Saturday, 24 February 2024 13:23

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

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In part 2, DiEugenio specifically addresses both films of the Oates’ novel, the CBS version and especially Brad Pitt’s 2022 production. Both are worthless, especially Pitt’s, but in examining them the author reveals something sick about a culture that forces complex and sympathetic people into exploitative piles of junk.

As noted in Part 1, although Robert Slatzer was an utter and provable fraud, he clearly had an influence in the Marilyn Monroe field. People like Anthony Summers and Donald Wolfe used him quite often in their tomes. He influenced Fred Guiles also. In the revised version of his first book on Monroe—entitled Legend and published in 1984—he now seems to abide by the Slatzerian myth that Bobby Kennedy was having an affair with Monroe which President Kennedy encouraged. (pp. 24-25, reference on p. 479) This angle is absent from his first Monroe biography, Norma Jean, published in 1969. But it’s Guiles’ second book that Oates references in her notation section for Blonde. Summers also accents this RFK angle. And he uses a woman that Slatzer also used in his second book, The Marilyn FIles (1992). That woman was the late arriving Jeanne Carmen —who was nowhere to be seen prior to the eighties.


As Don McGovern astutely points out, it is quite revealing that Slatzer does not mention Carmen in his first book, published back in 1974. What makes this odd is that Slatzer claimed a years-on-end relationship with Monroe as her best male friend. Carmen claimed the same as her best female friend. Yet they never crossed paths? (McGovern, p. 131). This is a key point because as both Sarah Churchwell and McGovern comment, Carmen created most, if not all, the wild stories about Monroe’s alleged affair with the Attorney General. (McGovern, p. 132; Churchwell, The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, p. 293) Carmen also was influential in bringing the Mob into the Monroe field i.e. Johnny Roselli and Sam Giancana.

But from the very beginning of her story, Carmen presents a plethora of problems that recall Slatzer. But, like Slatzer, she got a lot of exposure—31 TV appearances —for a very problematic witness. For instance, she says in her posthumously published book that she met Monroe at a bar near the Actor’s Studio in New York in the early fifties. But yet, as April VeVea points out, the first time Monroe met anyone connected to the Actor’s Studio was in late August of 1954 on the set of There’s No Business Like Show Business. Monroe then met stage producer Cheryl Crawford who introduced her to Actor’s Studio impresario Lee Strasberg. But this was in 1955 and that is when she enrolled in the famous school. Up until that point, Monroe relied on acting coach Natasha Lytess. (VeVea, “Classic Blondes”, 4/9/18)

In the tabloid, Globe Carmen said she and Marilyn attended a pool party at Peter Lawford’s during the Democratic Convention of 1960 in LA. (1/17/95) Again, quite dubious, since Monroe was in New York at the time. (McGovern, p. 148)

But the wildest, nuttiest stories that Carmen was responsible for were the associations between Monroe and the Mob. As VeVea noted in her posting, Carmen actually said that Sam Giancana was murdered by Roselli—over Marilyn! According to Carmen, right before he shot him Johnny said, “Sam, this is for Marilyn.” Which is preposterous. No responsible author on the Giancana case has ever intimated any such thing e.g. William Brashler or Bill Roemer. (Click here for an overview of Giancana) As VeVea notes there is no photographic evidence of any such Mafia association by Marilyn, no evidence of this in her address or phone logs, and no credible biography has ever had Monroe associated with any mobsters. But not only did Carmen know that Marilyn and Giancana were intimate, she even knew how Giancana fornicated with her. (For the prurient reader it was “doggie style”.)

But if you can comprehend it, Carmen then got even wilder. She later told David Heymann that she herself had an affair with President Kennedy. (Icon, Part 1, p. 64) She also said that her apartment was ransacked the evening of Monroe’s death. Fred Otash then walked in and threw her to the floor. He pointed a gun at her and pulled the trigger, but it did not go off. He told her Giancana had Marilyn murdered by a team of assassins. They wanted to kill Carmen also, but he persuaded them not to do so. And, by the way, one of Sam’s four man hit team anally raped Eunice Murray. (McGovern, pp. 498-99).

