Monroe (June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962) was an American actress
of the 20th century. Her sizzling screen presence, stunning good looks
and mysterious death would make her a perennial sex symbol and later
a pop icon.
Although she would eventually become the most celebrated actress in
film history, Marilyn's beginnings were humble to say the least.
A Los Angeles native,
she was born Norma Jeane Mortensen in the charity ward of Los Angeles
County Hospital. Her grandmother, Della Monroe Grainger, later had her
baptized Norma Jeane Baker. Biographers used to differ on whether the
man listed on her birth certificate, Norwegian Martin Edward Mortensen,
was not her true biological father. The most likely candidate for a
while seemed to be Charles Stanley Gifford, a salesman for the studio
where Marilyn's mother, Gladys Pearl Monroe Baker, worked as a film-cutter.
However in later years, more and more have gone for the theory that
Mortensen was in fact her true father.
Unable to persuade
Della to take the baby, an overwhelmed Gladys placed Norma Jeane with
Albert and Ida Bolender of Hawthorne, southwest of Downtown Los Angeles,
where she lived until she was seven. The Bolenders were a religious
couple who supplemented their meager income by being foster parents.
In her autobiography, My Story, ghostwritten by Ben Hecht, Marilyn said
she thought Wayne and Ida were her parents until Ida, rather cruelly,
corrected her. After Marilyn's death, Ida claimed that she and Wayne
had seriously considered adopting her, which they could not have done
without Gladys's consent.
According to My
Story (not always a reputable source because it was largely a publicity
vehicle), Gladys visited Norma Jeane every Saturday, but never hugged
or kissed her, or even smiled. One day, Gladys announced that she had
bought a house for them. A few months after moving in, she suffered
a breakdown. Marilyn recalled Gladys "screaming and laughing"
as she was forcibly removed to the State Mental Hospital in Norwalk,
where Della had died; Gladys's father, Otis, died in a mental hospital
near San Bernardino.
Norma Jeane was
declared a ward of the state. Gladys's best friend, Grace McKee, later
Goddard, became her guardian. After Grace married in 1935, Norma Jeane
was sent to Los Angeles Orphanage, then to as many as twelve foster
homes, in which she was subjected to abuse and neglect. However, there
is no evidence that Marilyn had actually lived in so many foster homes
and that she really had been abused. In her interviews Marilyn often
gave exaggerated information about her childhood. Then in September
1941, Grace took her in again. She was then introduced to a neighbor's
son, James Dougherty, who would become her first husband. The Goddard
family was moving to the East Coast and felt marriage would be the best
solution for the teenaged Norma Jeane. Since Marilyn was underage at
the time, she had to get married or otherwise she would have had to
return the orphanage. Norma Jeane had come to think little of herself,
yet also developed a gritty, opportunistic side and a super-human drive.
She was very intelligent and more unhappy than her screen image suggested.
No other actor has
reached the heights of fame that Marilyn Monroe has. Her face was certainly
her fortune and to this very day - over 40 years after her mysterious
death - she still generates huge interest in her life and career.
While her first
husband James Dougherty was at war, the young Norma Jean began work
in a factory. It was here she was spotted by photographer David Conover
and he immediately saw her potential as a model. She signed with The
Blue Book Modelling agency and became one of their most successful models
appearing on hundreds of magazine covers. But with strong aspirations
of becoming an actress, Norma Jean came to the attention of 20th Century
Fox by way of talent scout Ben Lyon who arranged a screen test. She
passed and was offered a standard six month contract starting at $75
a week. It was here that her name was changed. She was named after an
actress called Marilyn Miller and Monroe was her mother's maiden name
which Marilyn suggested herself. The year was 1946 and "Marilyn
Monroe" was born.
During her first
six months at Fox she didn't work at all but learned about hair, make-up,
costumes, acting and lighting. Fox decided to renew her contract when
it expired and in the next six months she appeared in minor roles in
two movies; Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! and Dangerous Years (both released
in 1947). But the films failed at the box office and Fox decided not
to offer her a contract for a third time. Undiscouraged, Monroe threw
herself into her modelling work and rapidly began to build contacts
around Hollywood and she became an expert at 'networking'. A six month
stint at Columbia Pictures saw her starring in one movie - Ladies of
the Chorus in 1948 but once again she was dropped. At this point she
met Johnny Hyde, one of Hollywood's top agents. He got her back at Fox
(after MGM passed on the chance to sign her) and although studio head
Darryl F. Zanuck was not convinced of her potential to become a star
she slowly began to change his mind with scene stealing performances
in Bette Davis's classic All About Eve in 1950 and especially with The
Asphalt Jungle released the same year.
