On This Day: Marilyn at Payne Whitney

On February 10, 1961, Marilyn was admitted to hospital in New York, as the world’s press reported a day later – exactly 61 years ago.

“Marilyn Monroe has been admitted to hospital ‘for rest and recuperation following a very arduous year,’ the film star’s press agent said yesterday. Unofficial reports persist that she is in a ‘highly distraught’ condition in a psychiatric clinic. The New York World Telegram says that Miss Monroe, ‘frightened and desperately depressed by a life of shattered marriages and sordid childhood experiences,’ is undergoing treatment as a highly disturbed patient.” – Sydney Morning Herald 

The last few months had been devastating for Marilyn: the strain of making two films back to back, a messy affair with Yves Montand; and more recently her divorce from Arthur Miller, and the deaths of Clark Gable and her former mother-in-law, Augusta Miller. Marilyn spent most of her time alone in her bedroom, and her mood was so low that psychiatrist Dr. Marianne Kris believed she was at risk of suicide.

Marilyn agreed to the hospitalisation, unaware that she would be placed in the Payne Whitney Clinic, the psychiatric unit of Cornell University Hospital. She had long feared inheriting her mother’s mental instability, and being institutionalised terrified her.

After a traumatic 48 hours, she made contact with ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, and Dr. Kris secured her release, with masseur Ralph Roberts driving the two women to Marilyn’s apartment. Blaming Dr. Kris for her ordeal, Marilyn never saw her again. A transfer to the neurological department of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Centre was arranged, and Marilyn stayed for three weeks, with Joe reportedly visiting daily.

She would later describe the experience in a letter to her Los Angeles analyst, Dr. Ralph Greenson (see here.)

“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’ … They asked me why I felt I was ‘different’ (from the other patients I guess) so I decided if they were really that stupid I must give them a very simple answer so I said: ‘I just am.'”