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COLUMN ONE

New Chapter in the Mystery of Marilyn: Her Own Words?

August 05, 2005|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

It remains one of Hollywood's most compelling, and unforgettable, mysteries.

On Aug. 5, 1962, the body of Marilyn Monroe was found in the bedroom of her Brentwood home. The 36-year-old movie star was naked and facedown on her bed.

An autopsy conducted by Dr. Thomas Noguchi, then deputy medical examiner, concluded that death was due to acute barbiturate poisoning, and a psychiatric team tied to the investigation termed it a "probable suicide."

Today, 43 years later, fans from around the world will gather, as they have for decades, near Monroe's crypt at Westwood Village Memorial Park to celebrate her life and mourn her death. John W. Miner, 86, will mourn too.

But there is bitterness and frustration as well for the former Los Angeles County prosecutor, who was at her autopsy and was one of those looking into her death. He didn't believe that the actress took her life in '62 and he doesn't believe it now, and Miner says he's heard secret tapes that Monroe made in the days before she died that prove the actress was anything but suicidal.

Whether Monroe died by her own hand has been debated and dissected by books, documentaries, conspiracy theorists, and Hollywood and Washington insiders alike for years.

Enough credence was given to the various reports that in 1982, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office reexamined the case. Miner, by then in private practice, was among those interviewed.

The resulting report notes that Miner mentioned the tapes. However, he did not say he had a transcript. Although the report concedes that "factual discrepancies" and "unanswered questions" remained in the case, it did not find enough evidence to warrant launching a criminal investigation.

As head of the D.A.'s medical-legal section when Monroe died, Miner had met with the actress' psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson. During the interview, Miner says, Greenson played the Monroe tapes, but only on condition that the investigator never reveal their contents.

Miner said he took "extensive" and "nearly verbatim" notes, and only broke the promise years after Greenson's death, when some Monroe biographers suggested that the psychiatrist be considered a suspect in her death. Miner recently gave a copy of the transcript to The Times.

Miner's transcript shows Monroe obsessing about the Oscars, describing a sexual encounter with Joan Crawford, craving a father's love from Clark Gable, yearning to be taken seriously as an actress by contemplating doing Shakespeare, and speaking candidly about why her marriages to baseball slugger Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller ended in divorce.

At one point, she describes standing naked in front of her full-length mirror assessing the body that captivated the world, knowing that she is slipping into middle age, and commenting that "my breasts are beginning to sag a bit" but "my waist isn't bad" and her buttocks are still "the best."

"You are the only person who will ever know the most private, the most secret thoughts of Marilyn Monroe," she tells Greenson, according to Miner's transcript. "I have absolute confidence and trust you will never reveal to a living soul what I say to you."

Miner contends that anyone reading the transcript would conclude that "there was no possible way this woman could have killed herself. She had very specific plans for her future. She knew exactly what she wanted to do. She was told by [acting coach] Lee Strasberg, maybe ill-advisedly, that she had Shakespeare in her and she was fascinated with the idea."

Miner has shown the transcript to several authors in recent years. In British author Matthew Smith's book "Marilyn's Last Words: Her Secret Tapes and Mysterious Death," the excerpts cover the early portion of the tapes, which have Monroe musing on Freud and free association, orgasms, Gable and her agent, Johnny Hyde. Seymour M. Hersh included a short reference to the late President Kennedy in "The Dark Side of Camelot."

Miner was also interviewed for a 1997 ABC documentary called "Dangerous World: The Kennedy Years," but ultimately no excerpts from the transcript were used.

The previously unpublished portions of the transcript include descriptions of her feelings for her ex-husbands, a dissection of why her marriages failed, a racy catalog of supposed sexual encounters, details of her dispute with 20th Century Fox, her friendship with Frank Sinatra, and her complaints about housekeeper Eunice Murray, who would discover her body.

Smith and Hersh, along with the documentary's producer, Mark Obenhaus, said in interviews this week that they found Miner credible.

But to accept Miner's story, one must make a leap of faith -- he is the only one still alive who claims to have heard the tapes. Greenson died in 1979, and Miner believes that he destroyed the tapes.

"It's like a one-sourced story," Obenhaus said. "You have one guy; he's a credible guy, but he's just one guy."

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