Marilyn Monroe’s Harrowing Letter Detailing Her Sanitarium Stay
BY Liz McNeil and Kathy Ehrich Dowd
May 10, 2016
In a six-page letter to the psychiatrist who would find her dead a year later, a forlorn Marilyn Monroe wrote about her harrowing experience inside a New York psychiatric clinic, a stay which she said “had a very bad effect.”
The March 1, 1961, letter to Dr. Ralph Greenson detailed her excruciating experience within Payne-Whitney Psychiatric Clinic, a New York City sanitarium her other psychiatrist, Dr. Marianne Kris, committed her to the previous month. A carbon copy of the letter (not the original) is one of many of Monroe’s personal items to be auctioned off this November by Julien’s Auctions, which received the items via the estate of her acting teacher Lee Strasberg. (Monroe bequeathed Strasberg her personal items in her will.)
“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 patients (except I felt I was in some kind of prison for a crime I hadn’t committed,” she wrote.
Later, she detailed a desperate plan she implemented to try and get some of the staff to take notice, getting inspiration from a film she had done nearly 10 years earlier.
“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,” she wrote. “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,” she continued. “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.”
She later explained that the incident prompted the staff to forcibly move her to a different floor of the clinic, where an administrator told her she was a “very, very sick girl.”
“He told me I was a very, very sick girl and had been a very, very sick girl for many years,” she wrote. “He asked me how I could possibly work when I was depressed. He wondered if that interfered with my work. He was being very firm and definite in the way he said it. He actually stated it more than he questioned me so I replied: ‘Didn’t he think that perhaps Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin perhaps and perhaps Ingrid Bergman they had been depressed when they worked sometimes but I said it’s like saying a ball player like DiMaggio if he could hit ball when he was depressed. Pretty silly.’ ”
The letter also illuminated Monroe’s gloomy state after her release from the clinic.
“Last night I was awake all night again. Sometimes I wonder what the night time is for. It almost doesn’t exist for me – it all seems like one long, long horrible day,” she wrote.
Monroe’s second husband, Joe DiMaggio, ultimately released her from the clinic after a few days, and as the letter drew to a close Monroe wrote about how her ex-husband gave her flowers the previous Christmas, and hinted at their continued bond. (The pair were married in 1954, but divorced a year later.)
“It was Christmas night I called him up and asked him why he had sent me the flowers,” she wrote. “He said first of all because I thought you would call me to thank me and then he said, besides who in the hell else do you have in the world.”