Monroe’s graceful movements were as gentle as a deer and as captivating as a Grecian goddess. She’s a classic Hollywood archetype. Nicknamed “the blonde bombshell,” the platinum idol was one of the most beautiful women in the world. So, what held her back? Hollywood. Read on for her story.
Marilyn’s First Pose
This rare photo of Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson, was unearthed by David Wolper for his 1964 documentary film called, “The Legend of Marilyn Monroe.” The filmmaker collected a box full of pictures from friends and family of the late actress for the biographical production that came out two years after her tragic passing.
This image captures the starlet in her earliest known pose. The infant portrait was presumably requested by her mother, Gladys Pearl Baker, who tried continually, to raise her daughter on her own.
Born on June 1, 1926, to Gladys Pearl Baker, a single mother who had been married to a Mortenson, Marilyn grew up under her christened name, Norma Jeane Baker. Gladys and Baker wed when Pearl was only 15 years old, a marriage that lasted only nine years. Next, she married Martin Edward Mortensen but the two were separated only months later.
In the interim, Norma Jeane was born at the county hospital in Los Angeles. Twelve days later, she went into foster care. The little toddler in this picture would experience a life of instability and chaos. She would have 13 foster siblings and live under the care of 12 different living situations.
Norma Jeane’s First Foster Home
Barely two weeks after baby Norma Jeane was born, she went to live with Ida and Albert Bolender, a charitable evangelical Christian couple. The couple allowed Gladys to live with them for six months until she had to return to work as a film cutter at Consolidated Film Industries.
At that point, she visited baby Norma Jeane on weekends and paid the couple $5 per week to care for her. Norma Jeane lived in this rural Hawthorne home, just outside of Los Angeles.
Growing up on the Hawthorne Farm
Those early years with the Bolenders were a time of relative stability for the future Marilyn Monroe. While her mother was working hard and saving up for a home, Norma Jeane was under the care of the strict God-fearing folks. Later she would say she was “harshly” raised.
The Bolenders lived on East Rhode Island Street, the same street as Gladys’ mother, Della Mae Monroe. Gladys had hoped to move in with her mother, but she left the country. The street was 16 miles away from Gladys’s apartment that she shared with Grace McKee Goddard, who would also care for Norma Jeane.
Moving in With Her Mother
In 1933, when little Norma Jeane was 7 years old, Gladys purchased a home near the Hollywood Bowl with a bank loan. It was nicely furnished and had a baby grand piano. She shared the small house with George and Maude Atkinson, Hollywood actors, and their daughter Nellie, who stayed there as renters. A year later, tragedy struck. Norma Jeane’s mother had a breakdown and was committed to the Metropolitan State Hospital.
She was diagnosed with a medical condition and would spend the rest of her life going in and out of care facilities. Immediately after the breakdown, Norma Jeane became a ward of the state. Norma’s friend Grace Goddard stepped in and cared for Norma Jeane for the time being.
Years of Chaos
With her mother gone, Norma Jeane found herself under the watch of George and Maude Atkinson and Grace Goddard. She was with the Atkinsons for almost a year and a half. She struggled, became withdrawn, and developed a stutter. It is believed that the speech impediment developed as a result of George Atkinson's treatment of the young girl. It would not be the first time she was mistreated that way.
Then, in the summer of 1935, would-be Marilyn went to stay with Grace and her husband Erwin “Doc” Goddard but was also tossed between two other families. By the fall of 1935, Grace sent the child to the Los Angeles Orphans Home.
The private orphanage was a fine institution, but Norma Jeane felt abandoned. Later she would talk sadly about how she should not have been there because she was not an orphan—her mother was alive and her father too, whoever and wherever he was. A year later, Grace would file as the girl’s legal guardian, as the orphan home suggested.
In 1937, Grace would finally remove Norma Jeane from the orphanage. But it was an ill-fated move as “Doc” mistreated the then 10-year-old. As a consequence, she only stayed with the Goddards for a few months.
Yet Another Foster Home for Junior High School
When 1938 rolled around, Norma Jeane moved in with Grace’s older aunt. It was the beginning of middle school for her, and she would stay there for a few years. The aunt, Ana Lower, cared for Norma until her health began to fail. When Lower was no longer able to take care of her, she moved back into the Goddards' Van Nuys home and enrolled in Van Nuys High School.
Her grades were average, but she was praised for her writing skills and contribution to the school newspaper. In 1942, Doc’s company relocated him to the east coast.
A Solution of Sorts
Grace did not want to put Norma back into the orphanage and Norma did not want to go there, so she was arranged to get married to a neighbor’s son. James Dougherty was a good-looking 21-year-old who had been popular in high school. He was an athlete who had won a scholarship to the University of California, Santa Barbara, but turned it down to marry Norma Jeane Baker, quite literally the girl next door.
She became Norma Jeane Dougherty and dropped out of high school at barely 16 years old. She became a housewife to Dougherty who worked for the Los Angeles Police Department as a special weapons and tactics training officer.
A Bright Spot
Growing up in the L.A. area, Norma Jeane was drawn to the movies. At first, her foster guardians sent her off to the movie theater to keep her busy and out of the way. She adored the films, watching them incessantly. She would daydream at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, pressing her hands and feet into the concrete outlines left by the stars.
