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Of Mash and Men

Is it true that John Steinbeck wrote to Marilyn Monroe?

Read this mash note from the literary lion to the box office bombshell.

If you were Marilyn Monroe, by the mid-1950s mash notes probably arrived daily by the truckful.

When she died, her estate included one she refused to part with.

It is sweet, humorous, and especially touching in its flattery. It was also sent by the Pulitzer Prize-winning

novelist John Steinbeck on behalf of his nephew, Jonathan Atkinson, who the letter describes as “on the door of puberty.”

I’ve posted it here so that you can enjoy it too: after Monroe’s death, her estate sold the letter at auction for $3,520.

Did the nephew—Jon Atkinson—get his wish and receive a letter from the box office bombshell?

In 2021, Oregonian reporter Michael Alberty sought out Jon, now a sixty-something minister.

The answer, sadly, was no.

Does that mean the author of such classics as Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath stiffed the poor kid and held onto the film goddess’ letter?

Like the good reporter he is, Alberty notes that the investigative website, Snopes, claims the letter is indeed the real deal. However, he also points out that this contention is based on the fact that the letter was part of Marilyn’s estate, not on any formal authentification analysis.

According to Atkinson’s wife, Joan, his uncle’s missives were always handwritten and most certainly personally signed. The letter above was typed and apparently signed by an assistant identified solely with the initials “mf.”

This begs the question: was the letter really from Steinbeck?

Paper forensics could indeed verify the age of the missive’s fiber and that of the ink used. And since Steinbeck lived in California on the Monterey Peninsula (he resided both in Salinas and Pacific Grove), the letter’s New York address could have been that of his literary agency, McIntosh & Otis. Steinbeck was known to work from there while staying in New York, but the agency’s address is different now from the one on the now sixty-year-old stationery. Tracking down “MF” would certainly end any rumors that the wittily worded request did not have come from Steinbeck.

Then again, the mash note may have come from a fan with a crush on the film star who knew how to doctor up some official-looking letterhead.

If so, poor Marilyn once again got the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

Or, in this case, the mash note.