Of all the popular Hollywood goddesses in the 1950’s, Marilyn Monroe is perhaps the only movie star whether alive or living who still continue to captivate and mesmerize the public to this day. More than 50 years after her death, people still continue to discuss and talk about the actress, her movies, tragic life, body and persona.
Norma Jean Mortenson (Early Life and Childhood)
Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles, California, USA. Her mother, Gladys Pearl Monroe was a film cutter who suffered from mental illness. Due to her financial and mental instability, Gladys placed Marilyn in a foster home a little after she gave birth to her daughter.
The young Marilyn Monroe was raised by foster parents, Albert and Ida Bolender. She lived in their foster home in Hawthorne, California until she was 7. Gladys hoped to eventually take her daughter back when she got better. However, she suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized. She was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Due to Gladys’ unstable mental health and inability to look after her daughter, Marilyn was placed in the foster system.
Grace McKee Goddard, Gladys’ friend took care of Marilyn Monroe. She soon became her legal guardian after Grace brought Marilyn home from the orphanage to live with her and her husband, Erwin â€œDocâ€ Goddard. Sadly, Marilyn was molested by Doc. She moved and stayed with Grace’s relatives and friends. For a time, she stayed in West Los Angeles with Ana Atchison Lower who was an aunt of Grace.
School and Early Marriage
While with Ana, Marilyn studied in Emerson Junior High School. Ana regularly took her to attend Christian Science services. But when Ana began suffering from poor health, Marilyn went back to live with Grace and Doc in Van Nuys. She attended Van Nuys High School after graduating from Emerson.
Doc Goddard’s job forced him to relocate to West Virginia. But under California laws, the Goddards could not take Marilyn out of state. As a result, the then 16-year old might have to go back to the orphanage. During this time, Marilyn Monroe met James “Jim” Dougherty who was 21 years old. Grace deemed she should marry so she wouldn’t have to go back to the orphanage. Marilyn and Jim were married in 1942. Consequently, she dropped out of high school.
During her marriage, Marilyn Monroe lived off the coast of Southern California in Santa Catalina where Jim was stationed. She worked at a munitions factory when her husband was shipped out to the Pacific in 1944. There wasn’t much reported about their marriage except that the young couple hardly knew each other nor spoke much with one another. Unsurprisingly, Marilyn and Jim divorced in 1946.
As part of the war effort, Marilyn Monroe first had a taste of modelling when David Conover went to the munitions factory to shoot photos of female workers. He was sent by the U.S. Army Air Forces’ First Motion Picture Unit to take pictures as part of its campaign to boost the morale of soldiers fighting overseas.
Soon after, the young Marilyn quit her factory job and decided on a modelling career. She modelled for David who encouraged her to apply and sign up with Blue Book Model Agency. At the onset, Marilyn had her curly hair straightened and dyed it from brunette to blonde. Professionally, she used the name Jean Norman.
Marilyn Monroe was one of Blue Book’s ambitious and hard-working models. She was better suited for pin-ups due to her curvaceous figure. Most of her works were for advertisements and men’s magazines.
Her success in modelling led Marilyn Monroe to an acting agency where she got an early screen test by Ben Lyon at 20th Century Fox. She was signed on to a 6-month contract by Darryl F. Zanuck in 1946 even though he wasn’t quite impressed. Zanuck just wanted to sign her before their studio rival RKO Pictures did. Both Marilyn and Lyon came up with her screen name â€œMarilyn Monroeâ€ â€“ the first name â€œMarilynâ€ from Broadway star, Marilyn Miller and â€œMonroeâ€ from Gladys Monroe, Marilyn’s own mother.
Breaking Into Hollywood
Marilyn didn’t have any movie roles in the beginning. In 1947 she finally had her first roles with very limited dialogue in two movies, Dangerous Years and Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! She was also enrolled in an acting school that taught techniques of Group Theatre. But she soon went back to modelling when her Fox contract wasn’t renewed. Despite this early setback, Marilyn Monroe continued with her acting classes. She also acted in a play, Glamour Preferred but it only had a short run.
Columbia Pictures contracted Marilyn Monroe in 1948. She trained with Natasha Lytess who was Columbia’s head drama coach. Lytess became her mentor until 1955. Marilyn did only one film with the studio. It was a starring role in Ladies of the Chorus which was not a success. Columbia didn’t renew her contract when it ended.
After her stint at Columbia, Johnny Hyde from the William Morris Agency became Marilyn’s professional handler and representative. Their relationship soon progressed from professional to personal as they became lovers. Hyde got her a role in Love Happy. It was also around this time when Marilyn posed for nude photos.
Minor roles in two critically acclaimed and successful movies, The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve helped propel Marilyn Monroe’s Hollywood career and popularity. Hyde was able to negotiate a 7-year contract between Marilyn and 20th Century Fox. As she was about to go further in her career, Hyde died soon after.
Marilyn became more visible in the industry. She was invited to be a presenter at the Academy Awards. As her popularity continued to gradually rise up, Marilyn made a few more moderately successfully films. Despite mostly playing provocatively sexy roles, she took up acting classes because she was determined to hone her craft. Marilyn also received many fan mails. She was equally popular with US troops in Korea.
Film Success and Dumb Blonde Typecast
By 1952, Marilyn Monroe appeared in commercially successful films, Clash by Night where she was on loan to RKO Pictures; We’re Not Married, a comedy and the thriller Don’t Bother to Knock. In the RKO movie, she received good reviews for her portrayal of a fish cannery worker.
Marilyn was cast in Monkey Business. She played a naÃ¯ve sexy dumb blonde secretary opposite lead star Cary Grant. This role led to her being type-cast as the curvaceous and sexy â€œdumb blondeâ€ in future films.
In her desire to be taken seriously as an actress, Marilyn relied heavily on her acting coaches. Her first coach and mentor was Natasha Lytess. In the latter part of her life, Marilyn was mentored by Paula Strasberg.
Industry insiders revealed Marilyn had a reputation for being difficult. She irritated most of her directors. She would arrive late and at times not show up on set. Being a perfectionist, she would frequently demand re-takes. On occasion, she would come to work prepared and without having memorized her lines.
Marilyn’s career continued to climb. Sadly, as her popularity and demand heightened, her drinking and drug usage escalated. Poignantly, her fame had only brought on bouts of anxiety and chronic insomnia. Her personal issues of low self-esteem and stage fright had further increased her dependence on alcohol and medication.
Fame and Stardom
In 1953, Marilyn Monroe was considered to be a true Hollywood sex symbol. This was further cemented with her teasingly nude scenes in the film, Niagara with Joseph Cotton. Those provocative scenes shocked conservative audiences at that time. Women’s groups protested the movie and called it distasteful and offensive. Nevertheless, Marilyn still wore revealing attires for publicity and promotional events.
The movie, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was Marilyn Monroe’s second film in 1953. It was about two showgirls who were on the haunt for rich husbands. Marilyn co-starred with Jane Russell. The film featured the highly popular musical scene, â€œDiamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friendâ€ which has spawned numerous tributes, parodies, spoofs, and remakes from the time it came out up to the present. Moreover, this movie established Marilyn Monroe as a Hollywood sex symbol and bombshell. In one of the movie’s promotional campaign, Marilyn and her co-star Jane Russell pressed their hands and footprints on wet concrete outside the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
Marilyn next appeared in a movie with Betty Grable and Lauran Bacall entitled, How to Marry a Millionaire. She once again played the role of a naÃ¯ve girl who with her friends, tried to find rich husbands. It was also a big box office success for Marilyn. She also went on the Jack Benny Show on television to portray the title character’s female fantasy.
The Baseball Legend and the Hollywood Bombshell
In the eyes of the American public, retired ballplayer Joe DiMaggio was a hero, a baseball great and legend. Marilyn met Joe in 1952 and had their first date in New York. At first, Marilyn didn’t seem that interested but she was immediately drawn to Joe’s charisma and appeal. The public was enamoured with the couple â€“ a baseball great and an up and coming Hollywood star. They were married in 1954.
At the height of their involvement, Marilyn and Joe were very much in love. Their relationship was like a fairy tale romance that delighted the public. Being a star in his own right, Joe understood Marilyn’s fame and its perks. But since they were a famous couple, many people wanted to know everything about them.
There were moments when Joe couldn’t separate his wife’s private life from her public image as a Hollywood sex symbol. He couldn’t accept that Marilyn was the object of many men’s fantasies. Even though Joe understood her passion, he couldn’t reconcile with the consequences of Marilyn’s fame and success. On the other hand, Marilyn thought she could manage her private and public life. Unfortunately, their complex lives deeply stressed their marriage and relationship. Less than a year after they got hitched, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio divorced.
Film Career and Recognition
20th Century Fox suspended Marilyn Monroe in 1954 when she didn’t agree to film The Girl in Pink Tights. It was one of the biggest news in the industry and Marilyn did her best to counter the negative publicity through her own promotional campaign. At that time, Marilyn and Joe had just gotten married and were honeymooning in Japan. From there, she went to Korea and performed with the USO Show for thousands of American marines. When she got back to Hollywood, Marilyn and Fox settled their legal dispute which resulted to a new contract.
Marilyn Monroe had the starring role in the film version of The Seven Year Itch. For publicity purposes, Marilyn filmed a scene on Lexington Avenue, New York. It was the now famous and memorialized scene that showed her standing on a subway grate with air blowing up the skirt of her white dress. The filming attracted many spectators that included photographers. That public feat made Marilyn more famous as photos of her skirt blowing stunt graced the front pages and covers of newspapers and magazines all over the globe. This promo buzz helped make The Seven Year Itch a commercial success.
Before filming The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn made River of No Return, a western with Robert Mitchum. For Fox she did the musical There’s No Business Like Show Business which was a compromise for not doing The Girl in Pink Tights.
Eventually, Marilyn embarked on a new project. She opened her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions with Milton Greene. She also left Hollywood and moved to New York. This move led to new legal issues with Fox. The studio insisted she was still under contract but Monroe asserted she was no longer obligated to them since Fox failed to uphold its end in the payment of promised bonuses when she agreed to do The Seven Year Itch.
New Direction and Critical Success
Marilyn continued to take acting lessons. She was now coached and mentored by Paula Strasberg, wife of Lee Strasberg. On the personal front, Marilyn began dating actor Marlon Brando and playwright, Arthur Miller. Her relationship with Miller became serious after her divorce from Joe DiMaggio. Miller subsequently separated from his wife.
Marilyn was directed by studio heads to end her affair with Miller because he was being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for suspected communism. The studio feared Marilyn would be blacklisted and it would be detrimental to her career. She of course refused to heed their direction. The FBI meanwhile opened a file her as well.
Fox and Marilyn reached a new agreement to settle their old disputes. Despite the negative press she received due to her association with Miller, the two were married in 1956. Her marriage led to her conversion to Judaism. As a result, Egypt banned all her movies from being shown in the country.
Under her new contract with Fox, Marilyn made Bus Stop. She portrayed a deglamourized saloon singer with dreams and ambitions of hitting it big. Despite her difficult behaviour on set, the movie was completed and it was a box office success. More importantly, Bus Stop got favourable reviews which positively highlighted Marilyn’s acting prowess. For her performance, she was also accorded a nomination in the best actress category.
Her first independent production under MMP (Marilyn Monroe Productions) was The Prince and the Showgirl directed by Sir Lawrence Olivier. The filming was entirely difficult. Olivier and Marilyn had disagreements and conflict about her acting and portrayal. In order to hit back at Olivier, Marilyn would show up late and was uncooperative. Notwithstanding, they were able to complete the film. But when it was released, the movie was not well received by American audiences. On the contrary, the film had better reception in Europe where it won awards and nominations.
Hiatus, Pregnancy and Subsequent Return
Marilyn settled down to her married life with Arthur Miller. She took an 18-month break and they divided their time living in New York and Connecticut. In 1957, Marilyn was pregnant. Sadly her pregnancy had to be terminated because it was ectopic. A year later she suffered a miscarriage. Marilyn suffered from endometriosis, a condition that tragically affected her ability to have children.
She went back to Hollywood and did Some Like It Hot. Her co-stars were Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Marilyn was hesitant to accept the role since she was going to play another dumb blonde in the flick. But Miller persuaded her to do it and the film became both a critical and commercial success. Marilyn was also awarded Best Actress for Comedy at the Golden Globes.
Marilyn went on to do more films like Let’s Make Love and The Misfits. But they didn’t get the same raves as her previous works.
Poor Health and Death
Truman Capote wanted Marilyn to play the Holly Golightly in a film adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But because of her reputation for being difficult to work with, producers cast Audrey Hepburn in the role.
Marilyn Monroe focused on getting treatment for her health issues. She even spent a month in the hospital for treatment and surgery. It was at this time when Marilyn and ex-husband Joe DiMaggio rekindled their friendship. In 1962, she went back to Hollywood and purchased a house in Brentwood, California.
On that same year, Marilyn was seen in public again. She went to the Golden Globes to receive an award for World Film Favorite. She also began filming a new movie, Something’s Got to Give with Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse. To the public’s delight, Marilyn famously sang Happy Birthday on stage at the Madison Square Garden on President John F. Kennedy’s birthday celebration. Many biographers believe she and Kennedy had an affair. To date, no one can absolutely ascertain the veracity of reports nor provide evidences on the actual timing and length of this relationship.
Marilyn’s health issues caused her to miss many days of filming. Because of her absences, she was fired from Something’s Got to Give. Her co-star, Dean Martin refused to continue working on the movie without her. Together with Marilyn, they were sued by the studio for breach of contract. This development prompted the studio to stop the project. They blamed Marilyn for closing down production. They attributed her behaviour to her addiction and mental instability.
During the early hours of August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her bedroom at Brentwood. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson discovered Marilyn’s body. Apparently, Marilyn’s housekeeper called the doctor when she sensed something was wrong. She noticed a light inside Marilyn’s bedroom but wasn’t able to get a response from inside the locked door.
The Los Angeles Police Department was notified at 4:25 a.m. by Marilyn’s physician, Dr. Hyman Engelberg who was at the house at 3:50 a.m. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office estimated Marilyn’s death to have been between 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Toxicological analysis yielded cause of death was acute barbiturate poisoning.
Empty bottles of pentobarbital medicines were found next to her bed.
Marilyn’s doctors and psychiatrists stated she was prone to suffer from severe anxiety and depression. She had been known to frequently have abrupt mood swings and had overdosed several times in the past. The possibility she may have accidentally overdosed was ruled out since dosages of substances found in her system were all over the lethal limit. Further, there weren’t any indication of foul play, thus, Marilyn Monroe’s death was classified as a probable suicide.
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