Who owns Marilyn’s things?
Marilyn bequeathed her possessions to her acting mentor Lee Strasberg.
At the fourth item on Marilyn’s Last Will and Testament, clause (d) states:
(d) I give and bequeath all of my personal effects and clothing to LEE STRASBERG, or if he should predecease me, then to my Exector hereinafter named, it being my desire that he distribute these, in his sole discretion, among my friends, colleagues and those to whom I am devoted.
The Beneficiaries were:
- Bernice Miracle: $10,000
- Norman and Hedda Rosten: $5,000 for the education of their daughter Patricia.
- Xenia Chekhov: $2,500 a year
- Gladys Baker: $5,000 a year (from $100,000 trust fund)
- May Reis: $10,000 plus 25% of the balance (not to exceed $40,000)
- Dr Marianne Kris: 25% of the balance (to be donated to the psychiatric institution of her choice)
- Lee Strasberg: 50% of the balance (in addition to all of Marilyn’s personal effects and clothing)
As with all things ‘Marilyn’ there is no escaping controversy.
After her death Marilyn’s Will was filed in New York Surrogate Court on 17th August 1962 and in October that year the legality of the Will was first questioned.
On 25th October 1962, the Los Angeles Times reported that Marilyn Monroe’s Will was being contested by her long time business manager Inez Melson. Miss Melson, who was not a beneficiary of the Will claimed that Marilyn was under undue influence of either Lee Strasberg or Dr Marianne Kris at the time the Will was made. However, Judge S. Samuel DiFalco ruled against Melson’s accusations and admitted the Will into probate.
The matter was not resolved with the judgement – further controversy raged – due to this and a reported lack of funds (although Marilyn’s Estate at this time was estimated at around $1 million) the first payment to a beneficiary wasn’t received until December 1971.
Who were the people that inherited from Marilyn?
1. Bernice Miracle
Bernice was Marilyn’s half-sister and only known surviving sibling
2. Norman & Hedda Rosten
Close friends of Marilyn and Arthur Miller (Marilyn was introduced to them by the photographer Sam Shaw) Norman Rosten was a notable poet, novelist & playwright
3. Xenia Chekhov
Was the wife of Michael Chekhov – actor, writer, director and acting coach. Marilyn was a student of Chekhov’s from around 1951 and held a deep respect the man and his work. Chekhov had died on September 30th 1955.
4. Gladys Baker
Marilyn’s mother, she out lived her famous daughter by 22 years when she died on March 11th 1984 in Florida, USA.
5. May Reis
May was Marilyn’s assistant and private secretary.
6. Dr Marianne Kris
Marilyn’s New York Psychiatrist (see below)
7. Lee Strasberg
Marilyn Monroe’s Mentor & tutor
So why did Inez Melson feel Marilyn had been unduly influenced by Kris or Strasberg?
Marilyn had begun seeing Dr Kris in 1957 (see Influential People) and in 1961 Kris advised Marilyn that she should enter the PayneWhitneyHospital (Psychiatric Clinic) in New York for exhaustion. When Marilyn arrived she found herself locked in a ward against her will, which caused her to panic. Unable to get help from Kris or the Strasbergs, it was Joe DiMaggio that came to Marilyn’s rescue and freed her from the locked confines of the Payne Whitney.
Feeling betrayed by her psychiatrist she immediately lost trust in Kris and this would seem to add weight to unsubstantiated claims that Marilyn was in fact going to change her Will before she died.
Dr Kris allocated her inheritance to the Hampstead Child Therapy Clinic London.
With the largest slice of inheritance from Marilyn’s Will Lee Strasberg benefited the most. He took the remainder of her Estate and probably most importantly, from both a financial and emotional/sentimental point of view – he gained from Marilyn’s possessions.
Marilyn began associating with Lee and his wife Paula from around 1955, very quickly they became a colossal influence in Marilyn’s life, taking over almost every aspect of her very being (see Influential People)
Many of Marilyn’s friends and colleagues watched this happen and felt very uncomfortable about it but were powerless to do anything about it. Whilst she was married to Arthur Miller, Miller had begun to voice these concerns to Marilyn.
During the final year of her life there were signs that her faith in the Strasbergs’ was weakening and that she no longer wanted them to have the control. It has been said that she was in the process of dispensing with their services – this was seen as another indicator that Marilyn was intending to change her Will.
Okay, what happened to Marilyn’s possessions that Strasberg inherited?
Due to the controversy already discussed, it was several years before Strasberg received Marilyn’s possessions. On finally receiving Marilyn’s personal property, it was found that some of the boxes had suffered water damage whilst in storage. Lee Strasberg aired out the items, catalogued them and arranged for them to go into storage in a temperature controlled environment.
With the exception of two letters, which he returned to their authors, during his lifetime Lee Strasberg never sold or gave away any of Marilyn’s personal effects – this totally contravened the instructions in Marilyn’s Will. It is clear that she did not intend for Lee Strasberg to keep her possessions, which included clothing, letters, documents, furniture, all her personal effects that she absolutely clearly stated, that she wanted distributed amongst her friends.
On Lee Strasberg’s death in February 1982, his entire Estate, including Marilyn’s personal belongings, passed to a woman Marilyn Monroe had not even known! Lee Strasberg’s third wife, Anna Strasberg who was sole beneficiary of his Will. His second wife, Paula who was Marilyn’s acting coach had died on April 29th, 1966.
Initially, Anna Strasberg maintained that she held a policy of preserving Marilyn’s privacy and she refused any media access. However, she did donate a few of Marilyn’s items to be auctioned to benefit Aids’ and children’s charities and eventually authorised a display of one of Marilyn’s dresses at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Anna Strasberg employed CMG to handle Marilyn’s Estate and it is estimated that an annual income of well over $1 million dollars is generated each year from royalties, licensing and merchandising revenues.
In 1999 Anna Strasberg, despite her maintaining that she wanted to preserve Marilyn’s privacy, commissioned Christies the Auctioneers to sell Marilyn possessions in the largest ever auction of its kind.
Coming soon – The Auctions and Inez Melson’s Secret!