Thursday, 22 February 2024 12:20

Brad Pitt, Joyce Carol Oates and the Road to Blonde: Part 1/2

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Jim DiEugenio analyzes the persons—Jeanne Carmen and Fred Otash—and books—by Tony Summers and Robert Slatzer—involved in the descending landmarks that resulted in Joyce Carol Oates’ pulp novel about Marilyn Monroe, Blonde.

How did the recent movie version of the Joyce Carol Oates novel Blonde ever materialize? A big part of the answer is Brad Pitt. The actor/producer had worked with film director Andrew Dominik on the 2007 western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and again on the 2012 neo noir crime film, Killing Them Softly. It was around the time of the latter production that actor/producer Pitt decided to back Dominik in his attempt to make a film about Marilyn Monroe, based upon the best-selling Blonde, published in 2000. (LA Times, 6/3/2012). Pitt also showed up at the film’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September of 2022 to support the picture.

Blonde is the first film with an NC-17 rating to be streamed by Netflix. No film submitted to the Motion Picture Association of America had received such a rating since 2013. (Time, September 9, 2022, story by Moises Mendez) After watching the film I can understand why, and its surprising that Netflix even financed the picture. Some commentators believe it was through the powerful status of Pitt that the film ultimately got distributed. But before we get to just how poor the picture is, I think it necessary to understand how the American cultural scene gave birth to a production that is not just an unmitigated piece of rubbish but is, in many ways, a warning signal as to what that culture has become.


By the time Oates came to write her novel, the field of Marilyn Monroe books and biographies was quite heavily populated. After Monroe’s death in 1962, the first substantial biography of Monroe was by Fred Lawrence Guiles entitled Norma Jean, published in 1969. Norman Mailer borrowed profusely from Guiles for his picture book, Marilyn, released in 1973. Originally, Mailer was supposed to write an introductory essay for a book of photos packaged by Lawrence Schiller. But the intro turned into a 90,000 word essay. Mailer included an additional chapter, a piece of cheap sensationalism which he later admitted he had appended for money. In that section he posited a diaphanous plot to murder Monroe by agents of the FBI and CIA due to her alleged affair with Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. (Sixty Minutes, July 13, 1973). Because the book became a huge best-seller, as John Gilmore pungently noted, it was Mailer who “originated the let’s trash Marilyn for a fast buck profit scenario.” (Don McGovern, Murder Orthodoxies, p. 36)

Mailer inherited his flatulent RFK idea from a man named Frank Capell. Capell was a rightwing fruitcake who could have easily played General Ripper in Dr. Strangelove. In August of 1964, Capell published a pamphlet entitled The Strange Death of Marilyn Monroe. It was pure McCarthyite nonsense written solely with a propaganda purpose: to hurt Bobby Kennedy’s chances in his race for the senate in New York. Capell was later drawn up on charges for conspiracy to commit libel against California Senator Thomas Kuchel. (Chicago Tribune, February 25, 1965) This was not his first offense, as he had been indicted twice during World War 2 for accepting bribes while on the War Production Board. (NY Times, September 22, 1943). Capell did not like Kuchel since he was a moderate Republican who was backing Bobby Kennedy’s attempt to get his late brother’s civil rights bill through congress. Which tells the reader a lot about Capell and his poisonous pamphlet.

The next step downward involves Mailer, overtly, and Capell, secretly. I am referring to the materialization of a figure who resembled the Antichrist in the Monroe field, the infamous Robert Slatzer. Slatzer originally had an idea to do an article about Monroe’s death from a conspiratorial angle before Mailer’s 1973 success. He approached a writer named Will Fowler who was unimpressed by the effort. He told Slatzer: Now had he been married to Monroe that would make a real story. Shortly after, Slatzer got in contact with Fowler again. He said he forgot to tell him, but he had been married to Monroe. (The Assassinations, edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, p. 362)

