Marilyn Monroe has long been glorified in American lore for her combination of stunning beauty and expressive personality. But a note she penned to her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, reveals the harrowing days she spent in a psychiatric ward near the end of her life.
Monroe had spent much of 1960 shooting what would become her final completed film, "The Misfits," reports Open Culture. The film is about a beautiful but emotionally fragile woman who falls in love with a much older man. Arthur Miller wrote the screenplay, and no doubt based it on his own relationship with Monroe, to whom he was married at the time.
The production is considered dysfunctional, even by Hollywood standards. The film was shot in the deserts of Nevada, where the temperature would regularly reach over 100 degrees. Star Clark Gable died of a heart attack less than a week after the production wrapped, and director John Huston reportedly spent much of the shoot drunk, prone to fits of rage.
For Monroe, the grueling production was equally traumatic, as she watched her husband, Miller, fall in love with photographer Inge Morath on set. Monroe and Miller announced their divorce on Nov. 11, 1960.
The breakup was apparently too much for Monroe to handle, as she soon retreated into a haze of prescription drugs and alcohol. It was only a few months later that her psychoanalyst, Dr. Marianne Kris, committed the famous movie star to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in New York.
Monroe went willingly, thinking she was going to get some rest. But she expressed shocked when she was escorted to a padded cell, instead. The next four days proved to be the most harrowing and distressing of her life, according to a riveting six-page letter she wrote to her other therapist, Greenson.
The letter reads in part: "I was in some kind of prison for a crime I hadn't committed. The inhumanity there I found archaic. They asked me why I wasn't happy there ... I answered: 'Well, I'd have to be nuts if I like it here.'"
Clearly Monroe found her situation at Payne Whitney intolerable. Her desperation is evident as the letter proceeds: "I picked up a light-weight chair and slammed it ... against the glass intentionally. It took a lot of banging to get even a small piece of glass ... 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."
During her four days at Payne Whitney, Monroe was reportedly subjected to forced baths, and a total loss of privacy and personal freedom. She tried to resist, but the doctors felt the more she did so, the more likely it was that she was actually psychotic.
It wasn't until Monroe's former husband, baseball player Joe DiMaggio, came and rescued her by getting her released early over the objections of the staff, that she was able to free herself from the clinic.
Monroe died about six months later, on Aug. 5, 1962, from an overdose of barbiturates. She was 36 years old.