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"Hollywood has been creating a mythology around blonde bombshells since its beginnings. But no blonde sex symbol has had a deeper and more long-lasting impact on film and American culture than Marilyn Monroe. You probably had an image of Monroe in your mind long before you ever saw her on film. The dumb blonde. The white-hot sex symbol. The foolish girl-woman. The picture of mid-century femininity — wasp-waisted, platinum blonde, and buxom. The tragic victim. These warring images have lasted long after Monroe’s death in 1962 at 36 years old, and they’re easy to twist into caricature. She’s been flattened onto dorm-room posters, mugs, T-shirts, artist renderings. She’s been linked to falsely attributed quotes, conspiracy theories, and lurid rumors. But Monroe was more complex than her legacy suggests, as both an actress and a woman."- Angelica Jade Bastién
Click through the images below to learn more about her life.
Her Life in Motion
Norma Jeane Mortenson was born on June 1st, 1926 to Gladys Baker, a film negative cutter at Consolidated Film Industries.
Baker was the surname of Gladys's first husband, and Mortenson was the surname of her second husband. Neither marriage lasted. On school documents, Marilyn Monroe would use Mortenson and Baker interchangeably for herself. No one knew who Norma Jeane's biological father was. Gladys and her second husband had separated for ten months around the time Norma was conceived.
In 1934, Gladys had a "nervous breakdown." Psychiatry was not well-developed in those days, so it is difficult to say exactly what happened, but Gladys ended up institutionalized.
Norma went through at least, one orphanage, many foster homes, and the many homes of Grace McKee Goddard, a close friend of Gladys. Despite the times she was unable to house Norma, Grace made sure to visit her weekly or daily to see how she was.
Norma Jeane was around eight years of age when she was molested in a foster home. No one is exactly sure what happened. One account says the incident happened in a foster home where an older male boarder was the assailant. Another account said that it was a cousin that did it, and another that it was Grace McKee Goddard's husband.
However it occurred, Norma Jeane always responded the same way in the different accounts. She immediately told her foster mother, who refused to believe her and slapped her.
"...[Nowadays] we know that little girls tend not to lie about these sorts of things. But then, the victim bore the burden of proof almost always. By the time she started speaking publicly about this abuse, twenty years later, Marilyn had already adopted the persona of dumb blonde, gold-digging party girl. It was maybe because she was so good at playing that role, so deft at convincing us that she was born to be sexually compliant, that many of Marilyn's biographers and interviewers chose to cast doubt on her allegations of abuse. Seizing on the discrepancies between the stories rather than hooking on to the signs of trauma that were everywhere for an eye trained to look for it. At that point, no one was able to see that so many of the things that made Marilyn Marilyn, the actual or implied sexual easiness, the childlike voice and perspective, the lifelong search for male protectors, all of these were in fact textbook long-term symptoms of childhood abuse."---Karina Longworth, film critic, author, and journalist.
Norma was 15 years old by the time she lived with Grace Goddard's family in Van Nuys. A couple of weeks after Christmas, Grace's husband was offered a job in West Virginia. Grace's family was getting ready to move, but Grace's husband didn't want Norma Jeane to come along. Because Grace was Norma Jeane's guardian, she was met with the choice to either look after teenage Norma's welfare or have her go back to the orphanage. Grace came up with the idea that Norma could get married to their neighbor, Jim Dougherty, who was 20 years old. Norma had protested that she was too young, but Grace responded, "Only in years."
Norma Jeane dropped out of high school and married Doughterty on June 19th, 1942. She was sixteen years old by then.
Jim Dougherty was deployed in April 1944. Monroe lived with her in-laws and began working at the Radioplane Munitions Factory in Van Nuys. She was around 18 years old when she met the photographer David Conover. He was taking pictures of young women workers to boost the morale of U.S. Army soldiers. She quit working at the factory and began modeling for Conover and his friends. She eventually moved out on her own and signed a contract with Blue Book Model Agency when she was 19 years old, occasionally modeling under the name Jean Norman.
Around this time, she began to straighten and bleach her naturally curly, brown hair.
Once she went blonde, Norma's modeling career took off. She would eventually choose to be a model instead of a wife, especially as she was told she wouldn't be employable as a married woman. In those days, people felt married women could get pregnant at any time and render them unable to work.
In May 1946, when Jim Doughtery was in Shanghai, he received a letter from a lawyer, telling him that his wife was filing for divorce. Norma received a contract with an acting agency by June 1946. She did a screen-test under Ben Lyon, a 20th Century-Fox executive, and signed onto a 6-month contract. Together, Norma and Lyon chose her stage name, "Marilyn Monroe."
Lyon picked the first name because Norma reminded him of a famous Broadway star, Marilyn Miller. Norma picked the surname as it was her mother's family name.
In August 1947, when Monroe's contract was not renewed with 20th-Century-Fox, she went back to modeling to support herself. She promoted herself by attending producers' offices and entertaining influential men at studio functions. Fox executive Joseph M. Schenck convinced Harry Cohn, the head executive of Columbia Pictures, to sign Monroe in 1948.