The quite conservative Fowler then cooperated with Slatzer through Pinnacle Publishing Company out of New York. Capell was also brought in, but due to his past legal convictions, his cooperation was to be secret. (Notarized agreement of February 16, 1973). The best that can be deciphered through the discovery of the Fowler Papers at Cal State Northridge is this: Capell would contribute material on the RFK angle through his files; Slatzer would gather and deliver his Monroe personal letters, mementoes, and marriage license; and Fowler would write the first draft, with corrections and revisions by the other two. (McGovern, pp. 90-91)

But in addition to Capell’s past offenses, another problem surfaced: Fowler soon concluded that Slatzer was a fraud, so he withdrew from the project. (LA Times, 9/20/91, article by Howard Rosenberg). The main reason Fowler withdrew is that Slatzer could not come up with anything tangible to prove any of his claims about his 15-year-long relationship, or his three day marriage, to Monroe. Several times in the Fowler Papers it is noted that Slatzer’s tales changed over time “as they also veered into implausibility”. As a result, Fowler started to question his writing partner’s honesty. (McGovern, p. 79) Consequently, other writers were called in to replace Fowler, like George Carpozi.


The subsequent book released in 1974 was entitled The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe. To my knowledge, it was the first book published by an alleged acquaintance of Monroe to question the coroner’s official verdict that Monroe’s death was a “probable suicide”.

Whatever unjustified liberties Capell and Mailer took with the factual record, Slatzer left them in the dust. In addition to his –as we shall see-- fictional wedding to Monroe, Slatzer also fabricated tales about forged autopsy reports, 700 pages of top-secret LAPD files, hidden Monroe diaries, inside informants, and perhaps the wildest whopper of all: a secret deposition by Attorney General Robert Kennedy. If ever there was a book that violated all the standards of both biography and nonfiction literature it was The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe. It was a no holds barred slander fest of both Monroe and Robert Kennedy.

Slatzer claimed that he and Marilyn went to Tijuana, Mexico on October 3, 1952 and were married there on October 4th. After returning to LA, they had second thoughts about it, and they went back and got the proceeding annulled; actually the attorney who did the service just burned his certification document on October 6th. This tall tale has been demolished by two salient facts. First, there is documented proof produced by author April VeVea that Monroe was at a party for Photoplay Magazine on October 3rd. (See VeVea’s blog for April 10, 2018, “Classic Blondes”.) Secondly, Monroe wrote and signed a check while on a Beverly Hills shopping spree on October 4th. The address on the check is 2393 Castilian Dr., the location in Hollywood where she was living with Joe DiMaggio at the time. Monroe authority Don McGovern has literally torn to pieces every single aspect of Slatzer’s entire Mexican wedding confection. (McGovern, pp. 49-67, see also p. 100)

Just how far would Slatzer go to string others along on his literary frauds? How about paying witnesses to lie for him? Noble “Kid” Chissell was a boxer and actor. According to Slatzer, he happened to be in Tijuana and acted as a witness to his Monroe wedding. Years later, when asked about it, Chissell recanted the whole affair to Marilyn photographer Joseph Jasgur. He said that there was no wedding between Slatzer and Marilyn. He went further and said he did not even think Slatzer knew Monroe. But Slatzer wanted Chissell as a back-up to his phony playlet and promised to pay him to go along. Which, by the way, he never did. Which makes him both a liar and a welsher. (McGovern, pp. 98-99). It also appears likely that Slatzer forged a letter saying that Fowler had actually seen the Slatzer/Monroe marriage license and Fowler met Monroe while with him. Fowler denied ever seeing such a document or having met Monroe. (McGovern, p. 81)


One would think that The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe could hardly get any worse. But it does. To add a layer of official intrigue inside the LAPD, Slatzer created a figure named “Jack Quinn”. Quinn had been an employee of LA County and he got in contact with Slatzer and informed him of a malignant cover up about the Monroe case inside City Hall, particularly the LAPD. (Slatzer, pp. 249-53) The enigmatic Mr. Quinn described a secret 723 page study of the Monroe case. That study stated that the original autopsy report had been deep sixed. Further, that Bobby Kennedy had been in LA at an official opening of a soccer field on August 4, 1962 and he had given a deposition in the case. In that deposition he said that he and his brother-in-law, Peter Lawford, had been at Marilyn’s house and they had a violent argument, to the point he had to bring in a doctor to inject her to calm her down.

