Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926August 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.


Early life

Although she would eventually become the most celebrated actor 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.


Cover of the first issue of
Cover of the first issue of Playboy

No other actor has reached the spectacular 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 brilliant 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 Marilyn 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 Daryl 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 Marilyn's 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. From this point on, audiences were spellbound and Monroe never looked backed.

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.

Gentlemen 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, The 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 up.

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 glorious 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 *[1] ( that they were in love and would have lived happily ever after had not dreams of stardom lured her away. She divorced him in 1946. He lives in Maine, and was married to his third wife until her death in 2003.

Missing image
Monroe and Joe DiMaggio on their wedding day

In 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 nation.

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.

Missing image
Monroe and Arthur Miller on the set of The Misfits

She 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.

DiMaggio re-entered 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 Charrise 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

Marilyn Monroe 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, nearly all involving allegations that she was killed due to her involvement with the Kennedy family. A plausible case was made for the Kennedy/Mob connection in "The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe" by author Donald Wolfe.

Marilyn's body was discovered by live-in housekeeper, Mrs. Eunice Murray, assigned to Marilyn's care by her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson. Controversy today still surrounds the unexplained timeframe of events on the night of Monroe's passing. Interestingly, Murray (who Monroe had just fired) attempted to cash a $200.00 check made out to her by Monroe several days after Monroe's death. City National Bank of Beverly Hills declined to pay Murray and marked the check "deceased." The un-cancelled check is today on display in the Monroe exhibit at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum. In the Fall of 1962, Murray, a widow of modest means, left the country for an extended European cruise on the Queen Mary. Pat Newcomb, Monroe's personal publicist from Hollywood, joined the Kennedy administration during the ensuing months. Eventually in the 70s, Murray told her own sanitized version of that fateful night in "Marilyn, The Last Months." The book was written by a ghostwriter while Murray was living in a guest house in Santa Monica; Pat Newcomb was a frequent visitor then. In her later years, Murray moved back East, possibly to Martha's Vineyard, remarried for a short time, and oddly survived the passing of her second husband within very short order. 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'd conceded that during the autopsy 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. Some researchers believe Chicago Mafia soldier, longtime Sam Giancana crony and poisoning expert Leonard "Needles" Gianola, had been directly responsible for administering the fatal overdose to Monroe.

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.

Years after Monroe's death, actress Veronica Hamel (best known for her role as defense attorney Joyce Davenport in the popular television crime drama Hill Street Blues) had purchased Monroe's Brentwood home. During Hamel's remodeling of the home, workers had found bundles of hidden thin wires, the kind often used to connect audio "bugs." This discovery had lent further support to the claims of conspiracy theorists that Monroe had been under surveillance by the Kennedys and the Mafia.

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.


Missing image
Marilyn Monroe on greek Playboy cover
  • Childhood pictures show that Marilyn was born a blonde, but her hair turned "mousy" (brunette) as she grew up. She dyed her hair several different shades of blonde as an adult.
  • The song Candle in the Wind (1973), which was written by Bernie Taupin and performed by Elton John, was about Monroe. In 1997, Elton John rewrote the song for Diana, Princess of Wales and performed it at her funeral.
  • Unlikely fans included Albert Einstein, Ayn Rand, Jean-Paul Sartre, Edith Sitwell, and Vladimir Nabokov.
  • Actor Colin Farrell has admitted that, as a child, he would put sweets under his pillow for Monroe when she came down to visit from heaven.
  • When Prince Rainier III of Monaco was looking for a famous wife to marry, Marilyn was suggested. He married Grace Kelly, whose cachet gave Monaco an additional aspect of fame.
  • Marilyn's features are copyrighted to her estate, and are not allowed to be copied exactly.
  • Marilyn had a mild stutter, which was most severe during her teens. She commented in an interview, "I stuttered... Later on, in my teens, when I was at Van Knight High School, they elected me secretary of the English class, and every time I had to read the minutes I’d say, ‘Minutes of the last m-m-m-meeting.’ It was terrible." [2] (
  • Her first screen test was shot by legendary cinematographer Leon Shamroy.
  • The $200.00 check that Eunice Murray attempted to cash after Monroe's death is on display at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum at the old Max Factor Building in Hollywood.
  • Hugh Hefner bought a crypt next to Marilyn for $85,000 and the other crypt next to her was sold for $125,000. There are no empty spots available near Marilyn.
  • A myth that Marilyn was born with six toes resulted from the publication of photos taken by Joseph Jasgur in March 1946. The pictures were published in The Birth of Marilyn: The Lost Photographs of Norma Jean by Jasgur and Jeannie Sakol. Two pictures can be interpreted as showing six toes, although they can be explained as tricks of light. Since there is no corroborating evidence from other photographs or written records, the story is commonly dismissed as an urban legend.
  • Marilyn was named Miss Artichoke in 1948.
  • Marilyn had to wear two pairs of white underwear under her famous white dress for the "subway grate" scene in The Seven Year Itch, as bystanders could see a little bit too much. The scene was refilmed back at the Fox studios, for crowds in New York City were distracting.
  • Director Billy Wilder (who made two movies with Marilyn: The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot) said that Marilyn had breasts like granite and a brain like Swiss cheese. Wilder has also said Marilyn was a genius, so one could say it was an on/off relationship.
  • Was roommates with Shelley Winters.
  • People rarely looked past the image Marilyn portrayed, but she was said to be quite intelligent - it was hidden behind her image as a dumb blonde with beautiful features. She herself always regretted not being able to continue with high school and wrote poems and was very much involved in literature.
  • Celebrity photographer George Barris claims he took the last pictures of Marilyn. However, it was confirmed Allan Grant took the last pictures of Marilyn during her interview with Life magazine on July 7, 1962.
  • Among the men Marilyn allegedly had affairs with: John F. Kennedy, Henry Fonda, Robert F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Yves Montand and Elia Kazan.
  • Frank Sinatra gave Marilyn a Maltese [3] ( puppy that she named "Maf Honey". The Maf was supposedly short for "Mafia".
  • She had a beauty mark above her lip, which some people falsely believe to be fake. [4] (