There, outside the Grauman’s Chinese Theater, she hoped for the day her hands would fill the impressions completely. She awed over classic Hollywood greats like Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Judy Garland, and Bette Davis.
An Animal Lover
As a girl, Norma Jeane had a big heart for all kinds of creatures. Her first husband, Jim Dougherty, relayed a story about her soft spot for animals in the documentary film “The Legend of Marilyn Monroe.” He talked about his young wife who seemed no older than a child when he first heard of his mother’s plan to marry them.
He said she worried about a cow one time: living under the roof of the Dougherty family home, Norma Jeane heard a cow mooing morosely out in the rain. According to James, she wanted to bring a cow out from the fields and into the house.
Living on Catalina Island
Dougherty joined the Merchant Marine a year after they married and was stationed at Santa Catalina Island. In 1943, the two moved to the island, a short 27-mile sail from the coast of Southern California. It was during World War II, and the island doubled as a Navy base, a rather cushy military duty. In fact, although she cried and protested his joining the Merchant Marine, living on the island was like a temporary paradise.
In his memoir, Dougherty complained that the marine recruits he was training, noticed his wife’s budding beauty. She was only 17 at the time. It all ended with him being shipped to war in the South Pacific.
Norma Jeane Joins the War Effort
With her husband stationed in the Pacific, Norma Jeane went to work. She landed a job at Radio Plane munitions factory, a defense plant in Burbank, where she was on an assembly line putting together war machines. As luck would have it, a photographer recognized her. He was there to do propaganda photography for the war effort, a morale-boosting production.
His assignment was shooting women working stateside in support of the troops. While her image did not make the cover, her impression of photographer David Conover won the day. He said she was a “photographer’s dream girl” and asked if he could photograph her. A new career as a model commenced.
Divorce From Dougherty
With David Conover giving the budding model tips for new gigs, and Norma Jeane showing determination by taking classes in modeling, things were looking up. However, her still-deployed husband James was not on board. He did not allow her to have a career in pictures despite her dream to be a movie star.
The dream required signing a contract at Blue Book Modeling Agency which stipulated Norma Jeane to be unmarried. So, she further defied her husband’s will by becoming a model with the agency in 1945. The actual divorce went through the following year.
‘Jim Was a Good Husband’
Jim Daugherty talked about Norma Jeane as his wife in an interview clip in “The Legend of Marilyn Monroe.” He said she was a good housekeeper and that their place was always neat and tidy. He recalled that she liked to serve peas and carrots together, not for the flavor so much, but for how they looked on a plate.
They got along well, yet according to Norma Jeane, they had little in common. In one interview she said they didn’t speak much because they had nothing to say. But looking back, she said, “Jim was a good husband. He never hurt me.”
A New Life and a New Name
Soon Norma Jeane soon said goodbye to both Mortenson and Baker and left both of those names behind. Darryl F. Zanuck, head exec at Twentieth Century Fox requested, as a contract condition, to change her name. She chose a new moniker and sealed the deal in 1946.
She chose the surname Monroe from her maternal grandmother and Marilyn from Broadway actress Marilyn Miller. It became her permanent name in 1956. She would later complain that Hollywood took her name and repackaged her identity.
The Man Behind the Famous Stage Name
Ben Lyon is the Fox exec who is most responsible for choosing the name Marilyn Monroe. It was not the only one on the table. Other names like Meredith were being mulled, but Lyon liked Marilyn, a name of a Broadway star who happened to be his love interest. The two blondes also resembled each other.
“Monroe” was suggested by the starlet. An autographed photo of Marilyn Monroe and Ben Lyon together serves as proof that he was the architect of her stage name. It reads, “Dear Ben, You found me, named me, and believed in me when no one else did.”
Norma Jeane Lightened Her Hair Reluctantly, at First
Emmeline Snively, head of Blue Book Modeling Agency, wanted to tweak Norma Jeane’s appearance. Snively noted the 19-year-old’s blue eyes and perfect teeth but called her a California blonde. The expression meant that she was light in the summer and darker in the winter. She called her curls frizzy and unmanageable. Snively said the girl would never do as a fashion model.
In her opinion, fashion models were tall, sophisticated-looking, and slim-chested. Marilyn was none of these. She requested the young model to lighten and change her hair, but Marilyn refused. Finally, she agreed when a shampoo company said they would only shoot her as a blonde.
The Origin of the Trademark Platinum
It’s no secret that Marline was naturally brunette. Her spellbinding beauty included a stunning pile of thick, beautiful tresses that any modern-day girl would envy. However, at the suggestion of Emmeline Snively, Monroe was convinced and changed her looks. Ms. Snively recommended she lighten it to reddish-brown for a better photography result and to pull out the unruly curls. She added that she must do it if she wanted to make it in Hollywood, which was Marilyn's dream.
And so, Snively sent her to celebrity stylist Sylvia Barnhart at the renowned Frank & Joseph’s Beauty Salon. This turned into a never-ending hair-lightening relationship.
