Monroe in the Gentlemen Prefer Blondes film trailer (1953)
|Norma Jeane Mortenson
|June 1, 1926
Los Angeles, California
|August 5, 1962, age 36
Los Angeles, California
|5' 5 1/2
|Norma Jeane Baker
|James Dougherty (1942-1946)
Joe DiMaggio (1956-1956)
Arthur Miller (1958-1961)
(Gentlemen Prefer Blondes)
(The Seven Year Itch)
(Some Like It Hot)
Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962) was an American actress, singer and model. After acting in small roles for several years, she gradually became known for her comedic skills, sex appeal and screen presence, going on to become one of the most popular movie stars of the 1950s. She is idolized throughout the world as a sex goddess. Later in her career, she worked towards serious roles with a measure of success. However, long-standing problems were exacerbated by disappointments in both career and personal life during her later years.
 Marilyn Monroe was born under the name of Norma Jeane Mortenson in the charity ward of the Los Angeles County Hospital. According to biographer Fred Lawrence Guiles, her grandmother, Della Monroe Grainger, had her baptized Norma Jeane Baker by Aimee Semple McPherson. She obtained an order from the City Court of the State of New York and legally changed her name to Marilyn Monroe on February 23, 1956.
Her mother, Gladys Pearl Monroe, had returned from Kentucky where her ex-husband Jasper Baker had kidnapped their children, Robert and Berniece. Some of Monroe's biographers portray Jasper as a vicious brute. Berniece Baker Miracle recounted in My Sister Marilyn that when Robert suffered a series of physical ailments, Baker refused to seek proper medical attention for him; the boy died in 1933.
Many biographers believe Norma Jeane's biological father was Charles Stanley Gifford, a salesman for the RKO studios where Gladys worked as a film-cutter. Monroe's birth certificate lists Gladys's second husband, Norwegian immigrant Martin Edward Mortenson, as the father. While Mortenson left Gladys before Norma Jeane's birth, some biographers think he may have been the father. In an interview with Lifetime, James Dougherty, her first husband, said Norma Jeane believed that Gifford was her father. Yet, when asked about her ethnic heritage, Monroe claimed to have been part Irish, part Scottish and part Norwegian which can only be true if Mortenson was the father. Whoever he was, he played no part in Monroe's life.
Unable to persuade Della to take Norma Jeane, Gladys placed her with foster parents Albert and Ida Bolender of Hawthorne, where she lived until she was seven. In her autobiography My Story, Monroe states she thought Albert was a girl. However, some do not consider My Story trustworthy, as the book was a collaboration between Monroe and ghost-writer Ben Hecht and it was assumed Monroe was keen on dramatizing and colouring her past in order to make her public image more vulnerable. Hecht divulged to his agent: "It is easy to know when she is telling the truth. The moment a true thing comes out of her mouth, her eyes shed tears. She's like her own lie detector." In 2001, the book was reissued and Hecht was given credit.
Gladys visited Norma Jeane every Saturday. One day, she announced that she had bought a house. A few months after they had moved in, Gladys suffered a breakdown. In My Story, Monroe recalls her mother "screaming and laughing" as she was forcibly removed to the State Hospital in Norwalk. Gladys's father, Otis, died in an asylum near San Bernardino from syphilis. According to My Sister Marilyn, Gladys's brother, Marion, hanged himself upon his release from an asylum, and Della's father did the same in a fit of depression.
Norma Jeane was declared a ward of state, and Gladys's best friend, Grace McKee (later Goddard) became her guardian. After McKee married in 1935, Norma Jeane was sent to the Los Angeles Orphans Home (later renamed Hollygrove), and then to a succession of foster homes.
The Goddards moved to the east and could not take her along. Grace Goddard worried about Norma Jeane having to return to the orphanage, so she spoke to the mother of James Dougherty. Mrs. Dougherty approached her son, who agreed to take Norma Jeane out on dates. They married two weeks after she turned 16, so that Norma Jeane would not have to return to any orphanages or foster care.
While her husband served in the Merchant Marine during World War II, Norma Jeane Dougherty moved in with her mother-in-law, and started to work in the Radioplane Company factory (owned by Hollywood actor Reginald Denny), spraying airplane parts with fire retardant and inspecting parachutes. Army photographer David Conover scouted local factories taking photos for a YANK magazine article about women contributing to the war effort. He saw her potential as a model and she was soon signed by The Blue Book modelling agency. In his book Finding Marilyn, Conover claimed the two had an affair that lasted years. Shortly after signing with the agency Monroe began the eight-month process of having her long, curly dark blond-light brown hair cut, straightened and lightened to a golden blonde by hairstylist Sylvia Barnhart, who continued to work on Monroe's hair until 1953.