By 1952 Zanuck was
nearly convinced and she played her first role as a leading lady in
Don't Bother To Knock. As a deranged babysitter who attacks the little
girl she is looking after in a rage, Marilyn received mixed reviews
but she later stated this was one of her own favourite performances.
If the critics doubted her abilities as a dramatic actress, they were
left in no doubt about her sex appeal. Marilyn proved to Zanuck she
could carry a big budget movie when she headlined Niagara in 1953. Her
screen charisma was so powerful, movie critics seemed to forget about
the plot and focused on Marilyn and her unique connection with the camera.
It was around this
time that nude photos of Marilyn began to surface. Shot by Tom Kelley
when she was struggling, the prints were bought by Hugh Hefner and appeared
in the first edition of his new magazine, Playboy in December 1953.
It was a smash hit. And when the press realised that the nubile beauty
in the magazine was up and coming starlet Marilyn Monroe, the media
went into overdrive. Marilyn's relaxed attitude (Journalist: "What
did you have on during the photo shoot?" Marilyn: "Chanel
No. 5!") quickly endeared her to the public.
Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire both released in 1953
catapulted Marilyn into A list status and she quickly became the world's
biggest movie star. It didn't matter that her next two films, River
of No Return and There's No Business Like Show Business under performed,
the public were already hooked. But Monroe grew tired of the dumb blonde
roles Zanuck assigned her and after completing work on The Seven Year
Itch in 1954, she broke her contract and fled Hollywood to study acting
at The Actor's Studio in New York. Fox would not budge on Monroe's new
contract demands and insisted she return to the studio to start work
on productions she considered inappropriate (Heller In Pink Tights and
How To Be Very, Very Popular being two of them). But when The Seven
Year Itch raced to the top of the box office in the Summer of 1955,
and with other Fox starlets Jayne Mansfield and Sheree North failing
to click with audiences, Zanuck finally admitted defeat and a triumphant
Monroe returned to Hollywood where a new contract was immediately drawn
The first film to
be made was Bus Stop directed by Joshua Logan who compared Monroe to
Greta Garbo. Critics immediately noted that this was a new Marilyn working
hard at her craft and she gave a subtle and effective performance as
Cherie the saloon singer who is whisked off her feet by an amorous cowboy.
By this time she
had formed her own production company (Marilyn Monroe Productions) with
photographer Milton H. Greene, in which the first film released by the
company was The Prince and the Showgirl which she produced. The film
was received with lukewarm reviews and the public were indifferent,
but with the release of Some Like It Hot in 1959, Marilyn was back on
track and Billy Wilder's production was her biggest hit. In The Misfits,
released in 1961, she turned in a moving performance opposite screen
stalwart Clark Gable but it was to be the last film either actor would
make. Gable died of a heart attack shortly after filming was completed
and although Monroe started work on a new movie, Something's Got to
Give, she died during production.
She married James Dougherty on June 19, 1942. Grace, moving with her
husband, wanted Norma Jeane to marry to avoid going to an orphanage.
In "The Secret Happiness of Marilyn Monroe" and "To Norma
Jeane With Love, Jimmie," Dougherty claims that they were in love
and would have lived happily ever after had not dreams of stardom lured
her away; she always maintained theirs was a marriage of convenience
fostered upon them by Grace Goddard, who paid Dougherty to take her
charge out on dates. In the 2004 documentary, Marilyn's Man, he claims
to have invented the "Marilyn Monroe" persona, that she was
forced to divorce him by Fox, and always yearned to return to him. No
biographer ever come across any evidence to support this, and there
no evidence the pair stayed in contact. Indeed, Dougherty's own behavior
doesn't support him: he remarried months after Monroe divorced him in
1946; the August 6, 1962 New York Times reported that, when informed
of her death, he stated "I'm sorry" and continued his LAPD
patrol; he didn't attend her funeral. He lives in Maine, and was married
to his third wife until her death in 2003.
