Marilyn Monroe (born Norma Jeane Mortenson; June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962) was an American actress, model, and singer, who became a major sex symbol, starring in a number of commercially successful motion pictures during the 1950s and early 1960s.
Early work: 1945–1947
Mrs. James Dougherty, June 26, 1945
While Dougherty served in the Merchant Marine, his wife began working in the Radioplane Munitions Factory, mainly spraying airplane parts with fire retardant and inspecting parachutes. The factory was owned by movie star Reginald Denney. During that time, David Conover of the U.S. Army Air Forces' First Motion Picture Unit was sent to the factory by his commanding officer, future U.S. president Captain Ronald Reagan to shoot morale-boosting photographs for Yank, the Army Weekly magazine of young women helping the war effort. He noticed her and snapped a series of photographs, none of which appeared in Yank magazine, although some still claim this to be the case. He encouraged her to apply to The Blue Book Modeling Agency. She signed with the agency and began researching the work of Jean Harlow and Lana Turner. She was told that they were looking for models with lighter hair, so Norma Jeane bleached her brunette hair a golden blonde.
Norma Jeane became one of Blue Book's most successful models; she appeared on dozens of magazine covers. Her successful modeling career brought her to the attention of Ben Lyon, a 20th Century Fox executive, who arranged a screen test for her. Lyon was impressed and commented, "It's Jean Harlow all over again." She was offered a standard six-month contract with a starting salary of $125 per week. Lyon did not like the name Norma Jeane and chose "Carole Lind" as a stage name, after Carole Lombard and Jenny Lind, but he soon decided it was not an appropriate choice. Monroe was invited to spend the weekend with Lyon and his wife Bebe Daniels at their home. It was there that they decided to find her a new name. Following her idol Jean Harlow, she decided to choose her mother's maiden name of Monroe. Several variations such as Norma Jeane Monroe and Norma Monroe were tried and initially "Jeane Monroe" was chosen. Eventually, Lyon decided Jeane and variants were too common, and he decided on a more alliterative sounding name. He suggested "Marilyn", commenting that she reminded him of Marilyn Miller. Monroe was initially hesitant because Marilyn was the contraction of the name Mary Lynn, a name she did not like. Lyon, however, felt that the name "Marilyn Monroe" was sexy, had a "nice flow", and would be "lucky" due to the double "M".
In September 1946, Monroe filed for divorce. Dougherty, served with divorce papers while aboard a ship on the Yangtze river in China, reported that he tried to persuade his wife against the divorce upon his return, but she refused. In a 1984 interview, he claimed, "She wanted to sign a contract with [20th Century] Fox and it said she couldn't be married—they didn't want a pregnant starlet."
During her first few months at 20th Century Fox, Monroe had no speaking roles in any films but, alongside other new contract players, took singing, dancing and other classes. She appeared as an extra in some movies, but no exact list exists; some film buffs claim she appears in the musical comedies The Shocking Miss Pilgrim and You Were Meant for Me, and in the Western, Green Grass of Wyoming, but these are unconfirmed. Her first credited role was as a waitress in Dangerous Years, released in December 1947, in which she had nine short lines. In March 1948, she appeared in a bit part as Betty in Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (released after Dangerous Years but filmed before). Dressed in a pinafore and walking down the steps of a church, she says, "Hi, Rad" to the main character, played by June Haver, who responds, "Hi, Betty." After Monroe's stardom, 20th Century Fox began claiming that Monroe's only line in the film had been cut out, an anecdote Monroe repeated on Person to Person in 1955, but film historian James Haspiel says her line is intact and she also appears in a shot paddling a canoe with another woman
Main article: Death of Marilyn Monroe
The crypt of Marilyn Monroe (2005)
On August 5, 1962, at 4:25 a.m., LAPD sergeant Jack Clemmons received a call from Dr. Ralph Greenson, Monroe's psychiatrist, saying that Monroe was found dead at her home at 12305 Fifth Helena Drive in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California. She was 36 years old. At the subsequent autopsy, 8 mg/dL of chloral hydrate and 4.5 mg/dL of Nembutal were found in her system, and Dr. Thomas Noguchi (known as the "coroner to the stars") of the Los Angeles County Coroners office recorded cause of death as "acute barbiturate poisoning", resulting from a "probable suicide". Many theories, including murder, circulated about the circumstances of her death and the timeline after the body was found. Some conspiracy theories involved John and Robert Kennedy, while other theories suggested CIA or Mafia complicity. It was reported that President Kennedy was the last person Monroe called.
