Written by Hannah Blum, author of The Truth About Broken: The Unfixed Version of Self-Love
Just now when I looked out the hospital window where the snow had covered everything suddenly everything is kind of muted a green. The grass, shabby evergreen bushes — though the trees give me a little hope — the desolate bare branches promising maybe there will be spring and maybe they promise hope.
A person’s true character reveals itself when we acknowledge the obstacles they have faced. Those of us living with a mental illness can relate to Marilyn Monroe. Using our smile to cover up our internal pain. When your biggest critic is the person in your reflection. Praised for beauty that is invisible to you. There is a part of Marilyn Monroe’s life that deserves to be shared, and it pertains to her journey with mental illness. The part that gave her both character and pain.
Mental Illness in Marilyn’s Family
Gladys Baker, Marilyn’s mother, lived with schizophrenia. She made spontaneous appearances throughout Marilyn’s childhood. Baker was institutionalized for a decade until 1945.
Marilyn’s grandmother, Della Monroe struggled with postpartum depression. She was institutionalized for mental illness and died 19 days later at the age of 51.
Marilyn Monroe’s great-grandfather, Tilford Marion Hogan, struggled with mental illness and committed suicide by hanging.
The Early Signs of Mental Illness in Marilyn
In Hollywood Legends Collectors’ Edition 2017 Marilyn – Her Untold Story, close family members reveal that Marilyn experienced periods of paranoia and delusions as a child, such as the incident involving the death of her dog.
Marilyn had a hard time connecting with other children in school, but she formed a close bond to her dog, Tippy. One day while Marilyn was at school, Tippy was hit by a car. A neighbor found his body and placed him in the driveway of Marilyn’s home. It was evident that Tippy was hit by a car, but Marilyn refused to believe this story. She was adamant that the neighbors, who complained about the dog’s bark, brutally murdered Tippy by severing the dog in two with a garden hoe. No one could convince her otherwise. Marilyn’s response to the incident concerned her foster parents Ida and Wayne Bolender.
Withdrawing from others, social isolation, unusual thoughts, and perception are all early signs of schizophrenia.
The Timeline of Marilyn’s Mental Health
Marilyn pushed forward despite the obstacles she faced as a foster child and worked towards a career in the spotlight. However, the signs of mental illness were still present in the rising star. Exhaustion, emotions, depression, and fame began to consume Marilyn as the years went by. She would endure the pain of failed marriages, and at least three miscarriages.
“Did you hear that?” is the question that 22-year-old Marilyn asked her acting coach, Natasha Lytess while preparing to audition for the film, The Asphalt Jungle. She complained to Lytess that she was hearing voices outside her door.
Lytess became worried about the young actress’s mental health and expressed her concern to Marilyn’s boyfriend at the time, Johnny Hyde who acted as though this was typical behavior. Johnny Hyde died the following year.
After Hyde’s death, Marilyn fell into a deep depression. Lytess shared an apartment with Marilyn at the time, and one night came home to find Marilyn passed out, pale in the face with a mouth full of sleeping pills.
Although Marilyn claimed she did not try to kill herself, Lytess believed otherwise.
Lytess wrote to one of her students sharing her genuine concern for Marilyn, and insinuated that Marilyn was heading down a dark road that would inevitably lead to her death if she did not acknowledge her mental health problems.
In 1956 Marilyn married American playwright, Arthur Miller. The marriage emphasized her insecurities. On occasion, people would see her pouring the contents of pills into her champagne.
While filming The Prince and the Showgirl in England she discovered Miller’s diary where he complained that he was disappointed and embarrassed by her. She was so devastated that she flew back to New York to meet with her psychiatrist.
On stationary, Marilyn wrote:
On the screen of pitch blackness comes/reappears the shapes of monsters my most steadfast companions … and the world is sleeping ah peace I need you—even a peaceful monster.
While filming Some Like It Hot, Marilyn got into an argument with Miller over the phone. Shortly after she took another overdose of pills, but this time it was her new acting coach, Paul Strasberg who found the actress laid out on the floor.
In 1960 Marilyn and Miller announced their separation publicly, causing Marilyn’s mental health to decline rapidly.
