Apr 26, 2011
Did Marilyn Monroe take a mystery trip aboard Frank Sinatra's private jet the very weekend she died? A trip during which she spent an intense night at the singer's retreat with mobster Sam Giancana?
That's one of the suggestions made on the recently disclosed tapes featuring a close confidante of Monroe's -- who was also one of the most famous stylists in history.
The legendary screen star's passing on Aug. 5, 1962, remains, arguably, the most mysterious and controversial death in Hollywood history.
While the "official" version of her untimely death was "probable" suicide, many researchers, journalists, historians, criminologists and avowed conspiracy theorists have speculated over the years and reached different conclusions.
These range from accidental overdose to premeditated murder to almost everything in between, co-mingled with a cast of stars and supporting players including John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Peter Lawford, Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra, along with a host of mobsters and other assorted hangers-on.
We may never know if RFK and Lawford visited Monroe the night she died or whether she died en route to the hospital and then allegedly was secretly transported back to her home.
And just when it seemed all the facts were in about how Monroe spent her much-analyzed last 24 hours, along comes a voice from the grave -- with a shocking revelation.
For me, this story started several weeks ago, after I received a note from Jeff Platts, a 60-year-old sales consultant from Southern California.
He'd seen a copy of a book I wrote, "Marilyn Monroe Dyed Here: More Locations of America's Pop Culture Landmarks." Her name in the title brought back a special family memory and compelled him to reach out.
His note read in part, "My uncle's name was George Masters and he was Marilyn Monroe's personal hair stylist and makeup artist for a number of years leading up to her death. He traveled with her extensively. I have some audio cassette recordings of phone conversations he and I had shortly before his death in 1998. I haven't listened to the tapes since they were recorded so I don't remember exactly what's on them, but I thought you might be interested in checking them out."
Then the kicker:
"One of the stories he told me was very interesting. George picked Marilyn up at her house and they flew together on Frank Sinatra's private plane to Lake Tahoe. Marilyn spent the evening in the casino with Sam Giancana, the gangster. Early the next morning they flew back to LAX and George drove her home, dropping her off about 9 a.m. It was that night that Marilyn died."
What? It has been well documented that the weekend before she died, Monroe visited the Cal-Neva Lodge -- the infamous resort where Sinatra, Giancana and their cronies occasionally squirreled away -- then returned to her Brentwood home, where she was discovered Sunday morning.
But had she also secretly returned to the infamous lair the day before she died?
Could this have actually slipped through the cracks in the glitter dome all this time?
It is here where our story truly begins.
If the name George Masters sounds familiar, it's with good reason.
For more than two decades beginning in the 1950s, the Detroit native was the most successful hair and makeup man in Hollywood.
His client list was a "who's who" of modern cultural history, including Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Taylor, Nancy Reagan, Doris Day, Ann-Margret and dozens more.
That list included Monroe, for nearly every day of the last two years of her life. Masters created her last signature look and styled her hundreds of times, including her famous final photo sessions.
Dashing, flamboyant and an influential star in his own right, Masters commanded the highest fees in the world, regularly jet-setting around the globe for his clients. (Many of his tales and tips were documented in his 1977 book "The Masters Way to Beauty.")
In 1966, he famously gave Lynda Bird Johnson, LBJ's daughter, a makeover for her appearance at the Oscars. Later in his career in what he called his most challenging project, he created Dustin Hoffman's "Tootsie" look in 1982 for director Sidney Pollack.
But no matter how high he flew over Tinseltown, in the end, like many others, he crashed. And he crashed hard.
Masters died in 1998 at age 62, destitute and broken -- a drug-addled victim of the star chamber he'd helped create.
About a month before he passed away, he sat down and recorded some discussions with Platts. Recently, Platts shared a portion of the tapes with me, specifically one that dealt with Monroe's last night.
In a frail but controlled voice, here's what Masters remembered about the last night he saw Monroe alive.
"The night before she died, the last time I saw her, was in Lake Tahoe at the Cal-Neva Lodge. She was there with Sam Giancana, who was the head of the Mafia."
I have never, in all my years of research, seen anything that pointed to this trip. I asked Platts, based on his time spent with Masters, how he interpreted this revelation.
"I think it may be important, although George didn't elevate it any higher than any of his other Marilyn stories," Platts said.
"But here's why I think it could be important -- but it's just speculation. If the reports are true that the reason Marilyn had been invited to the Cal-Neva Lodge (one week earlier) so that Frank Sinatra and others could try to keep her from spilling all the Kennedy beans, and that they had failed, then what if this trip George talks about was a last-ditch effort to get her to agree not to talk? What if Sam Giancana said, 'Look, Frank, you didn't get it done. She'll listen to me. Let's bring her back again so I can have a shot at it.'"
"George specifically told me that Marilyn spent the evening with Sam Giancana. The only other person he mentioned that was there was Buddy Greco. No Frank Sinatra, no Dean Martin. George also said that the person she was really in love with at that moment was Sam Giancana.