Monroe was interred on August 8, 1962, in a crypt at Corridor of Memories No. 24, at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. Joe DiMaggio took control of the funeral arrangements, which consisted of only 31 close family and friends, excluding Hollywood's elite. Lee Strasberg, her acting teacher, delivered the eulogy, and had once claimed that of all his acting students, she was the one who stood out above the rest, second only to Marlon Brando. As part of her eulogy, he stated:
In her eyes, and in mine, her career was just beginning.... She had a luminous quality. A combination of wistfulness, radiance, and yearning that set her apart and made everyone wish to be part of it—to share in the childish naivete which was at once so shy and yet so vibrant.
Police were also present to keep the press away. Her casket was silver finished solid bronze and was lined with champagne colored silk. Allan "Whitey" Snyder did her make-up, which was supposedly a promise made in earlier years if she were to die before him. She was wearing her favorite green Emilio Pucci dress. In her hands was a small bouquet of pink teacup roses. For the next 20 years, red roses were placed in a vase attached to the crypt, courtesy of DiMaggio.
In 1992, Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner, who never met Monroe, bought the crypt immediately to the left of hers at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. Beyond the fact that she was Playboy's first cover model and first centerfold, Hefner said he "felt a kinship" with Monroe. They had both been born the same year, his brother had been in one of her New York acting classes, and before her death Monroe had approved stills from her last film for a Playboy anniversary issue.
In August 2009, the crypt space directly above that of Monroe was placed for auction on eBay. Elsie Poncher planned to exhume her husband and move him to an adjacent plot. She advertised the crypt, hoping "to make enough money to pay off the $1.6 million mortgage" on her Beverly Hills mansion. The winning bid was placed by an anonymous Japanese man for $4.6 million, but the winning bidder later backed out "because of the paying problem".
After spending much of her childhood in foster homes, Monroe began a career as a model, which led to a film contract in 1946 with Twentieth Century-Fox. Her early film appearances were minor, but her performances in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve (both 1950) drew attention. By 1952 she had her first leading role in Don't Bother to Knock and 1953 brought a lead in Niagara, a melodramatic film noir that dwelt on her seductiveness. Her 'dumb blonde' persona was used to comic effect in subsequent films such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and The Seven Year Itch (1955). Limited by typecasting, Monroe studied at the Actors Studio to broaden her range. Her dramatic performance in Bus Stop (1956) was hailed by critics and garnered a Golden Globe nomination. Her production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, released The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), for which she received a BAFTA Award nomination and won a David di Donatello award. She received a Golden Globe Award for her performance in Some Like It Hot (1959). Monroe's last completed film was The Misfits (1961), co-starring Clark Gable, with a screenplay written by her then-husband, Arthur Miller.
The final years of Monroe's life were marked by illness, personal problems, and a reputation for unreliability and being difficult to work with. Ever since Monroe's death from an overdose of barbiturates on August 5 1962, the exact circumstances have been subject to conjecture. Though officially classified as a "probable suicide", the possibilities of an accidental overdose or a homicide have not been ruled out. In 1999, Monroe was ranked as the sixth-greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute. In the decades following her death, she has often been cited as both a pop and a cultural icon as well as the quintessential American sex symbol. In 2009, TV Guide Network named her No. 1 in Film's Sexiest Women of All Time.
Main article: Early life of Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe was born on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles County Hospital as Norma Jeane Mortenson (soon after changed to Baker), the third child born to Gladys Pearl Baker (née Monroe, May 27, 1902 – March 11, 1984). Monroe's birth certificate names the father as Martin Edward Mortensen with his residence stated as "unknown". The name Mortenson is listed as her surname on the birth certificate, although Gladys immediately had it changed to Baker, the surname of her first husband and which she still used. Martin's surname was misspelled on the birth certificate leading to more confusion on who her actual father was. Gladys Baker had married a Martin E. Mortensen in 1924, but they had separated before Gladys' pregnancy. Several of Monroe's biographers suggest that Gladys Baker used his name to avoid the stigma of illegitimacy. Mortensen died at the age of 85, and Monroe's birth certificate, together with her parents' marriage and divorce documents, were discovered. The documents showed that Mortensen filed for divorce from Gladys on March 5, 1927, and it was finalized on October 15, 1928. Throughout her life, Marilyn Monroe denied that Mortensen was her father. Marilyn said that, when she was a child, she had been shown a photograph of a man that Gladys identified as her father, Charles Stanley Gifford. She remembered that he had a thin mustache and somewhat resembled Clark Gable, and that she had amused herself by pretending that Gable was her father.