It is difficult to even write these things without suppressing a combination of laughter and disbelief at the circus the field had become. Yet these are the kinds of people who occupy the pages of Goddess (p. 238), and Slatzer’s The Marilyn FIles (pp. 30-33). For the record, Gary Vitacco Robles, Randy Taraborrelli and Don McGovern all agree that there was no romantic or sexual relationship between Monroe and RFK.


Before getting to the novelization of Monroe by Joyce Carol Oates, I would like to deal with two more stories about her death which many people also find dubious. First from a man named Jack Clemmons who was the first responding officer to arrive at Monroe’s home the night she passed. As April VeVea shows on her site, Clemmons was, to be frank, a dirty cop. (See Marilyn: A Day in the Life, “Jack Clemmons”.) Clemmons was another rightwing fanatic who let his ideology color his duties, or as his supervisor said, “His outside political interests distracted from his job interest.” (Icon, Vol. 2, p. 189) Predictably, he was close to the other rightwing extremist Frank Capell. As VeVea notes, Clemmons told Summers that Eunice Murray was using the washer/dryer on the sheets when he arrived. This was his first whopper. Because as Gary Vitacco Robles and Don McGovern show, and VeVea notes, Monroe did not have this unit, she sent everything out. He also said that he thought Monroe’s dead body was posed since drug overdose deaths usually end in convulsive spasms. (Slatzer, The Marilyn Files, p. 5) This is also not true, as pathologist Dr. Boyd Stephens told assistant DA Ron Carroll’s threshold inquiry in 1982. (Icon, Vol. 2, p.320) Clemmons told Slatzer that there was no drinking glass in Monroe’s bedroom. This was another whopper, as police photos from the scene showed there was one at the base of the nightstand. (McGovern, p. 547). Anyone can figure what Clemmons was doing by painting this false scenario. As McGovern notes, Clemmons had little problem corrupting the truth, and as Don points out, he did it in more than once instance.

Finally, there is a former wife of Lawford. She said that Lawford went to Monroe’s house after her death to remove evidence of her association with the Kennedy family. (Icon, Part 1, p. 401; Summers pp. 361-62)

The reason many people find this wanting is that the story did not surface until decades after Monroe’s death, from a wife who was not married to Lawford until 1976. And, according to Vitacco-Robles, they separated after 2-3 months of marriage. (Ibid) Yet all the witness testimony and evidence from the time—that is in 1962—conflicts with this visit happening. In fact, when one follows that testimony a quite different picture emerges.

On the day she died, Lawford had invited Monroe to a dinner party at his home in Santa Monica. The guests there were talent manager George Durgom, and TV producer Joe Naar and his wife Dolores. (Icon, Pt. 1, p. 394). Lawford invited Monroe to this gathering but she ended up declining since she said she was tired. Lawford was worried because of the tone of her voice: she sounded despondent, her voice was slurred and he knew she had a drug problem. He tried to call back but could not get through. He then called his agent Milton Ebbins and told him to call Monroe’s attorney Milton Rudin. This resulted in a call to Eunice Murray who—not knowing about Monroe’s slurred tone to Lawford — said Monroe was alright. (Icon, Part 1, p. 398, p. 403) Even after he was notified of this, Lawford still wanted to check on Monroe himself; but Ebbins said Murray would tell him the same thing. Reluctantly, and arguing with Ebbins in still a later call, Lawford did not go. According to Ebbins, Lawford felt horrible about not trusting his instincts. It turns out that Ebbins had a hidden agenda. He knew that Monroe was a pill addict and therefore how bad it would look if his client, the president’s brother-in-law, was at her home when paramedics had to be called.