Monroe and Joe
DiMaggio on their wedding dayIn 1951, Joe DiMaggio saw a picture of
Marilyn with two Chicago White Sox players, but waited until after he
retired from baseball to ask the PR man who arranged the stunt to set
them up on a date. But she did not want to meet him, fearing him the
stereotypical jock. Their January 14, 1954 elopement at City Hall in
San Francisco was the culmination of a two-year courtship that had captivated
The union was complex,
marred by his jealousy and her casual infidelity. DiMaggio wanted to
settle down. Marilyn wanted to as well, but she craved fame and would
do just about anything for it. DiMaggio was also said to have been disgusted
by Marilyn's sloppiness and poor hygiene. DiMaggio biographer Richard
Ben Cramer asserts things got violent as a result. One incident allegedly
happened after the skirt blowing scene in The Seven Year Itch was filmed
on New York's Lexington Avenue before hundreds of fans; director Billy
Wilder recalled "the look of death" on DiMaggio's face as
he watched. When she announced she would seek a divorce - just 274 days
after the wedding - (on grounds of mental cruelty), she was quoted as
telling 20th Century Fox "our careers just seemed to get in the
way of each other." Oscar Levant quipped it proved no man could
be a success in two pastimes.
Monroe and Arthur
Miller on the set of The MisfitsShe married playwright Arthur Miller,
whom she met in 1951, in a civil ceremony on June 29, 1956, then in
a Jewish ceremony two days later. When they returned from England after
she wrapped The Prince and the Showgirl, they learned she was pregnant.
Sadly, she suffered from endometriosis; the pregnancy was ectopic and
had to be aborted to save her life. A second pregnancy ended in miscarriage.
By 1958, Monroe
was supporting them. Not only did she pay alimony to Miller's first
wife, he reportedly bought a Jaguar while they were in England, shipped
it to the States, and charged it to her production company. His script
The Misfits was meant to be a Valentine to her. Instead, by the time
filming started, the marriage was broken beyond repair. Marilyn's behavior—fueled
by drugs and alcohol—was erratic. A Mexican divorce was granted
on January 24, 1961.
her life as her marriage to Miller was ending. On February 4, 1961,
she was admitted by her then-psychiatrist into Manhattan's Payne-Whitney
Clinic, reportedly placed in the ward for the most seriously disturbed.
He got her out six days later, and took her to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric
Clinic at New York Presbyterian Hospital. After her release on March
5, she joined him in Florida where he was a batting coach for his old
team, the New York Yankees. Their "just friends" claims did
not stop remarriage rumors from flying. Bob Hope even "dedicated"
Best Song nominee "The Second Time Around" to them at the
1960 Academy Awards. According to DiMaggio biographer Maury Allen, Joe
quit his job with a military post-exchange supplier on August 1, 1962
to return to California and ask Marilyn to remarry him.
On February 17,
1962, Miller married Inge Morath, one of the Magnum photographers recording
the making of The Misfits. In January 1964, his After the Fall opened,
featuring a beautiful, child-like, yet devouring shrew named Maggie.
It upset all of Monroe's friends. His newest Broadway-bound work, Finishing
the Picture, is based on the making of The Misfits.
In May of 1962
she sang Happy Birthday, Mr. President at a televised birthday party
for President John F. Kennedy. The French chiffon dress she wore that
night was sold at auction by Christie's for a world-record $1.3 million.
20th Century-Fox fired her soon after the infamous event while she was
working on her soon-to-be unfinished film Something's Got to Give, co-starring
Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse and directed by George Cukor. But due to
a clause in Dean Martin's contract giving him approval over the leading
lady, Marilyn was re-hired to finish the film as Martin refused to work
with any other actress.
Death and aftermath
was found dead August 5, 1962 in the bedroom of her Brentwood, California,
home at age thirty-six from an overdose of barbiturates. As with the
assassination of President John F. Kennedy, conspiracy theories have
sprung up around the circumstances of her death. While the conspiracy
theorists have tried to make their "case" for murder due to
her involvement with the Kennedy family, they cannot explain why all
of the President's other alleged girlfriends, with the exception of
Mary Pinchot Meyer, survived him.
Marilyn's body was
discovered by live-in housekeeper, Mrs. Eunice Murray, assigned to Marilyn's
care by her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson. Conspiracy theorists have
also tried to make their "case" on the relationship between
Murray and Greenson, and Monroe's personal publicist, Pat Newcomb. Several
days after Monroe's death, Murray attempted to cash a $200.00 check
made out to her by Monroe. The un-cancelled check is today on display
in the Monroe exhibit at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum. In the
Fall of 1962, Murray left the country for an extended European cruise
on the Queen Mary; Newcomb joined the Kennedy administration in the
ensuing months. Murray told her own version of that fateful night in
"Marilyn, The Last Months." The book was written by a ghostwriter
in the early '70s while Murray was living in Santa Monica; Pat Newcomb
was a frequent visitor. In her later years, Murray moved back East,
possibly to Martha's Vineyard, remarried for a short time, and survived
the passing of her second husband. Murray has since passed away.
