Marilyn Monroe and Freud

On the Freuds, films, and psychoanalysis in the life of Marilyn Monroe.



In this episode we are talking all about psychoanalysis. What is it, where it came from, and how it directly contributed to Marilyn Monroe's decline and unfortunate suicide. If you like our content please subscribe to our premium episodes!

We begin with a discussion of Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis, and its impact on the culture of the late 19th and early 20th century. Thanks to Adam Curtis for the wonderful documentaries, but in particular for this episode we mention The Century of the Self, a BBC documentary that is one of the few in mass media to examine the impact of the theories of Freud in modern culture. 1

We then cover the life of Marilyn Monroe from the time of her childhood in orphanages on through her adult fame in the post WW2 American Film industry. Marilyn is inseparable from the film business, because of her association with the "method acting" school, Actors Studio, founded by Lee Strasburg with funding in large part provided by Marilyn. Sadly Strasburg's method was fundamentally incompatible with Marilyn personally, since it teaches people to draw on their past experiences to summon emotion for the camera, but Marilyn's past was mostly traumatic and only led to her continued psychiatric decline. 2

We also discuss Marilyn's relationships with Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, and the conspiracy theories surrounding her affairs with Bobby Kennedy and John F. Kennedy. DiMaggio seemed to be her only reliable friend at times and Miller an unfortunate marriage of professional considerations that didn't work out. The irony of Arthur Miller relegating his wife to a secondary role in a movie starring her, coming from the author of Death of a Salesman, cannot possibly be overstated.

Last but not least we cover in detail Marilyn's mistreatment at the hands of her psychiatrists, all of which were proteges of the Freuds, Anna in particular. Sadly Marilyn was not the only notable celebrity to die in the care of a Freud, Tiffany and Co. heiress Mabbie Burlingham died due to sucide in the care of Anna Freud as well. In Marylin's case she was most mistreated by Drs Marianne Kris in New York, who convinced Marilyn to commit herself to the Payne Whitney Mental Hospital in Manhattan (incidentally also the site of MKUltra experiments) where she was sexually assaulted by a staff physician, and by Ralph Greenson her psychoanalyst in Los Angeles who employed the bizarre technique of "adoption therapy" in which he convinced Marilyn to live in his house and pretend to be one of his family. We also talk a bit about Freud's bizarre first trip to America after World War I. 3, 4

As a book recommendation for this episode, we recommend Gloria Steinem's "Marilyn: Norma Jeane" as the most relevant to the subject matter we are discussing. It is not only a deeper dive into the same stories but includes iconic photos of Marilyn taken by the late, great celebrity photographer George Barris, who took the last picture of Marilyn before she died. 5


1. Adam Curtis, The Century of the Self, BBC, 2002. 

2. Rachelle Bergstein, How Method Acting Led Hollywood’s Biggest Stars to Behave Bizarrely, New York Post, January 2022. 

3. Sam Kashner, Marilyn and Her Monsters, Vanity Fair, November 2010. 

4. Daniel Akst, Freudian America, The Wall Street Journal Europe, August 2009. 

5. Gloria Steinem, Marilyn: Norma Jeane, Open Road Media, 2013. 

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