There are about six corroborating witnesses to this, and Vitacco-Robles uses them all. Ebbins said that later, since he felt guilty, Lawford talked to Dr. Greenson about it. Greenson told the actor that this was just the most recent of five attempts by Monroe. No one could help the woman. (ibid, p. 408). Ebbins told Tony Summers that Lawford never mentioned the Attorney General during that evening, or after he told him she was dead. He concluded with: “If anyone thinks Marilyn killed herself over either one of the Kennedys, they’re crazy, they are absolutely insane.” In a long and comprehensive analysis which he ends by quoting this dialogue, Vitacco-Robles points out that Summers did not include this interview in his 2022 Netflix special about Monroe’s death. (ibid, p. 413)


With a menagerie like the above, the Summers/Slatzer/Wolfe axis resorted to cries of an official cover up in the Monroe case. For instance, Summers once wrote that the Ronald Carroll inquiry of 1982 did not even interview the first detective at the scene. According to Vitacco-Robles, they did interview Det. Byron who was the detective in charge. One of the things he told them was that there was no credible evidence that RFK was in LA that day. (Icon, Pt. 1, p. 393) If Summers means Clemmons, they talked to him also. (Icon Part 2, p. 184). In fact, they also talked to the con artist Slatzer, who Summers found so bracing. (ibid, p. 108) The difference being that questioners like attorney Carroll, and professional investigators Clayton Anderson and Al Tomich knew what standards meant in these types of investigations. And they understood how worthless witnesses like Slatzer and Clemmons would be before a grand jury. With people like Lionel Grandson one would be edging into the area of comedy. Grandison was a clerk in the coroner’s office who was fired for forgery and stealing credit cards from corpses. (Ibid, p. 211) This ended up being part of a ring to buy auto parts and he was later found guilty in court. It turned out that his eventual story about discovering Monroe’s diary was influenced by a meeting with Robert Slatzer. (ibid, p. 208) When asked to take a polygraph exam by Tomich he initially agreed but then backed out. He needed a lawyer’s advice.(ibid) As I have noted, Monroe did not have a diary. It was a notebook, which was not discovered until much later.

Another aspect of the “cover-up” was the story that Police Chief William Parker seized the Monroe phone records and hid them since Bobby Kennedy had promised to make him head of the FBI. It turns out that the LAPD did have her phone records and they investigated them, and so did the Carroll inquiry. The calls made to the Justice Department went through the main switchboard. (Icon, Part 2, p. 592) The reason for these calls was very likely Monroe wanting Bobby Kennedy to help her in her dispute with Fox studios which had fired her over her absence from the set of Something’s Got to Give. There are both documents and credible testimony—from publicist Rupert Allan—on this point. (Ibid, p. 535)

But Robert Slatzer never stopped crying cover up. Not happy with the results of the Carroll probe—which could find no reason for a new inquiry —he now tried to manipulate a grand jury into reopening the Monroe case. To put it mildly, the other jurors did not agree. They requested that Sam Cordova—the juror who Slatzer was working through—be removed. Superior Court Judge Robert Devich agreed to the request. (UPI story of October 29, 1985, by Michael Harris.). Then there was Roone Arledge at ABC News. He vetoed a 20/20 story that Geraldo Rivera and Sylvia Chase were promoting based on Summers’ book with Slatzer as a consultant. Arledge said it was “gossip column” stuff. (ibid) He was correct but maybe too kind. April VeVea has been more frank and calls Goddess an atrocious book. (VeVea, op. cit.). In his acknowledgements, Summers praised attorney Jim Lesar for attaining valuable FBI documents. But Randy Taraborrelli, who wrote a later biography, said the contrary. He said that the FBI files on Monroe were fascinating because they are just so untrue; they do not hold up to modern journalistic analysis. He concluded that J. Edgar Hoover had such animus against the Kennedys “that I think that he allowed a lot of information to be put into those files that just was not true.” (McGovern, p. 351)

The above was what Joyce Carol Oates was working with when she arrived on the scene. She was going to do a roman a clef novel based on five books about Monroe. Three of them were Guiles’ Legend, Summers’ Goddess, and Marilyn, by Norman Mailer. But after reading Blonde, she seems to have gone to even further extremes than these men.