The above is why I and others consider Slatzer’s work a milestone in trashy tabloidism: the forerunner to the manufactures of David Heymann. The only thing worse than writing that RFK would submit to such a legal proceeding is postulating that the LAPD would have any reason to question him. In their official reporting, the first three people at Monroe’s home all said that Monroe was alone in her bedroom when she passed. This included her housekeeper Eunice Murray, her psychiatrist Robert Greenson, and her physician Hyman Engelberg. Engelberg made the call to the LAPD saying that she had taken her own life. (LA Times, 12/21/2005, story by Myrna Oliver) Later in this essay, I will explain why, if anyone should have known the cause of death, it was Engelberg.

But complementary to this, Robert Kennedy was nowhere near Brentwood--where Monroe lived--at this time. Sue Bernard’s book, Marilyn: Intimate Exposures proves this beyond doubt, with hour by hour photographs and witness testimony. (pp. 184-87; see also, Gary Vitacco-Robles’ Icon, Pt. 2, p. 82) In fact, in his book Icon, VItacco Robles documents Bobby Kennedy’s four days in the Gilroy/San Francisco area from August 3-6th. (See Icon Part 2, pp. 82-83). Therefore, at both geographic ends, Slatzer’s “secret RFK deposition” is pure hogwash, an invention out of Capell.

In 1982 Slatzer opined in public at the Greater Los Angeles Press Club that the Monroe case should be reopened. The DA’s office began a threshold type inquiry to see if there was just cause to do a full reopening. That inquiry was run by assistant DA Ron Carroll with investigators Clayton Anderson and Al Tomich (Icon Pt. 2, p. 108) They interviewed Slatzer about his “Quinn” angle. Very soon, problems emerged with his story. Allegedly, Quinn called Slatzer in 1972, saying he worked in the Hall of Records building and he had the entire 723 page original record of the case. He said he was leaving his position to move to San Mateo for a new job. Slatzer said he met Quinn, who had a badge on with his name, at Houston’s Barbeque Restaurant. Slatzer gave him 30 dollars to copy the file. Quinn said he would meet him at the Smokehouse Restaurant in Studio City for delivery. Quinn added that he lived in the Fair Oaks area of Glendale.

Quinn did not show up. Slatzer went to the Hall of Records and found no employee by the name of Quinn, which should have been predictable to Carroll because The Smoke House is not in Studio City, it’s in Burbank. And Fair Oaks is a popular boulevard going from Altadena through Pasadena to South Pasadena, but not Glendale. Slatzer now added something just as sensational. Ed Davis, LA Chief of Police, flew to Washington a month later to ask questions about RFK’s relationship with Monroe. (Was this the secret deposition?) Davis replied that no such thing happened. (Icon, Pt. 2, p. 110) When Carroll began to go through databases of City Hall employees from 1914-82, he could find no Jack Quinn. He also found out that the files of the LAPD would, in all likelihood, not be stored at the Hall of Records. Like his Tijuana wedding, Slatzer’s “Jack Quinn” was another fictional creation from a con artist.

With Carroll, Slatzer also tried to insert two other phony “clues”. First, that there was a three hour gap between when Monroe’s doctors were summoned and when the call to the police was made. Carroll discovered that the original LAPD inquiry by Sgt. Byron revealed that it was really more like a 45 minute delay. Eunice Murray did not call the doctors until about 3:30 AM. (Icon, Pt. 2, p. 110)

Slatzer also tried to question the basis of Murray’s initial suspicions of something being wrong with Marilyn. In the original investigation, Murray told Byron that what puzzled her was the light being on in Monroe’s room through the night. She noticed this at about midnight but was not able to awaken Monroe. She then noticed it again at about 3:30 AM and this is when she made a call to Dr. Greenson. (Icon. Vol. 1, p. 278) Slatzer said this was wrong since the high pile carpeting prevented light being seen under the door. It turned out—no surprise-- that this was another of Slatzer’s whoppers. With photos and witness testimony, Vitacco-Robles proves that one could see light under the door, and further there were locking mechanisms on the doors. (Icon, Pt. 1, p. 255, p. 380) Slatzer wanted to disguise this fact because it indicates that Monroe ingested the pills, 47 Nembutals and 17 chloral hydrates, and then slowly lost consciousness and slipped into a coma, in spite of the light being on—which normally she was quite sensitive to.

