On August 5, 1962, newspapers around the world relayed the news of the death of Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) the night before at her home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, California at the age of thirty-six. The cause of death was listed as suicide from an overdose of the drugs Pentobarbital and chloral hydrate. However, decades after her death, several question still remain regarding that tragic night of August 4, 1962. What really happened that night and why was she paid a visit by then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) and his brother-in-law Peter Lawford (1923-1984)?
The image we have been given of Monroe is a drug-addicted sex symbol, starved for validation from the opposite sex and unable to cope with the rigors of Hollywood. Her previous suicide attempts gave credence to this perpetuated image and for many, it was the ending that they expected for quite some time. Her life reads like a tragic novel of a heroine unable to fully come to terms with herself and seeking love and affection in all of the wrong places. However in just thirty-six years, she lived a live that some can only dream of. At at one point in her life, she was the most desired woman in the world. Donald H. Wolfe takes us back in time to the those final days in August, 1962 to piece together what really did happen and why.
The book opens by revisiting the night of August 4 and the pandemonium that ensued following Monroe’s death. Immediately we learn of several disturbing facts that set the tone of the book. Wolfe does an incredible job of keeping the suspense going and the reader engaged. And rightfully so, he not only explores her death but also provides a concise biography that sets the stage for events that took place later in her life. Behind the facade of a starlet singing happy birthday to the President, lay a woman raised in a childhood which could best be described as tragic. However, in order to understand Monroe’s life and her death, it is necessary to explore her beginnings which Wolfe presents to us without breaking the momentum of the book. And I can assure you that once you start you will be hard pressed to put it down.
Although the book is about Monroe’s final days, there are many sub-stories that are told which gives us an inside view of the inner-workings of Hollywood and politics in the middle of the twentieth century. As she moves through one circle to the next, some of the biggest names in show business, sports and politics make an appearance in her life such as John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), Frank Sinatra (1915-1998), Clark Gable (1901-1960), J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) and Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio (1914-1999). However, among all of the people who cross paths with her, her life takes a much darker and tragic turn through her association with the Kennedys and their associates and it is this relationship that forms the crux the remaining third of the book. After you have finished the book, you may come to see the administration in a different light. Today it is public knowledge that an affair did take place between Jack Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. And if all accounts are correct, Monroe and Robert Kennedy also had their intimate moments. The sexual content is fodder for gossips and tabloid magazines. But what was critical was the true nature of their relationship and the many secrets Monroe possessed about the most powerful man in the country. In fact, it is quite possible that she did have the power to bring down a presidency. Was this the reason for the urgent visits by J. Edgar Hoover to the White House in May, 1962 and that last visit by Robert Kennedy on the day she died? Or was this the reason for the heated arguments that took place between Monroe and Robert Kennedy in the weeks leading up to her death? And how much did she know about their association with Frank Sinatra and mobster Sam Giancana? Certainly, many of their discussions which were likely picked up by the FBI may never be known. Other recordings by the President are locked away in the Kennedy library. A little over one year after Monroe’s death, John Kennedy himself was cut down in a hail of bullets in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Several years later, Bobby would be gone as well, also the victim of an assassination at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California on June 5, 1968. In death they joined a long list of political figures and stars that died during the turbulent decade of the 1960s.
Marilyn Monroe remains a sex icon decades after her death. Young women still hang posters of her on their walls and purchase t-shirts with her image. In death, she became a legend whose left this world far too soon. Her life was in some ways a soap opera with affairs, fairy tale romances, political scandals, drugs, mental health issues and tragically, broken homes. Sadly, many people in her life failed her not just on one but on several occasions. But if there is one inspiring aspect of the story, it is her resiliency to move forward in life and command respect even in the most difficult of times. And had her life taken a slightly different course, then perhaps she might still be alive today well into her senior years and full of knowledge about Hollywood’s golden era. This is the story of the life and final days of Marilyn Monroe, a true Hollywood icon.
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