On Sunday, August 5, 1962, the body of Marilyn Monroe was found naked and face-down on her bed at her home on Fifth Helena Drive, at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in Brentwood, California. She was 36-years-old.
‘The long troubled star clutched a telephone in one hand. An empty bottle of sleeping pills was nearby,’ reported the Associated Press that morning.
Long before she was officially discovered dead on the Sunday, neighbours had seen a mysterious and still unexplained ambulance parked in front of the film star’s residence on the Saturday evening.
They also reported a helicopter hovering overhead. Raised voices and the sound of breaking glass were also heard that night.
Other neighbours reported that in the early hours a hysterical woman who remains unidentified had screamed: ‘Murderers! You murderers! Are you satisfied now that she’s dead?’
For 48 years, Marilyn Monroe’s death and the events that later came to light: reports of a visit that night by her lover Bobby Kennedy; of an ambulance that took her away breathing and brought her back dead has remained one of Hollywood’s most enduring and tantalising mysteries.
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I was a reporter in New York at the time and flew to Los Angeles that morning to cover the story. I can still recall the haunting sound of the antique wind chimes a gift to her from the poet Carl Sandburg that hung beside her pool, on which floated a child’s plastic yellow duck. It was a melancholy sight. I had known her a little and it made me sad.
I don’t think the death of any other movie star has intrigued the public as much as Monroe’s. Was it murder? Suicide? An accidental overdose?
Some have suggested that her former lover Frank Sinatra, who she had come to rely on, could have saved Monroe but chose to turn his back on her when she was at her lowest ebb.
The questions and doubts, the revelations and scandals that always follow the sudden death of a celebrity especially beautiful ones, who die young have continued to fascinate me, as have the unaccountable silences of several key witnesses.
But after nearly 50 years there seemed little more that could be said or discovered.
Until now. In London as part of a two-month nationwide tour of his much anticipated show, Swinging Las Vegas, the legendary American jazz pianist and singer, Buddy Greco who once rubbed shoulders with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack and now lives in Essex with his fifth wife talked to me about the mysterious weekend Monroe spent at the notorious Mafia haunt, the Cal-Neva Lodge, in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, five days before she died.
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It is the first time anyone has revealed first-hand what happened there. Now 83, he is sitting in Locale Italian restaurant on London’s South Bank. Still handsome, with a trademark smile, the performer made famous by such hits as The Lady Is A Tramp and Girl Talk remembers Monroe, who was exactly his age, with both fondness and sadness.
Uncertainty, contradiction and tragedy have always surrounded the mysterious and fateful weekend of July 28 and 29, 1962.
Those who were there including her former lover Sinatra (who had invited her to Cal-Neva), Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr., Juliet Prowse (who was engaged to Sinatra), Peter and Pat Kennedy Lawford, and Paul ‘Skinny’ D’Amato, who managed the Cal-Neva Lodge for its owners Sinatra and his partner, the notorious Mafia godfather Sam Giancana are either dead or still refuse to talk about what happened during those 48 hours.
Indeed, while more than 100 books have been written about the life and death of the woman who was probably the greatest sex symbol of the 20th century, not one of them has managed to penetrate the mystery or fill the lacuna in our knowledge of Monroe’s final days at Cal-Neva.
And yet these days contain vital clues to her tragic end. Monroe was certainly in a dreadful state at the time. Robert Kennedy who had inherited Monroe as a mistress from his brother, President John F. Kennedy had just ended their five-month affair when she took off for Cal-Neva, and the last weekend of her life.
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Buddy Greco recalls of her demeanour later that weekend: ‘She was fragile, very fragile well, she’d gone.’ Many blamed the Kennedys.
‘Marilyn was distraught and heartbroken. She felt the Kennedys had handed her around like a piece of meat,’ Rupert Allan, her publicist and one of her last true Hollywood friends, had said earlier.
Her grip on reality already weakend by mental illness, drink and drugs was certainly shaky.
How else to explain the fact that she had persuaded herself Bobby really would divorce the mother of his seven children.
As the attorney general of the United States, a member of the most famous Catholic family in the land and a politician who had just been named Father of the Year, he was never likely to run off with a thrice married Hollywood sex symbol.
When the penny dropped, Monroe felt abused. She had always known how to stage a scene to get what she wanted and she had threatened the Kennedys.
‘If I don’t hear from Bobby Kennedy soon I’m going to call a press conference and blow the lid off this whole damn thing I’m going to tell about my relationships with both Kennedy brothers,’ she told Robert Slatzer, an ex-lover, a few days earlier.
Those close to Monroe knew that this was no idle threat. It had been a bad time for Monroe. She was hurt and wanted revenge, as only a spoiled movie star could.
A few weeks earlier, she had also been publicly humiliated by 20th Century Fox’s studio boss Peter G. Levathes.
August 4, 2010