“I learned to walk when I was 10 months old, and I've been walking this way ever since.”
― Marilyn Monroe ―
Biography of Marilyn Monroe Monroe. Written by: Fraser Penney.
*The early years of Marilyn Monroe.
She was born illegitimate on June 1, 1926, in the charity ward at Los Angeles General Hospital. Her mother, Gladys Baker (nee Monroe) would call her Norma Jeane Mortenson but she would later use the name Baker too. The identity of her father was uncertain. Gladys entered on Norma Jeane's birth certificate that the father was Edward Mortenson, a variation on her ex husband Edward Mortensen's name, spelled with an 'e'. As time went on it is thought to have been a man who worked with Gladys named Charles Stanley Gifford. Both men were long gone before Norma Jeane put in an appearance. She was a beautiful infant, but unlike most children, she was placed into foster care when she was thirteen days old.
She had a very tough childhood, had little connection with her mother until a few years later when Gladys had saved up enough money to mortgage a small house for them both to live. This would not last as Gladys could not cope with her mounting debts, and her frail state of mind got her certified paranoid schizophrenic and she ended up institutionalized. Once again Norma Jeane, by this time a very pretty child, ended up in various foster homes. Among the many things she would be faced with would be sexual abuse and exploitation by the people who were supposedly looking after her.
At 9 she was placed in the Los Angeles Orphans Home by her guardian Grace Mckee, who had recently married "Doc" Goddard. Norma Jeane had a strong spirit and made the most of what she had. One of the other kids remembered her as being a very generous person who would never say no to you if you asked her for something. She lost herself in movies and would watch films with Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and her favourite, Clark Gable. Outside her window she could see RKO Studios and would cry as she knew her mother had worked there. She would also lose herself in daydreams of what it must be like to work there & having people know you and love you. In 1937 Norma Jeane was rescued by Gladys' best friend Grace McKee Goddard when she took Norma Jeane out of the orphanage to live with her and Doc Goddard.
She grew into a popular teenager, the boys gave her the attention she had craved all her life. And the girls took note too. She excelled at English and did well at sports. For the next 5 years Norma Jeane would have the security that had eluded her until this time.
She also lived with and bonded deeply with Grace's Aunt Ana Lower. Marilyn would later refer to Aunt Ana as the first person she truly loved. By Christmas 1941 Grace and Doc Goddard decided to move to West Virginia the following year without her. It was a difficult time as without Grace, Norma Jeane would have to move back to the orphanage. However, Grace came up with the idea of Norma Jeane marrying the handsome boy next door, James Dougherty.
In December 1941, Grace asked Jim to escort Norma Jeane to a company Christmas dance. By March 1942 they were going steady and by May they were engaged. In June, Norma Jeane Baker became Mrs James Dougherty, less than three weeks after she turned 16.
As Jim went overseas for the war effort, Norma Jeane did her bit by working in a plane parts factory spraying fuselages. It was there that an US Army photographer named David Conover, taking photos of the working women back home for the Army, discovered Norma Jeane. These would be the first professional photos ever taken of Norma Jeane, which almost immediately led to her being signed to The Blue Book Model Agency.
With a new career and a husband overseas, Norma Jeane grew restless and requested a divorce from Dougherty with dreams of stardom in her head. By 1946, Norma Jeane had made the cover of several national & international magazines and was one of the most popular models. By now she had desires to act. She caught the attention of 20th Century Fox head of talent, Ben Lyon and signed a 6 month contract. changed her name to Marilyn after actress Marilyn Miller and she choose Monroe, her mother's maiden name.
Marilyn Monroe - 16 years old
*The phenomenon, Marilyn Monroe
As Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jeane took on a new life and identity but when someone stopped her to ask for her autograph she couldn’t spell the name Marilyn, but in a few years the whole world would know how to spell the name… Success would not come so easy for Marilyn Monroe though. After a year at Fox and two lack-lustre films and very little interest in her, they dropped her. Picked up by Columbia she made the low-budget ‘Ladies of the Chorus,’ a musical in which Marilyn was able to show off her singing and dancing skills. She was good but the film bombed and Marilyn found herself out of work once more. Hungry and with little money coming in, she found herself in rent arrears. She’d been asked before to pose nude by photographer Tom Kelley and had said no but swallowing her pride and about to be evicted she decided to do it, as long as his wife could be present. Sprawled out on red velvet, a naked Marilyn would pose for what would be perhaps the most important photographs she ever did, for they would eventually become (unbeknown to her at the time), the photographs that would make her the undisputed sex symbol of the 20th century. History was made that day.