Birth certificate of Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson in 1926
Gladys was mentally unstable and financially unable to care for the young Norma Jeane, so she placed her with foster parents Albert and Ida Bolender of Hawthorne, California, where she lived until she was seven. One day, Gladys visited and demanded that the Bolenders return Norma Jeane to her. Ida refused, as she knew Gladys was unstable and the situation would not benefit her young daughter. Gladys pulled Ida into the yard, then quickly ran back to the house and locked herself in. Several minutes later, she walked out with one of Albert Bolender's military duffel bags. To Ida's horror, Gladys had stuffed a screaming Norma Jeane into the bag, zipped it up, and was carrying it out with her. Ida charged toward her, and their struggle split the bag apart, dumping out Norma Jeane, who wept loudly as Ida grabbed her and pulled her back inside the house, away from Gladys. In 1933, Gladys bought a house and brought Norma Jeane to live with her. A few months later, Gladys began a series of mental episodes that would plague her for the rest of her life. In her autobiography, My Story, Monroe recalls her mother "screaming and laughing" as she was forcibly removed to the State Hospital in Norwalk.
Norma Jeane was declared a ward of the state. Gladys's best friend, Grace McKee, became her guardian. Grace told Monroe that some day she would become a movie star. Grace was captivated by Jean Harlow, and would let Norma Jeane wear makeup and take her out to get her hair curled. They went to the movies together, forming the basis for Norma Jeane's fascination with the cinema and the stars on screen. When Norma Jeane was 9, McKee married Ervin Silliman "Doc" Goddard in 1935, and subsequently sent Monroe to the Los Angeles Orphans Home (later renamed Hollygrove), followed by a succession of foster homes. While at Hollygrove, several families were interested in adopting her, but reluctance on Gladys' part to sign adoption papers thwarted those attempts. In 1937, Monroe moved back into Grace and Doc Goddard's house, joining Doc's daughter from a previous marriage. Due to Doc's frequent attempts to sexually assault Norma Jeane, this arrangement did not last long.
Grace sent Monroe to live with her great-aunt, Olive Brunings, in Compton, California; this was also a brief stint ended by an assault when one of Olive's sons had attacked the now middle-school-aged girl. Taraborrelli, Daniel Schechter, and Erica Willheim have questioned whether at least some of Monroe's later behavior (i.e., hyper-sexuality, sleep disturbances, substance abuse, disturbed interpersonal relationships), was a manifestation of the effects of childhood sexual abuse in the context of her already problematic relationships with her psychiatrically ill mother and subsequent caregivers. In early 1938, Grace sent her to live with another aunt, Ana Lower, who lived in the Van Nuys district of Los Angeles. Years later, she would reflect fondly about the time that she spent with Lower, whom she affectionately called "Aunt Ana". She would explain that it was one of the few times in her life when she felt truly stable. As she aged, Lower developed serious health problems.
In 1942, Monroe moved back to Grace and Doc Goddard's house. While attending Van Nuys High School, she met a neighbor's son, James "Jim" Dougherty, and began a relationship with him. Several months later, Grace and Doc Goddard relocated to West Virginia, where Doc had received a lucrative job offer. Although it was never explained why, they decided not to take Monroe with them. A neighborhood family offered to adopt Monroe, but Gladys rejected the offer. With few options left, Grace approached Dougherty's mother and suggested that Jim marry Monroe so that she would not have to return to an orphanage or foster care. Jim was initially reluctant, but he finally relented and married her in a ceremony arranged by Ana Lower. During this period, Monroe briefly supported her family as a homemaker. In 1943, during World War II, Dougherty enlisted in the Merchant Marine. He was initially stationed on Santa Catalina Island off California's coast, and Monroe lived with him there in the town of Avalon for several months before he was shipped out to the Pacific. Frightened that he might not come back alive, Monroe begged him to try and get her pregnant before he left. Dougherty disagreed, feeling that she was too young to have a baby, but he promised that they would revisit the subject when he returned home. Subsequently, Monroe moved in with Dougherty's mother.