A formal investigation
in 1982 by the Los Angeles County District Attorney came up with no
evidence of foul play, but the stories persist. Los Angeles County coroner
Dr. Thomas Noguchi, who'd performed the autopsy (and the autopsies of
Robert F. Kennedy, Natalie Wood and William Holden, among other celebrities),
wrote in his book Coroner that Marilyn's death had been highly likely
a suicide. Yet he conceded that he could find no trace in the stomach
or intestines of any of the overdose of barbiturates that had reportedly
been the cause of death; some conspiracy theorists claim this proves
the drug overdose had been forcibly administered to Monroe (after she'd
been rendered unconscious with chloral hydrate) perhaps by intravenous
injection or, more likely, by rectal suppository, leaving no marks.
A devastated DiMaggio
had claimed her body and arranged her funeral. According to her half-sister,
Berniece Baker Miracle, he just took over and she allowed him to do
so. For 20 years, he had a dozen red roses delivered three times a week
to her crypt. Unlike the other men who knew her intimately (or had claimed
to), the highly private DiMaggio never publicly spoke about her nor
wrote a book about his life with her.
Marilyn is interred
in a crypt at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery just off of Wilshire
Boulevard. She had Grace Goddard interred there because Grace's aunt
- who cared for Norma Jeane briefly - is there. Just as her career took
off, she asked her make-up man, Whitey Snyder, to promise he would make
her up when she died. Snyder joked he would if her body was brought
to him while it was warm. A few days later, he received a money clip:
"Whitey Dear, While I am still warm, Marilyn." He fulfilled
that promise with the help of a bottle of whiskey.
When Gladys was
between mental hospitals, she married her last husband, John Stewart
Eley, who died in 1952. Diagnosed as schizophrenic, she walked out of
a sanitarium in the early 1970s and flew to Florida, where Berniece
picked her up at the airport. She died of congestive heart failure on
March 11, 1984 at a nursing home. Obsessed by Christian Science, she
would refuse to discuss Norma Jeane or Marilyn Monroe, perhaps unable
to relive the past.
But if Marilyn's
death signalled the end of a human being, it was only the beginning
of an icon. Despite (or because of) the endless conspiracy theories,
Marilyn still captivates the world and her image can be seen nearly
everywhere. The actress who worried nobody would take her seriously
has become one of the most famous and most adored women in history.
There have been many imitators and wannabes but no one has surpassed
Monroe for her beauty, charisma and lasting appeal. She will always
be remembered as the most beloved star in Hollywood history.
show that Marilyn was born a blonde, but her hair turned "mousy"
brown as she grew up. She dyed her hair several different shades of
blonde as an adult.
Marilyn Monroe personified
Hollywood glamour with an unparalleled glow and energy that enamored
the world. Although she was an alluring beauty with voluptuous curves
and a generous pout, Marilyn was more than a '50s sex goddess. Her apparent
vulnerability and innocence, in combination with an innate sensuality,
has endeared her to the global consciousness. She dominated the age
of movie stars to become, without question, the most famous woman of
the 20th Century.
She was born Norma
Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles, California, to Gladys
Baker. As the identity of her father is undetermined, she was later
baptized Norma Jeane Baker. Gladys had been a film cutter at RKO studios,
but psychological problems prevented her from keeping the job and she
was eventually committed to a mental institution.
Norma Jeane spent
most of her childhood in foster homes and orphanages until 1937, when
she moved in with family friend Grace McKee Goddard. Unfortunately,
when Grace's husband was transferred to the East Coast in 1942, the
couple couldn't afford to take 16-year-old Norma Jeane with them. Norma
Jeane had two options: return to the orphanage or get married.
On June 19, 1942
she wed her 21-year-old neighbor Jimmy Dougherty, whom she had been
dating for six months. "She was a sweet, generous and religious
girl," Jimmy said. "She liked to be cuddled." By all
accounts Norma Jeane loved Jimmy, and they were happy together until
he joined the Merchant Marines and was sent to the South Pacific in
After Jimmy left,
Norma Jeane took a job on the assembly line at the Radio Plane Munitions
factory in Burbank, California. Several months later, photographer David
Conover saw her while taking pictures of women contributing to the war
effort for Yank magazine. He couldn't believe his luck. She was a "photographer's
dream." Conover used her for the shoot and then began sending modeling
jobs her way. The camera loved Norma Jeane, and within two years she
was a reputable model with many popular magazine covers to her credit.
