Marilyn Monroe's career as an
actress spanned 16 years. She made 29 films, 24 in the first 8 years of her career.
Born as Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles General Hospital, her mother,
Gladys, listed the fathers address as
unknown. Marilyn would never know the true identity of her father. Duncan Bruce that
states that her Mother's side was Monroe from Scotland and related to President Monroe.
Due to her mother's mental instability and the fact that she was unmarried at the time,
Norma Jeane was placed in the foster home of Albert and Ida Bolender. It was here she
lived the first 7 years of her life.
"They were terribly strict...they didn't mean any harm...it was their religion. They
brought me up harshly."
In 1933, Norma Jeane lived briefly with her
mother. Gladys begin to show signs of mental depression and in 1934 was admitted to a rest
home in Santa Monica. Grace McKee, a close friend of her mother took over the care of
Norma Jeane. "Grace loved and adored her", recalled one of her co-workers.
Grace, telling her..."Don't worry, Norma Jeane. You're going to be a beautiful girl
when you get big...an important woman, a movie star." Grace was captivated by Jean
Harlow, a superstar of the twenties, and Marilyn would later say..."and so Jean
Harlow was my idol."
Grace was to marry in 1935 and due to financial difficulties, Norma Jeane was placed in an
orphanage from September 1935 to June 1937. Grace frequently visited her, taking her to
the movies, buying clothes and teaching her how to apply makeup at her young age. Norma
Jeane was to later live with
several of Grace's relatives.
"The world around me then was kind of grim. I had to learn to pretend in order to...I
don't know...block the grimness. The whole world seemed sort of closed to me...(I felt) on
the outside of everything, and all I could do was to dream up any kind of
In September 1941 Norma Jeane was again living with Grace when she met Jim Dougherty, 5
years her senior. Grace encouraged the relationship and on learning that she and her
husband would be moving to the East Coast, set in motion plans for Norma Jeane to marry
Dougherty on June 19, 1942.
"Grace McKee arranged the marriage for me, I never had a choice. There's not much to
say about it. They couldn't support me, and they had to work out something. And so I got
Dougherty joined the Merchant Marines in 1943 and in 1944 was sent overseas. Norma Jeane,
while working in a factory inspecting parachutes in 1944, was photographed by the Army as
a promotion to show women on the assembly line contributing to the war effort. One of the
Conover, asked to take further pictures of her. By spring of 1945, she was quickly
becoming known as a "photographers dream" and had appeared on 33 covers of
In the fall of 1946 she was granted a divorce...later saying, "My marriage didn't
make me sad, but it didn't make me happy either. My husband and I hardly spoke to each
other. This wasn't because we were angry. We had nothing to say. I was dying of
On July 23, 1946 she signed a contract with Twentieth Century-Fox Studios. She selected
her mother's family name of Monroe. From this point on she would be known as Marilyn
Monroe to all her fans. She had a minor part in the movie "Scudda-Hoo! Scudda-Hay!
and was dismissed as a contract player in August. Rehired in 1948, Marilyn sang here first
song in the movie "Ladies of the Chorus".
Johnny Hyde, of the William Morris Agency, became her mentor and lover in 1949. Also, in
1949, Marilyn agreed to pose nude for a calendar. A fact that was to stir controversy
later in her career as a superstar.
"Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty
cents for your soul"
Her first serious acting job came in 1950 when she had a small but crucial role in
"The Asphalt Jungle" and received favorable reviews. "Clash By Night"
in 1952 earned her several favorable notices...Alton Cook of the New York
World-Telegram and Sun wrote..."a forceful actress, a gifted new star, worthy of all
that fantastic press agentry. Her role here is not very big, but she makes it
dominant." Monroe's first leading part in a serious feature was to be in "Don't
Bother to Knock", also filmed in 1952.
Marilyn met Joe DiMaggio in early 1952, she was 25 and he was 37. DiMaggio, recently
retired from baseball, had expressed a desire to meet this famous star. By February the
romance was in full bloom.
"I was surprized to be so crazy about Joe. I expected a flashy New York sports type,
and instead I met this reserved guy who didn't make a pass at me right away! He treated me
like something special. Joe is a very decent man, and he makes other people feel decent,
In 1952 Marilyn began filming "Niagara" with Joseph Cotten...a film that was to
establish her stardom. After her next big film, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", she
and Jane Russell signed their names and placed their hands and feet in the wet cement in
front of the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard...the same place she had visited with
Gladys and Grace years earlier as a child.
