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30 April 2019

Ralph Greenson (1911 – 1979) UCLA psychoanalyst

Romeo Greenschpoon was raised in Brooklyn, by parents who were immigrants from Russia. His physician father, a Shakespeare enthusiast, had named his twins Romeo and Juliet, which created some ribbing. The boy changed his first name to Ralph.

Ralph did pre-med at Columbia University. There being discrimination against Jews at US medical schools, he studied medicine at the University of Bern in Switzerland, and graduated in 1934. Ralph also married a Swiss woman, Hildi, and they moved to Los Angeles for Ralph to do an internship at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. They anglicised their surname to Greenson in 1937.

Ralph Greenson returned to Europe to become a psychoanalyst and was analysed in Vienna by Wilhelm Steckel (a maverick in the psychoanalysis movement, who coined the term ‘paraphilia’ which was later popularized by John Money, and who distinguished transvestism from fetishism). However 12 March 1938 saw the Anschluß Österreichs, the Nazi takeover of Austria. Steckel and his wife immediately fled via Switzerland to England. Greenson returned to Los Angeles, and resumed analysis with Otto Fenichel (an orthodox Freudian, who had written about transvestites needing a fantasy of girls with penises).

Greenson enrolled in the US Army in 1942, and initially worked in a veterans' hospital in New York state, until he cracked his skull while working in a military ambulance. This exempted him from overseas service and he served as chief of the neuropsychiatric unit at the Army Air Force Convalescent Hospital in Fort Logan, Colorado, where he became known for his work with soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress. He also observed gambling among US officers, and wrote a paper on it for the psychoanalytical journal American Imago.

Back in Los Angeles as a civilian, in 1946 Greenson bought a house at 902 Franklin Street in Santa Monica from Eunice and John Murray who could no longer afford it. The Murrays divorced, and Eunice was hired by Greenson as his housekeeper, assistant and sometimes companion for his clients.
He was a founding member of the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society and was appointed to the faculty of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) medical school. A gifted raconteur, he became one of the best-known psychoanalysts in Los Angeles, famous for his lectures and teaching. Greenson was also a violinist and he and some friends held a weekly salon where they played chamber music. He became friendly with screenwriter and novelist Leo Rosten (1911-1997), also Jewish and from New York who was the brother-in-law of Margaret Mead. Psychoanalysis was then in vogue and Rosten recommended Greenson as an analyst to his Hollywood friends – Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis and Vivien Leigh came to Greenson’s private practice. Greenson suffered a heart attack in 1955, and afterwards he worked from home in the afternoons: many of his better-known clients who didn’t want to be spotted entering a medical facility, preferred to see him there.

In February 1960, during the filming of the movie Let’s Make Love, co-starring Yves Montand and with a script revised by her husband Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe (born 1926) had a breakdown, and her New York psychiatrist, Marianne Kris, recommend that Greenson be brought in on a temporary basis. He had fifteen sessions with her 11 February to 12 March, and was appalled by the drugs that she was taking. Greenson was considered daring in accepting Monroe because of her suicide attempts. Other psychiatrists had had their careers damaged after a patient’s suicide, and Monroe was so famous. In addition Greenson was overworked. He had already had a heart attack, and had cut down on the number of his patients, but he still taught classes at UCLA, supervised psychiatrists in training, and served on the board of directors of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

In late August Monroe returned to Los Angeles from Nevada where she was filming The Misfits, again from a script by Arthur Miller, and Greenson revised her drug prescription. After the film she returned to New York, and in between dates with the newly elected John F Kennedy and Frank Sinatra, she saw her psychiatrist, Marianne Kris, forty-seven times in two months.

In January 1961 Kris had Monroe committed to a mental asylum at the New York Presbyterian Hospital. Only the dramatic intervention of her previous husband, the baseball star Joe DiMaggio, got her out. She no longer wanted to continue therapy with Kris, and wrote a long letter to Ralph Greenson. By June Monroe was living in Los Angeles and seeing Greenson as often as five times a week. It was as if her needs were insatiable. He wrote to Marianne Kris how Monroe called him at all hours, threatened suicide, and then improved, only to break down again.
“I had become a prisoner now of a form of treatment which I thought was correct for her but almost impossible for me”.
Leo Rosten wrote a 1961 novel, Captain Newman M.D, based on Greenson’s wartime experiences in Fort Logan, Colorado.

