If the notebook posed a threat, Monroe’s loose lips posed an even greater one. Evidence of that comes from the FBI file on Monroe’s February 1962 visit to Mexico, the file that neither the D.A. nor I were allowed to see back in the ’80s. What we now have of it shows why it was considered sensitive.
Monroe had spent 10 days in Mexico, shopping, socializing and drinking too much. It appeared to be a harmless vacation trip, but on March 6, four days after Monroe got back to Los Angeles, the senior FBI official in Mexico sent Director J. Edgar Hoover a four-page report. Quoting two unnamed people close to her, it said that Monroe had “associated closely with certain members of the American Communist Group in Mexico … present and/or past members of the Communist Party, U.S.A., and their friends and associates who share a common sympathy for Communism and the Soviet Union … during the course of this visit a mutual infatuation arose between subject [Monroe] and Frederick Vanderbilt Field … [source's name deleted] said it was obvious that the subject was completely enamored with Field. She said that subject thinks that Field is rich, stable, intellectual, and dependable.”
Field, who was married, made no mention of having had a fling with Monroe, either in his published memoir or in interviews with me. He did say his impression was that “sexually, Marilyn did a fair amount of one-night stands.” Whether or not he and Monroe were “enamored,” it is clear that they took to each other at once. Field had long espoused Communist doctrine and was by his own account “a good, unrebellious comrade.”
Monroe seemed to gravitate to left-wingers. Her doctors, psychiatrist Greenson and internist Engelberg, had both been involved with the Communist Party. Her housekeeper’s brother-in-law Churchill Murray, who introduced Monroe to diplomats in Mexico, was a member of the group of Communists in exile there. Field deemed Monroe’s politics “excellent.” She was of the left, odd though it may seem to a public that recalls only the blond bimbo of her movies. Her psychiatrist’s daughter, Joan Greenson, told me that Monroe was “passionate about equal rights, rights for blacks, rights for the poor. She identified strongly with the workers.” The FBI, a document shows, deemed her to be “very positively and concisely leftist.”
While in Mexico, the FBI learned, Monroe chattered about the night she met Robert Kennedy and the long political conversation they had. She told José Bolaños and Field that they had debated U.S. policy on Cuba.
No foreign policy issue was more sensitive than Cuba in early 1962. The Cuban missile crisis was only months away. Robert Kennedy was directing secret American attempts to overthrow Castro, and anything he said on the subject would have been of interest to the Cubans and the Soviets. Some of the American Communists in Mexico City, the new documents indicate, were in touch with Soviet-bloc embassies.
Two weeks after the report on Monroe reached FBI headquarters, on March 22, Director J. Edgar Hoover went to the White House to talk to President Kennedy. At least in part, Assistant Director Cartha DeLoach remembered, Hoover’s purpose was to warn Kennedy about his womanizing. Kennedy was not readily deterred.
According to credible witnesses, he slept with Monroe two days later, during a weekend break near Palm Springs.
In the following weeks, Monroe continued to have contacts with the Kennedy brothers and also — by phone — with Field. She stayed on the West Coast but invited Field to use her Manhattan apartment for a visit that summer. All the while, the files show, FBI agents were tracking Field wherever he went.
On July 13, J. Edgar Hoover received a bombshell report from Mexico. Two sources — the names are redacted — reported on what Monroe told them: “She had luncheon at the Peter Lawfords with President Kennedy just a few days previously. She was very pleased, as she had asked the President a lot of socially significant questions concerning the morality of atomic testing.”
July had seen the first known detonation of an H-bomb on U.S. territory, and more tests followed; Robert Kennedy, with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs at his side, witnessed one of them. Anything Monroe passed on about what the Kennedys said privately on the subject would have been of interest to the Communist side. Nothing in the available record shows that Hoover warned the brothers of Monroe’s indiscretions, but it would have been extraordinary had he failed to do so. And it would also have been extraordinary if the Kennedys did not, at that point — just three weeks before her death — move to sever their connection with Monroe once and for all.
When she was found dead, according to her psychiatrist, Monroe had a phone “clutched fiercely in her right hand.” Whom had she been calling as she slipped into unconsciousness? Los Angeles chief of detectives Thad Brown told Virgil Crabtree, the U.S. Treasury’s assistant chief of intelligence in Los Angeles, that a White House number, scrawled on a piece of crumpled paper, had been found in the dead woman’s bedclothes. “It was determined,” Brown’s aide, Inspector Kenneth McCauley, told me, “that she had called John Kennedy just before she died.”
That last evening, President Kennedy was in Cape Cod enjoying a break. The White House switchboard, though, could patch calls through to him wherever he was. The Presidential phone log shows that early the following morning, at 9:04 East Coast time — 6:04 on the West Coast — Kennedy took a call from Peter Lawford in California. The two men talked for some time.
Robert Kennedy, back at his friend’s ranch, spent the day horse riding and playing football. News of Monroe’s death came up, his host remembered, but was discussed “lightly, in a sort of amusing way.”