Desperate letter from Monroe to Lee Strasberg—"As you know, for years I have been struggling to find some emotional security with little success, for many different reasons"
TLS signed “Marilyn,” two pages, 8.5 x 11, December 19, 1961. Letter to mentor and acting instructor Lee Strasberg, in full: “This is an important personal letter and please don’t start to read it until you have the time to give it your careful thought. This letter concerns my future plans and therefore concerns yours as well since my future development as an artist is based on our working together. All this is an introduction; let me outline the recent events, my ideas and my suggestions.
As you know, for years I have been struggling to find some emotional security with little success, for many different reasons. Only in the last several months, as you detected, do I seem to have made a modest beginning. It is true that my treatment with Dr. Greenson has had its ups and downs, as you know. However, my overall progress is such that I have hopes of finally establishing a piece of ground for myself to stand on, instead of the quicksand I have always been in. But Dr. Greenson agrees with you, that for me to live decently and productively, I must work! And work means not merely performing professionally, but to study and truly devote myself. My work is the only trustworthy hope I have. And here, Lee, is where you come in. To me, work and Lee Strasberg are synonymous. I do not want to be presumptuous in expecting you to come out here for me alone. I have contacted Marlon on this subject and he seems to be quite interested, despite the fact that he is in the process of finishing a movie. I shall talk with him more thoroughly in a day or two.
Furthermore, and this must be kept confidential for the time being, my attorneys and I are planning to set up and [sic] independent production unit, in which we have envisaged an important position for you. This is still in the formative phase, but I am thinking of you in some consultative position or in whatever way you might see fit. I know you will want enough freedom to pursue your teaching and any other private interests you might want to follow.
Though I am committed to my analysis, as painful as it is, I cannot definitively decide, until I hear from you, because without working with you only half of me is functioning. Therefore, I must know under what condition you might consider coming out here and even settling here.
I know this might sound quite fantastic, but if you add up all the possible advantages it should be quite a rewarding venture. I mean not only for Marlon and me—but for others. This independent production unit will also be making pictures without me—this is even required for legal reasons. This will offer an opportunity for Susan if she should be interested and perhaps even for Johnny. And Paula would have a great many opportunities for coaching. As for you, Lee, I still have the dream of you some day directing me in a film! I know this is a big step to take, but I have the wish that you might realize out here some of the incomplete hopes that were perhaps not fulfilled for you, like Lincoln Center, etc.
So I don’t know how else to persuade you. I need you to study with and I am not alone in this. I want to do everything in my power to get you to come out—within reason—as long as it is to your advantage as well as mine. So, Lee, please think this over carefully; this is an awfully important time of my life and since you mentioned on the phone that you too felt things were unsettled, I have dared to hope. I have meetings set up with Marlon and also with my attorneys and will phone you if there are any important new developments. Otherwise, please get in touch with me.” In fine condition. Accompanied by the original mailing envelope.
Strasberg was an Austrian-born actor, director, and theatre practitioner who cofounded the Group Theatre in 1931 and, twenty years later, became the director of the prestigious Actor’s Studio in New York City. While living in Manhattan, Monroe became Strasberg’s most popular student, bringing great attention to the acting studio while esteeming Strasberg as a sort of father figure. Starting with the divorce of husband Arthur Miller, 1961 was a difficult year for Monroe, who was beset by a host of ailments and canceled her lone acting project when NBC refused to hire Strasberg as the director. Monroe moved back to California in the spring and, in her attempt to “live decently and productively,” sought to create a new production company with the aid of Marlon Brando and Strasberg, to who she admits: “without working with you only half of me is functioning.” The extent of Monroe’s adoration for Strasberg is represented in her final will, in which she bequeathed all of her personal belongings and seventy-five percent of her estate to the acting coach. Redolent of the desperation that consumed the final months of her life, this is a rare and intimate letter from the legendary starlet.