I could go on and on about Slatzer’s malarkey. For instance, both Vitacco-Robles and Slatzer’s former wife clearly think that the whole years long Monroe relationship Slatzer writes about in his book is balderdash. Gary advances evidence that from 1947-57, Slatzer was not cavorting around LA with Monroe but lived in Ohio. (Icon, Vol. 2, p. 119) Slatzer’s Ohio wife, Kay Eicher, said Slatzer met Monroe exactly once, on a film set in Niagara Falls where Monroe—always kind to her fans- posed with him for impromptu pictures. She added about her former husband, “He’s been fooling people too long.” (ibid, p. 123) Which Slatzer also did with Allan Snyder, Monroe’s makeup artist. This again was supposed to show he knew Monroe. But Snyder later said he never heard of the man while Marilyn was alive. Slatzer just approached him to write up an intro and paid him for it. (ibid, p. 126)

The reason I have spent a bit of time and space on slime like Slatzer is simple. If a figure like Slatzer had surfaced in the JFK critical community, his reputation would have been blasted to pieces in a week. But back in 1974, there was no such quality control in the Monroe field. Therefore, not only was his book a commercial success, he then went on to write another book, and marketed two TV films on the subject. But beyond that—and I wish I was kidding about this--Slatzer had a wide influence on the later literature. It was not until much later, with the arrival of people like Don McGovern, Gary Vitacco-Robles, April VeVea and Nina Boski that any kind of respectable quality control developed in the field.


In the October, 1975 issue of Oui magazine, Tony Sciacca, real name Anthony Scaduto, wrote an essay called “Who Killed Marilyn Monroe.” That article was expanded into a book the next year, Who Killed Marilyn? This book owes much to Slatzer. Including lines and scenes seemingly pulled right out of his book. For example Monroe says that Bobby Kennedy had promised to marry her. ( p. 13). Another steal is Monroe’s red book diary. Where she wrote that RFK was running the Bay of Pigs invasion for his brother. (pp. 65-69). The idea that Bobby Kennedy was going to divorce his longtime wife Ethel, leave his eight children, resign his Attorney General’s position, and forego his future chance at the presidency—all for a woman he met socially four times—is, quite frankly, preposterous. Further, as the declassified record shows, Bobby Kennedy had nothing to do with managing the Bay of Pigs operation. That was being run by CIA Director of Plans Dick Bissell, along with Deputy Director Charles Cabell. (See, for example, Peter Kornbluh’s Bay of Pigs Declassified.) And it turns out that Monroe had no red book diary. What she kept were more properly called journals or notebooks which were found among her belongings decades after she died. These were then published under the title Fragments. And they contain nothing like what people like Slatzer, Scaduto, and later Lionel Grandison, said was in them. (McGovern, pp. 268-71)

But incredibly, Slatzer lived on in the writings of Donald Wolfe, Milo Speriglio and Anthony Summers. Summers’ 1985 book Goddess became a best-seller. In the introductory notes to the Oates’ novel, she names Goddess as one of the references for her roman a clef. As Don McGovern observes, Summers references Slatzer early, by page 26—and then refers to him scores of times in Goddess, even using Chissell. But yet, Slatzer’s name, address and phone number never appeared in Monroe’s phone or address books. Would not someone so close to Monroe be in there? (McGovern, p. 102)

But the belief in Slatzer is not unusual for Goddess. In fact, after reading the book a second time and taking plentiful notes, I would say it is more like par for the course. Let us take the case of Gary Wean. Because its largely with Wean that the book begins its character assault on both John Kennedy and Peter Lawford. (For example, see pgs. 221-224). The idea is that Lawford arranged wild parties with call girls, John Kennedy was there and Monroe was at one of them. Summers characterizes Lawford like this: “It was this sad Sybarite who played host to the Kennedy brothers when they sought relaxation in California…”. Geez, I thought JFK and RFK knew Lawford because he was married to their sister.

