The Usual Suspects -or- Cold Case of Marilyn Monroe

Understanding Marilyn Monroe -or- Remembering Norma Jean

"The only safe woman is a dead woman", we are told by Leslie Fiedler in "Love and Death in the American Novel". The detective work and search for the "usual suspects" in the tragic death of Marilyn Monroe reveals a host of characters in the police cold case lineup. Marshall McLuhan "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man" provides his theory; "TV is a cool medium. It rejects hot figures and hot issues and people from the hot print media. Fred Allen was a casualty of TV." McLuhan then asks; "Was Marilyn Monroe?" 

An abused orphan in the City of Angels, the death of Marilyn Monroe remains an unsolved mystery. Many theories remain in circulation, John Randall Taraborrelli, "The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe" (2009) discusses the role of psychoanalysis and psychoanalysts in Monroe's life, as well as the Strasberg's role in Marilyn's life. Was Marilyn a victim of the Hollywood dream factory? Did the everyday American public pressures kill her? Did she kill herself? Were the Kennedy's involved? What role did her mother's insanity play in fueling Marilyn's own fears of madness? What role did her psychoanalyst Ralph Greenson play? 

The first LAPD police officer on the scene Jack Clemmons reportedly believed that Monroe was murdered and the room Marilyn was found dead in, was staged. Clemmons also evidently believed that a cover up at the LAPD was in progress. We get a dark and sick gut feeling much like at the end of the LA noir film "Chinatown"..."Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown...."

Robert Bly a leader in the men's mythopoetic movement in "The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us" (1), writes about the mythological dark shadow projected onto Monroe's femininity; "Thousands, even millions of American men projected their internal feminine onto Marilyn Monroe. If a million men do that, and leave it there, it's likely she will die. She died. Projections without personal contact can damage the the person receiving them.

We have also to say that Marilyn Monroe called for these projections as a part of her power longing, and her disturbance must have gone back to victimization in childhood. But the process of projection and recall in tribal culture, face to face, goes out of whack when the mass media media arrives. In the economy of the psyche her death was inevitable and even right. No single human being can carry so many projections-that is, so much unconsciousness-and survive. So it's infinitely important that each person bring back his or her own." 

Phrased somewhat differently, any man (or woman) could dream about Marilyn, and according to Bly this was the actual cause of Monroe's death. The mass media's weight of psychological baggage Monroe was carrying around everyday were the unrealized hopes, desires and dreams of millions. The dream interpretation "Remembering Marilyn Monroe" supports many of Bly's observations. However, instead of looking at the dreams that the Hollywood dream factory and the mass media projected onto Monroe, let's look at Monroe's own dreams (as Bly suggests above), for more forensic clues first. 

In "fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by MARILYN MONROE" Marilyn provides her readers with a telling dream she had in 1955, the dream is written in point form; 

"Best finest surgeon-Strasberg waits (word "waits" is scratched out) to cut me open which I don't mind since Dr H. has prepared me-given me anestetic and has also diagnosed the case and agrees with what has to be done-an operation-to bring myself back to life and to cure me of this terrible disease whatever the hell it is-Arthur is the only one waiting in the outer room-worrying and hoping the operation sucessful for many reasons-for myself-for his play and for himself indirectly  Hedda-concerned-keeps calling on phone during the operation-Norman keeps stopping by hospital to see if I'm okay but mostly to comfort Art who is so worried-Milton calls from big office with lots of room and everything in good taste-and is conducting business in a new way with style-and music is playing and he is relaxed and enjoying himself even if he is very worried at the same time-there's a camera on his desk but he doesn't take pictures anywore except of great paintings. Strasberg cuts me open after Dr. H gives me anaesthesia and tries in a medical way to comfort me-everything in the room is white in fact I can't see anyone just while objects-they cut me open-Strasberg with Hohenberg's ass. And there is absolutely nothing there-Strasberg is deeply disappointed but even more academically amazed that he had made such a mistake. He thought there was going to be so much-more than he ever dreamed possible in almost anyone but instead there was absolutely nothing-devoid of every living feeling thing-the only thing that came out was so finely cut sawdust-like out of a raggedy ann doll-and the sawdust spills all over the floor & the table and Dr H is puzzled because suddenly she realizes that this is a new type case ("of puple", word scratched out). The patient (pupil-or student-I started to write) existing for                                                                                                  of complete emptiness                                                                                                Strasbergs dreams & hopes for theatre are fallen. Dr H's dreams and hopes for a permanent psychiatric cure is given up-Arthur is disappointed-let down +" 

The Scholars Cut Marilyn Monroe Open -or- Psychoanalytic Mythology of Faust  

In this dream, the psychological weight of the hopes and dreams of others that Monroe was carrying are confined to those of Strasberg (theatre), Dr Hohenberg (psychiatric cure) and Arthur Miller (for Marilyn, for his play, and for himself). The dream has the psychanalytic feel of the painting by Paul Delvaux "The Scholars", featured in the interpretation "In the Blink of an Eye: Part 3". Everyone seems "disappointed" with Marilyn, or is it that Monroe feels disappointed by the desires of others? Marilyn seems disappointed with life, she is feeling empty

The sawdust, "like out of a raggedy ann doll", provides a clue to the real meaning of the dream and her emptiness. Marilyn's mother reportedly had red hair much like the raggedy ann doll. Marilyn felt abandonment beginning in her childhood (as Norma Jean). The correct diagnosis then is "abandonment depression", also known as a suicidal depression. Dr Hohenberg has given Marilyn anesthetic, this would only numb her emotional pain she had felt inside since childhood. This leaves Marilyn feeling devoid of all feeling. 

Much as Bly states, mythological projections, (and dreaming) have different psychological influences for those living in tribal culture in relation to those living in the visual culture of mass media. While I believe that the medical prescriptions Marilyn was taking may have played a role in her death, I believe that a much larger mythological problem of collective "projections" as Bly suggests (yet does not identify) played itself out in the life of Marilyn Monroe. The Hollywood dream factory and the mass media's weight of dreams projected onto Monroe are the mythological stuff that Goethe's Faust are made of. Faust on his journey's meets Helen of Troy the personification of beauty in the classical world. 

If the Hollywood dream factory is a modern version of the archetypal evil personified scholar Faust, then Munroe is the innocent "Gretchen" who is seduced, and whose life is ultimately destroyed. Gretschen's soul much like Faust's later both find redemption. In our modern Western romantic world, Marilyn Monroe's poetic and artistic anxiety of influence has triumphed and left her much like Helen of Troy an inimitable and immortal feminine icon of beauty.  

Futher Reading:

  1. in, Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams (Eds.), "Meeting The Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature".
All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.