‘I felt like I was in a prison for a crime I hadn’t committed’
Marilyn Monroe’s battle with mental illness is well documented, but a six-page letter to her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson – who was the one to find her dead a year later – details her harrowing time spent at the Payne-Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in New York.
A carbon copy of the letter was bequeathed to acting coach Lee Strasburg, and now Julien’s Auctions are auctioning it off on behalf of his estate.
Writing on 1st March 1961, Marilyn explains how the sanatorium had a ‘very bad’ effect on her, and also highlights the lack of understanding of those suffering with mental health issues.
‘There was no empathy at Payne-Whitney – it had a very bad effect,’ she wrote. ‘They asked me after putting me in a “cell” (I mean cement blocks and all) for very disturbed patients, except I felt like I was in some kind of prison for a crime I hadn’t committed.’
The late actress then goes on to detail how she referred back to her film work to try and find a way out of the desperate situation.
‘I sat on the bed trying to figure if I was given this situation in an acting improvisation, what would I do,’ she wrote. ‘So I figured, it’s a squeaky wheel that gets the grease. 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. 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 continued to write about how she was moved to a different floor and patronised by another doctor.
‘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 [her second husband] if he could hit ball when he was depressed. Pretty silly.”‘
Despite being released, she still felt bleak and lonely, poignantly adding:
‘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.’