's professor of history and gender studies at the University of Southern California. Her new book is titled, "Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Of course, Marilyn went on to have a string of unsuccessful marriages and affairs after her first marriage to James Dougherty. How did she and Joe DiMaggio come together?

  • 11:33:08

    BANNERThey were just introduced the way people would introduce stars to one another. I think he wanted to meet her because she was very beautiful, blond. He had a fascination with beautiful blond showgirls, which his first wife had been. And so the introduction happened. At first she didn't like him. They had really very little in common. But as time went by and she worried about the nude photograph, she eventually married him, I believe, to shore up her career. Did she love him? He was a nice man. He was kind. He was good. He also was a depressive. And he also was a violent man.

  • 11:33:51

    BANNEROnce she married him he considered that he owned her. So there were some episodes of abuse. So the whole DiMaggio story is a very complicated mixing of celebrities meeting and marrying and then breaking apart.

  • 11:34:06

    REHMMarlon Brando?

  • 11:34:07

    BANNEROh, yeah, she did.

  • 11:34:07

    REHMFrank Sinatra.

  • 11:34:08

    BANNERShe did.

  • 11:34:10

    REHMThe Kennedy brothers.

  • 11:34:11

    BANNERYes, she did. I'm not sure, though, that for women in her position, it was necessarily all that unusual in that day to have a string of relationships like that. You know, I don't know. I haven't really investigated anyone else terribly, terribly carefully. And there were some very moral people in Hollywood. But Hollywood was a place where sexuality was fairly free. And where when people made movies in particular they would have liaisons with one another. One writer on Hollywood I read that I trusted said it was steeped in sexuality.

  • 11:34:50

    REHMAnd at once she was with Joe DiMaggio. How long did that marriage last?

  • 11:34:58

    BANNERNine months.

  • 11:34:59

    REHMAnd that was it?

  • 11:35:01

    BANNERNine months. He beat her. That's why she had to get out of it. She couldn't stay in it. You see, her mother had been beaten by the first husband, not Marilyn's father. But she couldn't, at that point in her life, stay in an abusive relationship. But on the other hand she was having affairs with other men at the same time she was married to him.

  • 11:35:19

    REHMAnd how soon after did she meet and marry Arthur Miller?

  • 11:35:25

    BANNERShe met Arthur Miller in 1951. She married Joe DiMaggio in '54. She knew Arthur Miller for a long time before she married him. She met him in Hollywood when he was visiting with Elia Kazan who was his best friend. And he just fell in love with her immediately and she with him. And then he goes back to New York. And it appears they don't see each other between 1951 and then 1954, the end of '54 when she moves to New York. And that's when their affair really takes off at that point in time.

  • 11:36:02

    REHMWhen they are married in, what, '50…

  • 11:36:06

    BANNERWell, it finally occurs in late '55, they finally marry.

  • 11:36:15

    REHMYeah, '55.

  • 11:36:17

    BANNERYeah.

  • 11:36:17

    REHMAnd for how long did that marriage last?

  • 11:36:19

    BANNERAbout five years.

  • 11:36:20

    REHMFive years.

  • 11:36:21

    BANNERYeah, it did last much longer than the DiMaggio marriage.

  • 11:36:25

    REHMDid he truly love her?

  • 11:36:28

    BANNERYeah, it was a love match, but the problem was they just couldn't keep it going. You know, relationships require a lot of give and take on…

  • 11:36:38

    REHMYou bet.

  • 11:36:38

    BANNER…both people's part. And they were two stars. And they had very different temperaments. And they just could not keep it going. He demanded too much from her and she demanded too much from him. And then there were the miscarriages, which were just devastating to her. She had three miscarriages with him. And then she starts going back to the drugs and taking the drugs. And that's very hard on him.

  • 11:37:08

    REHMWhat kinds of drugs was she taking?

  • 11:37:11

    BANNEROh, it was prescription drugs. She was taking mostly Nembutal and amphetamines, the uppers and downers to keep herself going.

  • 11:37:20

    REHMWhoa.

  • 11:37:21

    BANNERAnd those were the standard drugs that a lot of people took in those days, prescription.

  • 11:37:24

    REHMLouis Banner. She's the author of the new book titled, "Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox." When we come back, we'll open the phones, 800-433-8850.

  • 11:40:04

    REHMAnd welcome back. Lois Banner is with me. She's a professor of history and gender studies at the University of Southern California. She's also written several books. Her latest, "Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox (sic) ." Let's open the phones now. We'll go first to Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning, Tim, you're on the air.