She became one of their most successful models, appearing on dozens of magazine covers. In 1946 she came to the attention of talent scout Ben Lyon. He arranged a screen test for her with 20th Century Fox. She passed and was offered a standard six-month contract with a starting salary of $125 per week.
Lyon suggested "Marilyn" (after Marilyn Miller) to be her stage name, since Norma Jeane wasn't considered commercial enough. She came up with her mother's maiden name "Monroe". Thus, the twenty-year old Norma Jeane Baker became "Marilyn Monroe". During her first half a year at Fox, Monroe was given no work. However, after six months, Fox renewed her contract and she was given minor appearances in Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! and Dangerous Years, both released in 1947. In Scudda Hoo!, her part was edited out of the film except for a quick glimpse of her face when she speaks two words. Fox decided not to renew her contract again. Monroe returned to modelling and began to network and make contacts in Hollywood.
In 1948, a six-month stint at Columbia Pictures saw her star in Ladies of the Chorus, but the low-budget musical was not a success and Monroe was dropped yet again. She then met one of Hollywood's top agents, Johnny Hyde, who had Fox re-sign her after MGM had turned her down. Fox Vice-President Darryl F. Zanuck was not convinced of Monroe's potential. However, due to Hyde's persistence, she gained supporting parts in Fox's All About Eve and MGM's The Asphalt Jungle. Even though the roles were small, movie-goers as well as critics took notice. Hyde also arranged for her to have plastic surgery on her nose and chin, adding that to prior-made teeth surgery.
The next two years were filled with inconsequential roles in standard fare such as We're Not Married! and Love Nest. However, RKO executives used her to boost box office potential of the Fritz Lang production Clash by Night. After the film performed well, Fox employed a similar tactic and she was cast as the ditzy receptionist in the Cary Grant/Ginger Rogers comedy Monkey Business. Critics no longer ignored her, and both films' success at the box office was partly attributed to Monroe's growing popularity.
Fox finally gave her a starring role in 1952 with Don't Bother to Knock, in which she portrayed a deranged babysitter who attacks the little girl in her care. It was a cheaply made B-movie, and although the reviews were mixed, many claimed that it demonstrated Monroe's ability and confirmed that she was ready for more leading roles. Her performance in the film has since been noted as one of the finest of her career by many critics.
|Los Angeles, California
|June 1, 1926
|37"C - 23" - 36"
|5 ft 5½ in
Monroe proved she could carry a big-budget film when she received star billing for Niagara in 1953. Movie critics focused on Monroe's connection with the camera as much as on the sinister plot. She played the part of an unbalanced woman of easy virtue who is planning to murder her husband.
Around this time, nude photos of Monroe began to surface, taken by photographer Tom Kelley when she had been struggling for work. Prints were bought by Hugh Hefner and in December 1953 appeared in the first edition of Playboy. To the dismay of Fox, Monroe decided to publicly admit it was indeed her posing in the pictures. To a journalist asking what she had on during the photoshoot, she replied: "The radio." When asked what she wore in bed, she said: "Chanel No. 5."
Over the following months, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire cemented Monroe's status as an A-list actress and she became one of the world's biggest movie stars. The lavish Technicolor comedy films established Monroe's "dumb blonde" on-screen persona.
In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Monroe's turn as the gold-digging showgirl Lorelei Lee won her rave reviews,  and the scene where she sang Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend has inspired the likes of Madonna  and Kylie Minogue . In the Los Angeles premiere of the film, Monroe and co-star Jane Russell pressed their foot- and handprints in the cemented forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
In How to Marry a Millionaire, Monroe was teamed up with Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable. She played a short-sighted dumb blonde, and even though the role was stereotypical, critics took note of her comedic timing.
Her next two films, the western River of No Return and the musical There's No Business Like Show Business, were not successful. Monroe got tired of the roles that Zanuck assigned her. After completing work on The Seven Year Itch in early 1955, she broke her contract and fled Hollywood to study acting at The Actors Studio in New York. Fox would not accede to her contract demands and insisted she return to start work on productions she considered inappropriate, such as The Girl in Pink Tights (which was never filmed), The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, and How to Be Very, Very Popular.