Blonde has been filmed twice. The first version was aired by CBS in 2001, just a year after the book’s publication. That two-parter was directed by Joyce Chopra, and starred Poppy Montgomery as Marilyn. It landed a cover story for TV Guide. Chopra once made a good film, Smooth Talk in 1985. The picture was produced by Robert Greenwald, who is supposed to be an intelligent and discerning man and who I once talked to. The combination of the two make the dull and disappointing result a bit surprising.

But considering the source material, perhaps that was inescapable. As Sarah Churchwell noted in her study of the field:

As we shall see, biographies about Marilyn Monroe have a very problematic relationship to fiction. Although biography depends upon an implicit contract with the reader that documented fact is being accurately represented, in Monroe’s case this obligation is rarely, if ever met. (Churchwell, p. 69)

Well, what happens if one takes it a step further and one makes a novelization of some of these books? As Churchwell notes about Oates: there are no entirely fictional major characters in the book. For example, The Playwright is obviously Arthur Miller, her third husband; Bucky Glazer is James Dougherty, her first husband. As she also observes, the portrait of Monroe drawn by Oates is so one dimensional that its artificial. Instead of an archetype we get a stereotype. She specifically writes about Oates, “Someone who skims across the surface of a life should not be surprised to find superficiality.” (Churchwell, pp. 120-21). Or as reviewer Michiko Kakutani wrote about the book:

Now comes along Joyce Carol Oates to turn Marilyn’s life into the book equivalent of a tacky television mini-series…Playing the reader’s voyeuristic interest into a real-life story while using the liberties of a novel to tart up the facts. (ibid)

In fact, one cannot fully blame the excesses of the more recent version of Blonde

on Dominik and Pitt. Because, as Churchwell notes: 1.) the book depicts Daryl Zanuck sodomizing Monroe in his office 2.) a year’s long menage a trois affair between Monroe and the sons of Charlie Chaplin and Edward G Robinson and 3.) her sexual tryst with President Kennedy at the Carlyle Hotel in New York via Secret Service agents. (Churchwell, pp. 120-23; Oates, pp. 699-708)

And she continues:

Oates’ Blonde is one of the most gratuitously conspiratorial of all the Monroe texts, positing as it does a voyeuristic sniper/spy/spook who is at once an aberrant acting alone and the puppet of a governmental plot: the more fictional the take, the more it can toy with the pleasure of a conspiratorial ‘solution” to the mystery. (Churchwell, pp. 317-18)

What Oates does here is to call this assassin a sharpshooter but he actually kills Monroe via hypodermic. (Oates, p. 737) As Churchwell points out, titling him a sharpshooter is clearly meant to recall the murder of John Kennedy.

But even before that, Oates actually suggests that Monroe had a secret tryst with Achmed Sukarno of Indonesia for the Agency. (p. 735). With this kind of junk as part of the source material, what chance did these two films have? Not much, but they really did not try very hard to counter the excesses of Oates.

The first version is not quite as offensive. Since it was a network broadcast it could not be as explicit as the Pitt/Dominik version. But still, overall, it’s a quite mediocre effort, both as written and as directed. The one exceptional aspect of the film is Ann Margaret’s performance as Marilyn’s grandmother. Everything else is pretty prosaic, and this includes the acting of Montgomery as Monroe and Griffin Dunne as Arthur Miller.

Because of the lowbrow nature of the book, both films deal with the three-sided relationship that allegedly went on for years between Monroe, Chaplin III and Robinson Jr. Monroe authority Don McGovern read both of their books. Chaplin said he only went out with Norma Jean Baker (Monroe’s real name) early in her career. The relationship did not last once she ascended into the film world. (My Father, Charlie, Chaplin, p. 250) In Robinson’s book he never notes that he was romantically involved with Monroe. (My Father, My Son, Chapter 29) McGovern asks just how did this all materialize then? Because, according to Summers, Chaplin actually impregnated Monroe back in 1947 and she got an abortion. (Email of 2/11/23) The problem with this is that, according to her gynecologist, Leon Krohn, Marilyn never had an abortion. Yet both films, borrowing from Oates, play this threesome up to the hilt—and beyond. And both films show Monroe getting an abortion. In the Dominik version the CGI fetus actually talks to Monroe and blames her for getting past abortions! Talk about a cartoon.