She began studying the work of legendary actresses Jean Harlow and Lana
Turner, and enrolled in drama classes with dreams of stardom. However,
Jimmy's return in 1946 meant Norma Jeane had to make another choice-
this time between her marriage and her career.
Norma Jeane divorced
Jimmy in June of 1946, and signed her first studio contract with Twentieth
Century Fox on August 26, 1946. She earned $125 a week. Soon after,
Norma Jeane dyed her hair blonde and changed her name to Marilyn Monroe
(borrowing her grandmother's last name). The rest, as the saying goes,
movie role was a bit part in 1947's The Shocking Miss Pilgrim. She played
a series of inconsequential characters until 1950, when John Huston's
thriller The Asphalt Jungle provided her with a small but influential
role. Later that year, Marilyn's performance as Claudia Caswell in All
About Eve (starring Bette Davis) earned her further praise. From then
on Marilyn worked steadily in movies such as: Let's Make It Legal, As
Young As You Feel, Monkey Business and Don't Bother to Knock. It was
her performance in 1953's Niagara, however, that delivered her to stardom.
Marilyn played Rose Loomis, a beautiful young wife who plots to kill
her older, jealous husband (Joseph Cotten).
in Niagara was followed with lead roles in the wildly popular Gentlemen
Prefer Blondes (co-starring Jane Russell) and How to Marry a Millionaire
(co-starring Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable). Photoplay magazine voted
Marilyn the Best New Actress of 1953, and at 27 years old she was undeniably
the best-loved blonde bombshell in Hollywood.
On January 14, 1954,
Marilyn married baseball superstar Joe DiMaggio at San Francisco's City
Hall. They had been a couple for two years, after Joe asked his agent
to arrange a dinner date. "I don't know if I'm in love with him
yet," Marilyn said when the press got word of their relationship,
"but I know I like him more than any man I've ever met." During
their Tokyo honeymoon, Marilyn took time to perform for the service
men stationed in Korea. Her presence caused a near-riot among the troops,
and Joe was clearly uncomfortable with thousands of men ogling his new
fame and sexual image became a theme that haunted their marriage. Nine
months later on October 27, 1954, Marilyn and Joe divorced. They attributed
the split to a "conflict of careers," and remained close friends.
Marilyn was ready
to shed her "shallow blonde" image by 1955. It had gotten
her into the spotlight, but now that she had the opportunity and experience,
Marilyn wanted to pursue serious acting. She took a hiatus from Hollywood
and moved to New York City to study under Lee Strasberg at his Actors'
Studio. In 1956, Marilyn started her own motion picture company, Marilyn
Monroe Productions. The company produced Bus Stop and The Prince and
the Showgirl (co-starring Sir Laurence Olivier). These two films allowed
her to demonstrate her talent and versatility as an actress. Marilyn
received further recognition for 1959's Some Like It Hot, winning a
Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy.
On June 29, 1956,
Marilyn wed playwright Arthur Miller. The couple met through Lee Strasberg,
and friends reported she made him "giddy." While they were
married, Arthur wrote the part of Roslyn Taber in 1961's The Misfits
especially for Marilyn. The movie co-starred Clark Gable and Montgomery
Clift. Sadly, the marriage between Marilyn and Arthur ended on January
20, 1961, and The Misfits was to be Marilyn's (and Gable's) last completed
At the 1962 Golden
Globes, Marilyn was named female World Film Favorite, once again demonstrating
her widespread appeal.
Sadly, in a shocking
turn of events on the early morning of August 5, 1962, 36-year-old Marilyn
died in her sleep at her Brentwood, California home. The world was stunned.
Marilyn's vibrant spirit and beauty made it impossible to believe she
was gone. On August 8, 1962, Marilyn's body was laid to rest in the
Corridor of Memories, #24, at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles,
During her career,
Marilyn made 30 films and left one, Something's Got to Give, unfinished.
She was more than just a movie star or glamour queen. A global sensation
in her lifetime, Marilyn's popularity has extended beyond star status
to icon. Today, the name "Marilyn Monroe" is synonymous with
beauty, sensuality and effervescence. She remains an inspiration to
all who strive to overcome personal obstacles for the goal of achieving