Marilyn’s Secret Tapes
It remains one of Hollywood’s most compelling, and unforgettable, mysteries.
On Aug. 5, 1962, the body of Marilyn Monroe was found in the bedroom of her Brentwood home. The 36-year-old movie star was naked and facedown on her bed.
An autopsy conducted by Dr. Thomas Noguchi, then deputy medical examiner, concluded that death was due to acute barbiturate poisoning, and a psychiatric team tied to the investigation termed it a “probable suicide.”
Today, 43 years later, fans from around the world will gather, as they have for decades, near Monroe’s crypt at Westwood Village Memorial Park to celebrate her life and mourn her death. John W. Miner, 86, will mourn too.
But there is bitterness and frustration as well for the former Los Angeles County prosecutor, who was at her autopsy and was one of those looking into her death. He didn’t believe that the actress took her life in ’62 and he doesn’t believe it now, and Miner says he’s heard secret tapes that Monroe made in the days before she died that prove the actress was anything but suicidal.
Whether Monroe died by her own hand has been debated and dissected by books, documentaries, conspiracy theorists, and Hollywood and Washington insiders alike for years.
Enough credence was given to the various reports that in 1982, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office reexamined the case. Miner, by then in private practice, was among those interviewed.
The resulting report notes that Miner mentioned the tapes. However, he did not say he had a transcript. Although the report concedes that “factual discrepancies” and “unanswered questions” remained in the case, it did not find enough evidence to warrant launching a criminal investigation.
As head of the D.A.'s medical-legal section when Monroe died, Miner had met with the actress’ psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson. During the interview, Miner says, Greenson played the Monroe tapes, but only on condition that the investigator never reveal their contents.Miner said he took “extensive” and “nearly verbatim” notes, and only broke the promise years after Greenson’s death, when some Monroe biographers suggested that the psychiatrist be considered a suspect in her death. Miner recently gave a copy of the transcript to The Times. Miner’s transcript shows Monroe obsessing about the Oscars, describing a sexual encounter with Joan Crawford, craving a father’s love from Clark Gable, yearning to be taken seriously as an actress by contemplating doing Shakespeare, and speaking candidly about why her marriages to baseball slugger Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller ended in divorce.
At one point, she describes standing naked in front of her full-length mirror assessing the body that captivated the world, knowing that she is slipping into middle age, and commenting that “my breasts are beginning to sag a bit” but “my waist isn’t bad” and her buttocks are still “the best.”
“You are the only person who will ever know the most private, the most secret thoughts of Marilyn Monroe,” she tells Greenson, according to Miner’s transcript. “I have absolute confidence and trust you will never reveal to a living soul what I say to you.”
Miner contends that anyone reading the transcript would conclude that “there was no possible way this woman could have killed herself. She had very specific plans for her future. She knew exactly what she wanted to do. She was told by [acting coach] Lee Strasberg, maybe ill-advisedly, that she had Shakespeare in her and she was fascinated with the idea.”
Miner has shown the transcript to several authors in recent years. In British author Matthew Smith’s book “Marilyn’s Last Words: Her Secret Tapes and Mysterious Death,” the excerpts cover the early portion of the tapes, which have Monroe musing on Freud and free association, orgasms, Gable and her agent, Johnny Hyde. Seymour M. Hersh included a short reference to the late President Kennedy in “The Dark Side of Camelot.”
Miner was also interviewed for a 1997 ABC documentary called “Dangerous World: The Kennedy Years,” but ultimately no excerpts from the transcript were used.
The previously unpublished portions of the transcript include descriptions of her feelings for her ex-husbands, a dissection of why her marriages failed, a racy catalog of supposed sexual encounters, details of her dispute with 20th Century Fox, her friendship with Frank Sinatra, and her complaints about housekeeper Eunice Murray, who would discover her body.
Smith and Hersh, along with the documentary’s producer, Mark Obenhaus, said in interviews this week that they found Miner credible.