Both films begin with Monroe’s childhood relationship with her mentally unbalanced mother. How Gladys was so unstable that she had to be institutionalized and young Norma Jean was taken to an orphanage. (I should note here, the one exceptional aspect of the Dominik film is Lily Fisher’s convincing performance as the child Baker.). One major difference between the two is that Dominik’s film cuts almost everything that happened afterwards out — until Monroe started her Blue Book modeling career under Emmeline Snively. It then jumps to producer Daryl Zanuck and agent Johnny Hyde and we are rather quickly in the movie business.

Both films use the Chaplin/Robinson nexus, and the Dominik film is pretty explicit about it. In both films her “abortion” causes her great psychic pain which the directors use as fantasy scenes to recall painful memories from her childhood, like sleeping in a dresser drawer. In both films the marriage to Joe DiMaggio is dealt with briefly and both include the passing of nude pictures of Marilyn to the athlete, and this precipitates serious problems—physical violence — in the ten-month marriage.

Both films shift to Marilyn in New York trying to get away from Hollywood. Which leads to her meeting with Arthur Miller and taking classes at the Actor’s Studio. The Dominik film is much more explicit about her drug, pill and alcohol excesses. And her erratic behavior on film sets, the latter actually has her driving into a tree.

The first film has her mentioning her “talks” with President Kennedy, if you can believe it, about Fidel Castro. The second film follows Oates in that it has her taking a plane ride back east, and she is escorted into a hotel room with JFK laying down in bed talking to J. Edgar Hoover, who is relaying him information about rumors of his affairs. There, after walking by a dozen people, she performs fellaltio on Kennedy while he is on the phone. To say this scene did not occur is putting it too mildly—it’s out of an Arthur Clarke novel.

The first film ends with her singing performance of Happy Birthday to Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, leaving out the fact that there were 17 other performers there that night. The second film ends quite differently. It has Monroe being transported back to California after saying words to the effect, it was not just sexual. Alone in her home, Eddie Robinson calls to tell her Chaplin is dead. She gets a package that tells her that it was Chaplin writing letters from her father, who many think she never met. She starts taking pills, and the last scenes we see are the phone off the hook and her having a fantasy about her father. The camera pulls back from the bed and her dead body; fade to black.

I should add, the Dominik film transitions from color to black and white quite often. And, for this viewer, I could not really figure any kind of logical or aesthetic scheme for it. Perhaps Mr. Dominik will call me and explain it.


The reaction to the Pitt/Dominik version was rather strongly negative. In fact, some called the film “unwatchable”. They could not view it for even 20 minutes. Critic Jessie Thompson called it degrading, exploitative and boring, while adding it had no idea as to what it was trying to say. Some commentators called it a “hate letter” to Monroe. Another begged: please leave Marilyn alone. (9/30/22, story by Louis Chilton, The Independent.)

This is all quite justifiable about both films, but especially the second one. One has to wonder, did Pitt even read the script? I actually hope he did not. Since I think he is a brighter guy than to agree to such a ridiculously reductive film that is simply a caricature of both Monroe’s life and the woman herself. As Sarah Churchwell wrote, Dominik promoted his picture by saying that Monroe’s films are not worth watching. (The Atlantic, 10/21/22). Which is very odd since most critics consider Some Like It Hot to be one of the best American comedies of the sound era. About her modeling career, Emmeline Snively said:

She started out with less than any girl I ever knew. But she worked the hardest. She wanted to learn, wanted to be somebody, more than anybody I ever saw before in my life. (ibid)

As Churchwell adds, Monroe studied literature at UCLA at night, she really wanted to be a good actress, she supported racial and sexual equality, she despised McCarthyism and protested the House Un-American Activities Committee. Further, she disliked Richard Nixon who she called cowardly, and did not like Mailer because he was too impressed by power; she added you could not fool her about him. She admired the Kennedys because of their progressive agenda. She once even asked Robert Kennedy about his civil rights program vs Hoover. (Icon, Pt. 2, p. 565). But it is this Monroe who is now forgotten due to the likes of Oates and Dominik.

