EDISON, NJ - I have been a true crime “junkie” since Truman Capote published the first “non-fiction novel,” the incomparable In Cold Blood in 1965. For seven years Capote immersed himself in the farm community of Holcomb, Kansas using his brilliant mind as a tape recorder for the details on the crime and punishment of Perry Smith and Richard Hickock in the murders of the modest Clutter family. In Cold Blood remains as one of the most brilliantly written books in American literature for its unforgettable simplicity in describing the most ultimate of horrors. In fact, the publication of In Cold Blood was a turning point in the undermining of the feeling of being safe in one's own home and changed forever the way Americans see the security of their world.
Crisp in its structure---the crime, flight, capture, trial, and ultimately hanging---and sparse in text, Capote's masterpiece is the work against which all true crime books need to be measured. That being established, where does that place the new book by Jay Margolis and Richard Buskin, The Murder of Marilyn Monroe: Case Closed ? I would place the book at the bottom of the heap for its poor construction, confusing and conflicting use of quotes, and its unsubstantiated accusations. The book is largely a rehash of Donald Spoto's Marilyn Monroe: the Biography (Harper Collins, 1993), Anthony Summers' Goddess: The secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe (Phoenix, 2000), and Fred Lawrence Giules' Legend: The Life and Death of Marilyn Monroe (Stein and Day, 1984).
The theory put forth by Margolis and Bruskin is summed up in the following quote, “There was a premeditated plan to murder her (MM) on the part of Robert Kennedy, Ralph Greenson, and Peter Lawford---a plan that, according to the British actor, had originated with the Attorney General.” (p.163) According to the theory espoused by the authors, on August 4, 1965 Bobby Kennedy had visited Monroe in her home on Fifth Helena Drive in Los Angeles to tell her that all communications between the actress and the Kennedy brothers, with whom she was allegedly having affairs, were to terminate immediately. When Monroe threatened to expose publically the details of her little red diary to the world, Bobby erupted and told her there were ways in which he could silence her forever. Ralph Greenson was Monroe's psychiatrist and Peter Lawford, the other witness to Kennedy's threat, was Bobby's brother-in-law.
Supposedly Bobby Kennedy and Lawford ransacked Marilyn's bungalow, searching for the diary, giving Dr. Greenson the opportunity to inject Monroe with a fatal dose of barbituates right into her heart. Greenson's motivation for killing Marilyn was that he, too, had succumbed to the femme fatale's charms in a seduction that could bring down his marriage and reputation if exposed.
Nothing in Margolis and Bruskin's book was particularly new or revolutionary. These accusations have been made before, and although there is definitely cause for skepticism in Thomas Noguchi's coroners report that Monroe died due to accidental suicide by taking an overdose, the theory as the two authors of this book is not believably explained.
For me the problem arises in the description of Marilyn as being out of control and threatening when Bobby cut her out of the Kennedy lives. Though she may very well have threatened to take her story to the media, would she really have done so? Monroe had just promised to remarry Joe DiMaggio, who had divorced her before due to his jealousy over her movie career. On the brink of reestablishing her vows to DiMaggio, would Monroe have exposed the Kennedy affairs to the press? Also, her career was floundering at that time. Would she have gone public, giving the studio further opportunity to sever their ties with their unstable star? Although she may very well have threatened to go public, it is hard to believe that Bobby Kennedy's sole solution to stopping her was to engage no fewer than two other men in a conspiracy to murder her.
There are too many conflicting quotes and conversations in The Murder of Marilyn Monroe to follow the straight line of the sinister plot that the authors want us to believe. Was there hanky panky between Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedys? Without a doubt. Did Bobby Kennedy sanction the star's demise, using federal agents to cover up the deed? Hard to swallow.
Here is another of my true confessions: aside from being a true crime junkie, I'm a sucker for books about Marilyn Monroe. A devoted fan, I love Monroe movies; her beautiful blondeness, her incandescent skin, her delivery of humor. I am mesmerized by her in Niagra, The Seven Year Itch, How to Marry a Millionaire, and of course, Some Like It Hot. Monroe was a waif, a siren, an enigma, an American tragedy, who over 50 years after her death still remains the greatest icon in pop culture. She was special; she was one of a kind, and her death deserves better accounting than what is given here by Bruskin and Margolis.
Just as a final aside, if you want to read a novel that looks more into the soul of Monroe than any biography written on the subject, take a look at the stunning book by Joyce Carol Oates entitled Blonde. That is a book worth reading.