This is a revised version of my 2008 article, and can also be read at Immortal Marilyn.
Marilyn and Pat Newcomb
“At the core of her, [Marilyn] was really strong… and that was something we tended to forget, because she seemed so vulnerable, and one always felt it necessary to watch out for her.” – Pat Newcomb
Born on July 9, 1930 – just four years after her future employer, Marilyn Monroe – Margot Patricia Newcomb’s background could not have been more incongruous. She was the grand-daughter of an eminent Washington judge, and lived in Maryland as a child before moving to Los Angeles in 1946. Her mother was a social worker, while her father represented the business interests of several leading figures in the coal industry, including the real estate holdings of George Skakel and his family on the West Coast. Skakel’s daughter, Ethel, would marry Robert F. Kennedy in 1950. While majoring in psychology at Mills College in Oakland, California, Pat was taught by journalist Pierre Salinger, who would become press secretary to John F. Kennedy after he entered the White House. After graduating, Pat worked for Salinger as a researcher.
Marilyn, on the other hand, had known poverty and hardship from an early age. Even at the height of her career, she was still affected by the emotional scars of her childhood. She had few female friends, and almost none of her own age. What began as a professional relationship grew into a much deeper bond. And while both were prone to internal conflicts, together they found new ways to navigate Hollywood’s ailing studio system, just as the Kennedys would revitalise American politics.
Pat first met Marilyn in 1956, when she was assigned to the star as a publicist during filming of Bus Stop. However, this initial association ended badly. According to Fred Lawrence Guiles, author of Legend: The Life and Death of Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn became angry when Pat flirted with a man she liked, and Pat was quickly replaced. This seems questionable, however, as Marilyn was already involved with Arthur Miller, whom she would soon marry.
In 1960, Marilyn’s long-term publicist, Rupert Allan, moved to Monaco to represent Princess Grace, and his employer, Arthur P. Jacobs, suggested that Marilyn hire Pat Newcomb. Pat re-entered Marilyn’s life just as Marilyn split from Arthur Miller. Despite their alleged falling out, Marilyn voiced no objections.
Pat’s first task was to accompany Marilyn when she left her New York apartment after news of the separation broke. Pat ushered a pale, shaky Marilyn, wearing a scarf and dark glasses, into a waiting car and informed reporters that her client would not be answering questions.
She would spend Christmas with Marilyn and her ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio – even giving her publicist a mink coat. After Christmas, Pat wrote Marilyn a heartfelt letter, expressing her hopes that they would be friends for life.
Over the next two years, she would provide Pat with an automobile, and reportedly passed on to Pat the emerald earrings that had been a gift from Frank Sinatra. Pat, in turn, is said to have given Marilyn a Maltese poodle. Marilyn named the dog ‘Maf’, a nod to Sinatra’s rumoured mob connections. Others have claimed Maf was a gift from Sinatra himself.
Pat was at Marilyn’s side during many key moments: the divorce hearing, which she cleverly timed to coincide with President Kennedy’s inauguration, thus ensuring minimal publicity; leaving hospital after a breakdown, and subsequent illness; and more happily, on a short holiday in Mexico.
Prior to the 1960 election, Marilyn – although politically astute – had apparently shown little interest in John F. Kennedy, dismissing him as too inexperienced. But like many Americans, she soon warmed to his youth and charisma. It is generally thought that they first met in late 1961. Marilyn was also friendly with his sister, Patricia, wife of actor Peter Lawford. In February 1962, Marilyn met his brother Bobby, now Attorney General, over dinner at the Lawford home. She was accompanied that evening by Pat Newcomb.
Pat was known for her extreme loyalty and protectiveness towards Marilyn, and some likened their relationship to that of sisters. Susan Strasberg recalled that Marilyn called Pat ‘Sybil’, for sibling rivalry. Whereas Marilyn’s other confidantes were usually older – often acting like surrogate parents – Pat was of her own generation, and shared many of her progressive attitudes towards racial, sexual and class equality.