"I want to be a big star more than anything. It's something precious"
Fox suspended Marilyn in 1954 for failure to appear on the set of "Pink Tights".
The studio had refused to let her look at the script prior to accepting the part. She felt
that due to her star status, she should have the right to script approval.
On January 14 Joe and Marilyn were married. The wedding captured the headlines worldwide.
Joe was an extremely jealous type of guy and resented her popularity among other men. He
desired a housewife, not a star of such magnitude...the marriage was in trouble from the
"I didn't want to give up my career, and that's what Joe wanted me to do most of
She was asked to go on a USO tour of Korea in February to entertain the troops, beginning
on the 16th for four days. She entertained over 60,000 soldiers, many who had never seen a
Monroe film... having been in the service during her rise to stardom... most had seen still
photos of her in many magazines and newspapers. She was a huge success. Joe did not
accompany her on this trip...explaining, "Joe hates crowds and glamour."
"...standing in the snowfall facing these yelling soldiers, I felt for the first time
in my life no fear of anything, I felt only happy."
On May 29, Marilyn began filming "There's No Business Like Show Business".
Throughout the summer she was ill with bronchitis and anemia. For the first time, Marilyn
began showing serious side-effects of the many sleeping pills she had been taking for the
last few years...often groggy, lethargic and crying on the set.
The famous "skirt blowing" scene from the "Seven Year Itch" , filmed
in 1954 was to be a hit with both amateur and professional photographers. Several hundred,
along with 2000 spectators gathered outside the Trans-Lux Theater in New York City in the
early morning hours of September 15th to see and record her as she posed for over two
hours for her adoring fans.
In the fall of 1954 Marilyn and Joe separated...later to divorce. On October 6, Jerry
Giesler made a press announcement and stated "...as her attorney, I am speaking for
her and can only say that the conflict of careers has brought about this regrettable
necessity." With the press hounding her, Marilyn
answered in a choked voice, "I can't say anything today. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
"When I married him (Joe), I wasn't sure of why I married him, I have too many
fantasies to be a housewife."
In early 1955 Marilyn again returned to New York and joined the Actors Studio, in pursuit
of becoming a serious actress. There she met Lee Strasberg, head of the Studio and drama
coach. Mr. Strasberg and his family would play an important role in her life.
She was to renew her acquaintance with Arthur Miller and have an affair with him before
their marriage over a year later. To Marilyn, Miller represented the serious theater and
an intellect that she found attractive. To Miller, years later..."It was wonderful to
be around her, she was simply overwhelming. She had so much romise. It seemed to me that
she could really be a great kind of phenomenon, a terrific artist. She was endlessly
fascinating, full of original observations...there wasn't a conventional bone in her
Marilyn returned to Hollywood in February 1956, after over a years absence, to film
"Bus Stop". After completing the film she returned to New York in June. Miller
also returned to New York after obtaining a divorce in Reno, Nevada. They where married
June 29 in White Plains, NY.
The Millers departed for London soon after their marriage so that Marilyn could start
production on "The Prince and the Showgirl" with Lawrence Olivier. As early as
July, Arthur began to have doubts about the marriage. Sidney Skolsky remarked
that..."Miller looked on Marilyn strictly as an ideal and was shocked to discover
that she is a human being, a person, even as you and I and maybe Miller."
"Bus Stop" opened in London in October 1956. A Times review said..."Miss
Monroe is a talented comedienne, and her sense of timing never forsake her. She gives a
complete portrait, sensitively and sometimes even brilliantly conceived. There is about
her a waif-life quality, an underlying note of pathos which can be strangely moving."
"It's not that I object to doing musicals and comedies...in fact, I rather enjoy
them...but I'd like to do dramatic parts too."