She was paid $50. By the end of 1949 Marilyn was now involved with agent Johnny Hyde, who fell head over heals in love with her.
He introduced her to the legendary film director John Huston who cast her in ‘The Asphalt Jungle.’ Then she won the part of Miss Caswell in the multi-Oscar-winning ‘All About Eve.’ It was 1950 and now the name Marilyn Monroe was being heard all over Hollywood. She got great reviews for her brief appearances in these two movies.
Her star was on the rise and she signed a new seven year contract with 20th Century Fox. Over the next 18 months, still unsure of her talent, Fox cast her in every film that required a pretty blonde. Her best work was made outside the studio for RKO, the melodrama ‘Clash By Night,’ and gave Marilyn her greatest role to date. But it was not Marilyn’s acting that drew the crowds to the theatres. It was the news that she had posed nude for a calendar, that was now on display all over America.
As news broke that Hollywood’s new star was indeed the unidentified model on the Miss Golden Dreams calendar, the studio heads pleaded with Marilyn to deny it was her as her career would be over as the public would not accept this. Marilyn decided to tell the truth, that she was starving and needed the money and her little-girl-lost, vulnerable personality won the publics sympathy. She appeared on the cover of Life magazine, who published the controversial image for all America and the world to see, and from that moment the public took her to their hearts as their own.
Every film that Marilyn appeared in was now a major box-office hit and Fox decided to put her in ‘Niagara’ - her first starring role. This was followed by ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ and ‘How To Marry A Millionaire,’ the biggest box-office hit of Marilyn’s career and the second film to be released in Cinema Scope. By the end of 1953 Marilyn would be the biggest draw at the box-office. She was now romantically involved with baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and in January 1954 they would be wed in San Francisco.
They spent their honeymoon in Japan, where they were greeted by hysterical fans, all trying to get close to Marilyn.
Marilyn was asked if she would like to entertain the G.I’s in Korea. How could she refuse as they had made her their favourite pin-up the previous year. Marilyn spent 10 whirlwind days entertaining the troops and visiting the hospitals. She would later describe it as the best time of her life. By the end of their honeymoon, Joe’s contempt for Marilyn’s success and sexy image was beginning to cause a strain on theirrelationship and Marilyn rushed back to Hollywood to make a movie that she did not particularly care for,‘There’s No Business Like Show Business.’
Her next film would make her a legend but it would end her marriage. 'The Seven Year Itch' would be the most talked about movie that year. The scenes filmed on location in New York gained maximum crowds as the skirt of Marilyn ’s dress was blown up over her head. In the crowd stood Joe DiMaggio, his face like thunder as Marilyn did the scene over and over again and the crowd cheered her on. He could not contain his fury as he made his exit and the world waited for the next scene in Marilyn’s troubled life.
A tearful Marilyn would face the press and announce that she was leaving Joe after only nine months of marriage. They would be re-united briefly for the films premier as Marilyn asked Joe to be her date.
By now Marilyn was fed up with Fox and tired of the dumb blonde roles they were offering her. After refusing another such role, they suspended her and she moved to New York.
Golden Dreams, 1949
The famous scene from the Seven Year Itch.
*Our Immortal Marilyn.
She had made new friends in photographer Milton Greene and Actor’s Studio guru Lee Strasberg. They gave her a new perception of herself and believed in her talent but most of all gave her the respect that Hollywood never did.
As Marilyn took to New York like a fish to water and studied acting with Strasberg at his studio, Fox feared that they may have lost their hottest asset, with no new Monroe films in the pipeline and no sign of Marilyn’s return. Fox soon negotiated a new deal with Marilyn as she set up her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions. In a tv interview Marilyn would discuss her disenchantment with her work up ‘til now and how she hoped to change it, and how much she loved her ‘‘new’’ life in New York.
