Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962), born Norma Jeane Mortenson, but baptized Norma Jeane Baker, was an American actress, singer, and model. After spending much of her childhood in foster homes, Monroe began a career as a model, which led to a film contract in 1946. Her early film appearances were minor, but her performances in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve (both 1950) were critically acclaimed. In a few years, Monroe reached stardom and was cast as the leading lady in such films as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, Some Like It Hot and The Seven Year Itch.
The typecasting of Monroe's "dumb blonde" persona limited her career prospects, so she broadened her range. She studied at the Actors Studio and formed Marilyn Monroe Productions. Her dramatic performance in Bus Stop was hailed by critics, and she won a Golden Globe Award for Some Like it Hot.
The final years of Monroe's life were marked by illness, personal problems, and a reputation for being unreliable and difficult to work with. The circumstances of her death, from an overdose of barbiturates, have been the subject of conjecture. Though officially classified as a "probable suicide", the possibility of an accidental overdose, as well as the possibility of homicide, have not been ruled out. In 1999, Monroe was ranked as the sixth greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute.
In the years and decades following her death, Monroe has often been cited as a pop and cultural icon.
Monroe was born in the Los Angeles County Hospital on June 1, 1926, as Norma Jeane Baker, the third child born to Gladys Pearl Baker, née Monroe, (1902–1984).
Monroe's birth certificate names the father as Martin Edward Mortensen (of Norwegian ancestry), with his residence stated as "unknown". The name Mortenson is listed as her surname on the birth certificate, although Gladys immediately had it changed to Baker, the surname of her first husband and which she still used. Martin's surname was misspelled on the birth certificate leading to more confusion on who her actually father was. Gladys Baker had married a Martin E. Mortensen in 1924, but they had separated before Gladys' pregnancy. Several of Monroe's biographers suggest that Gladys Baker used his name to avoid the stigma of illegitimacy. Mortensen died at the age of 85, and Monroe's birth certificate, together with her parents' marriage and divorce documents, were discovered. The documents showed that Mortensen filed for divorce from Gladys on March 5, 1927, and it was finalized on October 15, 1928.
Throughout her life, Marilyn Monroe denied that Mortensen was her father. She said that, when she was a child, she had been shown a photograph of a man that Gladys identified as her father, Charles Stanley Gifford. She remembered that he had a thin mustache and somewhat resembled Clark Gable, and that she had amused herself by pretending that Gable was her father.
Gladys was mentally unstable and financially unable to care for the young Norma Jeane, so she placed her with foster parents Albert and Ida Bolender of Hawthorne, California, where she lived until she was seven.
While living with the Bolender's, an unusual incident occurred. One day, Gladys came to the Bolender's and demanded that Norma Jeane be released back into her care. Ida knew that Gladys was unstable at the time and insisted that this situation would not benefit Norma Jeane. Unwilling to cooperate, Gladys managed to pull Ida into the yard while she ran inside the house, locking the door behind her. After several minutes, Gladys walked out of the front door with one of Albert Bolender's military duffel bags. To Ida's horror, Gladys had stuffed the now screaming Norma Jeane inside the bag, zipped it up, and proceeded to leave the house. Ida charged towards Gladys and the quarrel resulted in the bag splitting open. Norma Jean fell out and began weeping loudly as Ida grabbed her and pulled her back inside the house, away from Gladys. This was just one of the many bizarre exchanges between young Norma Jeane and her disturbed mother.
In 1933, Gladys bought a house and brought Norma Jeane to live with her. A few months after moving in, however, Gladys suffered a mental breakdown, beginning a series of mental episodes that would plague her for the rest of her life. In My Story, Monroe recalls her mother "screaming and laughing" as she was forcibly removed to the State Hospital in Norwalk. Norma Jeane was declared a ward of the state, and Gladys' best friend, Grace McKee, became her guardian. It was Grace who had told Monroe that someday she would become a movie star. Grace was captivated by Jean Harlow, and would let Norma Jeane wear makeup and take her out to get her hair curled. They would go to the movies together, forming the basis for Norma Jeane's fascination with the cinema and the stars on screen.