  • 11:40:37

    TIMHello, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 11:40:38

    REHMSurely.

  • 11:40:40

    TIMI'd just like to know and ask the professor, what is the obsession? Marilyn was good. She was beautiful. She should be laid to rest and we should move on. What compelled you and what obsessed you, Professor Banner, to write this book after I really don't know how many books, but maybe several hundred books on Marilyn? Why did you feel that you had to add to the collection?

  • 11:41:10

    BANNERI felt that most of the books on Marilyn are very simple, very tried. And that some of them are quite inaccurate. I am a historian who writes biographies. No one with my credentials had ever looked at Marilyn or written about her. I spent ten years writing the book. I wanted to get the fullest and most complete picture of Marilyn that possibly could be attained. I write biographies on eminent women and I wanted to show Marilyn as an eminent woman of the 20th century.

  • 11:41:41

    REHMAll right. And to Lovettsville, Va. Good morning, Beverly.

  • 11:41:47

    BEVERLYGood morning, Diane. I'm a big fan of your show.

  • 11:41:48

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:41:48

    BEVERLYAnd I'm so glad your guest wrote this book on Marilyn. I look forward to reading it. She made a comment earlier that Marilyn was a feminist before feminism even evolved. I was wondering if she was also active in civil rights. I heard a story that Ella Fitzgerald was trying to play a club. I can't remember where it -- if it was in California or where, but she was banned because she was black. Marilyn found out about it and said -- and wrote to the owner -- contacted the owner and told him, if you book her for a week, I'll take a front row table every night, she said. Is that true? Did that happen?

  • 11:42:21

    BANNERThat story is correct. She did that. She did that for Ella Fitzgerald and they remained friends for the rest of their lives. She was very close to Sammy Davis, Jr. She really highly supported the civil rights movement. She believed in equality. She believed in the races all being equal. She was very progressive in a lot of her views. And before her death, she had come out as a socialist. She liked regimes in which the government was trying to bring economic equality to the people. She always called herself, I am of the people. The people made me a star, not Hollywood. The people did.

  • 11:43:00

    REHMI hope that answers it. Thanks for calling. Let's go to Cape Cod, Mass. Good morning, Bill.

  • 11:43:09

    BILLGood morning, Diane.

  • 11:43:11

    REHMHi there. Go right ahead, sir.

  • 11:43:13

    BILLWe love your show here and I'm a little nervous speaking to you, but I'll try to move it along.

  • 11:43:18

    REHMWell, I'm glad to have you with us. Thank you.

  • 11:43:22

    BILLI appreciate the first caller's comment and I want to follow up on that and move it right along. Of course, like Marion's, I'm a great admirer of Marilyn Monroe. I've seen almost all of her films. I've owned a number of books about her, including some really fabulous picture books. I'm a male after all. About 15 years ago, a book came across my path entitled simply "Marilyn," just one word, "Marilyn." I do not remember the author. I started reading it and I could not put it down.

  • 11:43:55

    BILLThe book was about the last three days of Marilyn's life on this planet. And it was a blow-by-blow account. And the inescapable conclusion of the particular author was that Marilyn Monroe was, in fact, murdered by Robert Kennedy and his brother-in-law Peter Lawford. I found the book very interesting and would your guest like to comment on this book and that thesis?

  • 11:44:21

    BANNERThat's one thesis regarding Marilyn's death. There are three books out in the last year about the death. There's no question in my mind there was a cover up. All the police information literally disappeared within several weeks. People weren't interviewed who had been there at the time she died. They declared it a suicide on the basis of a partial report. So the Kennedys had a connection with the police department.

  • 11:44:56

    BANNERAs to the death itself, the circumstances of the death become extraordinarily complicated. I have interviewed everybody who was at the Peter Lawford party that directly preceded her death and their stories seem to indicate that the Kennedys were there that day. And whether or not Robert Kennedy was there that evening, we don't know. It could've been the Mafia. The Mafia had reasons to...

  • 11:45:22

    REHMWhy?

  • 11:45:23

    BANNEROh, the story there is that the Mafia was so furious with Robert Kennedy and they thought that Marilyn and he were very, very involved. And so they sent a killer to dispose of Marilyn. It's a farfetched story, I understand, but, you know, there's some possibility to it.

  • 11:45:43

    REHMIs there any indication -- clearly an indication that Robert Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe were sexually involved?

  • 11:45:57

    BANNERI have the statements of many people who argue that they were sexually involved. Much of that comes from the research that Anthony Summers did for his book "Goddess" that was published in the early 1980s. He interviewed everyone who lived around the Peter Lawford house on the beach. And he interviewed people who were there at the time that she died.

  • 11:46:24

    BANNERThere is evidence that Robert Kennedy was definitely in Los Angeles that day. And so many people have testified that he was in Los Angeles that day that there has to be mass hysteria. There's just too many who have testified this and also testified to the Kennedy shenanigans at the Peter Lawford house.

  • 11:46:48

    REHMBut putting RFK in Los Angeles does not necessarily put him at Marilyn Monroe's home.

  • 11:47:00

    BANNEROh, he was there. There are many, many reports that he was at Marilyn's home that day. Some reports he was there that evening, but that's harder to prove, much, much harder to prove. But the housekeeper saw him there, the neighbors saw him at the house. There is another allegation that the FBI was there that day. They taped conversations between Robert Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe that day. I don't know whether or not I believe that particular allegation, but it has been made by people who have interviewed the FBI.

  • 11:47:35

    REHMYou know, it's also interesting that you point out that after she sang Happy Birthday to John F. Kennedy that the Kennedys began to shun her.

  • 11:47:51

    BANNEROh, yes, yes. She was dangerous at that point.

  • 11:47:54

    REHMOkay. But then why would they become involved with her again toward the end of her life?

  • 11:48:02

    BANNERWell, the story, as I read the sources, is that she was involved with Robert Kennedy before she sang Happy Birthday and that she remained involved with him afterwards when he came to Los Angeles and was there at Peter Lawford's. It was John Kennedy who was the one that really, really deserted her. And Robert Kennedy, in so far as I read what people are saying, is Robert Kennedy did remain involved with her.

  • 11:48:35

    REHMAnd, you know, you want to say that perhaps because so many people saw Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles, because so many people saw him at Peter Lawford's home then what must follow is that he was at Marilyn's home.

  • 11:49:05

    BANNERNo, people saw him there. People saw him there.

  • 11:49:07

    REHMAt what time of the day?

  • 11:49:10

    BANNEREarly afternoon, yeah.

  • 11:49:10

    REHMOn the day she died?

  • 11:49:12

    BANNERYeah, early afternoon.

  • 11:49:15

    REHMOn the day she died.

  • 11:49:16

    BANNERUm-hum. On the day she died, early afternoon.

  • 11:49:18

    REHMSo you -- are you saying that you do not believe that she committed suicide?

  • 11:49:26

    BANNERI'm not saying that. I'm saying that there is circumstantial evidence that goes in other directions. I haven't seen any definitive evidence in any direction. I haven't seen the smoking gun. It's hard to think that she would commit suicide because she was in such good shape. She had so many plans and so many things going for her. I also think it is possible she was planning to remarry Joe DiMaggio. I can't say it 100 percent, but I think that...

  • 11:49:56

    REHMAfter he would've beaten her?

  • 11:49:59

    BANNERNo, this is years later. And they were lovers. They were very -- they were lovers for all the years in between. They were -- Marilyn believed in free love and she had a pact with Joe DiMaggio that they could sleep with other people, but they would continue their relationship with each other. She was very hesitant. She knew, you know, about -- because of the beating, she was very hesitant, but she really did want protection at that point in time from someone.

  • 11:50:29

    REHMDid you speak with Joe DiMaggio yourself?

  • 11:50:33

    BANNEROh, no, no. He was dead by the time I began this research. And he wouldn't have said anything to me anyway.

  • 11:50:39

    REHMThen how do you know about this pact that she apparently had with him?

  • 11:50:43

    BANNEROh, oh, oh, the pact -- Marilyn's best friend during the last several years of her life was her masseur, Ralph Roberts. And she talked to him about the pact that she had with Joe DiMaggio and how happy she was that Joe had finally agreed that, in fact, they could remain very, very close friends and date other people. That is my major source for that. Everyone I talked to said Ralph Roberts was her closest friend. Talk to Ralph Roberts. I couldn't. He was dead. I found his memoir.

  • 11:51:26

    REHMAll right. Let's go to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Janera (sp?) , you're on the air.

  • 11:51:35

    JANERAGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:51:37

    REHMSure.

  • 11:51:38

    JANERALove your show. And, you know, it's so interesting that she was talking about the free love because what I was calling about is I have a 1957 Parade Magazine that was apparently during the filming over in -- well, I don't know if it was in England or not, for "The Prince and the Showgirl."

  • 11:51:57

    BANNERThat was in England, yes.