While filming The Misfits, Marilyn complained of hearing voices on set. Her psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenson prescribed her three times the maximum dose of Nembutal to treat insomnia.
Marilyn in Payne-Whitney’s Psychiatric Ward
In February 1961 Marilyn told Ralph Roberts, a close friend, that she contemplated jumping from her 13th-floor apartment in New York City. She also shared this information with her other psychiatrist, Dr. Marianna Kris, who persuaded Marilyn to admit herself into a hospital.
Marilyn entered Payne-Whitney Hospital under the name, Faye Miller. She thought the hospital stay was to rest outside of the spotlight, but was immediately taken to the psychiatric ward, threatened with a straight jacket and placed in a cell. She was there for three days before her ex-husband and love of her life Joe DiMaggio demanded that Marilyn be released.
In the six-page letter to Dr. Ralph Greenson, she reflected on her time in the psychiatric ward.
There was no empathy at Payne-Whitney—it had a very bad effect—they asked me after putting me in a ‘cell’ (I mean cement blocks and all) for very disturbed depressed patients (except I felt I was in some kind of prison for a crime I hadn’t committed). The inhumanity there I found archaic … everything was under lock and key … the doors have windows so patients can be visible all the time…
She also writes about the situation where she lashed out at the staff, and in the last line, alludes to the stigma of mental illness.
I picked up a light-weight chair and slammed it … against the glass intentionally. It took a lot of banging to get even a small piece of glass—so I went over with the glass concealed in my hand and sat quietly on the bed waiting for them to come in. They did, and I said to them if you are going to treat me like a nut I’ll act like a nut.
The letter portrays a different side of Marilyn. She was a perceptive and empathetic individual. These statements correlate with the message that many advocates share today; those of us living with a mental illness are constantly framed as “nut jobs” and feel as though we are punished for a crime we did not commit. We are shaped by stigma.
Marilyn’s Depression Continues to Get Worse
Allan “Whitey” Snyder, Marilyn’s makeup artist, revealed that it was difficult for Marilyn to get up due to her depressive state. It was to the extent that he would have to put make-up on her while she was laying down.
Around ten days before Marilyn’s death, friends took her on a trip to Frank Sinatra’s Cal-Neva Lodge, hoping it would cheer her up; however the opposite came of their travels.
According to Joe Langford, a security employee at the Lodge, Sinatra was shocked at how depressed Marilyn had become.
August 5, 1962
On August 5, 1962, Marilyn’s housekeeper became extremely concerned when she saw that her bedroom door was locked. She called Dr. Ralph Greenson, who broke through her bedroom window, and found Marilyn dead. She was 36 years old. Her death was ruled as a probable suicide.
There are many conspiracy theories around her death and some believe it was accidental. In my opinion, there is no doubt that Marilyn swallowed those pills with the intent of ending her own life.
Marilyn Monroe 1926-1962
Stars cannot shine without darkness. -D.H. Sidebottom
We can learn from Marilyn’s story. The way we appear on the outside does not dictate how we feel on the inside. Marilyn took her last breaths believing she was inadequate and undeserving of love simply because she was different.
Defining her broken pieces as beautiful is what I hope to accomplish by sharing this post. Her writing, her depth, and compassion reveal that she was so much more than a bubbly sex symbol. The truth about Marilyn Monroe is that her ability to capture a global audience, her sultry appearance and sparkling persona made her an American icon, but her truth is what makes her iconic.
Marilyn Monroe was interred at Crypt. No. 24 in the Corridor of Memories in Los Angeles, California.
In her smile, hope was always present. She glorifies in life, and her death did not mere this final image.
Copies of the six-page letter to Dr. Ralph Greenson
In her first book, The Truth About Broken: The Unfixed Version of Self-Love, Hannah Blum redefines what it means to love yourself and takes readers on an unforgettable journey towards embracing what makes you different by sharing captivating stories that will never leave you after reading. A book that will give you a new perspective on mental illness as Hannah shares her unapologetic message rooted in her life as living with a mental illness in a society that has labeled her and others as broken.