But to accept Miner’s story, one must make a leap of faith — he is the only one still alive who claims to have heard the tapes. Greenson died in 1979, and Miner believes that he destroyed the tapes.
“It’s like a one-sourced story,” Obenhaus said. “You have one guy; he’s a credible guy, but he’s just one guy.”
Smith, who said he paid Miner a fee, which he declined to disclose, for use of the Monroe transcript, added: “I believe he is a man of integrity. I’ve looked at the contents of the tapes, of course, and, frankly, I would think it entirely impossible for John Miner to have invented what he put forward — absolutely impossible.”
Ronald H. “Mike” Carroll, a former L.A. County deputy district attorney who conducted the 1982 review of Monroe’s death, said he and a D.A.'s investigator interviewed Miner for their report and, although he mentioned that Greenson had tapes of the actress, there was no hint that Miner had a transcript.
Carroll, the No. 3 prosecutor in the D.A.'s office at the time, who has since retired, said that had he any inkling that Miner was harboring the transcript, he would have obtained a grand jury subpoena to force Miner to hand them over so that he could include them in his report.
Miner said he couldn’t speak about the transcript then because of his promise to Greenson. “Greenson was absolutely committed to protecting the privacy of his patients,” Miner recalled. “He felt he could not let me see what she had said if there was any possibility that her privacy would be violated.” So Miner gave his word.
When some suggested that Greenson himself was the actress’ killer, Miner went to the psychiatrist’s widow and asked for permission to be released from the promise.
Greenson’s widow, Hildegard, told The Times this week that she didn’t know if the tapes existed and never heard her husband discuss them. Still, she does not discount that Monroe may have given her husband such tapes and that he played them for Miner.
“That seems like something my husband would do,” she said. “He might want to play it to show how she felt and what was going on with her.” At the time of the recordings, Monroe was living an unsettled life. There was the rumor of a romance with Kennedy, fueled by her appearance at a birthday tribute on May 19 at Madison Square Garden where she sang the now legendary “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.” Studio bosses at 20th Century Fox had dropped her from the film “Something’s Got to Give” because of chronic lateness and drug dependency.
No one has established the exact date that the recordings were made, although the JFK reference would put it after her singing tribute, a little more than two months before she died.
Smith says his research suggests that Monroe gave the psychiatrist the tapes Aug. 4. According to Miner, Greenson’s sole purpose in playing the tapes for him was to help establish her state of mind at the time of her death, “so they were made pretty close to the time she died.”
Hollywood columnist James Bacon, now 91, who met Monroe when she was an unknown in 1949 and would later become a close friend, was at Monroe’s house five days before she died.
“She was drinking champagne and straight vodka and occasionally popping a pill,” Bacon told The Times. “I said, ‘Marilyn, the combination of pills and alcohol will kill you.’ And she said, ‘It hasn’t killed me yet.’ Then she took another drink and popped another pill. I know at night she took barbiturates.”
But Bacon added: “She wasn’t the least bit depressed. She was talking about going to Mexico. She had a Mexican boyfriend at the time. I forget his name. This was the first house she ever owned. She was going to buy some furniture. She was in very good spirits that day — of course, the champagne and vodka helped.”
In the transcript, Monroe uses what therapists call “free association,” saying whatever came into her mind. “Isn’t it true that the key to analysis is free association?” she says. “Marilyn Monroe associates. You, my doctor, by understanding and interpretation of what goes on in my mind, get to my unconscious, which makes it possible for you to treat my neuroses and for me to overcome them.”
“And you are going to hear bad language,” she warns Greenson.
Although Monroe often came across on screen as a ditzy blond, in her tapes, she discusses Freud’s “Introductory Lectures” (“God, what a genius,” she remarks. “He makes it so understandable”), and author James Joyce (“Joyce is an artist who could penetrate the souls of people, male or female”), and says she has read all of Shakespeare.
She talks about her admiration for Gable, her co-star in “The Misfits”: “In the kissing scenes, I kissed him with real affection. I didn’t want to go to bed with him, but I wanted him to know how much I liked and appreciated him.”
