Marilyn Monroe was a woman who was worshiped by her fans, who was loved by a man who remained devoted to her beyond her death, and who spent her life feeling desperately alone. She remains an icon, and more than just a pretty face.
The phenomenon we know as Marilyn Monroe was born as Norma Jeane Mortensen on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles, California, then baptized as Norma Jeane Baker. She never knew her father - her mother's ex-husband, Martin Edward Mortensen, is listed on the birth certificate with his surname misspelled, but her mother's coworker, Charles Stanley Gifford, is the man Monroe mentioned in interviews, and she sometimes fantasized that Clark Gable was her true father. She once said, "No one ever told me I was pretty when I was a little girl. All little girls should be told they're pretty, even if they aren't."
Monroe's mother, Gladys Monroe Baker, suffered from schizophrenia. Monroe had an early memory of her mother trying to smother her in her crib with a pillow. Her childhood was unstable, to say the least. She lived with numerous foster families. She recalled, "Some of my foster families used to send me to the movies to get me out of the house and there I'd sit all day and way into the night. Up in front, there with the screen so big, a little kid all alone, and I loved it. I loved anything that moved up there and I didn't miss anything that happened and there was no popcorn either." Once her mother tried to remove her from a foster family by smuggling her out in a duffel bag.
Eventually Monroe was declared a ward of the state and was taken in by her mother's friend, Grace McKee. The two enjoyed going to the movies and experimenting with makeup, until McKee married Doc Goddard and sent Monroe to live in an orphanage. Several families tried to adopt Monroe, but every time her mother hesitated to give up her maternal rights. In 1937, Monroe moved in with the Goddards. They were deeply religious and did not allow Monroe to go to the movies.
She lived with two different aunts, then returned to the Goddards once again. When the Goddards decided to move to West Virginia without Monroe, arrangements were made for her to marry a neighbor's son, Jim Dougherty, to keep her from returning to an orphanage or joining yet another foster family.
Monroe and Dougherty married on June 19, 1942. He was a merchant marine, five years older. When he was sent to the South Pacific, Monroe went to work at the Radioplane Munitions Factory in Burbank, inspecting parachutes and otherwise helping with the war effort. When army captain and future U.S. president Ronald Reagan commissioned a photo shoot of factory girls for the army magazine, "Yank," Monroe was discovered. She soon signed with the Blue Book Modeling Agency, then with 20th Century Fox.
Studio executives encouraged Monroe, still known as Norma Jean Baker, to dye her hair blonde and consider a new name. "Carole Lind" was considered, then rejected. Her idol, Jean Harlow, used her mother's maiden name as her stage name; that is why Baker was changed to Monroe. First name options included Norma Jeane, Norma, and Jeane, but eventually "Marilyn Monroe" was chosen. She served her husband with divorce papers while he was on a ship in China, because 20th Century Fox did not want to sign a married or pregnant starlet.
Monroe gained notoriety for her stunning beauty and charisma in early films, including "The Asphalt Jungle," "Niagra," "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," and "There's No Business Like Show Business."
In 1955, Monroe began taking private acting lessons with Lee Strasberg, at the suggestion of director Elia Kazan, plus she was tired of being cast as a dumb blonde. Part of Strasberg's method involved going into analysis, to help actors use their memories and private moments as fuel for method acting. Strasberg became a father figure for Monroe. Therapy sessions, conducted by Dr. Margaret Hohenberg, forced Monroe to confront her memories of abuse.
Monroe lived in hotels in New York, first the Gladstone, then a suite on the twenty-seventh floor of the Waldorf-Astoria. While at the Waldorf, Monroe wrote memories, dreams, and streams-of-consciousness on hotel stationery. In one nightmare, Strasberg was operating on Monroe, with Hohenberg assisting. When they opened her up, she contained nothing but sawdust. Playwright Arthur Miller, who was watching the procedure in her dream, seemed disappointed.
In 1957, Monroe started seeing a new psychiatrist, Dr. Marianne Kris, who was Viennese.
Her most successful comedy, "Some Like It Hot, was made in 1958, after Monroe moved back to L.A. She won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy, while at home she wrote dark thoughts in notebooks.
In 1960 Monroe starred with Yves Montand in "Let's Make Love," and at the same time the two had an affair that was exposed in the press. Her separation from Arthur Miller was announced in the same year. Dr. Kris recommended that she participate in so-called adoption therapy, in which the patient lived with her therapist, with Dr. Ralph Greenson. That technique is no longer sanctioned by mental health professionals.
Monroe's last completed film was "The Misfits," a failure at the box office. Miller had written the role for Monroe as a Valentine's Day gift, but she hated the role and during filming Miller fell in love with a photographic archivist, Inge Morath, who would become his third wife.
About marriage, Monroe once said, "Experts on romance say for a happy marriage there has to be more than a passionate love. For a lasting union, they insist, there must be a genuine liking for each other. Which, in my book, is a good definition for friendship." All told, she married three times, including her impulsive union as a teenager.
In 1954, Monroe married baseball great Joe DiMaggio, but he disliked the public displays that came with her Hollywood career. In particular, he disapproved of the famous billboard for "Seven Year Itch," which featured Monroe in a white dress, with her skirt blowing up in a draft. After nine months of marriage, she filed for divorce, citing mental cruelty. The white dress she wore in the film earned $5.6 million at auction in 2011.
