“An actress is not a machine, but they treat you like a machine. A money machine.”
Fifty years after her death in August 1962, files that document the FBI’s close scrutiny of actress Marilyn Monroe have finally been released. The files, not made available without extensive redactions until now, show that the star, highly exploited and at the same time greatly admired by millions of people around the world, was the target of intense FBI surveillance. This was because of her close association with communist activists, militant trade unionists and other left-leaning currents in the U.S. political movement, especially in the months prior to her untimely death.
FBI surveillance began after Monroe—along with other entertainers—applied for a visa, to visit the Soviet Union in 1955, and continued until her death in 1962.
In addition to her associations with communists and left-leaning liberals of the day, the files show that the FBI was especially concerned about Monroe’s contacts with American ex-patriot Frederick Vanderbilt Field, residing in Mexico, who himself had been disinherited by his ruling-class family due to his leftist views. Of particular note in the FBI files is an account of a trip that she took to visit Field in Mexico several months before her death.
In his autobiography, “From Right to Left,” Field described Monroe’s deep passion for justice:
''She told us about her strong feelings for civil rights,” he wrote, “for black equality, as well as her admiration for what was being done in China, her anger at red-baiting and McCarthyism and her hatred of (FBI director) J. Edgar Hoover."
In the months prior to her death, members of Monroe’s inner circle, including her hair dresser, interior decorator and therapist, became alarmed at her growing interest in and embrace of communist ideas. These individuals and others became informants reporting directly to the FBI.
They reported, for example, that a “mutual infatuation” had developed between Field and Monroe. “This situation caused considerable dismay among Miss Monroe’s entourage,” the file states.
Facts and contradictions surrounding Monroe’s death leave many questions about how she died. To date, the conclusion by Los Angeles Coroner Thomas Noguchi remains that Monroe died by suicide, in spite of the many unanswered questions.
The recently published files attest to the fact that her ties to the liberal establishment and to Communist Party organizers caused great concern among the power elite, particularly the FBI under notorious Director J. Edgar Hoover. Her open disdain for the anti-communist witch-hunt under McCarthyism, which destroyed the careers of many of her peers in the Hollywood film industry, without a doubt could have made her a potential target for violence.
Under Hoover’s watch, the FBI kept tabs on the political and social lives of many celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, Charlie Chaplin and Monroe’s ex-husband, playright Arthur Miller, who wrote “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible.”
In addition, Monroe had immense star power and a loyal base of millions of working-class fans worldwide who could potentially have been affected by her pro-worker/leftist views.
The facts in the FBI files show that Monroe, in spite of her superstar status and exploitation as a sex object under capitalism, never lost her passion for justice and equality. Against the sexist “dumb blond” image of Monroe created by the Hollywood bosses, examination of her life reveals a deeply thoughtful and sensitive woman who, behind the camera, read, studied and involved herself with social issues
As a super-exploited commodity in a sexist world, where women are degraded and made objects of violence, she continued to deepen her allegiance to the class from which she came, the working class, and in the years leading up to her death was taking to heart the principles of socialism and communism as the way forward for humanity.