Monroe refused to appear in these films and stayed in New York. As The Seven Year Itch raced to the top of the box office in the summer of 1955, and with Fox starlets Jayne Mansfield and Sheree North failing to click with audiences, Zanuck admitted defeat and Monroe triumphantly returned to Hollywood. A new contract was drawn up, giving Monroe an approval of the director as well as the option to act in other studios' projects.
The first film to be made under the contract was Bus Stop, directed by Joshua Logan. She performed the role of Chérie, a saloon bar singer who falls in love with a cowboy. Monroe deliberately appeared badly made-up and non-glamorous.
She was nominated for a Golden Globe for the performance and praised by critics. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times proclaimed: "Hold on to your chairs, everybody, and get set for a rattling surprise. Marilyn Monroe has finally proved herself an actress." In his autobiography, Movie Stars, Real People and Me, director Joshua Logan wrote: "I found Marilyn to be one of the great talents of all time....She struck me as being a much brighter person than I had ever imagined, and I think that was the first time I learned that intelligence and, yes brilliance have nothing to do with education."
Monroe formed her own production company with friend and photographer Milton H. Greene. Marilyn Monroe Productions released its first and only film The Prince and the Showgirl in 1957 to mixed reviews. Along with executive-producing the film, she starred opposite the acclaimed British actor Laurence Olivier, who directed it.
Olivier got furious at her habit of being late to the set, as well as her dependency on her drama coach, Paula Strasberg. Monroe's performance was hailed by critics, especially in Europe, where she was handed the David di Donatello, the Italian equivalent of the Academy Award, as well as the French Crystal Star Award. She was also nominated for the British BAFTA award.
In 1959 she scored the biggest hit of her career starring alongside Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Billy Wilder's comedy Some Like It Hot. After shooting finished, Wilder publicly blasted Monroe for her difficult on-set behavior. Soon, however, Wilder's attitude softened, and he hailed her a great comedienne. Some Like It Hot is consistently rated as one of the best films ever made. Monroe's performance earned her a Golden Globe for best actress in musical or comedy. The New York Times proclaimed Monroe a "talented comedienne."
After Some Like It Hot, Monroe shot Let's Make Love directed by George Cukor and co-starring Yves Montand. Monroe, Montand and Cukor all considered the script subpar, yet Monroe was forced to shoot the picture because of her obligations to Twentieth Century-Fox. While the film was not a commercial or critical success, it included one of Monroe's legendary musical numbers, Cole Porter's "My Heart Belongs to Daddy".
Arthur Miller wrote what became her and her co-star Clark Gable's last completed film, The Misfits. The exhausting shoot took place in the hot Nevada desert. Monroe's tardiness became chronic and the shoot was troublesome. Despite this, Monroe, Gable and Montgomery Clift delivered performances that are considered excellent by contemporary movie critics. Monroe became friends with Clift, with whom she felt a deep connection. Some blamed Gable's death of a heart attack on Monroe, claiming she had given him a hard time on the set. Gable, however, insisted on doing his own stunts and was a heavy smoker. After Gable's death, Monroe attended the baptism of his son.
Some of the most famous photographs of her were taken by Douglas Kirkland in 1961 as a feature for the 25th anniversary issue of LOOK magazine.
Monroe returned to Hollywood to resume filming on the George Cukor comedy Something's Got to Give, a never-finished film that has become legendary for problems on the set. In May 1962, she made her last significant public appearance, singing Happy Birthday, Mr. President at a televised birthday party for President John F. Kennedy. After shooting what was claimed to have been the first ever nude scene by a major motion picture actress, Monroe's attendance on the set became even more erratic. On June 1, her thirty-sixth birthday, she attended a charity event at Dodger Stadium.
Already in a financial strain due to production costs of Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Fox dropped Monroe from the film and replaced her with Lee Remick. However, co-star Dean Martin was unwilling to work with anyone else but Monroe. She was rehired.
Monroe conducted a lengthy interview with Life, in which she expressed how bitter she was about Hollywood labeling her as a dumb blonde and how much she loved her audience. She also did a photo shoot for Vogue, and began discussing a future film project with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, as stated in the Donald Spoto biography. Furthermore, she was planning to star in a biopic as Jean Harlow. Other projects being considered for her were What a Way to Go! and a musical version of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.
Before the shooting of Something's Got to Give resumed, Monroe was found dead in her Los Angeles home, on the morning of August 5, 1962. She remains one of the 20th century's most legendary public figures and archetypal Hollywood movie stars.