"Also, if this trip did happen, it was certainly kept hush-hush. Pat Newcomb (Monroe's publicist) said she slept over at Marilyn's house that night, but doesn't address whether or not Marilyn was there -- only that Marilyn woke up about noon. The housekeeper says she arrived 'early,' but again no mention of Marilyn being there or not being there."
Interestingly, Newcomb went to work for the Kennedys after Monroe's death. Also, on the tapes, Masters said, "Talk to Pat -- she knows everything."
Here's how Platts said Masters laid out his last day with Monroe.
• Friday, Aug. 3. Masters and Monroe flew to Lake Tahoe on Sinatra's plane (no mention of any other passengers).
• Monroe spent the evening, well past midnight, with Giancana.
• He mentioned that Greco was there. I'm not sure if he meant that Greco was the entertainer in the lounge or if he was just there.
• Very early in the morning, Masters and Monroe flew back to LAX on Sinatra's plane (again, no mention of other passengers).
• They arrived at LAX early in the morning (7-8 a.m.).
• Masters drove her back to her house in Brentwood and dropped her off about 8-9 a.m. That was the last time he saw her.
If true, this is a bombshell sequence that adds more than just a wrinkle to the screen legend's last hours -- it completely rewrites the entire final act.
I asked if Masters could have confused the two trips. Platts told me his uncle clearly delineated between the trip he took to Cal-Neva with Monroe the week before she died, and the day before. Two separate trips.
After mentioning the last night, on the tapes Masters added cryptically, "Did you know she was pronounced dead, and then they brought her back to the house, and she was still alive, and they took her back to the hospital, and brought her back home, and then the coroners came over, and they found her dead in another bed -- somebody moved her."
In that one sentence, though there is no elaboration beyond that, Masters seemed to confirm a popular theory -- that Monroe was, in fact, rushed to the hospital alive, then -- in Keystone Kops fashion -- was doubled-back before being dumped home in what many found to be a very un-suicide-like resting position.
"And you know how she died? It was an enema. With Nembutal."
"For the purpose of getting high with the drugs?" Platts asked his uncle.
"No," Masters answered. "It was because of the Kennedys. I really think the FBI did it."
Again, no elaboration; perhaps just the opinion of one who'd watched his client dance around the edge with some of the most powerful (and dangerous) men in the world. Still, the ease and nonchalance with which Masters shared his memories is compelling.
And, of course, the alternate theories -- that the government got involved in silencing Monroe to stop her from dishing secrets on her two Kennedy chums or, alternately, to set them up -- are not new.
Also sprinkled throughout the tapes are peeks into Monroe's bizarre backstage world; a shady parallel universe where powerful celebrities, gangsters and politicians drank, schemed, spied, gambled and had sex -- all on their own rough terms.
Masters described how, when traveling by limo to Sinatra's house, he was blindfolded so as not to know the address. There were endless private jet escapes with Monroe all over the country, prepping her hair and makeup, turning her into a star each time she got ready to keep company with the odd arrangement of men in her life.
Platts summed up the Monroe-Masters relationship as he heard it described by his uncle.
"George and Marilyn had a love-hate relationship. He described her as the coldest person he'd ever known. He said she'd never really loved anyone but herself. She would do whatever was necessary to keep all the attention focused on her. Her public image was a complete fabrication. George stayed with Marilyn because she was his biggest client (financially as well as level of celebrity).
"After the incident in Mexico, where a reporter asked Marilyn if George was her brother, she viewed him as a necessary evil. She hated the fact that he might have detracted attention from her, but he was the best in the business and she needed his skills."
On the tapes, Masters talked about the Mexico incident, saying that Monroe wanted him to dye his hair black so as not to be mistaken again for her brother -- she didn't like the attention the striking blonde man commanded.
The Masters tapes, if accurate, represent not just a view into the sordid last scenes of Hollywood's most iconic sex symbol. They may also provide evidence of a secret, last-minute trip that's never before been reported -- and that may hold even more clues surrounding the lurid circumstances of Monroe's death.
The only person alive who can confirm or deny much of this is Monroe's former press agent. Newcomb, Masters and Monroe were whirlwind traveling partners for much of those two years and, again, as Masters uttered just weeks before he died, "Talk to Pat -- she knows everything."
Newcomb, now in her 80s and elusive, has always been reticent when it comes to speaking about Monroe. Hopefully one day she'll address these dramatic revelations.
Like many of his clients, Masters was also a Hollywood icon, a celebrity hair and makeup man who made more personal appearances than most of the stars he worked for.
He rocketed to fame after starting as an apprentice at New York's Elizabeth Arden Salon, and commanded one of the highest salaries in the industry. (He even claimed to have been partial inspiration for the lead character in Warren Beatty's 1975 film "Shampoo," which featured a red-hot Hollywood hairdresser named "George.")
Masters lived, played and worked among a galaxy of stars, but none captivated the public more than Monroe.
Today, almost 50 years after her death, she teases, titillates and tantalizes; a haunting blonde specter whose last moments remain as riveting a Hollywood mystery as anything the industry has ever produced.