Marilyn Monroe was an American model-turned-singer-turned-actress whose career spanned the late 1940s to the early 1960s. She was born Norma Jean Mortenson on June 1, 1926, and died on August 5, 1962. Before her sudden passing at the age of 36, Monroe acted in a number of movies that are now regarded as classics.
Born: June 1, 1926
Los Angeles, California
Died: August 5, 1962
Los Angeles, California
Gladys Baker Mortenson (née Monroe) gave birth to Monroe as Norma Jeane Mortenson in Los Angeles, California. She was later baptised as Norma Jeane Baker. Monroe’s true father is unknown, however some biographers suggest that he might have been Martin Mortenson, Gladys’ second husband, even though they had already split up before Monroe was born.
Others have asserted that Charles Stanley Gifford, a coworker of Gladys’ at RKO Pictures, was Monroe’s father. In any case, Monroe didn’t know her father growing up because she was thought to be an illegitimate child.
Gladys was a single parent who left her kid with neighbours while she worked during the day. Unfortunately, Gladys was not in good health; prior to being hospitalised at the Norwalk State Hospital for Mental Diseases in 1935, she was in and out of mental hospitals.
Grace McKee, a friend of Gladys, took in Marilyn when she was nine. The girl was taken to the Los Angeles Orphanage by McKee after a year because she could no longer care for her. Monroe stayed there for two years before moving on to a slew of foster homes. It is thought that Monroe was abused at this period.
Monroe, then 11 years old, moved in with McKee’s aunt “Aunt” Ana Lower in 1937, where she lived happily until Lower’s health issues arose. McKee then orchestrated the union of Jim Dougherty, a 21-year-old neighbour, and 16-year-old Monroe. On June 19, 1942, the couple was hitched.
From War Bride to Model
Dougherty enlisted in the Merchant Marines in 1943 when World War II seized the nation. One year later, he embarked on his voyage to Shanghai. Monroe worked at the Radio Plane Munitions Factory while her husband was serving in the military, where she was found by photographer David Conover who was documenting women contributing to the war effort. In 1945, Monroe images by Conover were published in Yank magazine.
Conover showed Monroe’s photographs to professional photographer Potter Hueth, who was impressed by what he saw. Monroe and Hueth came to an agreement: Hueth would photograph Monroe, but she would only be compensated if magazines purchased the images. Consequently, Monroe was able to continue working at Radio Plane during the day and model at night.
Emmeline Snively, the CEO of Blue Book Modeling Agency, the biggest modelling agency in Los Angeles at the time, was intrigued by Hueth’s photographs of Monroe. Monroe accepted Snively’s invitation to pursue a full-time modelling career on the condition that she enrol in his three-month modelling school.
Monroe concurred and immediately got to work tirelessly honing her new trade. Monroe’s hair colour was light brown when she was working for Snively, but it is now blonde. While still abroad, Dougherty was unhappy to discover about his wife’s new profession.
The Transition From Modeling to Movies to Marilyn
Monroe was by this point being photographed by a number of photographers for pinup magazines, frequently displaying her hourglass form in two-piece bathing costumes. Monroe rose to fame to the point where, within a single month, her image could be seen on the covers of numerous pinup publications.
Ben Lyon, the casting director for 20th Century Fox, saw her images and phoned Monroe for a screen test in July 1946. Monroe received a six-month deal from 20th Century Fox in August, with the option of a six-month extension.
Dougherty became increasingly irritated by his wife’s new occupation after completing his tour of service and returning to the United States. The couple finally split in 1946 after things reached a breaking point.
Monroe had been conducting business under her married name, Norma Jeane Dougherty, up to that point. Lyon gave her the idea for her now-famous film name and that she adopt the first name of well-known stage performer Marilyn Miller from the 1920s. The alliterative Marilyn Monroe was created when Monroe chose to use her mother’s maiden name as her last name.
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Career Struggles and Scandal
The 20-year-old Monroe attended free acting, dancing, and singing classes at the 20th Century Fox studio while making $75 per week. She had a few cameos as an extra and only had one line in the forgettable “Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!” (1948). Monroe’s contract was not extended after the first six months.
Monroe kept taking acting classes while starting to get unemployment benefits. She was employed by Columbia Pictures six months later as a contract player earning $125 a week. Monroe had second billing and a prominent role in “Ladies of the Chorus” (1948), but despite favourable reviews, Columbia decided not to renew her contract.
Tom Kelley, a photographer who had previously worked with Monroe, asked her $50 to appear bare for a calendar in 1949. Monroe, who had no money, consented to accept the position. The photographs were afterwards sold by Kelley to Western Lithograph Co. for $900. The “Golden Dreams” calendar brought in millions.
When news of Monroe’s naked images spread in 1952, it threatened to end her career. Monroe spoke to the media about her difficult upbringing in an effort to counter the negative news. She admitted that she had posed for the pictures when she was in need but had never received even a thank-you message from those who had profited so greatly from her $50 in shame. (In 1953, Hugh Hefner paid $500 for one of the images and included it in the debut issue of Playboy magazine.)
When Monroe learned that the Marx brothers were looking for a blonde for their upcoming film, “Love Happy” (1949), she went to the audition and was accepted. The part required Monroe to sashay past Groucho Marx in a seductive manner while uttering the line, “I want you to help me. I had some men following me. Monroe’s performance drew the attention of the producer, Lester Cowan, who decided that Monroe should participate on the five-week publicity tour for the movie despite the fact that she was only on screen for 60 seconds and received, according to Marx, $100.
Major talent agency Johnny Hyde also took notice of her minor part and managed to get her a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer audition for a small role in “Asphalt Jungle” (1950). The movie was helmed by Oscar-winning actor, director, and screenwriter John Huston, and it received four nominations. Monroe had a little yet noteworthy part, despite his small involvement.
Darryl Zanuck, a studio executive, offered Monroe a contract to rejoin 20th Century Fox as a result of her performances, which included a brief but meaty role in the Bette Davis classic “All About Eve” (1950). The studio got thousands of fan letters when studio publicist Roy Craft exploited Monroe’s reputation as a pinup girl. Many of the emails asked when Monroe would make her next film appearance.
Zanuck gave producers the go-ahead to locate her parts after spotting a potential gold mine for the box office. In “Don’t Bother to Knock,” she portrayed a mentally unstable babysitter in her debut lead role (1952). The following two years saw Monroe produce some of her most enduring motion pictures, including Niagara (1953), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), River of No Return (1954), and There’s No Business Like Show Business (1955). (1954).
Career Transition and The Actors Studio
With the exception of “Niagara,” in which she played a cunning murderess evoking classic noir movies like “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946) and “Double Indemnity” (1944), Monroe was now a well-known movie star, but she was starting to resent the studio for the narrow range of roles it was giving her.
Monroe had aspirations of becoming a genuine actress, not just a gorgeous face tied to a voluptuous figure. In 1954, Monroe established her own production firm in opposition to the terms of her studio contract and in an effort to gain more career autonomy. She relocated to New York City the next year and enrolled in the esteemed Actors Studio, which is directed by Method
Acting pioneer Lee Strasberg and his wife, Paula. The three developed a close bond and a complex, occasionally troublesome relationship that lasted for the rest of Monroe’s life.
On the plus side, Strasberg’s guidance helped Monroe develop her acting skills. The majority of critics concur that the training she received helped make her performances more compelling and subtle.
On the negative side, Lee Strasberg was charged with controlling Marilyn Monroe both emotionally and professionally and exploiting her anxieties. Paula famously accompanied Marilyn Monroe on every film set when she eventually resumed her career in films, much to the chagrin of directors like Laurence Olivier and George Cukor, whose artistic sensibilities did not mesh with Method Acting. For a while, Monroe actually resided in the Strasbergs’ Manhattan apartment.
Downward Spiral Of Her Career
Monroe was checked into the New York Payne Whitney Psychiatric Hospital on February 2, 1961. DiMaggio flew to her aid and arranged for her to be transferred to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, where she received psychological care as well as gallbladder surgery and consequent weight loss. Rumors of a possible reconciliation between the two were sparked by DiMaggio’s devotion to Monroe throughout her sickness.
Monroe was slated to start filming “Something’s Got to Give” around the end of April 1962. The comedy was directed by seasoned filmmaker George Cukor and also starred Dean Martin and Wally Cox. Cukor was obliged to work around Monroe as much as he could because she was unable to report for work due to a severe sinus ailment.
Despite suffering from several diseases, Monroe performed “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” at a Madison Square Garden Gala for President John F. Kennedy on May 19, 1962, while donning a sheer, flesh-colored outfit studded with rhinestones. Her seductive performance generated speculations that the two were having an affair, which were then followed by another allegation that Monroe was also seeing Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the brother of the President.
Her condition had not improved when Monroe left California to continue filming “Something’s Got to Give.” She was fired by 20th Century Fox and a lawsuit for contract violation was filed as a result of additional extended absences from the set. She was eventually recruited again, but the movie was never completed.
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Despite the fact that Monroe’s dependence on booze and sleeping pills was well known, it nevertheless came as a shock when the 36-year-old was discovered dead in her Brentwood, California, home on August 5, 1962.
Monroe’s cause of death is listed as “acute barbiturate poisoning, ingestion of overdose” on the coroner’s death certificate (later determined to be a combination of Nembutal and chloral hydrate, a knockout drug commonly known as a Mickey Finn). Following an examination, Monroe’s remains was given to DiMaggio, who then staged a private funeral.