Marilyn Monroe did not return to Hollywood until 1958 to make "Some Like It Hot"
with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Her health continued to deteriorate due to increased
dependency on drugs and involvement in an unhappy marriage. She often came to the set late
and was unable to remember her lines. Director, Billy Wilder later said..."Anyone can
remember lines, but it takes a real artist to come on the set and not know her lines and
yet give the performance she did." Her next film "Let's Make Love" proved
to be an unremarkable film with much publicity over her brief affair with co-star Yves
"I am invariably late for appointments... sometimes, as much as two hours. I've tried
to change my ways but the things that make me late are too strong, and too pleasing."
Early in 1960, Marilyn was consulting with Dr. Ralph Greenson, a prominent psychoanalyst
to Hollywood stars. As common during this period, he relied heavily on drug
therapy...routinely prescribing barbiturates and tranquilizers in addition to his
July 1960 marked the start of filming "The Misfits"...a short story by Arthur
Miller adapted for film. While on location the Millers lived in separate quarters and were
barely speaking. Meanwhile, pills for Marilyn were regularly flown in from her Los Angeles
doctors, including Dr. Greenson. Allan Snyder recalled..."It took so long to get her
going in the morning that usually I had to make her up while she lay in her bed." But
once again, she managed to give an exceptional performance.
"Everybody is always tugging at you. They'd all like a sort of chunk out of you. I
don't think they realize it, but it's like "grrrr do this, grrrr do that..." But
you do want to stay intact...intact and on two feet."
On November 5th, the day after "The Misfits" was completed, co-star Clark Gable
suffered a serious heart attack and died on November 16, 1960. Marilyn felt a great deal
of guilt, commenting..."I kept him waiting... kept him waiting for hours and hours on
Evelyn Moriarty remembered..."Marilyn was being blamed for everything. All of her
problems were exaggerated to cover up for Director Huston's gambling and the terrible
waste of money on that production. It was easy for her to be made the scapegoat."
Marilyn divorced Arthur Miller in January of 1961, the same month that "The
Misfits" was released. Another unhappy marriage was terminated.
"Mr. Miller is a wonderful man and a great writer, but it didn't work out that we
should be husband and wife."
In 1961 Marilyn purchased a house in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. At the urging
of her psychoanalyst, Dr Greenson, she hired Eunice Murray as housekeeper. Murray, calling
herself a nurse, had neither the training or credentials. It is suspected that she was a
"spy" for Dr. Greenson who continued to have more and more control over
Marilyn's life, seeing her almost daily when she was in Los Angeles.
A reported affair with John F. Kennedy began in late 1961. At the President's gala
birthday celebration in Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, Marilyn sang her now famous
"Happy Birthday" tribute to JFK. The Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy was also
reported to have had an affair with Marilyn shortly before her death.
Marilyn began production on "Somethings Got to Give" in April 1962. Much has
been said about her inability to show up on the set and her trip to New York for the
Presidents birthday celebration...but her illnesses had been well documented by physicians
and she had obtained permission from the Studio well in advance of the trip to New York.
"I feel stronger if the people around me on the set love me, care for me, and hold
good thoughts for me. It creates an aura of love, and I believe I can give a better
The Studio was deeply in debt over their production of "Cleopatra" starring
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The filming was way behind schedule and costing
millions over budget. It is theorized, if Fox scrapped the Marilyn Monroe film with far
fewer expensive sets and actors, they possibly could be reimburse by the insurance company
for losses due to a star's illness, and recoup monies spent.
Fox fired Marilyn and filed suit against Marilyn Monroe Productions on June 7, but the
suit was later dropped.
Marilyn had been seeing Joe DiMaggio frequently during this time and had finally agreed to
remarry him. The wedding date was set for August 8, 1962. Fox rehired her on August 1 to
complete "Somethings Got to Give" with a salary of $250,000, which was two and a
half times the original amount. Of course these events would never come to pass due to her
untimely death on August 5, 1962.
Much has been speculated about the events surrounding her death and others involvement in
it. But whatever the cause...it is highly unlikely that it was suicide. Possibly the
result of a tragic accidental drug overdose...and possibly administered by someone other
than Marilyn herself.
A saddened Joe DiMaggio made arrangements for the funeral, inviting no one from the
Hollywood scene or press...but only close friends and relatives. As he said..."they
had only hurt Marilyn." For over 20 years flowers were delivered weekly to her crypt
from Joe... just as he had promised Marilyn when she told him of William Powell's pledge
to the dying Jean Harlow.
"I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or even
beautiful, but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else."