Review: The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes


Amy Carranza, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Reading Time: 4 minutes

At this year’s Met Gala, Kim Kardashian walked down the red carpet with the iconic nude dress Marilyn Monroe wore to John F. Kennedy’s pre-birthday celebration. 

Although the outfit didn’t fit the theme, “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” which honored American fashion from The Gilded Age, the restoration of the piece spoke to me.

Seeing an outfit of an actress that was a goddess in her time being showcased almost sixty years after her death, it gave me chills (even though I don’t even know much about Monroe).

Coincidentally, The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes, a new Netflix documentary, just came out, following Anthony Summers, an investigator that became determined to unveil the truth of the star’s life when her case reopened in 1982. 

It adumbrates everything that she had been affected by or was accused of being involved in up to her death (among others, the Kennedy brothers, sex, and communism). 

This openness scared me because one can be disgusted by these events and accusations, but, this gave me insight as to how Monroe would end up at that point—especially since Summers expressed the hardship of trying to find information about the night of her death. 

So, he decided to take a step back and start researching about her childhood/early career in Hollywood.

Watching the black and white Hollywood clips play on the screen as Monroe spoke about how she dreamed of becoming an actress as a child was both heartwarming and heart wrenching. Considering that it was the early 1940s, her start in showbiz was performing at clubs and restaurants.

But, a girl’s gotta do what she wants to do, because soon enough, Monroe got the offer to star in The Asphalt Jungle at 24 years old, and her career launched from there. 

Unfortunately, this led to distant friends and poor mental health as she prioritized her career.

The greatest aspect of this documentary is the use of actors portraying real-life interviews that Summers conducted during his search. It allows for the audience to empathize with these people who had seen Monroe as a celebrity, a family member, and someone who was truly human.

 An intriguing storyline has to be the relationship between Monroe’s psychiatrist, Dr. Greenson, and his family. They bring her into their lives to shield her from her unhappy childhood in a way. 

I don’t know how it feels to be an orphan, or a “waif” rather, as Monroe called herself, but the fear of abandonment can surely mess up anyone, especially when having a love life.

According to many of Summers’ interviewees, boyfriends and marriage was something Monroe never had good luck in. You would never guess that there were any signs of struggle behind the camera, but it was all just too much or too little for these men.

Monroe married retired baseball player Joe DiMaggio, because they had some things in common, as Monroe said, but DiMaggio couldn’t deal with her fame. 

The specific visuals and audio recordings linking to the production of The Seven Year Itch in this section reveals that DiMaggio was an abusive person. This only greatened her belief that she had no love in her life and the emptiness had gone so far as to fuel the search for reassurance. 

Another example is her marriage to Arthur Miller. He saw her as nothing more than a play toy when all she desired was a life of quiet and children.

The emotional wreck that was caused by her multiple husbands truly had me in tears. Monroe’s voice captivated me. The camera makes her seem so unreal, capturing her authentic expressions of grief.

What really lets all the helplessness run loose is the reminder that Monroe didn’t accept herself nor did her love interests, and they took advantage of her persona. Her friends repeated the notion that they couldn’t talk about her miscarriages and the agony she endured.

If you ask me, Monroe was putting up too big a bid for this gamble we call love. But she was genuine, and that exuded through the passion of her work, even if she didn’t pull through half the time. “Happiness. Does one ever know that?” she once said. 

Once again, she would be divorced, but here is where we introduce the Kennedys again. 

Monroe’s relationship with the Kennedys began as early as the 1950’s, but picked right back up as soon as she was separated from Miller, possibly even beforehand. That’s where things got out of hand, as private detectives were hired to uncover these secrets.

It was a bit ridiculous to hear that during this atrocity, her chosen family let her go. It’s as though she was left to deal with her own problems when she should’ve had someone there. 

Her exasperated looks in this section of the documentary shows just how tired she is, and I begin to feel the same thing on a loop when politics are the straight thing we speak about for the next fifteen minutes. I understand the whole shenanigans with the Cold War and the movement against communism, but why dehumanize Monroe for it? 

Why choose her to sing for Robert Kennedy’s pre-birthday celebration when she was accused and “proven” of being a communist? I am astonished as to how anyone would even think that was true after showing signs of distress when she was brutally asked to stay away from the president and the attorney general for good. 

In an instant, she began to deteriorate, according to several of Summers’ interviewees. She was suffering, and when she died, it took the nation by storm. The few front covers that were photocopied for the film are just a handful of them. 

Although there were many conspiracies about Monroe’s death, The Unheard Tapes demands the truth to be heard. The circumstances of her suicide: the surprise Robert Kennedy visit, the press cover ups with Dr. Greenson, her psychiatrist, and Monroe’s housekeeper. It was the culmination of a lie that would cut the Kennedy brothers out of her life.

Surely, Monroe’s press consultant had good reasons for being dishonest, but why not hold the Kennedys accountable afterward? The final photos of Monroe forced me to engulf the hurricane that was made of her life. Slowly slipping from herself. Into her bed, lying breathless.

If anything in this world can conclude a documentary like this, I would say that The Unheard Tapes dissected a girl, a woman who branded herself a stray, went on to become America’s most remarkable actress, and then became fully human once again.

Monroe’s fame put her under a golden spotlight, but at the end of the day, her origins only lie within a child’s ambition, uncertainty. 

When I was a kid, sitting in the front row at the movies on Saturday afternoon, and I’d think how wonderful it would be to be an actress. Everything that I would see. And… I wanted to know. I would like to be a good actress”—Marilyn