Government Gossip: Marilyn’s FBI Files

Writing for the Daily Beast, Adam Manno examines Marilyn’s over-hyped, yet mostly insubstantial FBI files, which cover her liberal politics, alleged involvement with the Kennedy brothers, and her 1962 trip to Mexico.

Manno quotes Dean Martin’s wife Jeanne, who told author Anthony Summers, “They got rid of all the records. If you go to the police department or the district attorney’s office, it’s empty. There’s nothing there.” How she came to know that evidence was removed is unclear. There’s also the bizarre rumour that Joe DiMaggio offered ‘hoodlums’ $25,000 for a sex tape featuring Marilyn. No such video was ever discovered, and as Monroe biographer Lois Banner tells Manno, “I think it’s hooey.”

Ultimately, the files – which Manno admits are an “85-page nothingburger that took the FBI a decade (and God knows how much money) to compile” – reveal far more about the repressive and bigoted attitudes that pervaded the FBI at the time than any ‘subversive activity’ on Marilyn’s part.

“This was the era of McCarthyism. The Soviet Union was expanding into Eastern Europe, heightening the Cold War tension between the U.S. and the USSR. Anyone suspected of harbouring communist sympathies was vulnerable to falling under the watchful eye of the FBI and the House Committee on Un-American Activities, charged with rooting out Soviet spies in the U.S.

The federal government finally released the FBI papers related to Monroe in 2012, in response to a FOIA request by the Associated Press. Timestamps on the documents start around 1955, the year she began dating suspected commie and playwright Arthur Miller.

By the early 1960s, the bureau made it clear that Monroe wasn’t working with the Communist Party USA. ‘Subject’s views are very positively and concisely leftist; however, if she is being actively used by the Community Party, it is not general knowledge among those working with the movement in Los Angeles,’ one agent said in a letter to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

But that didn’t stop the FBI from continuing to investigate Monroe. The most recent documents in the trove are dated 1973, more than a decade after her death from a barbiturate overdose on Aug. 4, 1962.

At times, the Monroe file reads more like a vintage Deuxmoi blind item than an official dossier. It’s filled with second-hand and third-hand accounts, anonymous tips, press clippings from dubious newspapers, and unidentified sources.

One would think the backing of the federal government would come with some special insight, but it seems like the agents working on Monroe’s case often relied on the same media reports everyone else was reading. Among the newspapers cited in the file are The Washington Star, the Communist Party USA’s The Daily Worker, and the New York Post.

Many of the documents are not even about Monroe herself, but about Arthur Miller, the New York City playwright who wrote 1953’s The Crucible, a thinly veiled allegory for McCarthyism. In fact, the FBI only became interested in Monroe after her relationship with Miller blossomed in 1955.

All of this laid the groundwork for the House of Representatives’ persecution of Miller, who was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee after he tried to renew his passport in 1956. The writer told lawmakers that he had signed appeals and protests issued by ‘Red front groups’ in the 1940s, according to FBI documents, but he denied being under ‘Communist discipline.’ When he refused to name other writers who had done the same, a judge held him in contempt of Congress. According to a 1958 news clip collected by the bureau, an appeals court ruled that the HUAC chairman ‘failed to make definitely known to Mr. Miller that he was being commanded to answer the question’ and ordered the district court to acquit him.

The FBI cites an article from the Daily Worker (one of the FBI’s favorite sources on commie activity) reporting that Monroe applied for a visa to visit the Soviet Union, according to Dr. Carleton Smith, head of the advisory art committee of the National Art Foundation, who said it was all part of a cultural exchange program. The article quoted Monroe as saying, ‘I am looking forward to visiting Russia and other countries. I have not applied for a Soviet visa but there is a possibility I may visit there some time in the future.’

Much of the trove of documents focuses on Monroe’s trips to Mexico, where she allegedly mingled with members of the American Communist Group in Mexico (ACGM). There, she reportedly spent a lot of time with Frederick Vanderbilt Field, a descendant of the railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, known for his radical leftist politics. He was living in exile in Mexico … ‘This situation caused considerable dismay among Miss Monroe’s entourage and also among the ACGM,’ the report states.

The FBI names Eunice Murray, Monroe’s housekeeper, as a source, though Banner disputes this. The author tells The Daily Beast that Murray, identified as Eunice Churchill in FBI records, was paired up with Monroe by the actress’ psychiatrist Ralph Greenson. She was a good friend of Monroe’s, she says, and had leftist ties of her own. ‘The FBI is not completely trustworthy,’ Banner says. ‘They sometimes make things up.’

Either way, according to the bureau, Churchill said that Monroe felt like a ‘negated sex symbol’ after Miller’s third marriage that year … ‘She said subject is very vulnerable now because of her rejection by Arthur Miller and also by Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra. She telephoned Sinatra to come comfort her and he would not do it,’ the report states.”