Marilyn Monroe biography:
Monroe's birth name was Norma Jean Mortenson. Norma Jean was an illegitimate
child. Marilyn grew up not knowing for sure who her father was. The most likely
candidate was Edward Mortenson, thus that name on her birth certificate. Norma's
mother, Gladys, had entered into several relationships, so even she was confused
as to who had fathered her daughter.
later changed Norma Jean's last name to Baker. Baker was a boyfriend she had
a constant companion to Gladys and Norma. Gladys, who was extremely attractive
and worked for RKO Studios as a film cutter, lost her job when Norma was young.
Gladys didn't regain steady employment after that. She suffered from mental
illness and was in and out of mental institutions for the rest of her life.
Consequently, Norma Jean spent years in foster homes and orphanages. When she
was nine, she was placed in an orphanage where she was to stay for the next two
years. Upon being released from the orphanage, she went to yet another foster
In 1942, at the age of 16, Norma Jean married 21-year-old aircraft plant worker, and
neighbor, James Dougherty. The marriage lasted four years. They divorced in
began working at the Radio Plane factory in Burbank. A visiting Army
photographer took her photo, and Norma Jean liked what she saw. So did others.
then began modeling bathing suits. After bleaching her hair blonde, she began
posing for pinups and glamour photos. Various shots made their way to the public
eye, where some were eventually seen by RKO Pictures head Howard Hughes.
offered Marilyn a screen test, but Ben Lyon of 20th Century Fox beat Hughes to
the punch. Lyon signed Norma Jean Baker to a contract. Fox was a much bigger and
more prestigious studio than RKO. Norma Jean signed a contract at $125 per week
for a six-month period. That increased by $25 per week at the end of that time,
when her contract was extended. At about that time, she changed her name to
After appearing in small parts in films including "Love Happy" (1949) and "All
About Eve" (1950), Monroe achieved celebrity with starring roles in three 1953
features, "Niagara," "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "How To Marry a
posed for a series of calendar photos, taken in 1948. These appeared in the
December 1953 debut issue of Playboy magazine. By the end of the year, Monroe
had been voted the top star of 1953 by American film distributors.
In all of
her film roles, from "Niagara" to "The Misfits" (1961), Monroe portrayed an
object of desire and exhibition. Her basic character grew out of the dumb blonde
archetype, but Monroe's dumb blonde could not be pinned down to any particular
origin or social class. She was defined only by what was shown on the screen,
with neither a previous history nor, seemingly, a future.
her characters were nameless ("Love Happy," 1955's "The Seven Year Itch"),
further accentuating her status as an object. The character she played usually
had no discernable job. When she did, it was a female-relegated job such as
chorus girl, actress, or secretary.
But to the dumb blonde stereotype, Monroe added a sense of innocence, naturalism
and overt sexuality. Her sexuality was never seen as a threat, but as something
harmless and naive. Time Magazine's response to Monroe's Playboy
centerfold summed up her appeal: "Marilyn believes in doing what comes
this kindly, innocent sexuality came a vulnerability. Monroe's characters were
often humiliated at the expense of a voyeuristic pleasure, whether being lassoed
like a cow in "Bus Stop" (1956) or exposing herself unknowingly in "Some Like It
height of her fame, Monroe sensed the limited range of her screen persona and
clearly desired to change it. "To put it bluntly, I seem to be a whole
superstructure without a foundation." Forming Marilyn Monroe Productions in
1956, she produced "Bus Stop" and "The Prince and The Showgirl" (1957). But her
personal problems, with failed marriages to baseball star Joe DiMaggio and
playwright Arthur Miller and increasing reliance on drugs to combat depression
and physical ailments, served to forestall any serious change in her career. The
public wanted Marilyn as they had discovered her in 1953, and that was what they
got in "Let's Make Love" (1960).
Marilyn Monroe was still capable of memorable work, especially with top
directors like Billy Wilder ("Some Like It Hot") and John Huston ("The
Misfits"). But her personal demons, or precarious involvement with people in
high places, eventually overwhelmed her. On August 5, 1962, she was found dead
of an overdose of sleeping pills.
death of her rival, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, facts regarding her death
emerged. Monroe had been having a hot affair with President John F Kennedy (JFK
or "Jack"), aided by the Secret Service. Jackie was understandably upset by
this, and had made it very clear to Jack that he must end the affair or she
would leave him.
public humiliation of his son and an end to the "Kennedy mystique" he had worked
so hard to build, Joe Kennedy took measures to "solve the Monroe problem." While
we lack a hard evidence "beyond a shadow of a doubt" that Joe had Marilyn
killed, there is significant evidence that he did.
attitude toward women is well-documented in everything from Chappaquiddick to
Joan Kennedy's retreat into alcoholic stupor to books such as "The Kennedy
death was a tragedy in which her public, the media, and the Hollywood power
brokers initially blamed. That blame lasted until nearly the end of the 20th
Century, under the now discredited notion that she committed suicide after being
driven into despondency. This notion is immortalized in the Elton John tribute
to her, "Like a Candle in the Wind."