MARILYN & ROBERT KENNEDY

by Tara Hanks

“What I really want to say: that what the world really needs is a real feeling of kinship. Everybody: stars, laborers, Negroes, Jews, Arabs. We are all brothers.”

Marilyn Monroe

These words were spoken, not by a poet or preacher, but by Marilyn Monroe in her final magazine interview with Life journalist Richard Meryman in July 1962. The sentiment may be simple, but at a time when parts of America were still racially segregated, it was a courageous one. Marilyn’s heartfelt plea for tolerance and equality has since been echoed by civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, and a future presidential candidate, Bobby Kennedy.

Robert F. Kennedy was born in November 1925, six months before Marilyn Monroe, but their backgrounds could not have been more different. While Marilyn was born illegitimate in the charity ward of Los Angeles Hospital, Bobby was the seventh child of multi-millionaire Joe Kennedy. A hard-working, ambitious boy, he was determined to win the approval of his father and his elder brothers, Joseph and John. Bobby was also profoundly religious from an early age.

The Kennedy clan was touched by tragedy in 1946 when Joseph was killed in World War II. He was the first and favourite son, and his father, now an ambassador to England, had dreamed that he would one day be President of the United States. Now that hope was gone, and Joe turned his attentions to John. Meanwhile, Bobby progressed through college and naval service, and trained as a lawyer. In 1950, he married Ethel Skakel. Ethel, like Bobby, was a devout Roman Catholic. They would eventually have eleven children.

In 1952, Bobby worked under Senator Joe McCarthy at the Senate Permanent Subcommittee On Investigations. McCarthy spearheaded the infamous ‘red-baiting’ scare. Playwright Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible, a play based on the Salem witch-hunts and a thinly-veiled attack on McCarthyism. In 1956, after Kennedy had left the Senate Committee, Miller was himself subject to an investigation. That year he also married Marilyn Monroe, who stood by him until his acquittal. She later reflected, ‘Arthur Miller taught me about the importance of political freedom in our society.’

Bobby Kennedy worked tirelessly for his brother John in the 1960 presidential campaign, and was rewarded with the position of Attorney General in the new administration, which led to accusations of nepotism. But John considered Bobby not just his closest sibling, but a potentially brilliant politician. He once remarked that, ‘If I want something done and done immediately, I rely on the Attorney General. He is very much the doer in this administration, and has an organizational gift I have rarely if ever seen surpassed.’

Bobby’s determination and persistence were never in doubt, but he lacked his brother’s relaxed manner. Some colleagues considered Bobby an arrogant bully. He made dangerous enemies when he waged war on the Mafia, straining Jack’s friendship with singer Frank Sinatra. Peter Lawford, a member of Sinatra’s Rat Pack, was married to Bobby’s sister, Patricia Kennedy. Bobby first met Marilyn at Peter Lawford’s home in 1961, and again in January 1962.

After Marilyn’s death, a letter from Bobby’s sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, was found among Marilyn’s personal files. ‘Thank you for your sweet note to Daddy,’ Smith wrote, probably after Joe Kennedy’s near-fatal stroke the previous winter. Then Smith added, mysteriously, ‘Understand you and Bobby are the new item! We all think you should come with him when he comes back East!’ Smith’s tone seems casual, but this aside has often been cited as proof of a romance between Marilyn and Bobby.

Danny Greenson, the teenage son of Marilyn’s psychoanalyst, Dr Ralph Greenson, remembered that Marilyn eagerly anticipated meeting the Attorney General again. Danny related the incident to Anthony Summers for his book, Goddess: The Secret Lives Of Marilyn Monroe. ‘I want to have something serious to talk about,’ Marilyn told Danny, adding that she wanted to discuss politics with Bobby Kennedy. ‘Back then I was worried about our support of the Diem regime in Vietnam,’ Danny Greenson has recalled, ‘and there were questions about the House Un-American Activities Committee, and civil rights and so on.’

The evening was a success, as Marilyn proudly reported to Arthur Miller’s young son, Robert. ‘I had dinner last night with the Attorney General,’ Marilyn wrote, ‘and I asked him what the department was going to do about Civil Rights and some other issues. He is very intelligent and besides all that, he’s got a terrific sense of humor. I think you would like him. I was mostly impressed with how serious he was about Civil Rights.’

Marilyn and Bobby met again at the president’s birthday gala in New York in May. Arthur Schlesinger, then Special Assistant at the White House, recalled that ‘Bobby and I engaged in mock competition for her; she was most agreeable to him and pleasant to me – but then she receded into her own glittering mist.’

