Chapter 6: Marilyn and Bobby

Chapter 6


Up to now we haven’t mentioned Robert F. Kennedy very much. It’s time to insert RFK into Marilyn’s story. Bobby wasn’t present at Hyannis Port when Marilyn was there. By the time they were introduced Marilyn had already met most of the family. In addition to Pat and JFK, Marilyn already knew Joseph Kennedy and had met Kennedy sisters, Eunice and Jean as well. It was after Hyannis Port that Pat told Marilyn that the sibling she really wanted Marilyn to meet was her brother Bobby.

Pat and Bobby were close. Close in age and ideals. Pat, Bobby, Jean and Teddy were the youngest of the nine Kennedy children and they descended in age in that order. Pat deeply admired Bobby. He was a crusader. He was thoughtful, considerate, compassionate and the most religious of her brothers. But he was also tough. It was said that being the runt of the family made him feel he had something to prove. He was a determined fighter and competitor. Pat admired not only his desire and bravery, but also his capacity to make difficult decisions and his determination not to compromise on what he felt was right. RFK’s detractors thought he was ruthless, someone even once called him a “narrow minded moralist that would use any means to get to his ends.”

In the mid-fifties RFK was selected as chief council to Senator McClellan’s Rackets Committee that was investigating the infiltration of organized crime into labor unions. It was then that Bobby picked a fight with the mob, that would turn into a crusade, that would dominate his time and attention while he was attorney general. By September of 1959, Bobby had resigned from the McClellan committee and decided to write a book about his experiences there. He felt the committee’s 300 plus days of hearing testimony from over 1500 witnesses had uncovered significant corruption in labor. He also felt that most of the unions were cooperating and voluntarily ridding themselves of racketeering. It was only the Teamsters, headed by Jimmy Hoffa that refused to clean up their act. And it was Hoffa and the Teamsters that would play staring roles in the book RFK was writing.

RFK’s book was titled The Enemy Within. After it was published, Papa Joe would pull some of his Hollywood strings to get the book turned into a movie. As it turned out, it was Marilyn’s studio, 20th Century Fox, that would decide to make it. This brings us to Robert Kennedy’s initial interest in Marilyn Monroe and their first meeting.

There are two dinner parties given by the Lawfords at their beach home, both with MM and RFK in attendance, that are often confused and conflated by Marilyn biographers. Most have a dinner in February, 1962 as the time they first met, but they actually had met many months earlier in the fall of 1961. It occurred in the period between the events at Hyannis Port and the time Jack got handsy with Marilyn. Pat was eager to introduce Marilyn to Bobby and Marilyn was intrigued when Pat said that Bobby wanted to meet her.

On this occurrence Marilyn was driven to the Lawford home by friend/make-up man Whitey Snyder. You may have heard the story where Marilyn pulls up, exits Whitey’s VW bug, then tells the surrounding press that the driver was a sailor she’d been seeing. Knowing she would be surrounded by young, beautiful Hollywood starlets, she decided to dress to impress and put on the sexiest little number she could find. She was actually a little embarrassed by her choice and got tipsy drinking when she learned that Bobby only wanted to talk business with her. It turned out that his wife Ethel was impressed with Marilyn’s acting abilities. She thought that Marilyn was under-appreciated, and she wanted her to play Ethel’s part in the movie, The Enemy Within. Bobby also wanted to gather information about MCA, the talent agency that represented Marilyn.

If you’ve ever heard the story where RFK and his press aide Ed Guthman drive Marilyn home after she drank too much, then deposit her in her Doheny Drive apartment, this is that night. Marilyn hadn’t yet bought her Fifth Helena Drive home, which she would be in the process of buying when she would meet RFK (this time with Ethel) at the Lawford home in the beginning of February 1962. This dinner party is usually presented as their first meeting and the story usually goes something like this: Marilyn has heard Bobby is interested in meeting and talking to her. She isn’t sure what to talk about so she goes around to various people and solicits questions on current topics she can ask the attorney general. She writes these questions on cards, on a clipboard, or in a notebook, or sometimes even on napkins in lipstick!

Believe it or not, the stories have some factual truth but it’s actually all a rouse. It’s an awkward attempt by Marilyn to be clandestine. She did have the notes and made quite the public display to have people overhear her questions. But once in private, (they went out for a walk and ended up talking in a parked car) Marilyn had answers for Bobby instead of questions. You see, the previous fall he asked Marilyn to get information concerning MCA, the talent agency that represented her in Hollywood. Marilyn was relaying her latest information.

The MM, RFK and MCA story is so complicated and so integral to Marilyn’s final days that it will be looked at in more detail in Part II of this book. For now let me fill you in on some of the backstory. When RFK became attorney general he began an almost single minded pursuit to finally nail Jimmy Hoffa, a prize that as of yet had alluded him. He organized his Justice Department for this pursuit in a way that Hoffa described as a “vendetta.” It’s hard to argue with that observation as Bobby’s main priority was overseeing his “Get Hoffa” squad. But he also had other areas in the Justice Department under his control that he was less interested in, and less knowledgeable about. One of those areas was the Antitrust Division.

Just weeks after RFK took the AG job, he was notified by the head of the Antitrust Division that MCA was being investigated and if the evidenced warranted, it could lead to a grand jury with civil and criminal charges being brought against them. MCA was a Hollywood power house that not only represented the top stars but produced movies and TV shows as well. Since MCA controlled the production of the majority of the TV shows that aired in prime time the FCC wanted to investigate as well. The FBI had been conducting it’s own investigation since 1959. Many of Hollywood’s power elite that helped JFK become president had ties to the top men at MCA, Jules Stein and Lew Wasserman. The problem for the Kennedy brothers was that both men had ties to mobsters as well. In 1961 the term “organized crime” was a fairly new concept and most Americans had yet to hear of the Cosa Nostra. But when Robert Kennedy became Attorney General his top priority became ferreting out the top criminals and sending them to prison. This probably explains RFK’s pursuit of MCA. It wasn’t just their aggressive business practices that got Kennedy’s attention, it was also their suspected connections to underworld criminal activities.

Stein had started in Chicago during Prohibition booking bands into nightclubs controlled by Al Capone. Wasserman got his start in Cleveland working for gangster Moe Dalitz and his gang, promoting their nightclub, the Mayfair Casino. Wasserman married the daughter of an attorney for Dalitz. When Dalitz moved his operation to Vegas and became the owner of the Desert Inn, the Wasserman’s were frequent guests. Both Stein and Wasserman did business with Jimmy Hoffa, and both relied on the services of “fixer” Sidney Korshak in sticky labor relations negotiations. Connie Bruck, author of “When Hollywood had a King,” thinks Korshak was perhaps Lew Wasserman’s closest friend, and notes that Wasserman never disavowed the friendship, and Mr and Mrs Sidney Korshak celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary at the Wasserman’s’ house. Korshak was known as the “Mouthpiece for the mob in Hollywood.” According to the organized crime division of the Justice Department he was “the brains behind the mob.” To retired FBI agent William Roemer, “He was the primary link between big business and organized crime.”

After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, RFK would increasingly try to get information from sources outside the government. RFK’s aides called the individuals that he got information from “meta diplomats,” what we might today call confidential informants. Marilyn Monroe isn’t usually portrayed as a bright, astute, business minded woman but she was all these and more. Marilyn had switched to MCA when she formed Marilyn Monroe Productions with Milton Greene in the mid-fifties, and had been working with them ever since. She provided Bobby with valuable inside information and background that other witnesses were reluctant to give. Throughout the first months of 1962, this passing of information about the MCA case, along with talking about RFK’s movie, would be the reasons for all their time together (a couple walks on the beach at the Lawford home) and all the phone calls to Washington. Their relationship was purely professional, at least through the spring of 1962. The president’s birthday event at Madison Square Garden would change things considerably.

When we left our discussion of JFK to segue into RFK we were left with two final prospects for a MM/JFK romantic connection, Crosby’s in March, and the birthday event in May 1962. With the Madison Square Garden event we can kill two birds with one stone, because neither JFK or RFK had sex with Marilyn Monroe that evening. So lets take a look at that night and save Bing Crosby’s for last.

We’ll look closely at what’s been called the Palm Springs tryst soon. But now we’re going to consider the aftermath of that eventful weekend. After Marilyn and JFK were both guests at Crosby’s home rumors started to fly. Government officials in Washington were especially scandalized when Marilyn’s name showed up on a list of entertainers for the president’s birthday celebration. However by that time, at least for Marilyn and Jack, whatever the MM/JFK flirtation was, it was over. Marilyn had even called the president shortly after the weekend to say, “Hey, no hard feelings, right?” The two did now share an unspoken bond and there was never, ever, any animosity between them. Nor was there any more romance.

Marilyn had committed to performing at the birthday event and nothing was going to stop her from being there for the president. JFK was fine with her performing, but it seems he was the only one. There was some political pressure to have her removed that proved unsuccessful. And on Marilyn’s end, the studio that once agreed to let her go now was refusing it. That didn’t work out well for them, because Marilyn went. Of course it didn’t work out great for Marilyn either, because once she was in New York, she was served breach of contract papers from FOX. Bobby had assured Marilyn, that because of Kennedy family connections on the board of the studio, that she would be okay in coming. He had let her down and she was already a little angry when he showed up in her dressing room before the show. She had no idea that Bobby himself didn’t want her there.

Bobby was a man on a mission. What had been a friendly, professional relationship between the two suddenly turned uncomfortably personal. The two had their first heated exchange that day. Their only argument worse than this one would occur on the last day of her life. Bobby was intent on having Marilyn tone down her performance because word had gotten out that it was getting progressively sexier each time she practiced it. She was offended by not only what he was saying, but how he was saying it. It felt almost like bullying. Marilyn asked, “Exactly what do you think I’m going to do.” She then began gyrating and whipping her head back and forth in a mock strip tease. This just angered RFK. Before he left he declared that “The kiss” on the cheek after the gala as JFK comes onstage “is out, you can’t do it.” With that he opened the door, stormed out, and muttered something to a smirking bystander as he slammed the door behind him.

Marilyn decided to do the kiss anyway. Originally she wasn’t scheduled to be the last performer. It was a last minute change to liven up the finale and also to provide the running gag where Marilyn is introduced over and over, then finally appears at the end. When she was finished singing, JFK would take the stage and she would greet him with a birthday peck on the cheek. It never happened. Both Marilyn and JFK expected it. If you look at the footage of that evening really close, as Kennedy comes on stage you can see Marilyn behind him being escorted down an aisle offstage. JFK even looks back a few times to see where she has gone. This little change in the program would reveal Bobby’s objective for the rest of the evening, keep Marilyn away from the president.

At the after party, Robert Kennedy is said to have fluttered around Marilyn like a moth to a flame. And indeed he did. He was running interference. He took it upon himself to personally keep JFK and MM apart that evening. Pat Kennedy Lawford’s job (she knew better and was just playing along) was JFK, she would keep him distracted and busy elsewhere. RFK even recruited Marilyn’s press agent, friend, and companion Patricia Newcomb, so if Marilyn got past him, she would intercept MM. It was all very silly. Marilyn knew exactly what was going on and even had a little fun making Booby (her name for RFK who was, apparently, a big fan of cleavage) dance around her all evening. It would also prove to be not the only time Newcomb and RFK would conspire together for a common goal in regards to Marilyn.

Not exactly the beginnings of a great romance is it? And it never would be. There was never an intimate encounter between MM and RFK. Confused?

Did I hedge my bets when I said there was never a MM/JFK sexual encounter? Well, if there ever was one, and it didn’t happen after the Fell party, then it probably happened in Palm Desert, the home of Bing Crosby near Palm Springs. And it’s this weekend where we shall now turn our attention.