Grace McKee married Ervin Silliman (Doc) Goddard in 1935, and nine-year-old Norma Jeane was sent to the Los Angeles Orphans Home (later renamed Hollygrove), and then to a succession of foster homes. During the time at Hollygrove, several families were interested in adopting her; however, reluctance on Gladys' part to sign adoption papers thwarted those attempts. In 1937, Grace took Norma Jeane back to live with her, Goddard, and one of Goddard's daughters from a previous marriage. This arrangement did not last for long, as she was nearly sexually assaulted by a drunk Doc Goddard on at least one occasion. Grace sent her to live in with her great-aunt, Olive Brunings. This arrangement also did not last long, as 12-year-old Norma Jeane was assaulted (some reports say sexually) by one of Olive's sons. Biographers and psychologists have questioned whether at least some of Norma Jeane's later behavior (i.e. hypersexuality, sleep disturbances, substance abuse, disturbed interpersonal relationships), was a manifestation of the effects of childhood sexual abuse in the context of her already problematic relationships with her psychiatrically ill mother and subsequent caregivers. In early 1938, Grace sent her to live with yet another one of her aunts, Anna Lower, who lived in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles. The time with Lower provided the young Norma Jeane with one of the few stable periods in her life. Years later, she would reflect fondly about the time that she spent with Lower, whom she affectionately called "Aunt Ana." Unfortunately, by 1942, the elderly Lower developed serious health problems, and thus Norma Jeane went back to live with the Goddards. It was there where she met a neighbor's son, James Dougherty, and began a relationship with him.
Her time with the Goddards would once again prove to be short. At the end of 1942, Grace and Doc decided to relocate to Virginia, where Doc had received a lucrative job offer. It is unclear whether the Goddards did not or could not take Norma Jeane with them; nevertheless, Grace needed to find a home for her before they moved. An offer from a neighborhood family to adopt Norma Jeane was proposed but Gladys still would not allow it. With few options left, Grace approached Dougherty's mother and suggested that Jim marry her so that she would not have to return to an orphanage or foster care. Dougherty was initially reluctant because Norma Jeane was only sixteen years old, but he finally relented and married her in a ceremony, arranged by Ana Lower, after graduating from high school in June 1942. Monroe would state in her autobiography that she did not feel like a wife; she enjoyed playing with the neighborhood children until her husband would call her home. In 1943, with World War II raging, Dougherty enlisted in the Merchant Marine and was shipped out to the Pacific. Frightened that he might not come back alive, Norma Jeane begged him to give her a child before he left. Dougherty disagreed, feeling that she was too young to have a baby, but he promised that they would revisit the subject when he returned home. After he shipped out, Norma Jeane moved in with Dougherty's mother.
While Dougherty was in the Merchant Marine, Norma Jeane found employment in the Radioplane Munitions Factory. She sprayed airplane parts with fire retardant and inspected parachutes. During this time, Army photographer David Conover snapped a photograph of her for a Yank magazine article. He encouraged her to apply to The Blue Book Modeling Agency. She signed with the agency and began researching the work of Jean Harlow and Lana Turner. She was told that they were looking for models with lighter hair, so Norma Jeane bleached her brunette hair to a golden blonde.
Norma Jeane Dougherty became one of Blue Book's most successful models, appearing on dozens of magazine covers. Jim Dougherty was oblivious of his wife's new job and only became aware of it when he discovered a shipmate of his admiring a photo of a sexy model in a magazine—and the model was Norma Jeane. Dougherty wrote her several letters telling her that once he returned from service, she would have to give up her modeling. A dissatisfied Norma Jeane, who now saw the possibilities of a modeling and acting career, decided then to divorce Dougherty. The marriage ended when he returned from overseas in 1946.
Her successful modeling career brought her to the attention of Ben Lyon, a 20th Century Fox executive, who arranged a screen test for her. Lyon was impressed and commented, "It's Jean Harlow all over again." She was offered a standard six-month contract with a starting salary of $125 per week. Lyon did not like her name and chose "Carole Lind" as a stagename, after Carole Lombard and Jenny Lind, but he soon decided it was not an appropriate choice. Norma Jeane was invited to spend the weekend with Lyon and his wife Bebe Daniels at their home. It was there that they decided to find her a new name. Following her idol Jean Harlow, Norma Jeane decided to choose her mother's maiden name of Monroe. Several variations such as Norma Jeane Monroe and Norma Monroe were tried and initially "Jeane Monroe" was chosen. Lyon, however, felt that there were too many actresses with the name Jean, or a variation of it such as Jean Peters, Gene Tierney, Jeanne Crain, and Jean Arthur. Wanting a more distinctive name, Lyon suggested "Marilyn," commenting that she reminded him of Marilyn Miller, the sexy 1920's Broadway actress. Norma Jeane was initially hesitant due to the fact that Marilyn was the contraction of the name Mary Lynn, a name she did not like. Lyon, however, felt that the name "Marilyn Monroe" was sexy, had a "nice flow," and would be "lucky" due to the double "M" and thus Norma Jeane Baker took the name Marilyn Monroe.
