Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962)
Born Norma Jeane Mortenson (later baptized as Norma Jeane Baker), Monroe was born in Los Angeles, California
in 1926. Monroe had several major obstacles to overcome in order to become the world’s biggest and most enduring
sex symbols. It is debatable whether she truly overcame any of these obstacles. Monroe never knew her father and
her mother Gladys developed psychiatric problems and had to be placed in a
mental institution. Monroe spent much of her early years in foster care and orphanages. In 1937, a family friend and her husband were able to take in Monroe for a few years until 1942 when his job transferred him to the East Coast and they could not afford to take Monroe with them. Monroe returned to the foster care system where Monroe said she was repeatedly sexually assaulted. Her only way out was to get married. She did on June 19, 1942 to her boyfriend Jimmy Dougherty at age 16. Monroe had dropped out of high school the previous year. A marine, Dougherty was shipped to the South Pacific and Monroe went to work in a munitions factory in Van Nuys. There she was discovered by a photographer. Dougherty returned in 1946 and Monroe had already established a successful modeling career and changed her name to Marilyn Monroe in preparation for her impending acting career. (Monroe wanted to so much be an actress on par with Jean Harlow or Lana Turner.)
Dougherty and Monroe’s marriage soon dissolved and she signed her first movie contract that same year (1946). Tiny parts turned into bigger parts in the 1950s. Her first role of note was in the crime drama The Asphalt Jungle (1950) which finally gave her some attention. That led to more exposure that same year from All About Eve. In 1953 her profile continued to raise with Niagara and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In 1954, she was seen in How to Marry a Millionaire and There’s No Business Like Show Business. In 1955, she rose higher with The Seven Itch. While her looks were winning the world over, already Monroe’s life was imploding. She had always suffered from such extreme pre-performance anxiety that she would be physically ill most of the time. She was chronically and notoriously late to film sets, infuriating her co-stars and crew. This led to her being released from several movie contracts over the years. To further her career and hoping for meatier roles, in 1956, she moved to New York City to study acting at Lee Strasberg’s Acting Studio. This led to Bus Stop (1956) and The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). Unfortunately, her time at the Actors Studio did not improve her jitters and the set of the The Prince and the Showgirl was very tense indeed. In fact, many times Monroe didn’t even show up for filming at all. In 1959 she starred in Some Like it Hot and won a Best Actress in a Comedy Golden Globe award. In 1961, she was cast in The Misfits. In 1962, she was to star in Something’s Got to Give alongside Dean Martin. But after missing too many days she was let go and Martin declined to continue on without her — essentially shelving the entire project.
Monroe’s personal life wasn’t faring well. She was married to baseball great Joe DiMaggio in 1954 for a mere nine months. She then wed playwright Arthur Miller from 1956 to 1961. By the 1960s, her films were not faring well at the box office, she had three (almost) unsuccessful marriages behind her. On August 5, 1962, Monroe was found dead at her Los Angeles home. An empty bottle of sleeping pills were found beside her bed. She was only 36 years old. Her death has become a popular conspiracy theory, but her official cause of death is listed as a drug overdose. An unfitting end for an actress whose films grossed over $200 million. Monroe remains a treasured icon of sex appeal and beauty and has often been imitated. Her legacy will forever continue to endure. Monroe is also most remembered for her romantic liasons with Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Yves Montand and director Elia Kazan and we will always wonder just what the real deal was between Monroe and President John F. Kennedy.