The Saturday Afternoon Date
Monroe held a set weekly beauty appointment with stylist Sylvia Barnhart. Every Saturday at 1 pm, the screen legend arrived at the salon to maintain her signature hairdo. Her locks were straightened, and the platinum finish was touched up. Marilyn called her hair color “pillowcase white.” It is said that she rarely washed her hair and added baby powder to the scalp, presumably to absorb oils and camouflage dark roots.
The stylist recalled the actress showing up two to three hours late, still expecting to be pampered. But Barnhart also said Monroe was, “Just magnificent, breathtaking to look at.”
Too Much for Advertising
Ms. Snively at first complained that Marilyn lacked any sensualness. The girl-next-door look as a frizzy brunette fell flat, in her opinion. So, it was ironic that the model was fired from her second shoot by an ad agency for the opposite reason. It was a women’s clothing ad on the shores of Malibu, and she was released from posing because she was just too much.
The brand said that no one would look at their garments with a seductress like that. Henceforth, much of her magazine work would be for men’s journals and pinup posters.
A Road Trip: Norma Jeane’s First Photoshoot
Shortly after signing with Blue Book Model Agency, Norma Jeane went off on a five-week nature excursion with Hungarian photographer Andre de Dienes. The celebrity photographer was approached by Marilyn's modeling agency. Her first modeling job would be captured by de Dienes while traveling throughout the western state’s rugged interior. De Dienes fell in love with her at first sight. He said she was like a miracle sent expressly for him!
The 19-year-old did not return his affection in the end, but at one point, he hoped they would marry. They always stayed friends and de Dienes continued to photograph her.
Norma Jeane au Naturel
The budding model hit a tight spot financially as she had recently lost her contract with Fox. She was three months behind on rent living at Hollywood Studio Club, an apartment building for promising show business girls. She was desperate for money. She posed anonymously using variations of her name, like Jeane Baker, for now-famous calendar images.
It was 1949 when Marilyn called up Tom Kelly, a photographer who had previously offered her an adult-only shoot, and said she was ready to take that job.
The Calendar Shots
Tom Kelly happily photographed the unearthly beauty of the 19-year-old. He paid her $50 for the shoot. It was a simple job. She commented later that it is a lot quicker to undress than to dress for the camera. Kelly sold two of the photographs to the calendar publisher. One named “Golden Dreams” went for $500, and another called, “A New Wrinkle” sold for $250.
The publisher raked in $750,000, selling calendars at 25 cents each. In Marilyn's humble opinion, nudity and physical contact were the most natural things in the world.
Marilyn Spoke Freely About Hollywood Culture
Long before the 21st-century scandals, there was plenty of disgracing in Hollywood. Marilyn learned this while modeling as Norma Jeane. She said in an interview two years before she passed, “When I started modeling it was like a part of the job, all the girls did it and if you didn’t go along there were 25 girls who would.”
No one spoke of the exploitation of women in those days, but she did. She also broke the silence in the pages of her unfinished autobiography, “My Story”, referring to those old-fashioned men behaving in a disrespectful manner.
Sitting for Earl Moran
Photographer and illustrator Earl Moran’s work was a big hit in the forties and fifties. He photographed women and then put their images on canvas. Marilyn talked about one in which she is wearing a pinafore and petting a little lamb.
She worked for him from 1946 to 1950. Hiring her through the Blue Book modeling company, Moran paid his models $10 per hour. As a struggling actress, she willingly took the pay. One of the most famous works he did of her is titled “Bus Stop.”
Catching the Eye of Howard Hughes
In her short time with the agency, Marilyn appeared on over 30 magazine covers. But it was her cover shot on “Laff” magazine in 1946 that turned the head of a very influential man. Wealthy aircraft maven Howard Hughes was head of the film company RKO at the time and asked Blue Book modeling for a screen test with the new face. Blue Book was quick to act on such attention.
The agency promptly called up 20th Century Fox. By using Hughes’ call as leverage to pique the interest of the movie company, they secured the attention of movie executive Ben Lyon who served as 20th Century Fox’s casting director.
Fox Takes the Bait
Ben Lyon was quick to offer Marilyn a contract as he wanted to get her signed before RKO had the chance to screen her. Cinematographer Leon Shamroy filmed her screen test for Fox. The cinematographer was dumbfounded. He said he had not seen film capture a woman so stunningly since the silent pictures.
He even said that her presence gave him a cold chill. Her mystique radiated effects visually, he explained, and she did not need a soundtrack to create special effects. She could “sell emotions in pictures,” like a new filmmaking invention.
20th Century Fox Did Not Renew Her Contract
After six months with Fox, Marilyn’s contract was not renewed. The experience was good, she received lessons and learned to sing, dance, and act to industry norms, yet she missed getting a film role. Top executives failed to see her potential and the future pop culture icon went back to modeling to pay rent.
Marilyn later complained that Fox was the one that forced her to change her name. She often complained about the industry taking advantage of people because of their power, and laughed by saying that she misspelled her name on her first autograph signing.
Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!
Marilyn Monroe’s very first film appearance is found in a 1948 movie called “Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!” She was basically an extra in the 20th Century Fox comedy and supposedly had only one line, which was “hello,” as she tells it. But then she laughed, saying the line was cut.
She was filmed canoeing and frolicking on the dock with some girls and boys her age. In fact, Natalie Wood appeared in this movie as an inconnu as well! During the production, Marilyn met Joe Schenck who would be very influential in forming her career.
Dedicated to Her Craft
As soon as she was hired as a model, Monroe jumped into modeling classes. She studied movement and poise. She relished in taking voice lessons. Eventually, she would sign up at the Actor’s Studio for classes, even after she had made several films.
Marilyn read up on powerful women who held fame ferociously. She was riveted by women like Joséphine Bonaparte, Eleanora Duse, Marie Antoinette and Lady Emma Hamilton. Monroe would read these women’s biographies, delving into the lives of such figures who had uniquely defined their image and lived significantly.
A Contract at Columbia Pictures
It is still not known for certain how Marilyn landed the 6-month contract with Columbia Pictures. Some think that Joe Schenck, her caretaker pulled some strings. Other accounts say executives at the studio found her by searching around Hollywood, though other theories have also been speculated.
One way or another, Marilyn signed the deal in March of 1948. She made just one film with the studio, “Ladies of the Chorus”, in which she was the second actress on the billing. The song “Anyone Can Tell I Love You,” that she sang in the movie, stuck with her. She would perform it often over the years.
Marilyn Fell in Love With Fred Karger
Marilyn met Fred Karger, musical director for “Ladies of the Chorus,” while at Columbia Pictures and fell in love with him. He was her singing coach for “Anyone Can See I Love You.” The two dated and Marilyn yearned to marry. She even developed a close relationship with his mother, Anne Karger. Sadly, though, It ended in heartbreak.
Karger did not believe she was mother material, and he did not approve of her relationship with Joe Schenck. Seems like his overall judgment wasn't all that great because he went on to have two failed marriages. Karger passed away on the anniversary of Marilyn’s passing in 1979. Coincidently, prior to that, he called one of his ex-wives and shared that he was haunted by a dream of Marilyn.
Schenck, the founder of 20th Century Pictures, took Marilyn under his wing and introduced her to Hollywood and its parties. He also had a role in her landing “Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!” He was one of the wealthiest men in show business and he spoiled Marilyn at his mansion. He pampered her with his lavish lifestyle, of which she spoke gratefully, beaming that he had given her the first taste of champagne.
Schenck was also instrumental in getting the starlet her second contract at 20th Century Fox. He adored the up-and-coming actress, and she returned his adoration. Marilyn's life ended just 10 months after his.
Ladies of the Chorus
In “Ladies of the Chorus,” Monroe played Peggy Martin, a burlesque chorus dancer. The 1948 musical comedy was a B-movie and was produced in a mere 10 days, but all the reviews of her performance were positive. One even called her singing a “bright spot” and another said her career is promising.
She was thrilled. After it hit theaters, Monroe shared in “My Story” how she would drive past the cinema just to see her name on the marquee. “Was I excited!” she wrote, “I wished they were using ‘Norma Jeane’ so that all the kids at the home and schools who never noticed me could see it”.
Standing Up to Harry Cohn
Harry Cohn was at the helm of Columbia Pictures, and he ruled like a tyrant. He was known as a ruthless man with a nasty temper. He was the industry’s most feared movie mogul and Marilyn, naively or bravely, or likely both, stood up for herself. She outed him as a terrible man who mistreated women. Her 6-month contract was on the verge of expiring.
He pointed to a picture of his yacht and asked if she’d join him for a nautical party to Catalina Island, just him and her. Marilyn quipped, “I’d love to join you and your wife on the yacht, Mr. Cohn”. The hot-headed exec shot back and asked to leave his wife out of the picture.
Cohn’s Spite Derailed Monroe’s Career Temporarily
Colombia Pictures did not renew her contract. Cohn refused to even view her screen audition for “Born Yesterday”, which would have been her second movie with Columbia. At this point, she did the calendar photos.
Harry Cohn held a lot of power heading a top American film studio and he used it vengefully. People were flabbergasted that he would turn away Marilyn Monroe.
Why Cohn Didn’t Renew Her Contract
Harry Cohn refused to give Marilyn another shot. He charged her with being a little overweight in “Ladies of the Chorus” and he claimed she lacked any acting talent. A vindictive assessment meant to harm her career in movies, surely, especially from the starlet’s standpoint of having flouted his boating offer.
So, in 1948, instead of being awarded another six months with Columbia Pictures, she was given the boot. His willful obstinance to recognize Monroe’s genius would gradually eat away at his respect in the industry.
Monroe’s time at Columbia Pictures produced a relationship with Natasha Lytess, the head drama coach for the studio. She was impressed with the young actress’ determination and hard work in making “Ladies of the Chorus.” Natasha instructed Monroe for seven years, finally quitting her post at Columbia to be Monroe’s personal acting teacher in 1950.
Their relationship became intense, and they lived together as roommates for some years. It is said that Lytess developed an obsessive emotional connection with the actress which culminated in Monroe sending her a telegram in 1956 that stated that Lytess’ services were no longer needed.
Her First Role as Dumb Blonde
Monroe’s first role as a dumb blonde was very short but exceedingly memorable. Lasting barely 60 seconds, the gorgeous blonde’s part was to walk up to Groucho Marx and say, “I want you to help me.” He asks why and she tells him some men are following her. Marx rolls his eyes and comments facetiously that he can’t imagine why.
On set, Marx noted that heads turned whenever she walked. Marilyn was paid $100 for the snippet. Lester Cowan, the producer of “Love Happy”, noticed her too and sent her off on the five-week publicity tour for the movie.
Beauty has more value in Hollywood than anything else. Marilyn said at one point, that in tinsel town one is judged only by looks. One of her most famous quotations addresses the dilemma. “Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul.”
It’s impossible not to feel reminded of Harry Cohn. Marilyn finished the quote with, “I know because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents”. Fox, of course, canceled her contract after the budding actress refused Cohn’s “thousand-dollar” boating excursion.
She Created Her Signature Look
Marilyn, during her days as a money-strapped model, fashioned her own look and created her unique style. According to “Marilyn in Manhattan: Her Year of Joy” by Elizabeth Winder, Monroe personally set her hair and applied her own lipstick. She used affordable facial moisturizers like Vaseline, lanolin, and olive oil.
Despite typical and leading lady Hollywood glamour looks, Monroe went for a more natural appearance. She wore tight dresses and neutral solids like white, black, or red, a simplicity that did not disrupt the observer from her stunning beauty, naturally enhanced by exquisite facial features.
Marilyn met Johnny Hyde at a Palm Springs racket club. He told her he discovered Lana Turner and that she had more. Whole-heartedly convinced the undiscovered beauty deserved an A-lister lifestyle, Hyde showcased her at all the poshest parties. He acted as her publicist getting her commercials and small parts.
The man, understandably, fell in love with her. However, he was barely five feet tall so Marilyn said it was impossible to feel attracted to him. Nonetheless, Hyde divorced his wife and asked Marilyn to marry him. Knowing he had only months to live, she could not marry him for his money.
Her First Experience
Johnny Hyde’s passing hit Marilyn hard. She felt alone in the world. It marked her first illegal substance experience, from which she was fortunately saved by Natasha Lytess who was her roommate at the time. Marilyn felt guilty and blamed herself for Johnny’s life-ending.
He had invited her out to Palm Springs for the weekend, but she declined. He passed away there from a heart attack at age 55. The day after Hyde’s funeral, Marilyn swallowed an entire bottle of sleeping pills. Mourning her loss, she could hardly perform her parts in “As Young as You Feel”. She hid her sobs in the back room but couldn’t hide her red and swollen eyes.
Marilyn’s (Second) Fox Contract
Marilyn got another chance with 20th Century Fox. In her autobiography, talking about the second contract she signed with the company, she described it like this: “My first contract with Fox was like my first vaccination- it didn’t take”. The man responsible for the second one “taking” was her devoted benefactor, Johnny Hyde.
He negotiated a $500 per week contract with the studio just days before his life ended. He also stirred up notice of Marilyn Monroe by procuring her a role in the films “The Asphalt Jungle” and “All About Eve”.
The Asphalt Jungle
As her agent, Hyde managed to get Marilyn a part in the 1950 MGM suspense film “The Asphalt Jungle”. She played Angela, an “easy-living green-eyed blonde”. It was a small role but one of the most rewarding films she made.
Oscar-winning director John Huston recalls her work in his film noir with tenderness. It was her breakout role. The heist movie won four Academy Awards. Huston would work with her again in “The Misfits”, making him the director of both her first and last movie.
Marilyn Waves to Adoring Crowds
Marilyn was a hard worker. She showed up for all PR events that were offered. She loved her fans and credited them with her success. Monroe appeared at movie promotions, film premiers, sporting events, and anything that would put her image in the public eye.
Once, she showed up at a parade at an Atlantic City beauty contest. She wore a dress that featured a very low V-cut, nearly to her navel. Her dress personally offended the parade’s Grand Marshall, creating a local scandal. She did it intentionally. And she wore stage makeup, she said, to give her adoring fans the best possible view of Marilyn Monroe.
The Pink Tights Protest
Under contract with 20th Century Fox, Marilyn was scheduled to appear in “The Girl in Pink Tights”, a musical starring Frank Sinatra. It was another dumb blonde role, and she did not want it. Aghast, she complained, “That’s the cheapest character I ever read in a script. What’s the use of being a star if you have to play something you’re ashamed of?”
Turning her back on Fox, she abruptly married Joe DiMaggio and fled to the other side of the world, honeymooning and entertaining the troops in Asia.
Marilyn’s Protest Pay-Off
She was also rebelling against her pay for the film, compared with Sinatra’s. He was getting $5,000 per week for “Pink Tights” while she got a paltry $1,500. She refused to show up for rehearsals and the studio suspended her, but Marilyn’s protests did not fall on deaf ears.
In fact, she was able to negotiate a significantly higher paycheck with meaningful perks, like director approval. Up next, her newly negotiated, $100,000 per year, seven-year contract would include making the seminal movie of her career, “The Seven Year Itch”.
‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’
Contingent to Monroe’s cushy deal she inked with 20th Century Fox, she agreed to appear in “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” costarring with headliners Ethel Merman and Dan Dailey. In return, the studio promised she would take the top billing in “The Seven Year Itch”.