And she lambasted members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for not giving Gable an Oscar for “Gone With the Wind,” noting that never was an actor on screen more romantic. She says she cried for two days after learning that Gable had died.
Her love for DiMaggio was undimmed. “I love him and always will,” she says. “But Joe couldn’t stay married to Marilyn Monroe, the famous movie star. Joe has an image in his stubborn Italian head of a traditional Italian wife. She would have to be faithful, do what he tells her, devote all of herself to him. Doctor, you know that’s not me.”
It was different with Miller. “Marrying him was my mistake, not his. He couldn’t give me the attention, warmth and affection I need. It’s not in his nature. Arthur never credited me with much intelligence. He couldn’t share his intellectual life with me. As bed partners, we were so-so.”
Of her one-night affair with Joan Crawford, she said: “Next time I saw Crawford, she wanted another round. I told her straight-out I didn’t much enjoy doing it with a woman. After I turned her down, she became spiteful.”
In the tapes, Monroe heaps praise on Kennedy, and there is no suggestion that the two were ever lovers. “This man is going to change our country,” she says of JFK, adding, “He will transform America today like FDR did in the ‘30s.”
As for the president’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy, the U.S. attorney general at the time: “As you see, there is no room in my life for him. I guess I don’t have the courage to face up to it and hurt him. I want someone else to tell him it’s over. I tried to get the president to do it, but I couldn’t reach him.”
In the transcripts, Monroe says she needs Greenson’s help in getting her housekeeper another job. “Doctor, I want you to help me get rid of Murray . I can’t flat out fire her. Next thing would be a book ‘Secrets of Marilyn Monroe by Her Housekeeper.’ She’d make a fortune spilling what she knows and she knows too damn much.”
As he listened to Monroe’s voice that day in 1962, Miner said, he became “very moved.”
“You’d have to be without capacity for empathy or emotion” if you weren’t moved, he said.
Miner, who collaborated with Dr. Seymour Pollack to create the USC Institute of Psychiatry, Law and Behavioral Science in 1963 and taught there over the years, said he would like to see a “re-autopsy” conducted to clear up medical questions that he noticed in the original.
“The autopsy clearly shows that the barbiturates — of a massive amount — that entered her body came in through the large intestine,” he said. “How do we know that? We know that because there is no indication, in fact there is contraindication, that the capsules were swallowed.”
He believes that had Monroe swallowed 30 or more capsules, “she would have absorbed enough of the barbiturates to kill her before it was all dissolved.”
He also discounts the possibility that she was given a “hot shot” injection of the drugs since neither he nor Noguchi could find any sign of needle marks on her body. (Both the original autopsy report and the 1982 review came to the same conclusion.)
Miner had hoped to get Noguchi’s support for another autopsy. Noguchi’s attorney, Godfrey Isaac, said the former coroner was traveling in Asia and could not be reached for comment.
It is Miner’s theory that the actress took or was given chloral hydrate to render her unconscious — possibly in a soft drink — and someone then dissolved Nembutal in water by breaking open 30 or more capsules and administered the lethal solution by enema.
He said that he and Noguchi noticed a discoloration of the large intestine in the original autopsy and that there is a possibility that if the body were exhumed, tissue samples could be taken to determine if she had been given an enema filled with enough drugs to be toxic.
Carroll said he had no objections to another autopsy and stressed that he had “no vested interest” in the outcome.
But he noted that in his review, he talked to an independent expert, Dr. Boyd G. Stephens, former chief medical examiner-coroner for the city and county of San Francisco, who said the amount of Nembutal in the liver was about twice as much as in the blood, suggesting that the person lived for “quite a period of time” after ingesting the drugs.
Carroll told The Times that if Monroe had an enema containing the drugs, it would have gotten into her system rapidly and “you wouldn’t expect it to have that ratio in the liver.”
The D.A.'s review concluded that “the cumulative evidence available to us fails to support any theory of criminal conduct relating to her death.”
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