She appeared in Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! and Dangerous Years (both 1947), but when her contract was not renewed, she returned to modeling. She attempted to find opportunities for film work, and while unemployed, she posed for nude photographs. That year, she was also crowned the first "Miss California Artichoke Queen" at the annual artichoke festival in Castroville.
In 1948, Monroe signed a six-month contract with Columbia Pictures and was introduced to the studio's head drama coach Natasha Lytess, who became her acting coach for several years. She starred in the low-budget musical Ladies of the Chorus, but the film was not a success, and her contract was not renewed. During her short stint at Columbia, studio head Harry Cohn softened her appearance somewhat by correcting a slight overbite she had. In addition, he had her golden brownish-blonde hair lightened to platinum blonde.
She had a small role in the Marx Brothers film Love Happy (1949). She impressed the producers, who sent her to New York to feature in the film's promotional campaign.
Love Happy brought Monroe to the attention of the talent agent, Johnny Hyde, who agreed to represent her. He arranged for her to audition for John Huston, who cast her in the drama The Asphalt Jungle as the young mistress of an aging criminal. Her performance brought strong reviews, and was seen by the writer and director, Joseph Mankiewicz. He accepted Hyde's suggestion of Monroe for a small comedic role in All About Eve as Miss Caswell, an aspiring actress, described by another character as a student of "The Copacabana School of Dramatic Art". Mankiewicz later commented that he had seen an innocence in her that he found appealing, and that this had confirmed his belief in her suitability for the role. Following Monroe's success in these roles, Hyde negotiated a seven-year contract for her with 20th Century Fox, shortly before his death in December 1950. It was at some time during this 1949-50 period that Hyde arranged for her to have a slight bump of cartilage removed from her somewhat bulbous nose which further softened her appearance and accounts for the slight variation in look she had in films after 1950.
Monroe enrolled at UCLA in 1951 where she studied literature and art appreciation, and appeared in several minor films playing opposite such long-established performers as Mickey Rooney, Constance Bennett, June Allyson, Dick Powell and Claudette Colbert. In March 1951, she appeared as a presenter at the 23rd Academy Awards ceremony.
In 1952, Monroe appeared on the cover of Look magazine wearing a Georgia Tech sweater as part of an article celebrating female enrollment to the school's main campus.
In the early 1950s, Monroe and Gregg Palmer both unsuccessfully auditioned for roles as Daisy Mae and Abner in a proposed Li'l Abner television series based on the Al Capp comic strip, but the effort never materialized
In March 1952, Monroe faced a possible scandal when one of her nude photos from a 1949 session with photographer Tom Kelley was featured in a calendar. The press speculated about the identity of the anonymous model and commented that she closely resembled Monroe. As the studio discussed how to deal with the problem, Monroe suggested that she should simply admit that she had posed for the photograph but that she should emphasize that she had done so only because she had no money to pay her rent. She gave an interview in which she discussed the circumstances that led to her posing for the photographs, and the resulting publicity elicited a degree of sympathy for her plight as a struggling actress.
She made her first appearance on the cover of Life magazine in April 1952, where she was described as "The Talk of Hollywood". Stories of her childhood and upbringing portrayed her in a sympathetic light: a cover story for the May 1952 edition of True Experiences magazine showed a smiling and wholesome Monroe beside a caption that read, "Do I look happy? I should — for I was a child nobody wanted. A lonely girl with a dream — who awakened to find that dream come true. I am Marilyn Monroe. Read my Cinderella story." It was also during this time that she began dating baseball player Joe DiMaggio. A photograph of DiMaggio visiting Monroe at the 20th Century Fox studio was printed in newspapers throughout the United States, and reports of a developing romance between them generated further interest in Monroe
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