Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) Model, actress, singer and arguably one of the most famous women of the twentieth century. Monroe has become an iconic representative of fame and female beauty. She is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in American culture.

“I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love.”

Early life

Monroe was born in June 1926 as Norma Jeane Mortenson. Gladys Pearl Baker (née Monroe, 1902–84) was her mother. Her father was never identified, and she was given the name Norma Jeane Baker at baptism. Gladys’ mother had a tumultuous mental state, and she battled to raise her children. Marilyn was raised by foster parents Albert and Ida Bolender in Hawthorne, California, for the first six years of her life. Marilyn’s mother attempted to reclaim her, but she suffered a mental breakdown, and Marilyn was relocated between orphanages and foster homes. She was quiet and reserved as a result of her terrible childhood.

Monroe married her 21-year-old next-door neighbour Jimmy Dougherty shortly after her 16th birthday in 1942. Marilyn became a housewife, but she and her husband were estranged, and Monroe claims to be bored. In 1943, her husband enlisted in the Merchant Marines to help America fight the war. They broke up soon after.

Marilyn got a job at a nearby weapons factory in Burbank, California, to make ends meet. Marilyn received her first big break right here. Photographer David Conover was on the scene at the weapons plant to document women at work in support of the war effort. Norma’s beauty and photogenic temperament drew him in, and he featured her in a number of his images. This allowed her to begin a modelling career, and she was quickly featured on the covers of numerous magazines.

Breakthrough in your career

Marilyn divorced her young husband and changed her name from the dull Norma Baker to the dazzling Marilyn Monroe in 1946. (after her grandma). Twentieth Century Fox offered her her first movie contract after she took acting training. Her first several films were minor roles, but she rose to prominence with roles in films like All About Eve, Niagara, and later Gentleman Prefer Blondes and How To Marry A Millionaire.

Career breakthrough

1946 was a pivotal year for Marilyn, she divorced her young husband and changed her name from, the boring, Norma Baker to the more glamorous Marilyn Monroe (after her grandma). She took drama lessons and got her first movie contract with Twentieth Century Fox. Her first few films were low key, but from these beginnings, it gained her more prominent roles in films such as All About EveNiagara and later Gentleman Prefer Blondes and How To Marry A Millionaire.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Movie Trailer

These successful film roles thrust her into the global limelight. She became an iconic figure of Hollywood glamour and fashion. She was an epitome of sensuality, beauty and effervescence and was naturally photogenic. But she often found the trappings of fame difficult to deal with.

“When you’re famous you kind of run into human nature in a raw kind of way. It stirs up envy, fame does. People you run into feel that, well, who does she think she is, Marilyn Monroe? They feel fame gives them some kind of privilege to walk up to you and say anything to you, of any kind of nature — and it won’t hurt your feelings — like it’s happening to your clothes not you.”

– Marilyn Monroe (A Life of the Actress, 1993)

In 1954, she married baseball star Joe DiMaggio, a friend of over two years. Monroe was now one of the biggest box-office draws of Hollywood, but her contract, negotiated in 1950, left her paid less than other stars. Also, Monroe didn’t wish to be typecast as a ‘blonde bombshell’ – just playing simple roles in comedies and musicals. In a dispute over pay and choice of acting, she was temporarily suspended by 20th Century Fox, but eventually, they acceded to some of Monroe’s demands and gave her higher pay. In September 1954, she starred in The Seven Year Itch, which was released to widespread media interest – after a successful media stunt on Lexington Avenue, New York.

Monroe-marilyn-In 1955, she sought greater independence from Fox, and began her own movie production and began studying method acting. Despite the media often being dismissive of Monroe’s potential, her efforts to improve acting paid off, and later films received critical acclaim for her wider scope of acting. She was nominated for Golden Globe Best Actress Award for Bus Stop (1956). In 1959, she won a Golden Globe for her role in ‘Some Like It Hot‘.

Her relationship with Joe DiMaggio was quickly strained, due to his jealous and controlling nature. Monroe soon filed for divorce, though the couple retained a friendship despite the divorce. Monroe began dating playwright Arthur Miller and in 1956 married. To get married, Monroe converted to Judaism. The marriage received significant media interest for the combination of Miller the left-wing intellectual and Monroe, the perceived ‘dumb blonde’.  The marriage was sometimes referred to, rather unkindly, as “Egghead Weds Hourglass”.

To complicate matters, Miller was under investigation for his alleged “Communist sympathies”, and media bosses encouraged Monroe to end the relationship, but Monroe was unmoved. The FBI opened a file on her, worried about the political views of her husband.

In the late 1950s, and early 1960, her health began to deteriorate. She suffered from a Barbiturate addiction and experienced periods of depression. Her marriage to Miller broke down, and she had affairs with Yves Montand, Frank Sinatra and others. During the 1960s, her ill health made shooting films challenging, and production was often delayed. She was still in great demand and often appeared on the front cover of glossy magazines. In 1962, she was invited to the White House to sing for J.F. Kennedy’s birthday.