When she was at Columbia Pictures, Monroe began working with the studio's head drama coach, Natasha Lytess, who would continue mentoring her until 1955. The only film at the studio Marilyn Monroe was able to do was the musical, Ladies of the Chorus (1948). She also screen-tested for the lead role in Born Yesterday (1950), but her contract was not renewed in September 1948.
Monroe had a bit part in Love Happy (1950), the final starring feature of the Marx Brothers. She had other bit parts in A Ticket to Tomahawk, Right Cross, and The Fireball.
Her career prospects were improving when she had two minor supporting roles in All About Eve (1950) and The Asphalt Jungle (1950), but she still had a long way to go. Monroe still did not get as many acting roles as she would have liked, and enrolled as a student at UCLA to study literature.
"The whole room revolved when [Marilyn Monroe] walked."--Groucho Marx, 1963.
Around the early 1950s, Monroe's career prospects were improving, though she still received some bit parts. She worked in a supporting role for the Fritz Lang drama, Clash by Night, alongside Barbara Stanwyck, that convinced Fox to give Marilyn her first starring role in Don't Bother to Knock, where she plays a disturbed babysitter.
Around 1952, the press were taking notice of her, especially as she dated Joe DiMaggio. She was around 26 years old.
Twelve years Marilyn's senior, around the time Joe DiMaggio had retired from the Yankees, he saw a photograph of Marilyn Monroe and demanded to meet her.
They were officially together by February 1952.
In March 1952, a scandal arose when a nude photograph Marilyn Monroe taken back in 1949 when she was surviving by modeling showed up in a 1951 calendar. The photograph was so popular that it got reprinted on the 1952 calendar. It started circulating when Marilyn's career was getting its own recognition.
Fox executives confronted her about this photograph and asked her if it was her. She answered that it was and that she was embarrassed because she didn't think the photographer got her best angle.
The Fox execs decided they had to do something. Fox's publicist scheduled a journalist named Aline Mosby to interview Marilyn Monroe.
Monroe knew how to work this to her advantage. When the interview was closing up, Monroe asked Mosby to talk with her privately. As soon as they were alone, Monroe cried and said that it was indeed her in the calendar. She told Mosby that she did those photographs when she needed money and now she was worried that her career was over. She told Mosby she needed her help.
Like Monroe knew she would, Mosby published this interaction as the lead of the interview and the public opened up to her. Instead of condemnation, Marilyn Monroe was met with sympathy. They fell for her persona of sweet honesty and her rags-to-riches type of background.
Marilyn Monroe was able to recover quickly from this photograph scandal and went on to star in two prominent films, Niagara (1953) and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), which elevated her status as a movie star.
"This was her greatest feat as an actress. She sensed that her damage, her appearance of frailty could become a strength, it could help her get what she wanted, to a point. Her openness when it came to her troubled past, her experience of things like sexual abuse...was absolutely revolutionary and some would say her willingness to share these things was a kind of manipulation or else a sign that she was too stupid to know better. Some people seem to think that both of those things could be true without realizing that such calculation and such vacuity would be unlikely to exist simultaneously. It would become clear in the years and decades after Marilyn's death in 1962 that in presenting a model of what certain kinds of uniquely female damage looked like, she was telling millions of other women that they weren't the only ones who had gone through what they had gone through, that they weren't alone.
As is too often the case, the truly radical impact of Marilyn Monroe's stardom wasn't apparent until it was too late. In her lifetime, her projection of vulnerability did make her a star, but it kept her from really becoming an actress. The fact that she could never be seen as anything but, as her first cinematographer put it, ''sex on a piece of film' was a tragedy, but at least she had a sense of humor about it. As she wrote in her unpublished autobiography, 'Hollywood is place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul. I know because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.'"--Karina Longworth
Monroe struggled with endometriosis. Her monthly periods were extremely painful, so that she was debilitated to the point where she requested time off from filming to deal with it in her contracts. She struggled to have a child for her whole life.
Her status as a movie star was still high, even as her marriage to DiMaggio was not so great. When Monroe was departing on a plane, she was seen in the airport with her thumb in a splint. Several weeks later, Monroe told a friend that she was planning to marry Arthur Miller. By then, friends were noticing that she had bruises on her arms.
DiMaggio disliked Monroe's sultry image, but because it was part of her persona, Marilyn Monroe would have had to leave acting if she could not use it. DiMaggio did not mind if she had to give up her career, but she certainly did. At the same time though, Monroe was getting tired of playing the seductive woman in movies. Home life and work life were clashing.
During filming of The Seven-Year Itch (1955), there was a location shoot/publicity stunt, where Marilyn famously stood over a subway grate wearing a white dress. Her fans, along with Joe DiMaggio, witnessed this event. DiMaggio was reportedly disgusted and left after a few minutes, going back to his hotel room. The next morning, Marilyn Monroe came to the movie set with bruises on her shoulders.
When the movie was finally finished, Marilyn Monroe filed for divorce from Joe DiMaggio.
After the success of TheSeven-Year-Itch (1955) and feeling like she was getting boxed in regarding roles, Marilyn Monroe and her photographer friend-slash-sporadic-lover, Milton Greene founded their own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions (MMP).
