In a perfect world, a beauty such as Marilyn Monroe would live a long and fruitful life. As things turned out, however, the lady loved by so many died alone at night in a Brentwood bungalow on August 5, 1962. Recognized as a Hollywood icon and sexual ideal more than a half century after her demise, Marilyn Monroe remains a mystery to most.
Who was Marilyn Monroe?
Born Norma Jean Mortensen to an unwed mother in Los Angeles on the first of June, 1926, the child who would grow up to become Marilyn Monroe endured a horrific childhood. Within weeks of her birth, baby Norma Jean was delivered to the first of many foster homes and orphanages where she would spend most of her growing-up years.
According to American National Biography Online, Norma Jean’s mother, Gladys Monroe Baker Mortensen, was a mentally ill woman who worked in the movie industry as a film cutter and was unable (or unwilling) to take proper care of a baby. Biography says that Marilyn Monroe often stated that her earliest childhood memory was of her mother trying to smother her in her crib. It has never been revealed who, exactly, fathered Norma Jean. For a while, Marilyn Monroe believed that Gone With the Wind star Clark Gable was her dad, but that story was most likely concocted by her erratic and irresponsible mom.
By the time Norma Jean was a teenager, she had had enough of foster homes and orphanages where she did not feel safe. After revealing a molestation, and to avoid being sent to yet another orphanage, Norma Jean Baker opted into a teenage marriage to a fellow named James Dougherty in 1942.
World War II was in full swing, and James joined the Merchant Marine. Sixteen-year-old Norma Jean dropped out of high school and did her part for the American war effort by taking a job with the Radio Plane Company in Van Nuys, California, where she assembled parachutes. Radioplanes were small drone aircraft used by the U.S. Army to lay communications wire, according to Popular Mechanics magazine. Most models of Radioplanes did not have landing gear and relied on parachutes to land.
It was while working at the parachute plant that Norma Jean fell in love with the camera, and vice versa. A young soldier named David Conover, who worked as an army photographer, saw a spark of potential in young Norma Jean Dougherty and snapped numerous pictures of her at work on the assembly line. After being published in Yank Magazine, one of those pictures found its way to a Hollywood movie producer, and Norma Jean was offered a screen test at 20th Century Fox.
Norma Jean transforms herself into Marilyn Monroe
Norma Jean’s marriage to James Dougherty ended just a few months after the conclusion of World War II. Shortly thereafter, Norma Jean signed a one-year, $125-per-week contract with 20th Century Fox and began using the stage name, Marilyn Monroe. Fox allowed her contract to lapse, but rehired the actress in 1948. Marilyn made her first notable screen appearance in the last Marx Brothers movie, Love Happy, in 1949.
By 1950, Marilyn Monroe was well on her way to becoming a bona fide movie star. Director John Huston gave her a small part in The Asphalt Jungle, which caught the attention of director Joseph Mankiewicz, who cast her in the Bette Davis vehicle, All About Eve. In 1953, Monroe’s fame was a done deal when she portrayed a sweet, but stupid gold-digger named Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Between reprising her dumb blonde on-screen persona in There’s No Business Like Show Business in 1954, and The Seven Year Itch in 1955, Marilyn was briefly married to New York Yankees baseball hero, Joe DiMaggio. The marriage did not last, but DiMaggio delivered red roses to Marilyn’s crypt every year for the rest of his life. Monroe’s final marriage, which also ended in divorce, was to American playwright Arthur Miller, from 1956 to 1961. Within a year of their divorce, the final curtain came down on the brief, but brilliant career of Marilyn Monroe.
Who killed Marilyn Monroe?
Shortly before the 25th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death, Ms. magazine published an article entitled “Marilyn Monroe: Still Life and Essay by Gloria Steinem.” In the essay, Steinem posits whether Marilyn Monroe actually committed suicide with sleeping pills, or was murdered in her bungalow by a mob member or even a lover.
“Could organized crime, Jimmy Hoffa in particular, have planned to use her friendship with the Kennedys and her suicide – could Hoffa and his friends even have caused that suicide – in order to embarrass or blackmail Robert Kennedy, who was definitely a mafia enemy and probably her lover?”
Although numerous books have been written about the life and death of Marilyn Monroe, the world may never know why — or even if — she deliberately swallowed the sleeping pills and champagne that ultimately caused the end of one of the most enchanting and mysterious movie stars to ever grace the silver screen.
“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.”
Had she survived, Marilyn Monroe would have celebrated her 90th birthday on June 1, 2016.
[Photo by L.J. Willinger/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]