  • Something's Got to Give (1962) $100,000
  • The Misfits (1961) $250,000
  • Some Like It Hot (1959) $200,000 + 10% gross over $4 million.
  • The Seven Year Itch (1955) $1,500/wk
  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) $1,250/wk
  • We're Not Married! (1952) $750/wk
  • All About Eve (1950) $500/wk, 1-wk guarantee
  • The Asphalt Jungle (1950) $1,050
  • Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1948) $75/week

Further reading

The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe. Argues for Kennedy connection to Monroe's death.

The Complete Marilyn Monroe by Adam Victor. An exhaustive and thorough A-Z look at the icon's life.


  • "My illusions didn't have anything to do with being a fine actress. I knew how third rate I was. I could actually feel my lack of talent, as if it were cheap clothes I was wearing inside. But, my God, how I wanted to learn, to change, to improve!"
  • "What good is it being Marilyn Monroe? Why can't I just be an ordinary woman? A woman who can have a family… I'd settle for just one baby. My own baby."
  • "I'm not interested in money. I just want to be wonderful."
  • "Sometimes I think it would be easier to avoid old age, to die young, but then you'd never complete your life, would you? You'd never wholly know yourself."
  • "A career is wonderful, but you can't curl up with it on a cold night."
  • "I've been on a calendar, but never on time."
  • "No one ever told me I was pretty when I was a little girl. All little girls should be told they're pretty, even if they aren't."
  • "Please don't make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe. I don't mind making jokes, but I don't want to look like one. I want to be an artist, an actress with integrity."
  • "In Hollywood a girl's virtue is much less important than her hairdo. You're judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood's a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for kiss, and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty."
  • "People had a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person. They didn't see me, they saw their own lewd thoughts, then they white-masked themselves by calling me the lewd one."
  • "A sex-symbol becomes a thing, I just hate being a thing. But if I'm going to be a symbol of something I'd rather have it sex than some other things we've got symbols of."
  • "The truth is I've never fooled anyone. I've let people fool themselves. They didn't bother to find out who and what I was. Instead they would invent a character for me. I wouldn't argue with them. They were obviously loving somebody I wasn't. When they found this out, they would blame me for disillusioning them---and fooling them."
  • "If I had observed all the rules, I'd never have gotten anywhere."
  • "It stirs up envy, fame does. People you run into feel that, well, who does she think she is, Marilyn Monroe? They feel fame gives them some kind of privilege to walk up to you and say anything to you, of any kind of nature - and it won't hurt your feelings - like it's happening to your clothes not you."
  • "Some people have been unkind. If I say I want to grow as an actress, they look at my figure. If I say I want to develop, to learn my craft, they laugh. Somehow they don't expect me to be serious about my work."
  • "I've never dropped anyone I believed in."
  • "I want to be an artist not an erotic freak. I don't want to be sold to the public as a celluloid aphrodisiac."
  • "I used to think as I looked at the Hollywood night, 'There must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I'm not going to worry about them. I'm dreaming the hardest.'"
  • "I knew I belonged to the public and to the world. Not because I was talented or even beautiful, but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else."


External links


Preceded by:
Playboy Playmate
December 1953
Succeeded by:
Margie Harrison

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