These rather bizarre accusations made me curious. Who was Gary Wean and how credible was he? So I sent away for his book There’s a Fish in the Courthouse. Wean was a law enforcement officer in both Los Angeles and Ventura counties; he later became a small businessman. His book has two frames of focus. The first is on local corruption in Ventura County, California. Apparently realizing that this would have little broad appeal, Wean expands the frame to a national level with not just Monroe and Lawford, but also, get this, the JFK assassination! According to Wean, Sheriff Bill Decker and Senator John Tower explained the whole plot to his friend actor Audie Murphy. I don’t even want to go any further. But I will say that Wean’s tale says it was Jack Ruby who was going to kill Oswald, but when J. D. Tippit’s car pulled up, Ruby killed the policeman instead. (Wean, p. 588) Mobster Mickey Cohen got Ruby to now also kill Oswald, and somehow reporter Seth Kantor was tied in to the conspiracy since he could place Ruby at Parkland Hospital and he knew Cohen.

The primacy of Cohen in this theory can be explained by the fact that Cohen was Jewish and Wean’s book is extremely anti-Semitic. In fact, he later called the JFK murder a Jewish plot. (Wean, p. 593) As we shall see, this directly relates to the accusations about Lawford and John Kennedy. Wean says that these wild parties were at Lawford’s Malibu beach house. (Wean, p. 567) This puzzled me since, from what I could find, Lawford owned homes in Santa Monica and Palm Springs, and no Southern Californian could confuse those places with Malibu. Wean also says that Monroe met JFK at such a party during the Democratic Convention in 1960. But Monroe was not in Los Angeles for the convention. She was in New York City with her then husband Arthur Miller and her friend and masseuse Ralph Roberts. She was working on preparations for the upcoming film The Misfits. (McGovern, pp. 147-48)

But this is just the beginning of the problems with using Wean as a witness. Because in his book Wean says that it was really Joey Bishop who set up the wild call girl gatherings through Lawford. Why? Because Bishop, who was Jewish, was working with Cohen to get info on how Kennedy felt about Israel--through Monroe. (Wean, p. 567, p. 617). If that isn’t enough for you, how about this: Cohen was meeting with Menachem Begin at the Beverly Hills Hotel and there was plentiful talk about Cuba, military operations and the Kennedys. (Wean, p. 575). Further, Cohen had one of his mob associates at Marilyn’s home the night she died, at some time between 10-11 PM. (Wean p. 617) Wean calls this all part of the Jewish Mishpucka Plot. I could go even further with Wean, but I don’t think the reader would believe it.

The capper to this is that Wean writes that Summers called Bishop and the comedian admitted the arrangements he made. (Wean, ibid). At this point I thought two things: 1.) Wean was so rightwing he was a bit off his rocker. 2.) Was there anyone Summers would not believe in his Ahab type pursuit of a Monroe/Kennedy plot? Because according to Wean, Summers wanted him to go on TV.

But there is another Summers’ witness who was pushing the whole Lawford/Kennedy fable about call girl parties at the beach. This was Fred Otash. Otash was a former policeman turned detective who also worked for Confidential magazine, which was little more than a scandal sheet. He was once convicted for rigging horse races. After interviewing him for Sixty Minutes in 1973, Mike Wallace said he was the most amoral man he ever met. He once had his detective license indefinitely suspended.

In 1960 the FBI found out something rather revealing about Otash. In July of 1960, while JFK was running for president, a high-priced LA call girl was contacted by Otash. He requested information on her participation in sex parties involving JFK and Lawford, plus Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis. The woman said she could not comply since she had no such knowledge. Otash then asked if she knew any girls who perhaps were there. She said she knew of no one. Otash then asked if she could be introduced to Kennedy, and if so, he could equip her with a tape recorder to take down any “indiscreet statements’ the senator might make. She refused to do so. (FBI Report of 7/26/60)

The hooker had a higher moral code than the pimp. By those standards who could rely on Otash for anything?

Go to Part 2 of 2

Last modified on Monday, 26 February 2024 04:17
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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