In December 1961 Greenson placed his friend and housekeeper, Eunice Murray (1902 – 1994), to be nurse and companion to Monroe. Murray had never seen a Monroe movie. Monroe was delighted to find that Murray was an excellent seamstress, as several of her clothes needed to be taken in. Monroe – who was still exploring alternate spiritualities – was fascinated to discover that Murray was a Swedenborgian. In February 1962, Murray helped Monroe look for a house, and they found an ideal one at 12305 Fifth Helena Drive, Brentwood, only just over a mile from the Greenson residence. Greenson’s sister’s husband, Mickey Rudin, a well-known Hollywood lawyer became Monroe’s agent. Greenson held analysis sessions with Monroe at his own house at the end of each day, which led to his inviting her to stay for meals and musical evenings, and she met his wife Hildi, and his grown children Joan and Daniel.
A 5-minute drive from Monroe's House to Greenson's

Hildi suffered a mild stroke in February, and Greenson needed a rest from Monroe. They left on 10 May for six weeks in Europe and Israel. Monroe had been dumped by John F. Kennedy, and was having difficulties with director George Cukor on Something’s Got to Give, and, against precedent, the Fox Studio executives ignored her birthday on 1 June (they were in panic that the filming in Rome of Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor was going to bankrupt them). The next day she phoned Greenson’s house and his children went round. They called Milton Wexler, psychiatrist, Greenson’s designated locum. Monroe had Murray phone Greenson in Europe, and he returned 6 June. He met with the Fox Studio executives, but to no avail. They fired her on 9 June, but by the end of the month were negotiating to get her back. She was then interviewed by Life and Cosmopolitan, and did her first photo shoot for Vogue.

At UCLA there were discussions about a new clinic, discussions that used the newly formulated expression: 'gender identity'.

Eunice Murray sometimes stayed overnight, and was doing so on the night of 4/5 August 1962. Around 3 am she suspected something to be wrong and called Greenson, who came round and broke into Monroe’s locked bedroom via the window. He found her dead from a drug overdose – this was confirmed by her physician, and the police were summoned. She was the only patient who died in Greenson’s care.

Later that year Robert Stoller, Richard Green and several UCLA psychiatrists founded the Gender Identity Research Clinic. This was the first gender clinic so named, although those at Johns Hopkins and Charing Cross had been doing pioneering work in the field without such a name. The UCLA GIRC was explicitly oriented to research, not to providing support and surgery to trans persons. While Stoller was the Director, Greenson was Senior Psychoanalytic Consultant. His son Daniel was also on the team as a Research Associate. At this point Greenson’s experience with trans persons was minimal.

The film version of Captain Newman M.D., starring Gregory Peck as the Greenson character, was released in 1963. Greenson had had his name completely removed from the credits for fear that one of his patients would sue him for the portrayal.

In 1964 Greenson presented a paper “Drugs in the Psychotherapeutic Situation,” which is generally taken to be a thinly disguised account of Marilyn Monroe being promiscuous. Also that year he interviewed a trans woman who is assumed to have been Tamara Rees (who had completed transition in 1954). Greenson diagnosed her as in flight from homosexuality. He claimed that some persons had such a dread of their own homosexuality that it undermined their sense of gender identity: if I love a man then I must be a woman. However, Tamara Rees was then on her second marriage. She and her husband adopted children and remained together until his death decades later. This same stance re flight from homosexuality was adopted by the anti-gay psychiatrist Charles Socarides in New York a few years later.

Later that year Greenson took over from Richard Green the analysis of a five-year-old boy, whose mother had brought him in after neighbors and his teacher commented on his frequent cross-dressing. Greenson and the UCLA referred to the child as ‘Lance’. He treated Lance mainly at the swimming pool at his own home, where he even taught Lance to swim. Most of the sessions were comprised of games in the water. This helped Lance to overcome his fears about being alone with a male adult. He bought Lance a Barbie doll, but restricted its use. Apparently Lance stopped cross-dressing. As Greenson saw it, he replaced Lance playing with the doll by playing with an adult male. According to Greenson, Lance had had difficulty differentiating loving an object from wanting to be the object. Initially he had referred to the doll as ‘me’.

