Marilyn Monroe’s Letter Reveals an Involuntary Stay in a Psyche Ward

Most people aren’t aware of Marilyn Monroe’s institutionalization in a psychiatric facility or that she was in and out of psyche wards over the course of her life. Even though it’s clear that she was falling apart long before she died, many still claim her death was not a suicide at all. This latest finding may make some folks change their minds.

It was after filming the most artful film the superstar bombshell ever appeared in, The Misfits, that Marilyn began to fall apart. Her then husband, Arthur Miller, had written the film for her. It was about a beautiful albeit emotionally fragile woman who falls in love with an older man. Miller was much older than Marilyn too, and it was clear to people close to the couple that much of the script was based on their troubled marriage.

Many blame Marilyn’s unraveling on the punishing aspects of the filmmaking: shooting scenes in the deserts of Nevada when it was over 100 degrees and director John Huston’s constant drunkenness. Clark Gable, who played Marilyn’s love interest, died from a heart attack less than a week after production was over. During the filming, Monroe’s husband, who was on set, fell in love with photographer Inge Morath while Marilyn watched.

It’s been said by those close to her that it was at this time that Marilyn began abusing prescription drugs. Soon after, she and Miller announced their divorce on November 11, 1960.

It was Marilyn’s psychoanalyst Dr. Marianne Kris who committed her to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in New York. Marilyn thought she was going in for a brief rest, but found herself in a padded cell for four days. It was here that she wrote her other her other psychologist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, to get her out:

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. They asked me why I wasn’t happy there (everything was under lock and key; things like electric lights, dresser drawers, bathrooms, closets, bars concealed on the windows — the doors have windows so patients can be visible all the time, also, the violence and markings still remain on the walls from former patients). I answered: “Well, I’d have to be nuts if I like it here.”

Monroe’s desperation is very clear but Dr. Greenson didn’t get her out:

I sat on the bed trying to figure if I was given this situation in an acting improvisation what would I do. So I figured, it’s a squeaky wheel that gets the grease. I admit it was a loud squeak but I got the idea from a movie I made once called “Don’t Bother to Knock”. I picked up a light-weight chair and slammed it, and it was hard to do because I had never broken anything in my life — 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”. I admit the next thing is corny but I really did it in the movie except it was with a razor blade. I indicated if they didn’t let me out I would harm myself — the furthest thing from my mind at that moment since you know Dr. Greenson I’m an actress and would never intentionally mark or mar myself. I’m just that vain.

The more Marilyn resisted her forced stay and the more she cried, the more the doctors believed she was psychotic. It was her second husband, Joe DiMaggio, who finally succeeded in getting her an early release, even though the staff insisted that she needed to stay longer. Who can say whether or not a longer stay in such an unwanted surrounding would’ve kept her alive in the long run.

You can read more of Marilyn’s letter, as well as other letters from notable people in the book, Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience.

We want to hear what you think about all of this. Do you think it was wrong of Joe DiMaggio to get her out or was it wrong to force her to stay in the psyche ward?