Monroe married James Dougherty on June 19, 1942. In The Secret Happiness of Marilyn Monroe and To Norma Jeane with Love, Jimmie, he claimed they were in love but dreams of stardom lured her away. She always maintained theirs was a marriage of convenience arranged by Grace Goddard. She was reportedly furious when he wrote in a 1953 Photoplay piece called "Marilyn Monroe Was My Wife" that she threatened to jump off the Santa Monica Pier if he left her. He appeared on To Tell the Truth in April 7, 1967 as "Marilyn Monroe's real first husband".
In the 2004 documentary Marilyn's Man, Dougherty made three new claims: he was her Svengali and invented the "Marilyn Monroe" persona, studio executives forced her to divorce him, and that he was her true love. The evidence does not support this. He remarried in 1947. When informed of her death, the August 6, 1962 New York Times reported he replied "I'm sorry," and continued his LAPD patrol; he did not attend her funeral. Contrary to his later claims that he did not mind that she modeled, his sister wrote in the 12/1952 Modern Screen Magazine that Dougherty left Norma Jeane because she wanted to pursue modeling. He admitted to A&E Network that his mother asked him to marry her, and told Lifetime in 1996 he cut off her allotment after being served with divorce papers. Perhaps more telling, the 1999 Christie's auction of Monroe's estate revealed she kept nothing from Dougherty except their divorce decree. He died from leukemia complications on August 15, 2005.
In 1951 Joe DiMaggio saw a picture of Monroe with two Chicago White Sox players, but did not ask the man who arranged the stunt to set up a date until 1952. She wrote in My Story that she did not want to meet him, fearing a stereotypical jock. They eloped at San Francisco's City Hall on January 14, 1954. During the honeymoon, they visited Japan, and she was asked to visit Korea. She performed ten shows over four days in freezing temperatures for over 100,000 servicemen. Biographers have noted that DiMaggio, who stayed in Japan, was not pleased with his wife's decision during what he wanted to be an intimate trip.
Back home, she wrote him a letter about her dreams for their future, dated February 28, 1954:
DiMaggio biographer Maury Allen quoted New York Yankees PR man Arthur Richman that Joe told him everything went wrong from the trip to Japan on. Fred Lawrence Guiles speculated that Joe, knowing the power and hollowness of fame, wanted desperately to head off what he was convinced was her "collision-course with disaster." Friends claimed that DiMaggio became more controlling as Monroe grew more defiant . On September 14, 1954, she filmed the now-iconic skirt-blowing scene for The Seven Year Itch in front of New York's Trans-Lux Theater. Bill Kobrin, then-Fox's east coast correspondent, told the June 26, 2006 Palm Springs Desert Sun that it was Billy Wilder's idea to turn it into a media circus: "... every time her dress came up and the crowd started to get excited, DiMaggio just blew up." The couple later had a "yelling battle" in the theater lobby. Her makeup man Allan Snyder recalled Monroe later appeared on set with bruises on her upper arms. She filed for divorce on grounds of mental cruelty 274 days after the wedding.
Years later, she turned to him for help. In February 1961, her psychiatrist arranged for her to be admitted to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic, where, according to Donald Spoto, she was placed in the ward for the most seriously disturbed. Unable to check herself out, she called DiMaggio, who secured her release. She later joined him in Florida. Their "just good friends" claim did not stop rumors of remarriage. Archive footage shows Bob Hope jokingly dedicated Best Song nominee The Second Time Around to them at the 1960 Academy Awards telecast.
According to Maury Allen, on August 1, 1962 DiMaggio - alarmed by how his ex-wife had fallen in with people he felt detrimental to her, such as Frank Sinatra and his "Rat Pack" - quit his job with a PX supplier to ask her to remarry him. He claimed her body and arranged her funeral, barring Hollywood's elite. For 20 years, he had a dozen red roses delivered to her crypt three times a week. Unlike her other two husbands, he never talked about her publicly, wrote a tell-all, nor remarried. He died on March 8, 1999, of lung cancer.
On June 29, 1956, Monroe married playwright Arthur Miller, whom she had first met in 1951, in a civil ceremony in White Plains, New York. City Court Judge Seymour Robinowitz presided over the hushed ceremony in the law office of Sam Slavitt (the wedding had been kept secret from both the press and the public). Nominally raised as a Christian, she converted to Judaism before marrying Miller. After she finished shooting The Prince and the Showgirl, the couple returned to the States from England and discovered she was pregnant. However, she suffered from endometriosis and the pregnancy was found to be ectopic. A subsequent pregnancy ended in miscarriage, as noted in the Monroe biographies written by Anthony Summers, Fred Lawrence Guiles, and Donald Spoto.