‘Everyone thinks I’m having an affair with Bobby,’ Marilyn complained, according to her masseur, Ralph Roberts. ‘Well, I’m not. I like him, but not physically.’ She met with Bobby again in June, at the Lawford residence. The following day, Bobby called on Marilyn alone at her bungalow in the Los Angeles suburb of Brentwood. According to her housekeeper, Eunice Murray, Marilyn ‘did not seem bubbly or excited by his visit.’

Marilyn had recently been fired by Twentieth Century Fox following repeated absences from the set of Something’s Got To Give. At the time, Bobby’s book about organised crime, The Enemy Within, was being prepared as a film at the studio, and it is not inconceivable that Marilyn hoped he would use his influence to get her reinstated. She called Bobby at the Justice Department six times in July, concluding with an eight-minute call on July 30th.

‘He was such a sympathetic kind of person,’ Bobby’s secretary, Angie Novello, told Anthony Summers. ‘He never turned away from anyone who needed help, and I’m sure he was well aware of her problems. He was a good listener and that, I think, was what she needed more than anything.’

That next Saturday, August 4th, 1962, Bobby was in North California, staying with family and friends at a ranch in Gilroy, outside San Francisco, but although family photographs document the trip, rumours persist that he left Gilroy to visit Marilyn in Los Angeles that day. In Marilyn Monroe: The Biography, Donald Spoto dismisses the possibility, pointing out that Bobby’s host, John Bates, has insisted that Bobby was with him throughout the weekend. Spoto also claimed it would have been impossible for Bobby to fly direct from mountainous Gilroy, although some disagree. The many hours he would have spent travelling back and forth also make the claim questionable.

In her initial interviews with police, Eunice Murray never mentioned a visit from Bobby. However, after the death of Dr Ralph Greenson, Marilyn’s analyst who had recommended Murray, the housekeeper’s story wavered. She is said to have told BBC film-makers that Bobby made an unexpected visit in the early afternoon. As the claim was made off-camera, it cannot be corroborated – and in any case, Murray subsequently denied that Bobby had been there.

In The Assassination Of Marilyn Monroe, Donald Wolfe argues that Bobby returned to Marilyn’s house later that evening, to oversee her murder – performed by FBI agents, and assisted by Dr Greenson. But it is difficult to accept that Greenson would have gone along with such a plan, unless in fear of his own life. The evidence of a second visit is sketchy at best, and churchgoers in Gilroy recalled seeing Bobby at mass early the next morning. So even if he had been in Los Angeles that day, it seems likely that he had left by the time of Marilyn’s fatal overdose.

Why would Bobby have visited Marilyn that day? Did he come to tell her that their ‘affair’ must end, or to warn her to keep away from his brother? And why would Bobby have wanted to have Marilyn killed? Did she, as some have suggested, learn too much about matters close to the presidency? We have seen that she liked to discuss politics with Bobby, but there is little evidence that her knowledge was so detailed as to pose a risk to the presidency.

Bobby could be ruthless, especially if his family’s position was under threat. But despite any embarrassment caused by Marilyn’s alleged liaison with Jack, and any disappointment she might have felt, there is no hard evidence that she could, or would even have wanted to bring down the government. Marilyn was always very discreet where her love life was concerned, and rarely spoke out in public, even regarding her ex-husbands.

But even if Bobby was not directly involved in Marilyn’s death, there remains the strong possibility that he may have pulled strings to cover up his family’s association with her after the event. Marilyn’s telephone records from the last week of her life have never been found, and it has been alleged that L.A. police chief, William H. Parker, boasted to colleagues that because of his ‘delicate handling’ of the Monroe case, Bobby Kennedy was going to appoint him to lead the FBI. (However, this promotion did not occur.)

In November 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Friends of Bobby remember his deep grief, which affected his character and, ultimately, the rest of his own life. Bobby became more active in the Civil Rights movement, and joined the Senate in 1965. He redeveloped the poor, black ghetto of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, New York, and called for an end to the Vietnam War. Then in 1968, at the height of his presidential campaign, Bobby Kennedy was murdered.

It seems that in the final years of his life, Bobby Kennedy shared, and came close to realising, Marilyn Monroe’s own dream of a fairer, more just society. But not everyone kept their faith in Bobby. Whatever the true facts of Marilyn and Bobby’s friendship, he was not an unfeeling man. Perhaps Arthur Schlesinger sums up their relationship best: ‘Robert Kennedy, with his curiosity, his sympathy, his absolute directness of response to distress, in some way got through the glittering mist as few did.’