The first film of Oates does not really deal with the circumstances of her death, while the second tries to say her house was being monitored for sound at that time. This is another urban legend which VItacco Robles has cast severe doubt upon. (Ibid, Chapter 24). With the work of Don McGovern and Gary VItacco Robles we can now see her tragic demise a lot more clearly. All of the sound and fury created by Slatzer and his followers served to disguise the fact that her death was really a harbinger. One that looked forward to the Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson cases.

Slatzer did not give one iota about the true facts of her death. To him she was a meal ticket. The amount of drugs that were available to her in the last two months of her life are simply staggering. (ibid, pp. 452-457). And it’s clear that she had additional suppliers besides her own doctors e.g. Lee Siegel for one. The total amount is well over 800 pills. Which comes to over 13 pills per day. The combination of Nembutal (47) and Chloral hydrate (17) is what killed her, and these were ingested not injected, as pathologist Dr. Boyd Stephens described to Ronald Carroll. (McGovern, pp. 494-95, see also Icon Part 2, p. 620) As mentioned, she had tried to end her life 4-5 times previously. The most recent attempt being about ten months prior to August of 1962. (Icon, pt. 2, p. 443)

As seems clear from the evidence, Dr. Engelberg lied about his prescriptions to Monroe, perhaps to cover up his own culpability. And Siegel’s prescriptions were not covered by the coroner’s office. (ibid, p. 458) Another illustrious pathologist, Cyril Wecht, agreed with all this. He dispelled certain disinformation about the autopsy spewed by Slatzer; saying for example that no, Nembutal does not leave a dye color, and that drugs dissolve much faster than food in the stomach, so the lack of dye and the stomach being empty was not at all odd. (Icon, Part 2, p. 351)

But he further added that the amount of drugs Engelberg supplied were simply “out of the ballpark”. He also ridiculed the statement by Engelberg that he was weaning her off drugs. He then delivered the capper:

I believe that he well could have been charged. It would be manslaughter. It could rise to third degree murder. But certainly manslaughter. Think about Conrad Murray in the Michael Jackson case….That is feeding an addiction…If it occurred today, a district attorney would make a move due to a celebrity involved and quantity of drugs involved. (ibid, p. 361)

Wecht also disagreed with the combination of Nembutal and chloral hydrate. He did not think she should have been given both. When asked why her doctors were not charged, Wecht replied it was a different world back then and the media was much more quiet. He concluded by saying that he agrees with Thomas Noguchi’s finding, and the 1982 Ronald Carroll review: “I see no credible evidence to support a murder theory.” (Ibid, p. 367) When one has three pathologists the stature of Noguchi, Stephens and Wecht, with that much experience, I will take them any day over the likes of Slatzer, Mark Shaw and their ilk.

Let me end with two quotes that sum up the Marilyn Monroe case and its aftermath. The first is by the estimable Don McGovern:

While the initial motivation to engage in The Kennedys-Murdered-Marilyn farrago was a political one, it quickly transmogrified into a financial one, most certainly influenced, arguably even fomented by the financial success of Norman Mailer and Lawrence Schiller. There is little doubt that money motivated Robert Slatzer and Jeanne Carmen along with the obvious fact that both were camera and fame whores. (Icon, Vol. 2, p. 32)

I don’t think one can get more accurate than that about what has become a continuous cesspool of character assassination. Therefore, let us give Marilyn, the victim of this constant calumny, the last word; since the public seems to prefer the voices of Oates and Slatzer to the real person.

What I really want to say: that what the world really needs is a new feeling of kinship. Everybody: stars, laborers, Negroes, Jews, Arabs. We are all brothers…Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe. (Marilyn Monroe, Graham McCann, p. 219)

Maybe that quote is how we should remember her.

Go to Part 1 of 2

Last modified on Monday, 26 February 2024 04:21
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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