She later married playwright Arthur Miller, even converting to Judaism and standing by him when he was forced to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the era of McCarthyism. One day she found his diary and read that he was sometimes embarrassed by her in front of his friends. This revelation devastated Monroe, and she flew in a therapist to help her through the crisis. She and Miller divorced in 1961. The special bond between Monroe and DiMaggio could not be extinguished.
She always wanted to be a mother. She did have stepchildren, about whom she worried. "All my stepchildren carried the burden of my fame," she said. "Sometimes they would read terrible things about me and I'd worry about whether it would hurt them. I would tell them: 'Don't hide these things from me. I'd rather you ask me these things straight out and I'll answer all your questions.'"
In 1941, Monroe was voted the Oomph Girl at her junior high school; in 1947, she was named Miss California Artichoke Queen; in 1950 she was selected as "Stars and Stripes" magazine's Miss Cheesecake; in 1951 she was chosen by servicemen as the Present All GI's Would Like to Find in their Christmas Stocking.
Monroe stuttered during her childhood and teens, until a speech therapist taught her to overcome the problem by using a breathier tone of voice.
In her youth, Monroe had eleven sets of foster parents.
Monroe was insecure throughout her life. She was often late for shoots or missed them entirely, because of anxiety about her performance. She said, "I've always felt toward the slightest scene, even if all I had to do in a scene was just to come in and say, "Hi," that the people ought to get their money's worth and that this is an obligation of mine, to give them the best you can get from me."
Monroe never owned a house until the final year of her life. She had very few personal possessions and most of her jewelry was costume. Her only expensive jewelry was from DiMaggio - a diamond ring and a string of pearls. One prized possession was an autographed photo of scientist Albert Einstein.
Photographer Tom Kelly took nude photos of Monroe in 1949, intending to use them in a calendar and paying the model $50 for the photo shoot. When Monroe started to gain fame, Hugh Hefner of "Playboy" bought the negatives for $500, then made millions of dollars by publishing them in his magazine. Monroe was billed as the first "Playboy" Sweetheart of the Month, later to become Playmate of the Month.
Frank Sinatra bought Monroe a Maltese terrier after her divorce from Miller, to cheer her up. Monroe named the dog Maf, short for Mafia Honey.
Monroe was covered with heavy peach fuzz, due to a hormone cream she used on her skin. Studio executives wanted her to remove the hair, but she insisted that when studio lights hit the fuzz it caused a soft glow.
When singer Ella Fitzgerald could not get booked by the popular Hollywood nightclub, Mocambo, because she was black, Monroe called the owner. She promised to sit in the front row of every performance for a week if the owner would agree to let Fitzgerald sing. This arrangement gave a big boost to the singer's career.
Monroe wanted to be a mother, but she suffered multiple miscarriages. She said, "Having a child, that's always been my biggest fear. I want a child and I fear a child."
To relax, Monroe enjoyed taking ice baths with a few drops of Chanel No. 5.
Monroe was once committed to a psychiatric ward, signed in as Faye Miller. She expected to stay for only three days, but her psychiatrist had other plans. Monroe's protests were seen by the hospital staff as psychotic episodes, and she even threatened to cut herself with a piece of broken glass, inspired by her role in "Don't Bother to Knock." Her ex-husband, DiMaggio, physically rescued her from the institution.
In 1950, her agent, Johnny Hyde, convinced Monroe to have a chin implant and to have the cartilage at the tip of her nose reshaped. He paid for the procedures. The medical records later sold at auction for more than $25,000.
Monroe had an unusual recipe for stuffing, which was printed in the New York Times. Ingredients included liver, heart, egg, and raisins.
Monroe met President John F. Kennedy at the home of actor Peter Lawford, the president's brother-in-law. Some historians believe they had an affair. In May of 1962, Monroe famously sang "Happy Birthday" for JFK, while wearing a dress covered with 2,500 rhinestones. It was so tight that she had to be sewn into it. She said, "I was honoured when they asked me to appear at the president's birthday rally in Madison Square Garden. There was like a hush over the whole place when I came on to sing 'Happy Birthday,' like if I had been wearing a slip, I would have thought it was showing or something. I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, what if no sound comes out!'"
When she wanted to travel incognito, Monroe used the name Zelda Zonk.
When Monroe was dismissed from "Something's Got to Give" for missing too many days, her costar, Dean Martin, refused to finish the film without her. It was never completed.
The actress many considered to be just another dumb blonde had an IQ of 168. She said, "I don't consider myself an intellectual. And this is not one of my aims. But I admire intellectual people." She owned over 400 books, including works by Dostoyevsky, Milton, Keats, and Hemingway. Her favorite musicians included Beethoven, Mozart, and Louis Armstrong. She appreciated the art of Goya, El Greco, Picasso, and Botticelli.
Monroe was found dead in bed, in her Brentwood, Los Angeles, home, on August 5, 1962. She had overdosed, and an empty bottle of sleeping pills was found nearby. Some speculate that she may have been murdered; some say she was perhaps having an affair with JFK or his brother, Robert Kennedy.
Monroe was buried in a pale apple green Pucci dress, a favorite of hers. Her high-end casket was solid bronze, lined with champagne-colored silk. Hugh Hefner bought the crypt next to hers.
A half-written love letter to Joe DiMaggio was found in Monroe's bedroom after her death. Some insiders claimed that the two planned to remarry. Monroe had once asked her ex-husband to leave flowers on her grave every week if she died before him - he kept that promise and had six red roses delivered to her crypt three times a week. The deliveries continued for twenty years.
Monroe herself never earned a great deal of money. She once said, "Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul."