By By William Langley - The countdown to her death began in late July, when Marilyn set off for Lake Tahoe, the Nevada gambling resort, with Lawford and his wife, Pat – the sophisticated, movie-struck younger sister of President John F. Kennedy – on Sinatra’s private jet.
Neither Marilyn nor the Lawfords particularly wanted to go. Marilyn was facing a career crisis having just been fired from the production of Fox’s Something’s Got to Give on the grounds of her chronic unreliability. Even a house-party invitation from Robert Kennedy, the US attorney general, with whom she was rumoured to be having an affair, was rejected on June 13 with an enigmatic note reading: “Dear Attorney General, I would have been delighted to have accepted your invitation…unfortunately, I am involved in a freedom ride protesting the loss of the minority rights of the few remaining earthbound stars. After all, all we demanded was the right to twinkle.”
Lawford, though, was reluctant to turn down Sinatra. The Rat Packers, once close, had drifted, and Lawford saw the trip as a chance to mend fences. Sinatra was his hero and, to some extent, his meal ticket. “If Frank wants us there we have to go,” he told his wife. She reluctantly agreed – as long as their friend Marilyn came, too.
Sinatra was a lot keener to see Marilyn than he was the Lawfords. The pair had had an affair the previous year and, although Sinatra had realised there was no future in it, he remained, like almost every other man who had been part of Marilyn’s private world, more than a little in love with her. The reports he had heard of her life disintegrating worried him. He wanted to know more. And, if possible, to help.
Instead of a mercy mission, this last weekend in the actress’s life would be the one that pushed her over the edge. The plane touched down on Saturday, July 28, and that afternoon Marilyn went to the Cal Neva Lodge, a ritzy gambling and entertainment joint, co-owned by Sinatra.
Accounts of her condition differ. Buddy Greco, the singer, remembered: “When she arrived you’d never believe that she had a care in the world. I was sitting with Frank and Peter Lawford outside Frank’s bungalow when a limousine pulls up and this gorgeous woman in dark glasses steps out. She’s all dressed in green. I thought: 'My God, what a beautiful woman. No taste in clothes, but a beautiful woman.’”
Others recall it differently. “When Frank saw her he was pretty shocked,” says Joe Langford, Sinatra’s Tahoe security aide. “As soon as he had got her settled in he was on the phone with her psychiatrist and started in on the guy, 'What the hell kind of treatment are you giving her? She’s a mess. What is she paying you for?’ ”
What no one disputes is that by showtime that evening, Marilyn was in a state. Witnesses describe her as angry, confused and clearly under the influence of alcohol or drugs. As tended to happen, everybody wanted to meet her, to share her magic, and as also tended to happen, Marilyn couldn’t cope with it.
By now Sinatra was alarmed. According to witnesses he feared she might die at Cal Neva. The embarrassment would be too much. “Get her out of here,” he ordered. So they did. On the Sunday night, Marilyn returned alone to her bungalow in Brentwood. As far as is known, she did not leave it again.
Yet the next few days brought a stream of encouraging news. On August 1, Fox rescinded her sacking from Something’s Got to Give. To complete the studio’s capitulation, it agreed to replace the director, George Cukor, who had found Marilyn impossible to work with...and offered her a contract for two further movies worth $1 million.
Two days later, Life magazine published a long, sympathetic interview, pulsing with Marilyn’s wit and core intelligence, and conveying the sense of a woman who had triumphed over a lifetime of bad breaks and a heartless Hollywood...
...One of the very last people to see her alive was Lawford, a hard-drinking charmer who had turned his back on the English upper classes to become a Hollywood actor. The much talked-about relationship between the pair was almost certainly platonic. At least, his wife seemed to have no worries about it, saying that Lawford saw Marilyn as more of a helpless child than a temptress.
August 4, the last full day of Marilyn’s life, is almost impossible to decipher. Dozens of people have either claimed or been alleged to have visited her bungalow. Among them are Bobby Kennedy, mob boss Sam Giancana and various FBI men who were investigating her relationships with politicians and organised crime. One person who was definitely there was Eunice Murray, her housekeeper, but her accounts of what happened are so varied and contradictory as to be near-meaningless. Almost certainly there was a visit from Dr Greenson.
At about midnight, the housekeeper, who had been installed by Dr Greenson as Marilyn’s helper and confidante on the, as it turned out, untrue basis that she had a degree in psychiatric nursing, saw a light under Marilyn’s bedroom door. She says she knocked to check that all was well, and upon receiving no answer called Dr Greenson. He arrived within half an hour and, after seeing the body on the bed, broke in through the French windows.
The conspiracy theories have been raging ever since...
Links to The Final Interview, Life Magazine August 17, 1962: