Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962) was an American actress of the 20th century. Her sizzling screen presence and premature death would make her a perennial sex symbol and later a pop icon.
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 by Aimee Semple McPherson. While biographers agree the man listed on her birth certificate, Martin Edward Mortensen, was not her biological father, her paternity has never been firmly established. The most likely candidate seems to be Charles Stanley Gifford, a salesman for the studio where Marilyn's mother, Gladys Pearl Monroe Baker, worked as a film-cutter. The just-divorced Gifford had no desire to be tied down and left Gladys when she informed him of her pregnancy.
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, 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 interviewes 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 underaged 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. Some say she was a genius.
Start of career
In 1945, Norma Jeane worked as a parachute inspector while her husband was in the Merchant Marines. One day, a photographer spotted her and asked if he could take her picture to boost morale for the war effort. Soon afterwards, she moved out of her mother-in-law's house and signed with a modeling agency, which led to her first studio contract with Twentieth Century-Fox. Her first part was in the second-rate film Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!, first as a girl exiting a church (speaking a line), and then as a girl in a canoe. Most of her scenes were cut, save for a far shot of Monroe in the canoe.
In My Story she recounted how she chose her stage name. When Norma Jeane told Grace that "Marilyn" had been suggested by a Fox employee, Grace replied that it went well with Gladys' maiden name, Monroe, then told her she was keeping documents for Gladys proving she is a direct descendant of President James Monroe. No such papers have ever surfaced. Marilyn's maternal grandfather, Otis Monroe, was the son of Jacob Monroe (1831-1872), so such a descent is unlikely.
The next few years were lean. Biographers maintain she was working "the party circuit" when she met Johnny Hyde, a partner of the William Morris Agency, on December 31, 1948 at a party thrown by producer Sam Spiegel. Like Grace Goddard, he believed she was destined to become a great star; unlike Grace, Hyde - who discovered Lana Turner and counted Rita Hayworth among his clients - had the power to do something about it. Despite being married and old enough to be her father, Hyde fell madly in love with her. Due to his persistence, Marilyn landed the two movies that put her on the map: The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve.
She posed nude for photographer Tom Kelley on May 27, 1949, and was paid $50. The model of the Miss Golden Dreams calendar from that shoot was billed as "anonymous." In 1952, a blackmailer threatened to reveal her as Marilyn, but she thwarted the scheme by announcing the fact herself. When asked why she did it, she said, "I was hungry" (in My Story, she said she did it to get her car out of hock). Hugh Hefner bought the rights to use the photo for the first issue of his new men's magazine, Playboy.
A dying Hyde repeatedly asked Marilyn to marry him, assuring her that she would be a rich widow. But she refused. She loved him, she explained in My Story, but was not in love with him. According to Donald Spoto's biography, she renewed contact with producer and "party circuit" host Joseph Schenck, ignoring Hyde for weeks at a time. When Hyde suffered a fatal heart attack in Palm Springs on December 18, 1950, Marilyn, who had refused to join him, blamed herself for his death. His family threw her out of his Beverly Hills estate. The day after his funeral, she attempted suicide.
By late 1951, Fox was convinced of her potential and gave her a big buildup. Though she was the biggest star in the world by 1954 (with films such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, and There's No Business Like Show Business), she tired of the dumb blonde roles Darryl F. Zanuck assigned her. She broke her contract and went to New York to study acting at The Actor's Studio; she formed her own production company with photographer Milton H. Greene, in which the first venue was Marilyn's blockbuster hit The Seven Year Itch. These moves were met with both success and failure with the movie industry (Marilyn's next film under her production company, The Prince and the Showgirl, flopped). Yet, when Jayne Mansfield, Mamie Van Doren, and Sheree North failed to click with audiences, Zanuck finally admitted defeat, but most of Mansfield, Van Doren, and North's roles were originally meant for Monroe, but Marilyn turned them down due to fear of typecasting (so the studio put her on suspension). Her new contract gave her more creative control and the right to make one movie a year; the first project under the deal was Bus Stop. Her co-stars during these years included Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Laurence Olivier, Joseph Cotten, Richard Widmark, Jane Russell, Lauren Bacall, Ethel Merman, Charles Laughton, Tony Curtis, and Yves Montand (with whom she had an affair during the filming of Let's Make Love).
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 claims they were in love and would have lived happily ever after had not dreams of stardom lured her away. By contrast, Monroe always maintained theirs was a marriage of convenience foisted upon them by Grace, who paid Dougherty to take her charge on dates. She divorced him in 1946.
Retired from the Los Angeles Police Department, Dougherty claims in the 2003 documentary, Marilyn's Man, that he was the creator of the "Marilyn Monroe" persona. No biographer has ever come across any evidence to support this or Dougherty's claims that she was "forced" by Fox executives to divorce him or that they remained friends. He lives in Maine, and was married to his third wife until her death in 2003.
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 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.
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 Columbia 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 soon 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. Marilyn's life was in a tailspin.
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 murdered due to her involvement with the Kennedy family. However, the fact that Kennedy's many girlfriends, including Judith Campbell Exner (who was also the paramour of mobster Sam Giancana), outlived the president, would cast doubt on this interpretation. Nevertheless, a plausible case was made for the Kennedy 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 attempted to cash a $200 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 credible evidence of foul play, but the stories persist. Dr. Thomas Noguchi, who 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 was a highly likely suicide.
DiMaggio claimed her body and arranged her funeral. According to her half-sister, Berniece Baker Miracle, he just took over and she allowed him to. For twenty years, he had a dozen red roses delivered three times a week to her crypt. Unlike the other men who knew her intimately (or claimed to), he never publicly spoke about her nor wrote a book.
Marilyn is interred in a crypt at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. 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. A woman once so fascinated with movie stars that she named her daughter after one, Norma Talmadge, apparently never knew she had given birth to one of the most famous women in history.