By 1958, she was the couple's main breadwinner. While paying alimony to Miller's first wife, her husband reportedly charged her production company for buying and shipping a Jaguar to the United States.
Miller's screenplay for The Misfits was meant to be a Valentine gift for his wife, but by the time filming started in 1960 their marriage was broken beyond repair. A Mexican divorce was granted on January 24, 1961. On February 17, 1962, Miller married Inge Morath, one of the Magnum photographers recording the making of The Misfits.
In January 1964, Miller's play After the Fall opened, featuring a beautiful and devouring shrew named Maggie. The similarities between Maggie and Monroe did not go unnoticed by audiences and critics (including Helen Hayes), many of whom sympathized with the fact that she was no longer alive and could not defend herself .
Simone Signoret noted in her autobiography the morbidity of Miller and Elia Kazan resuming their professional association "over a casket". In interviews and in his autobiography, Miller insisted that Maggie was not based on Monroe. However, he never pretended that his last Broadway-bound work, Finishing the Picture, was not based on the making of The Misfits. He told Vanity Fair the she was "highly self-destructive" and what "killed" her was not some conspiracy, but the fact that she was Marilyn Monroe. He died on February 10, 2005, at the age of 89.
Monroe's last home was in Brentwood, California, at 12305 5th Helena Drive. She was in the process of renovating the hacienda at the time of her death.
Monroe was found dead by her housekeeper Eunice Murray, in the middle of the night, on August 5, 1962. Murray said she noticed the phone cord under Marilyn's door, which was unusual because she never slept with her phone in her room. This worried Murray, so she called Marilyn's psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson. Greenson broke a window to get into Marilyn's home, and then upon discovering her sprawled on her bed with a phone clutched in her right hand, called Marilyn's internist Dr. Engelberg. Engelberg listened for a heartbeat, and when there was not one, called the police.
Murray and doctors Greenson and Engelberg claim that Marilyn was found at 3:30 a.m. However Natalie Jacobs, wife of Marilyn's spokesman Arthur Jacobs, said she found out about Marilyn's death while at a concert well before 11:00 p.m. that same day. She also says that her husband had to "fudge the press."
She was 36 years old. Her death was ruled as an overdose from the sleeping pill Nembutal. Several conspiracy theories have surfaced in the decades after her death, some involving President John F. Kennedy and/or Robert Kennedy. There is also speculation that her death was accidental, but the official cause of death was "probable suicide" by acute barbiturate poisoning.
On August 8, 1962, Monroe was interred in a crypt at Corridor of Memories, #24, at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. Lee Strasberg delivered the eulogy.
In her will, Monroe left Lee Strasberg control of 75% of her estate. She expressed her desire that Strasberg, or, if he predeceased her, her executor, "distribute (her personal effects) among my friends, colleagues and those to whom I am devoted."
Strasberg willed his portion to his widow, Anna. She declared she would never sell Monroe's personal items after successfully suing Odyssey Auctions in 1994 to prevent the sale of items which were withheld by Monroe's former business manager, Inez Melson. However, in October 1999 Christie's auctioned the bulk of the items Monroe willed to Lee Strasberg, netting $12.3 million USD.
Anna Strasberg is currently in litigation against the children of four photographers to determine rights of publicity, which permits the licensing of images of deceased personages for commercial purposes. The decision as to whether Monroe was a resident of California, where she died, or New York, where her will was probated, is worth millions.
|Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!
|The Asphalt Jungle
|All About Eve
|$500/week, with one-week guarantee
|We're Not Married!
|Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
|The Seven Year Itch
|Some Like It Hot
|$200,000 plus 10% gross over $4 million
|Something's Got to Give
|The Asphalt Jungle (1950) | All About Eve (1950) | Niagara (1953) | Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) | How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) | River of No Return (1954) | There's No Business Like Show Business (1954) | The Seven Year Itch (1955) | Bus Stop (1956) | The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) | Some Like it Hot (1959) | Let's Make Love (1960) | The Misfits (1961)
Based on her:
Based on her:
Artists who have used Monroe as a basis of their work:
According to The Guardian, there are nearly 300 biographies on Monroe in English alone. The first and only volume published while she was living was Marilyn Monroe (1961), by biographer Maurice Zolotow. the following are fictional takes.
"Marilyn" by Gloria Steinem, photos by George Barris