Monday, March 7, 2011

Raining cats and dogs

The rain, washing down the streets. 5:10 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, March 7, 2011. It rained cats and dogs yesterday in New York, right into the late evening hours; washing down all the streets and roadways and filling up all those thousands of potholes like little duckponds for pigeons in the middle of Manhattan.

When I took the dogs out during one of the non-precipitation moments, my eye caught, set against the brown and grey background of mist and drizzle, the first sign of green buds on the bushes springing up just inside Carl Schurz Park, along with very pale yellow beginnings of buds on the witch hazel.
You might have heard our friend Linda Fairstein on Imus this morning. A former prosecutor focusing on crimes of violence against women and children, Linda served as head of the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan DA’s office for 26 years, from ’76 to ‘02. During her illustrious and ground-breaking career, she prosecuted several controversial cases including the “Central Park Jogger” case and the “Preppy Murder.”

Now a novelist, Linda was guesting with Imus this morning, launching the nationwide book tour to promote her 13th Alex Cooper mystery novel (all set in the Big Apple), called Silent Mercy.

The story is one of murder and intrigue and begins with a woman’s body found on the steps of an old cathedral here in the city. If you visit Linda’s web site, you can watch a short video she made about the locale of this story, by clicking here.
Linda Fairstein, center, at Michael's last Friday lunch, holding a cake with the cover of her new book Silent Mercy surrounded by friends; l. to r. Faye Wattleton, Lesley Stahl, Ellen Futter, Kimba Wood Richardson, Anna Quindlen, Esther Newberg (also Linda's agent), and Lynn Scherr. Photo by Steve Millington. Click to order Silent Mercy.
All of Linda’s Alex Cooper detective series get into the history of the city’s various environments, both historical and contemporary, and they are told with the sharp eye of the legal professional.

Although I know Linda personally, and know about her literary settings for her stories, I did click on her site to watch the video out of curiosity (to see how much the televised Linda was like the real person. Answer: The same). A warm and generous personality, part teacher, part professional legal mind, part New Yorker, really knowledgeable, and Really Fascinating.

You can also find, by going to her website, where she’ll be touring, giving readings, talks, book signings all over the United States for the rest of this month and most of April.

If you should see her and meet her on her book tour, don’t forget to tell her you heard about her through your friend and hers on the New York Social Diary.

John Miner.
Coincidentally, the subject of today’s Diary is another former prosecutor who worked on one of the most famous cases of the last fifty years in America: the death of Marilyn Monroe on August 5, 1962.

John Miner, a former prosecutor in Los Angeles died at the end of last month in Los Angeles at the age of 92. Miner investigated the mysterious death of Marilyn Monroe in 1962 and concluded that the star had been murdered in what he considered the most bizarre case in American history.

At the time of her death, we were told it was a case of an overdose of barbituates. The American public’s image of Marilyn was already that of a beautiful, funny, sexy, sad actress who had been born out of wedlock and spent her childhood in foster homes. This emotional history ironically garnished the brilliance of her comedic performance beautifully. A sorrowful clown in the guise of a goddess.

As a movie star, she had the reputation, put out by many people who worked with her – directors and co-stars particularly – that she was a big pain to work with; chronically tardy to an extreme and time consuming in delivering her performance. To the fans, this kind of story enhanced that sadness of her image and ironically gave her a more compelling screen image.

Over the years I’ve known a number of people who knew Marilyn. My friend Alice Mason, for example, got Marilyn her first apartment here in New York in the 1950s. They became friends not because Alice pursued it but because Marilyn was naturally sociable and sought out friendships. Another friend of mine, the late Sydney Guillaroff, the legendary hairstylist at MGM from the 1930s through the 1960s. Sydney was a close friend of all those legends, all of whom he worked with closely, including Garbo, Dietrich, Colbert, Crawford, and Marilyn. He was the last person known to have spoken to her over the phone the night she died. Sydney loved her and recalled her always with gentle affection. Marilyn evidently evoked that in individuals as she did in her performances.
Marilyn Monroe in her final photo shoot, just before she was found dead in bed on August 5 1962. Photo: Bert Stern.
Nevertheless, by the time of her death, then in her mid-30s, Marilyn the movie star was no doubt concerned about her future, because in those days female stars after age 35 were entering the “over the hill” phase of their careers. Ten years before Gloria Swanson, at what is now considered a youthful age of 50 created the role of the aging has-been Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. Marilyn, however, was also a boozer at times, and like a lot of people even today, she frequently took mood altering meds and sleeping pills. Furthermore, tragedy and stardom has spelt suicide more than once before in Hollywood history.

Quite a few years after her death, and the deaths of the Kennedy brothers, it was written that Marilyn had been involved with both brothers intimately at the time of her death. This allegation titillated the public mind for all the obvious reasons. It was a perfect fit for the growing JFK intimacies written about voluminously by the mid-1970s and thereafter. It led to additional suspicions about her death and its mystery.