Stoller and Greenson refined the concept of ‘gender’ that was being used at UCLA, by using the term ‘gender identity’ to refer to “one’s sense of being a member of a particular sex”.

In his 1965 public lecture, “Masculinity and Femininity Reconsidered”, Greenson had this to say: “It is not true that girls and boys are identical in behavior until the phallic or oedipal phase. For example, girls do much more playing with dolls than do boys, and boys are more prone to be ‘blanket lovers.’ This is an indication of a greater tendency to fetishism in boys. Boys who play with dolls are more apt to become transvestites." and “Deep analysis of fetishism and transvestitism in men, as well as deep analysis of neurotics, indicates that there exists in men a deep wish to be a woman. This is not just a wish for castration or a defense against castration anxiety; it is an indication of a special problem in individuation. In early development it becomes necessary to differentiate oneself from the mother. In individuals who fail or who do this only imperfectly there is apt to remain a need to become a woman. Both boys and girls go through a normal phase of envying mother. The girl has a special problem in changing her love object from mother to father. The boy has a special problem in changing the object of his identification from mother to father. This has important implications for the development of masculine or feminine traits.” (Nemiroff et al, p166)

In 1967 he was able to complete his The Technique and Practice of Psychoanalysis,which has become a classic in the field. He advocated an orthodox approach to the therapy, not such variances as he had done with Marilyn and Lance.

In 1968 Greenson proposed a developmental theory for homosexuality: “The male child, in order to attain a healthy sense of maleness, must replace the primary object of his identification, the mother, and must identify instead with the father. I believe it is the difficulties inherent in this additional step of development, from which girls are exempt, which are responsible for certain special problems in the man's gender identity, his sense of belonging to the male sex. ... The male child's ability to dis-identify will determine the success or failure of his later identification with his father.”

In 1972 Greenson gave a lecture for West German television, and surprised them by doing so in German. The English translation was entitled “A MCP Freudian Psychoanalyst Confronts Women’s Lib”. “I was first made aware of the possibility that man's envy of women was more widespread than I had anticipated by some clinical experiences that I had at the Gender Identity Research Clinic at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. In that Clinic we see patients who desire a surgical change of gender. People come there who believe they are ‘really’ a man in a woman's body or a woman in a man's body, or who simply insist they cannot live in their assigned gender and want an anatomical, surgical readjustment. Incidentally, these patients are clinically not psychotic. My theoretical training had led me to expect that, on the basis of penis envy, most of the patients would be women hoping to achieve a male habitus. To my surprise, two-thirds of the patients were men desiring to be transformed into women. The wish in men to be a woman is far more widespread than the conscious attitudes of men and women indicate, and more than the psychoanalytic literature would lead one to expect. Incidentally, transvestism, masquerading in the clothes of the opposite sex, only occurs in men, not in women.’ (Nemiroff et al, p260)

Greenson died age 68 in 1987.

