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Marilyn Monroe's Letter About A Psychiatric Ward Stay Is Harrowing

Marilyn Monroe's battle with substance and other psychological issues are more than well documented. The star died August 5, 1962, but she was hospitalised for mental health issues long before that. And a new letter reveals the deplorable state in which she was kept and the myriad ways in which she was condescended to by her male doctors.

Some of Monroe’s personal effects will go to auction on November 19 and 20 by Julien's Auctions. Monroe bequeathed personal items to acting teacher Lee Strasberg, whose estate is now auctioning them off. Among the items is a carbon copy of a March 1, 1961, letter to Dr. Ralph Greenson about Monroe's harrowing time at the Payne-Whitney Psychiatric Clinic. Her other psychiatrist, Dr. Marianne Kris, had committed to her the New York City sanitarium the month before.

She says in the letter that she was put into a cell meant for seriously mentally ill patients and largely ignored by the staff. In order to improve her treatment, she resolved to re-enact a scenario from one of her movies.

"I sat on the bed trying to figure if I was given this situation in an acting improvisation what would I do,” she wrote. “So I figured, it's a squeaky wheel that gets the grease. I admit it was a loud squeak but I got the idea from a movie I made once called Don't Bother to Knock. I picked up a light-weight chair and slammed it, and it was hard to do because I had never broken anything in my life – against the glass intentionally.

"It took a lot of banging to get even a small piece of glass - so I went over with the glass concealed in my hand and sat quietly on the bed waiting for them to come in. They did, and I said to them 'If you are going to treat me like a nut I'll act like a nut.' I admit the next thing is corny but I really did it in the movie except it was with a razor blade. 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."

Monroe went on to say that the staff sent her to a different floor of the clinic. There she was condescended to by more doctors.

"He told me I was a very, very sick girl and had been a very, very sick girl for many years," she wrote. "He asked me how I could possibly work when I was depressed. He wondered if that interfered with my work. He was being very firm and definite in the way he said it. He actually stated it more than he questioned me so I replied: 'Didn't he think that perhaps Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin perhaps and perhaps Ingrid Bergman they had been depressed when they worked sometimes but I said it's like saying a ball player like DiMaggio [her second husband] if he could hit ball when he was depressed. Pretty silly.'"

While it’s pretty typical of a retrograde attitude towards mental health that a woman would be regularly infantilised by male doctors, it’s also not really a debate that Monroe conducted a lifelong battle with depression and substance issues. The state of mental health, especially around substance and depression, has long been a fraught issue. Given Monroe’s eventual death from barbiturate overdose, it’s safe to say that whatever mental health apparatus she was involved in failed her.