Here’s where John Miner, the prosecutor, came into the matter. In another one of their excellent obituaries, the Daily Telegraph of London ran this one of Mr. Miner over this past weekend.

From the Daily Telegraph:

The question of how Marilyn Monroe died has been examined and debated by authors, journalists, programme makers and conspiracy theorists for nearly half a century, ever since her naked body was found face down on a bed at her home in Los Angeles in the early hours of August 5 1962.

A post mortem conducted by Dr Thomas Noguchi, then deputy medical examiner, suggested that she had died, aged 36, of acute barbiturate poisoning. Her death was ruled a "probable suicide".

As head of the district attorney's medical-legal section, Miner was also present at the post mortem, and recalled that at the morgue he and Noguchi were deeply affected when the sheet was pulled back to reveal the face of the most famous blonde in the world. "We had a sense of real sadness," he recalled, "and the feeling that this young, young woman could stand up and get off the table any minute."
The body of Marilyn Monroe after release by the coroner on August 6 1952. Photo: © Bettmann/CORBIS.
According to Keya Morgan, an author who repeatedly interviewed Miner, there were two factors that raised doubts in Miner's mind about the suicide verdict. The first was that toxicity levels in Monroe's body were extraordinarily high, suggesting that she would have "had to take 60 to 70 pills". Despite this, the autopsy noted that "the stomach is almost completely empty. No residue of the pills is noted."

The second suspicious factor was that specimens which could have settled the matter one way or another "disappeared overnight, including the liver, kidney and stomach and its contents, which would have proven definitely she did not kill herself".
Miner concluded that Monroe had been given an enema of the barbiturate Nembutal, and never changed his opinion that she had not taken her own life, but had it forcibly taken from her.

A memorandum to this effect that he wrote to the coroner, Theodore Curphey, and copied to the chief deputy district attorney, Manley Bowler, also disappeared. "Bowler, my boss was a bureaucrat," Miner noted later. "He saw the coroner's report – why rock the boat? That's the way things operate."

But there was other evidence to strengthen Miner's belief that the actress had not been suicidal at the time of her death. This was the 40-minute recording, probably made just weeks before she died, that Monroe had given to her psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson.

After Monroe's death Miner had been instructed to obtain an interview with Greenson, who played him this recording on the condition that Miner never reveal its contents. According to Miner he took "extensive" and "nearly verbatim" notes of the tapes.
Following Greenson's death, however, the psychiatrist's name began to be bandied about as a possible "suspect" in the case of Marilyn Monroe's death. Miner wanted to use the secret tape to clear Greenson's name, and contacted his widow, asking to be released from the vow of silence he had made to her late husband.

In 2005 he duly handed a copy of his notes of the secret Monroe recording to the Los Angeles Times newspaper. They created a storm, with Monroe describing a one-night stand with the actress Joan Crawford, which she did not greatly enjoy, and going on to reveal how she had craved a father's love from Clark Gable and badly wanted to be taken seriously as an actress by playing Shakespeare. She also spoke candidly about her failed marriages to the baseball star Joe DiMaggio and the playwright Arthur Miller.
John Miner. Photo: Los Angeles Times.
She also described standing naked in front of a full-length mirror and noting that, with the approach of middle age, "my breasts are beginning to sag a bit". On the other hand, "my waist isn't bad" and her bottom was still "the best".

She also praised President John F Kennedy, but did not say whether they had an affair. Of the president's brother, Bobby, then the nation's Attorney General, she said: "As you see, there is no room in my life for him. I guess I don't have the courage to face up to it and hurt him. I want someone else to tell him it's over. I tried to get the president to do it, but I couldn't reach him."

The star also asked Greenson to help her get Eunice Murray, her housekeeper, another job. "I can't flat out fire her," she said. "Next thing would be a book – Secrets of Marilyn Monroe by Her Housekeeper. She'd make a fortune spilling what she knows and she knows too damn much."

Miner was greatly moved by what he heard on the tape. He subsequently maintained that anyone reading the transcript would conclude that "there was no possible way this woman could have killed herself. She had very specific plans for her future."
Twenty years after Marilyn Monroe's death, in 1982, an official review of the case by the district attorney's office noted that "factual discrepancies" and "unanswered questions" remained, but that there was "no credible evidence supporting a murder theory".

John Willis Miner was born December 20 1918 in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He graduated in Law from UCLA and went into private practice before joining the district attorney's office in 1959. In 1963 he also began teaching at the University of Southern California's Institute of Psychiatry, Law and Behavioural Science, which he co-founded.

He also lectured as an associate clinical professor the USC's medical school.
In the late 1960s Miner was present at the post mortems carried out on Bobby Kennedy, and on the victims of the murders by the Charles Manson "family". He also attended the trials that followed the Kennedy and Manson cases and was responsible for ensuring that body specimens and artefacts were preserved properly for trial. When he resigned from the DA's office in 1970, he returned to private practice.

John Miner is survived by a daughter.
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