At this stage, she wanted to move herself from the sexpot image.She wanted to become a real actress. Marilyn Monroe turned to the Actors Studio and psychoanalysis to approach this. She also started dressing more simply in public, sticking to jeans and sunglasses.
When Marilyn Monroe's divorce was finalized, her affair with Arthur Miller became serious. In 1956 of June, she and Miller were married. They had a Jewish ceremony. Marilyn converted to Judaism.
Marilyn also starred in Bus Stop (1956) around this time. It was a big hit. By the end of the year, Marilyn Monroe was ranked the top female box-office draw in Hollywood.
"I think she is one of the most extraordinary actresses that ever lived. I think she is a combination of Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin. Because she has that wonderful comedy...that Chaplin has, and she has the fabulous, ephemeral beauty of Garbo." --Joshua Logan, Bus Stop director.
Through Marilyn Monroe Productions, Monroe purchased the rights to Terrence Rattigan's The Sleeping Prince. She starred alongside Laurence Olivier to create The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). Olivier and Monroe did not like each other whatsoever during production, especially when Olivier told her that all she needed to do was "be sexy."
Monroe began feeling that the film was not going to do well, and she started acting out against production, frequently being late and uncooperative with Olivier; although the film's cinematographer, Jack Cardiff also mentioned that a lot of Monroe's tardiness had to do with anxiety.
Monroe used barbiturates to cope with her anxiety, but it was during The Prince and the Showgirl that she began developing a dependence on them.
The movie ended up receiving a mixed reception in its release.
After The Prince and the Showgirl, Monroe took a near-two-year hiatus to concentrate on her marriage to Miller. She suffered through an ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage. She was devastated.
Monroe started sitting at New York playgrounds, hiding beneath scarves and sunglasses as she watched children play. Sometimes she would ask the mothers if she could hold their babies. The mothers eventually realized that "Mrs. Miller" was actually a movie star, but they never treated her any differently.
One of the mothers, Dahlia Leeds later recalled that the Marilyn Monroe she met was so different from how she came off in the media that this forever put her off gossip columns. "She was so different from her image. Not a sexpot, not glamorous, but just an ordinary woman who was shy, curious, and lonely."
Monroe went back to her career when she starred in Some Like It Hot (1959). Monroe did not like the character she played in this film. In fact, she felt it was one of the dumbest characters she ever played. Monroe's acting ability had grown from the way she used to act years ago, and she felt limited by this movie. She also did not trust the director, Billy Wilder's skills.
Miller had asked Monroe to take the part because they needed the money while he was writing The Misfits. This did not help their already-rocky marriage in the least.
After the shoot, Monroe was pregnant, and then she lost the baby. She sought refuge in an affair with Yves Montand during Let's Make Love (1960).
Miller and Monroe's marriage further worsened during the making of The Misfits. Monroe hated the way Miller wrote her character, Roslyn. She hated how her history and their relationship was put into the dialogue, as these were things that Miller used to say to her during their relationship. She also felt her character was childish, and she hated being seen that way.
Miller and Monroe's relationship was over by the end of the shoot.
The first half of 1961 was tough for Monroe. She dealt with plenty of health problems. She had surgery for her endometriosis, had a cholecystectomy, and spent close to a month in a hospital. Monroe had a brief period in a mental ward and had to call DiMaggio to get her out, as she had no close living relatives. DiMaggio and Monroe became friends out of this. Monroe also left the East Coast, where she'd been living with Arthur Miller, to go back to California, purchasing a house in Los Angeles by 1962. She also dated Frank Sinatra at this time.
Once she moved to Los Angeles, Monroe started seeing psychiatrist Ralph Greenson. He was rather inappropriate in his treatment with Monroe. He acted more like a father to her than a therapist, including introducing her to his family and prescribing that she stay over at his house for periods of time. He even hired a maid for her that acted like a caretaker to 35-year-old Marilyn Monroe. Greenson wanted to cut Monroe's dependency on barbiturates, but had her try opiates instead.
Monroe started working on a movie, Something's Got To Give, a remake of My Favorite Wife (1940). Monroe was ready to get to work, but at the start of filming, she became sick. She was diagnosed with sinusitis. Monroe tried to work through the sickness, but a doctor ordered her to bed rest. She was prescribed antibiotics, which did not mix well with the barbiturates that Dr. Greenson was still giving her. The filming was several days behind schedule. Eventurally, Dr. Greenson had to leave town for several weeks and left Monroe full prescriptions.
Monroe finally got better and was ready to get back to work, filming a certain amount of days before heading to New York. She had been invited to sing at John F. Kennedy's birthday celebration. Because the production was already days behind, Fox decided to cancel the film. Fox blamed this on Monroe being frequently absent.
Fox threatened to charge Monroe with breach of contract. Monroe received the letter the night she famously sang "Happy Birthday" to the President in 1962.
Something's Got To Give never got completed.
On August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe died between 8:30 PM and 10:30 PM. She was found in her bed.
The cause of death was declared as a probable suicide on the death certificate, and her death was blamed on overdosing on barbiturates. There are many conflicting theories and timelines on exactly what happened in Monroe's death.