Marilyn’s performance in Walter Lang’s 1954 musical comedy seemed uninspired. “No Business Like Show Business” did not do well at the box office and an expansive budget did not help. It lost $950,000.
Joe DiMaggio may be the greatest ball player who ever played in MLB, but Monroe said he was the “moodiest man” she ever met. After they got married, which seemed to everyone like the perfect match, the nuptials turned sour, and it all ended in nine months. In love, she used to hang on the phone for hours with him at the movie set, waving off her stage cues.
But his jealous and controlling nature drove her away. The famous white dress image was the harbinger of the end. He couldn’t tolerate seeing so many cameras focusing on her body as the iconic dress flared around her. That evening he blew up at her, enraged.
High on Applause
Marilyn performed to 100,000 American troops in South Korea. It was a 4-day tour in 1954 and it was the most rewarding gig she ever did. It proved that the piles of fan mail were real and it proved her fame existed. The pop icon’s presence fomented a near-riot. Singing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” from her set, the cheers exploded in booms.
She interrupted her honeymoon with Joe DiMaggio to do it. She said, “You never heard such cheering!” The home run slugger cut her down quipping, “Yes, I have”.
The Most Iconic Hollywood Image Ever Photographed
Marilyn wore the world-famous white cocktail dress in “The Seven Year Itch”. Captured in New York City, the legendary photo of her skirt blowing up above the subway as the train passed beneath took 14 takes on the street but ultimately had to be reshot at the studio.
The world-famous image that was used for the movie’s promotion was taken at the Fox lot in Los Angeles. The images of Marilyn wearing the instantly iconic dress drove her husband Joe DiMaggio mad and ultimately ended their marriage. To her account, he was mistreating her anyway.
The second fight about the white dress was out of control and it would be their last. She said he was obsessed with jealousy and wanted her to give up her career. Marilyn’s reasons for terminating the marriage cited his treatment. DiMaggio was desperate to apologize and save the marriage but was left bereft.
His obsession turned to sorrow and over the years he dated Marilyn look-alikes. Meanwhile, the troubled actress checked herself into a health facility but then quickly wanted out. She called him and he raced to her side. He hoped they’d marry again but sadly her life ended instead.
An Artist Beyond Artistry
Joshua Logan, who directed Monroe in “Bus Stop” (1956), said her acting was extraordinary. He found her to be a mix of Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin. In his estimation, Marilyn had the same profound mysteriousness as Garbo and the same comedic sense as Chaplin.
Logan said Marilyn was as close to genius as any actress he knew and described her as an artist beyond artistry. She taught him, for the first time in his life, that intelligence and brilliance have little to do with education.
Marilyn Studied at the Actors Studio
Monroe was dedicated and determined as an actress. She had ambitions to be the best actress in the business and Lee Strasberg, creator-director of the studio said she indeed was. Strasberg claimed Monroe was the second-best actor he worked with, the first being Marlon Brando.
He noted her range was “infinite”, being able to call up emotionally any situation from her painful past. She attended classes twice a week and studied there for most of the year in 1955, right before starring in “Bus Stop”. Paula Strasberg, the wife of Lee, took over Natasha Lytess’ role as her loyal acting coach.
The Heat Was on
“Some Like It Hot” is an amazing film and one of Monroe’s most successful ones, but making a movie about cross-dressing guys was a nightmare for all involved. Marilyn, who trusted acting coach Paula Strasberg over anyone else, would take direction from her rather than Billy Wilder, the movie's director. This enraged him, but it wasn’t his only beef with the diva.
She was consuming illegal substances and was struggling to deliver lines. It took 28 takes for her to walk into the room, open a drawer, and say, “Where is the bourbon? Oh, there it is.”
The First Ever Playmate of the Month
The blonde bombshell captured the attention of Hugh Hefner. He purchased the original all-natural photos by Tom Kelly — those calendar pinups she did as a young model. Hefner said she defined the innocence and passion he longed for. She became the first-ever playmate when he acquired the photos for $500. She did not pose for the cover.
Marilyn Monroe said more than once that everyone made more money off her photos than she ever did. In a creepy and morbid move, Hefner purchased the grave next to Marilyn’s, making her his immortal neighbor. He spent $75,000 for the opportunity, saying it was “too sweet to pass up”.
She Was Becoming a Thing
Monroe was adept at exposing the exploitative nature of show business. She talked about not wanting to be labeled only as a bombshell. In one quote, she said that the term had meant something that you bang together, a cymbal, not a description of an elegant woman. She did not want to be a thing.
She walked the line, promoting and embracing her sexuality while deflecting objectification. She famously concluded her commentary about being a bombshell by facetiously predicting how she’ll be remembered: “Here lies Marilyn Monroe, 34, 24, 36”.
20th Century Fox Cancelled Monroe’s Contract
20th Century Fox studio was plagued with setbacks. Monroe going on sick leave for illnesses caused more setbacks. Fox was sinking into $20 million worth of debt due to Elizabeth Taylor’s health delays and scandals while making “Cleopatra”. So, the studio dumped Monroe and fined her $750,000 for “unjustifiable absences”. It did not help that she was able to perform at Madison Square Garden for the president.