Soon after production of Something’s Got to Give began, Marilyn fell ill with acute sinusitis, leading to prolonged absences from the set. Director George Cukor complained that he had to deal with Pat before speaking to Marilyn. By May 1962, Twentieth Century-Fox had withdrawn permission for Marilyn to perform at John F. Kennedy’s birthday gala at Madison Square Garden. But Marilyn defied their orders, and flew to New York with Pat.
While Marilyn was away, Marilyn’s psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson – also heavily embroiled in Marilyn’s life and career – left for a vacation in Europe. Upon her return, Marilyn became depressed, and on Saturday, June 2nd, Greenson’s partner, Dr Milton Wexler, confiscated pill bottles from her nightstand. That weekend, Pat stayed with Marilyn, even sleeping at the foot of her bed. Some have claimed she gave Valium to Marilyn to ease her withdrawal symptoms, but Pat denied this.
Pat had never liked Dr Greenson, whom she thought was too interfering, or Mrs Murray, whom Greenson had recommended to Marilyn as a housekeeper. Pat suspected that Mrs Murray had been planted by Greenson to spy on Marilyn. Greenson seemed suspicious of Marilyn’s friends, including Pat.
In a letter to a colleague, Greenson wrote that Marilyn had been angered when Pat dyed her hair the same shade as hers, and insisted she have it darkened. Pat confirmed this was true, and Marilyn had reacted similarly when co-stars were ‘blonder’ than herself, even demanding that her hairdresser, George Masters, darken his hair after they were likened to twins.
It seems an uncharacteristic fit of pique for Marilyn. But she was insecure, and concerned about her image – especially after recent career battles. Greenson, however, construed it as a fear of lesbian advances – which Pat also denied. Marilyn had many gay friends, and was clearly not homophobic. But she had encountered many predatory types in Hollywood, and was frequently unsure of whom to trust. Some in her inner circle, including Pat and Ralph Roberts (Marilyn’s masseur) have said that she also felt Greenson was too controlling.
Later that month, Marilyn was fired by Fox. Pat defended her robustly and engineered a series of high-profile magazine interviews, garnering public sympathy for Marilyn and paving the way for her eventual reinstatement. However, the studio insisted that Marilyn’s entourage (including Paula Strasberg, Dr Greenson and Pat) should be kept off the set when production recommenced.
On Friday, August 3rd, Pat was a guest at Marilyn’s new bungalow in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles. Pat was suffering from bronchitis, and said that Marilyn insisted she stay the night. Some sources have stated that the two women dined out with Peter Lawford that evening, while others contend that Marilyn ordered food to be brought to the house.
Next morning, Marilyn woke early after sleeping badly. She had been plagued by insomnia for most of her adult life, so this was not unusual. Housekeeper Eunice Murray recalled that Marilyn seemed irritable, especially when Pat slept until noon. A day before, Marilyn’s physician had prescribed sedatives and it is possible that Marilyn may have let Pat take one, but this has never been confirmed.
At lunchtime, Pat joined Marilyn by the pool, and Mrs Murray heard them bickering. It seems unlikely that Marilyn was angry merely because Pat had slept well, so it may have been about something else – perhaps a work-related matter, or else something more personal. “She was furious, it’s true,” Pat told Anthony Summers, author of Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe. “But I think that she was also furious about something else, I think there was a lot more, not related to me, that I don’t know about.”
Mrs Murray cooked lunch for the two women, but Marilyn wasn’t hungry. It is at this point that the course of events becomes unclear. Although she didn’t mention it in early interviews, Mrs Murray would later claim that Bobby Kennedy and Peter Lawford arrived, apparently unannounced, at the house early that afternoon. Many critics dispute this, because Bobby was supposedly with his family at a ranch outside San Francisco. He was even photographed at the ranch, although Peter Lawford’s neighbour, Ward Woods, recalled seeing Bobby that day. Pat has denied outright that Bobby visited Marilyn.