The Greenson papers on Monroe and other celebrity and rich clients have been filed with the Special Collections at UCLA and will not will available to the public until 2039.
  • Ralph R Greenson. “On Gambling”. American Imago, 4,2, April 1947: 61-77.
  • Leo Rosten. Captain Newman, M.D. Fawcett Publications, 1961. A novel based on the wartime experiences of Rosten’s friend Ralph Greenson, and issues with empathy and post-traumatic stress.
  • David Miller (dir). Captain Newman, M.D. Scr: Richard L Breen, Phoebe Ephron, Henry Ephron, based on the novel by Leo Rosten, with Gregory Peck as Josiah J Newman. US 126 mins 1963.
  • Ralph Greenson, “Drugs in the Psychotherapeutic Situation,” presented at a conference on “Psychotherapeutic Drugs: Indications and Complications,” January 12, 1964, USLC Center for the Health Sciences.
  • Ralph R. Greenson, “On Homosexuality and Gender Identity,” International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 45, 1964. Analysis of Tamara Rees.
  • Ralph R. Greenson. “A transvestite boy and a hypothesis”. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 47, 1966: 396–403.
  • Ralph R Greenson. The Technique and Practice of Psychoanalysis. International Universities Press, 1967.
  • Robert Stoller. Sex and Gender: On the Development of Masculinity and Femininity, Science House,1968: 144, 152-3, 161, 254, 263, 266.
  • Ralph R. Greenson, "Dis-Identifying From Mother: Its Special Importance for the Boy," International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 49, 1968: 370.
  • Robert J Stoller. Sex and Gender Vol II: The Transsexual Experiment. Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-analysis, 1975: 41, 53, 104-5, 124, 293.
  • Ralph R Greenson. Explorations in Psychoanalysis. International Universities Press, 1978.
  • Janet Malcolm. Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession. Rowman & Littlefield, 1980: 45, 74-5.
  • Kenneth Lewes. The psychoanalytic Theory of Male Homosexuality. Simon and Shuster, 1988: 192, 197-8, 204, 206.
  • Robert A. Nemiroff, Alan Sugarman & Alvin Robbins (eds). On Loving, Hating and Living Well: The Public Psychoanalytic Lectures of Ralph R. Greenson. Karnac, 1992.
  • Luciano Mecacci. Il caso Marilyn M. e altri disastri della psicoanalis. Giuseppi Laterza & Figli, 2000. English translation by Allan Cameron. Freudian Slips: The Casualties of Psychoanalysis from the Wolf Man to Marilyn Monroe. Vagabond Voices, 2009: Chp 1.
  • Joanne Meyerowitz. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Harvard University Press, 2002: 115, 126, 173.
  • Pierre-Henri Castel. La métamorphose impensable: essai sur le transsexualisme et l'identité personnelle. Gallimard, 2003: 88-9, 432n17.
  • Daniel Greenson. “Greenson, Ralph (1911-1979)” in Alain de Mijolla. International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. Macmillan Reference, 2005.
  • Douglas Kirsner. “‘Do as I say, not as I do’: Ralph Greenson, Anna Freud, and superrich patients”. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 24, 3, 2007: 475-486.
  • J Randy Taraborrelli. The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe. Rose Books, 2009: 158, 164, 166, 168, 180-190, 199, 201, 203, 205, 215, 217, 224-6, 228-9, 240-2.
  • Riccardo Galiani. “Un cas, deux écritures, une catégorie”. Topique, 3, 108, 2009: 143-156. Online.
  • Christopher Turner. “Marilyn Monroe on the couch”. The Telegraph, 23 June 2010. Online.
  • Richard Green. “Robert Stoller’s Sex and Gender: 40 Years on”. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 2010: 1461.
  • Lois W Banner. Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox. Bloomsbury, 2012: 164, 166, 308, 329, 332-4, 341-2, 349-350, 352, 358-9, 363-372, 375-6, 380-8, 391-407, .
  • Jat Margolis & Richard Buskin. The Murder of Marilyn Monroe: Case Closed. Skyhorse Publishing, 2014: Chps 3, 16, 17, 20, 21, 24, 25. Also p1-3, 5, 32, 34, 41-4, 47, 51-2, 55, 57-9, 61, 67, 74, 76, 83, 92-3, 98, 121, 125, 153-5.
  • “Dr Ralph Greenson”. Marilyn Forever, May 10, 2014. Online.
EN.Wikipedia(Ralph Greenson)      EN.Wikipedia(Death of Marilyn Monroe)      Find a Grave

The books on Ralph Green that discuss his involvement with Marilyn Monroe don’t mention his involvement with the GIRC; those that discuss his involvement with the GIRC don’t mention his involvement with Monroe. Janet Malcolm mentions neither, nor does the article on Greenson in the International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis written by his son Daniel.

There are an amazing number of personal interconnections in the Marilyn Monroe case.  See the diagram on p33 of Mecacci's book.  For example Greenson's patient Frank Sinatra was also a lover of his patient Monroe.   Eunice Murray's former husband John Murray was the analyst of Anton Kris who was the son of Marrianne Kris, Monroe's New York psychoanalyst. 

If you google Greenson and Marilyn Monroe, you will find him accused of everything from having an affair with her, to controlling her life, to being complicit in her murder. Caveat lector.

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