  • 11:51:59

    JANERAYeah, it's got Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. And it's a series of four pictures and it's got, in two of them, Marilyn kissing Laurence Olivier. And the expression on Vivien Leigh's face and Arthur Miller's is priceless. I don't -- have you seen these pictures?

  • 11:52:21

    BANNERI'm not sure I have.

  • 11:52:23

    JANERAWell, it's -- you just -- in fact, the headline on the front page is "What's the story behind this odd pose of a famous foursome?" And when you look, it just smacks of -- I know it's gossip, but it just looks like there's something more going on there than just friendship.

  • 11:52:40

    BANNERYeah well, the problem may be that they would pose in ways that they thought the photographers would like to see. And that Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier and Marilyn and Arthur went in and out of liking each other. And there were points at which they were hardly speaking, and other points at which they were very friendly.

  • 11:52:57

    BANNERVivien Leigh, you know, was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and did become institutionalized pretty soon after that film. And Laurence Olivier was kind of unhappy with her and he looked at Marilyn, thought Marilyn was wonderful, thought he might marry Marilyn. And then Marilyn, you see, shows herself to be a difficult individual.

  • 11:53:19

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Gainesville, Fla. Good morning, Deborah.

  • 11:53:27

    DEBORAHGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:53:29

    REHMSurely.

  • 11:53:29

    DEBORAHOf course, I've been a great fan of yours for years.

  • 11:53:32

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:53:32

    DEBORAHWhen I was a little girl, Marilyn passed away and for some reason, that touched me and I always thought she was very beautiful. And then many years later, early 1970s, I moved to Florida with my husband and he and Marilyn's sister's husband worked together. And at a Christmas party, I met her sister. And at this point, the woman is middle aged, but I thought I now know why -- one reason why Marilyn was so beautiful, if she was anything like her sister.

  • 11:54:04

    DEBORAHAnd her sister's skin was absolute porcelain. There wasn't a blemish, mark, line. It was just beautiful, the coloring, the texture. And I thought perhaps Marilyn shared this with her sister and it was one facet that made her so charismatic and photogenic.

  • 11:54:23

    BANNERIt's her half sister, the woman in Florida.

  • 11:54:26

    DEBORAHYes, half sister, yes.

  • 11:54:26

    BANNERYeah, but she was fairly friendly with that half sister. There was some correspondence. Three were some phone calls. There was one or two visits there. So, yes, they...

  • 11:54:37

    REHMWhat was the age difference between the two?

  • 11:54:41

    BANNERThe sister was somewhat older than Marilyn, so we're talking four or five years difference.

  • 11:54:49

    REHMI see. All right. Thanks for calling, Deborah. We've had a number of emails on this issue. "Did you say that childhood sexual abuse can lead to lesbianism?"

  • 11:55:03

    BANNEROh, I didn't -- I said it in the book and I just -- it slipped my mind on the show. The truth of the matter is that it can, I think, make a woman, in a sense, negative towards men. It can -- it's a syndrome that can lead in that direction. Marilyn always said she felt that her lesbian inclinations were natural and that it was something in her that was simply there, that she responded to. She says that a beautiful woman always thrilled me, seeing a beautiful woman.

  • 11:55:38

    BANNERHer bisexuality I believe to be neither fearful and certainly completely understandable. The issue for it with her was that when she became the great heterosexual sex star, it bothered her that she had lesbian inclinations. And she almost indicated a lesbian panic to her last psychiatrist. So I think it's sad. It's sad that the time that was so homophobic did not allow her to fully accept her nature.

  • 11:56:10

    REHMWhat do you think would have happened to Marilyn and her career had she lived?

  • 11:56:18

    BANNERHad she lived?

  • 11:56:19

    REHMYes.

  • 11:56:20

    BANNERShe had several movies lined up and she would've done those. She had lined up to go to the actors studio to do more acting in New York. There were those who thought she could still become a fine stage actress. If she lived long enough, she would've hit the age of SSRIs and probably been able to take care of a lot of her anxieties and her fears. I think that she might have become a great crusader for human rights. That was really her politics. She probably would have adopted a child. She was on the verge of doing so that June.

  • 11:56:59

    REHMWell, it's a fascinating, sad story. Lois Banner. She's professor of history and gender studies at the University of Southern California, the author of a new book titled "Marilyn: the Passion and the Paradox." Thank you for being here.

  • 11:57:23

    BANNERThank you. I enjoyed it very much.

  • 11:57:25

    REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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