Eventually, Fox regretted dropping a huge audience magnet and took her back. Production was restarted on the set of “Something’s Got to Give”. And sadly, something did give. Two months later she took her own life.
Marilyn Monroe Productions
In 1955, Marilyn took a stance against Hollywood. Fed up with dumb blonde roles and lesser pay, she formed Marilyn Monroe Productions. In a statement, the actress said she launched the production company to make high-quality movies. She said she hoped to “secure” her income and help others “make good pictures”. It was a smart move.
By the end of that year in September, Fox negotiated her latest contract. Though slightly acknowledged at the time, it was a considerable win for the pop icon. She would have control over the films made and get to work with other production companies, including her own.
Marilyn suffered from terrible stage fright. It affected her during classes at the Actors Studio and it froze her up from making films. She would hide in her room until she got through it. She had a reputation for being tardy and not showing up until she was finally ready, but the attacks of stage fright were uncontrollable.
It made her physically ill. She would break out in a rash or it made her throw up. Her nervousness fueled the attacks and there was not much anyone could do.
The Calendar Scandal
Execs at 20th Century Fox were bracing themselves for another leading lady scandal. It was 1952. Monroe learned ahead of time that the all-natural calendar photos she did anonymously had surfaced. She dreaded facing the public and fretted about it for weeks. Everyone at the studio was in a complete frenzy, yet Marilyn had a way with the media.
When asked about the photos, she told the truth. She needed the money. The public had a soft spot for her gentle voice, sincere demeanor, and underdog story. One reporter asked her if she had anything on. She charmed him by pausing confidently and murmuring, “I had the radio on”.
A Love of Literature and Art
As soon as Marilyn landed at Columbia Pictures, she opened a credit line at a local Hollywood bookstore. A roommate at the Studio Club apartments recalls the young Marilyn checking out works of literature and a study of the bone structure called, “De Humani Corporis Fabrica” by Andreas Vesalius.
She read James Joyce’s tome “Ulysses”. Her personal library included works of literature by Milton, Dostoevsky, Kerouac, Tolstoy, and Whitman, 400 books in all. She then married an author — Arthur Miller. In “The Legend of Marilyn Monroe” narrated by John Huston, Shelley Winters said it aptly: “If she was dumber, she would’ve been happier”.
Marilyn was shy and introspective. Her poetry expressed private longings to be “absolutely nonexistent,” but loving the Brooklyn Bridge too much to step off it. She pondered finding an ugly bridge with no view and then concluded she’d never seen an ugly bridge.
She dabbled philosophically considering, “Only parts of us will ever touch only parts of others”. She expressed her love of Arthur Miller. Monroe was a complex being who explored the dark side and paradox with lines such as, “Help I feel life coming closer / When all I want is to die”.
The Monroe Makeup
Marilyn Monroe’s beauty was enhanced by makeup. It was essential. She said lipstick and mascara improved her looks as much as putting on a gown. She adopted makeup tricks like Vaseline for highlighting and contouring. She used white and red eyeliner on the inner corners of her eyes to brighten them.
She wore little jewelry presumably because it would distract from her innate loveliness. She owned only a string of Mikimoto pearls from her honeymoon trip to Japan and a baguette diamond band from DiMaggio. Her natural complexion was the base of her beauty and she protected it from the sun diligently.
A Very Charitable Marilyn
As soon as Marilyn Monroe began making money, she gave it away. Even after her life ended, 25% of her money was willed to help with psychiatric causes. She headlined a benefit event for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital at the Hollywood Bowl in 1953.
Monroe generously gave to many children’s causes. Once, while on a trip to Mexico, Marilyn visited an orphanage. She wrote them a check for $1,000 but later rewrote it for $10,000. In 1958, Monroe took part in a March of Dimes fashion show at the Waldorf-Astoria in NYC to benefit children with disabilities. She also donated to The Milk Fund for Babies, WAIF, and animal causes.
An Artist Too
Painting her face with a savvy application was not the only artistic expression of Marilyn Monroe. The pop icon also left after her passing drawings and at least one painting. It was a delicate watercolor composition of a rose.
She composed it for President Kennedy in 1962. It never made it to his hands and on her birthday in 1962, she inscribed it to herself with, “Happy Birthday Marilyn”. It sold at auction for $78,000 in 2005 to an art collector in Rhode Island.
The Happy Birthday Dress
Late, and out of breath, Monroe scampered up to the podium in quick, high-heeled steps to sing the famous “Happy Birthday” song to President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden. Removing a fur coat, she revealed one of the most famous dresses ever worn.
The long, slinking gown by French designer Jean Louis had to be sewn onto her frame and was covered in crystals. She wore little underneath to allow the fit of the golden gown. It cost her $1,440 in 1962 and it sold for a record of $4.8 at auction in 2016. Her life ended two months after that famous appearance.
Standing Up for Ella Fitzgerald
Monroe had a great admiration for jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. She listened to her early records and tried to imitate her voice. Monroe respected the singer so much that she made her a star. When Marilyn got word that the Mocambo club would not allow the jazz performer to play because of her color, she called the club directly.