Mrs Murray went on to say that Bobby’s appearance upset Marilyn, who was still in her dressing gown and unprepared for visitors. The housekeeper was sent out on an errand, and said that when she returned, the men had left and Pat was trying to comfort a distraught Marilyn. Mrs Murray called Marilyn’s psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson, who disappeared with Marilyn into her bedroom.
Pat told Donald Spoto, author of Marilyn Monroe: The Biography, that Dr Greenson emerged from Marilyn’s bedroom after an hour or so, and informed Pat that Marilyn had asked for her to leave. Pat was reluctant at first, suspecting that it was really Greenson who wanted her out, not Marilyn – but with her bronchitis getting steadily worse, she eventually agreed to go.
When Pat first heard of Marilyn’s death is unclear, but she was at Marilyn’s house when the police arrived in the early hours of Sunday, August 5th. She was wearing pajamas, and appeared hysterical. When the press gathered outside, Pat ran out in a fury, screaming, “Keep shooting, vultures!” When asked how she was feeling, Pat retorted, “How would you feel if your best friend died?” In the following days, she worked tirelessly to field press inquiries. But after her outburst, Arthur Jacobs had decided to fire her.
Pat was among the guests at Marilyn’s funeral on August 8th, and photographs show her weeping openly. Another picture taken just a week later shows Pat in a lighter mood. She is on a yacht with members of the Kennedy family, including the President and Peter Lawford, and she is laughing, seemingly relaxed. This photo was printed in Donald Wolfe’s The Final Days of Marilyn Monroe, where it was also suggested that Pat was involved in a conspiracy to cover up the real circumstances of Marilyn’s death – murder, on behalf of the Kennedys.
In September, Pat travelled to Europe for a few months. Upon her return, Bobby Kennedy gave her a job in Washington. She helped to take care of the President’s children in the days after his assassination, and was active in Bobby Kennedy’s 1964 senatorial campaign. She also spent time in Hollywood, representing Arlene Dahl, Natalie Wood and Barbara Streisand. In 1970, Pat campaigned for the Democratic Party in Washington under R. Sargent Shriver, husband of Eunice Kennedy. She later became a Vice-President at MGM. Her husband of many years, producer and agent Gareth Wigan, died in 2010.
“Marilyn paid me my salary during her lifetime,” Pat told columnist Mike Connolly in 1962, “and I’m not going to write any post-mortems about my best friend.” True to her word, she declined all offers to publish a memoir of her time with Marilyn. This may seem an odd stance for a woman whose entire career has been devoted to maintaining the public image of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe. However, she has given interviews to several biographers – including Spoto, Summers, and Lois Banner. She has also discussed Marilyn privately with others, including columnist Liz Smith, and author Gary Vitacco-Robles.
In 1973, Pat was interviewed by Robert Slatzer, who has become notorious for his fabricated claim that he secretly married Marilyn. Slatzer also contributed to the many conspiracy theories about Marilyn and the Kennedys. While Pat may not have been aware of Slatzer’s sensationalist agenda, and probably came to regret their brief association, it seems odd that someone wishing to cover up a murder would have spoken to Slatzer at all.
Some fans feel strongly that Pat should speak out to set the record straight, as every year the rumours about Marilyn and her untimely demise seem to grow more lurid. Others go further in their criticism of Newcomb, believing that with her links to the Kennedys, she is still protecting them and may know more about Marilyn’s death than she has ever admitted.
An alternative view might be that Pat was devoted to Marilyn while she was alive, and remains so long after her death. Friends of Pat have said she often became deeply attached to the people she worked for. Perhaps she still cares for Marilyn in the same way. Pat may finally have decided to withdraw from the media circus that surrounds Marilyn to this day, preferring to honour her friend by staying silent, and perhaps, taking her deepest secrets to the grave.