After reading a recent obituary for a nurse who once treated Marilyn, I was reminded of her long history with the former Cedars of Lebanon hospital on Fountain Avenue in Los Angeles. “Geraldine Mitsuko Yamamoto, age 87, passed away on August 16, 2021,” the LA Times item reads. “Geraldine was born in Imperial County, California … she became a registered nurse and worked at Cedars of Lebanon hospital in Hollywood in the 1950s, where she would occasionally care for movie stars like Marilyn Monroe and Rock Hudson …”
Cedars of Lebanon Hospital opened in a distinctive Art Deco building on Fountain Avenue in 1930. Among its earliest benefactors was movie mogul Joe Schenck, who later befriended Marilyn. In December 1950, she visited her dying lover, Hollywood agent Johnny Hyde, at Cedars, but was turned away by his family who disapproved of their relationship (he had left his wife for Marilyn, though she declined his offer of marriage.)
Then on April 28, 1952, Marilyn was admitted for an appendectomy. In a publicity stunt that reveals how studios micro-managed their stars’ lives, she was obliged to pose for a photo shoot in her bed – perhaps covering up the fact that despite severe abdominal pain, Fox had not permitted her to have the surgery until she finished shooting her latest picture, Monkey Business. Marilyn was extremely nervous about the operation, and taped a note onto her stomach for Dr Marcus Rabwin.
‘Cut as little as possible … I know it seems vain but that doesn’t really enter in to it,’ she wrote. ‘The fact I’m a woman is important and means much to me. Save please (I can’t ask enough) what you can – I’m in your hands. You have children and you must know what it means – please Dr Rabwin – I know somehow you will … For God’s sakes Dear Doctor no ovaries removed!’
The gravity of her concerns became clear on November 6, 1954, when she began a week-long stay at Cedars, undergoing surgery to relieve her chronic endometriosis. Her husband Joe DiMaggio visited her there, though they had recently separated. When she left on November 12, a distressed and fragile Marilyn was besieged by paparazzi. (It was her second Cedars stay in that year, having earlier been treated for bronchitis.)
During her subsequent visits to Cedars she managed to avoid exposure, though she would not be so lucky during her New York hospital stays. While filming Some Like It Hot in 1958, a pregnant Marilyn returned to Cedars. She later lost the baby, and due to her chronic endometriosis would never realise her dream of becoming a mother. In May 1961, and again on July 20, 1962 she would enter Cedars for further operations to relieve the extreme pain caused by her condition. (This final stay, just two weeks before her fatal overdose, has been misreported as an abortion by some biographers.)
In 1961, Cedars of Lebanon merged with the Mount Sinai Hospital and was renamed the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre. In 1973, the hospital was relocated, and in 1976, the Fountain Avenue complex was acquired by the Church of Scientology. It is now painted blue, and a tribute to Marilyn’s former hospital stands outside.