She told them she would sit at the front table every night if they booked her. After that, Fitzgerald remarked, she never had to play a small club again. “I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt”, the jazz queen said.
Marriage to Arthur Miller
Marilyn fell in love at first sight with Arthur Miller, who was married at the time. They wrote romantic letters to each other and she found him a gentleman. In one, he confessed he couldn't live without her. He divorced his wife and married Marilyn in a Jewish ceremony just two days later.
Longing to have a baby with the playwright, Marilyn endured several miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies. She wanted to be a mother for years but acknowledged her miscarriages may have been caused by all the substances she was putting into her body.
Marrying Playwright Arthur Miller Inspired Marilyn Politically
Monroe had a deep fondness for the intellect of her last husband, Arthur Miller. She loved him dearly. The marriage lasted four years. During that time, Arthur Miller wrote the western “The Misfits” for her. It was his first screenplay and she starred in its film production. Through him, Marilyn developed a political side.
In 1960, she became a founding member of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy in Hollywood. She, of course, supported the Civil Rights Movement. She openly supported her husband from the Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) when they called Miller to testify.
Marilyn was not satisfied with Arthur Miller’s first screenplay and she flatly resented it. Complaining, she said, “Arthur could have written anything for me, and he comes up with this, cowboys and horses.” She hated it and she didn’t want the part. She took so many pills she could hardly wake up in the morning. This was out of control and the stylists had no option but to apply makeup while she yet slept.
Director John Huston had to send her to the hospital for a week to detox halfway through the shoot. And the film location was absolutely miserable, shot outside Reno in the middle of the summer when temperatures can get into the 100s. She hated making the film and complained bitterly.
Secret Movie Scandal
Just when Monroe’s movie career began picking up steam, another scandal loomed. An adult-only movie featuring a woman who looked like Norma Jeane surfaced. The movie is known as “The Apple-Knockers and the Coke” and it starred Arline Hunter.
Some thought it was a young Marilyn, but the truth of which actress cleared up without much negative press. A perceptive Marilyn was quoted talking about people looking at her as if she was a mirror instead of another human. She said, “They didn’t see me, they saw their own lewd thoughts”, and then called her the lewd one.
Supported Civil Rights
Marilyn Monroe, assumed by many in her time as being a dumb blonde, was actually contemplative and introspective. She identified with President Abraham Lincoln and imagined him as sort of a father figure. With no real father, her fantasies were limitless.
She believed Lincoln was “kind and good.” Her views, from communism to feminism, were progressive and ahead of her time. Feminism was not even a thing until after she was gone. Growing up in the LA area, she developed an awareness and appreciation for all nationalities and colors.
Dreams of a Father
Marilyn never knew her dad. He was an absent figure, and she could only dream of him. Her mother showed her a photo of a man that struck her imagination. Pictured in a gold frame was a man who resembled Clark Gable. Her mother said he was her father. Given that her mother worked as an editor at a Hollywood film company, young Marilyn grew up dreaming her father was a famous movie star.
She idolized Clark Gable longing to know if he was her father or not. In her last film, “The Misfits”, she would star with Gable. All she knew about her real father is that he bought a motorcycle right before she was born and took off.
Tracking Down Dad
Marilyn's biological father was Charles Stanley Gifford. Over the years she tried to track him down twice, however, he wanted nothing to do with her. According to “The Unabridged Marilyn” by Randall Riese and Neal Hitchens, in 1951, someone helped in directing her to Gifford's lawyer.
On her first try, as Norma Jeane, he hung up on her. It was a crushing experience, and she never got to meet him. Then, one day, on his deathbed from a heart attack (he ended up surviving), he reached out to her. The movie star responded by saying that she was sorry, but it was too late.
Marilyn’s Estate Paid for Her Mother’s Care
Gladys desperately wanted to raise her daughter, but a health crisis precluded that plan. Later, when Norma Jeane’s modeling was taking off, and she was able to afford it, she had her mother come live with her in Hollywood. She stayed there barely three months, but Gladys kept wandering off.
It got to the point that she had to be relocated to a care facility. Monroe wanted to take care of her mother even as a young up-and-coming, and she did, paying for her mother’s care facility. After Marilyn passed away, her trust paid for her mom’s home.
Still the Blonde
“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953) was a huge hit, and it ignited a flame under Marilyn Monroe’s name that would never be extinguished. It also cemented her as the dumb blonde who movie studios wanted more, and more, and more of. With the popularity of the production, she was once informed that she was not the star of the film.
She responded, “Well, whatever I am, I’m still the blonde”. The movie is called “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, after all. Her rendition of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”, is yet iconic. To prepare for the role of Lorelei, she attended the Broadway production every single night for a month.
The Day the Headlines Screamed
Headlines around the nation screeched, “Marilyn Monroe Dies.” The shock reverberated with desperate questions demanding to know how and why. The actress was found on August 5, 1962, in her new Brentwood home, a property purchased six months earlier. Monroe’s body was found in bed with one hand on her telephone. Her nightstand was littered with various substances and sleeping pills.
This time, nobody was there to save her. Joe DiMaggio stepped up to the plate to manage her funeral. He ordered a half dozen red roses to her grave three times per week for the rest of his life.