After her year at Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio Marilyn returned to Fox to film ‘Bus Stop’. The film won Marilyn some of the best reviews of her entire career, with director Joshua Logan saying “Monroe is as near genius as any actress I ever knew.” Marilyn shocked the world when it was discovered that she was involved with playwright, Arthur Miller. They had secretly dated for a year as Miller was married.
When his divorce was granted in the middle of June 1956, he announced his forthcoming wedding to Marilyn, and the story broke in the press that they would marry before she traveled to England to film ‘The Sleeping Prince.’
As the pair were barraged with reporters, a female reporter from Paris Match was accidentally killed in pursuit of them so they decided to put the spectacle to rest and were married in two ceremonies, one civil and one Jewish on 29 June and July 1.
Marilyn and Arthur then went to England to begin filming ‘The Prince And The Showgirl,’ as it was now called, with Sir Laurence Olivier. Marilyn would produce the film and Olivier would direct. The pair battled on the set and critics would say that Marilyn stole every scene from the great Olivier. During filming Marilyn dissolved her relationship with partner Milton Greene as Miller took control of her business affairs. The film would do poorly at the box-office.
Anxious to create a real family, Marilyn took time off from acting during 1957/58 and focused on trying to have a baby, which was her greatest desire. The Miller’s moved into relative obscurity. After suffering an ectopic pregnancy, Marilyn was urged to return to work - the Miller’s needed the money.
She accepted the role of Sugar Kane in ‘Some Like It Hot.’
As filming wrapped, Marilyn miscarried yet again. The film would become one of the biggest hits of 1959 and the second biggest box-office hit of her entire career. Marilyn’s next venture would not fair so well. Back at Fox for the first time since ‘Bus Stop,’ she began filming ‘Let’s Make Love’ with Yves Montand. Marilyn’s marriage to Miller was beginning to fall apart and she embarked on an affair with her French co-star. It was a disaster for Marilyn as Yves finished it when filming wrapped. Despite media interest in the carrying-on of the two stars, the film was a flop. As filming on ‘Let’s Make Love’ finished, Marilyn, without little time off went on to make possibly her most ambitious project yet. Written by Arthur as a gift to Marilyn, ‘The Misfits’ starred her childhood idol Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach. It was the closest Marilyn came to playing herself on the screen. Clark Gable would die of a massive heart attack ten days after filming his final scene. The film was not a hit at the box-office, but many film scholars regard it as one of the finest American films ever made. The strain of making the picture turned out to be the death of the Miller's marriage as well. They divorced in early 1961.
Marilyn suffered a difficult year, spending time in hospital for a “rest,” and then gallbladder surgery in June. She made very few public appearances during the rest of the year but renewed her friendship with Joe DiMaggio.
In early 1962, Marilyn bought a modest home in Brentwood. She went to Mexico and bought some furnishings. She started another film for Fox in the spring, ‘Something’s Got To Give.’ Marilyn was frequently absent on the set due to sinusitis. Fox’s financial state was in near bankruptcy as filming of ‘Cleopatra’ in Rome was well over budget and showing no signs of ending. With all other films cancelled Fox kept Marilyn’s picture running in hope that they could have another hit and reap the rewards they so desperately needed.
Marilyn looked fit and had lost 15lbs for the film and did a nude bathing scene, the first by a major star in an American film. With the film now weeks behind schedule, she flew to New York to perform for President Kennedy's birthday Gala on May 19, 1962. The people at Fox didn't take it well. On her return to LA, she fell ill again. Frustrated, Fox fired Marilyn shortly after her 36th birthday, her last day on the set. It was a blow to Marilyn but she kept herself involved in other projects. As before she was able to negotiate a new deal with Fox and on August 1, she signed a $1 million two-picture deal. Filming was to resume towards the end of October. On August 5th , 1962, Marilyn died in her home of a drug overdose. Her death remains a question to this day. She was laid to rest in a small private ceremony at Westwood Memorial Park.