One of the earliest and most enduring sex symbols of Hollywood, Marilyn Monroe was a talented actress who began a career as a model before foraying into films. The product of a broken home, she did not even know the identity of her biological father. Named as Norma Jeane Mortenson at birth, she spent most of her childhood in foster homes as her mother was mentally unstable and incapable of raising her daughter on her own. The little girl endured a harsh childhood marked by abuse and apathy due to which she suffered from several mental problems later in her life. As a young woman she stared modeling for The Blue Book Modeling Agency and soon became a very successful model thanks to her striking beauty and grace. Eventually she moved on to films, initially appearing in minor roles before bagging more substantial ones. She soon developed an image of a sex symbol by appearing without clothes for the ‘Playboy’ magazine. As an actress she acted in several successful films like ‘The Asphalt Jungle’, ‘The Seven Year Itch’, and ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’. However the final years of her brief life were marked by mental illnesses and alcoholism. Her life was snuffed out untimely when she was just 36 by an overdose of sleeping pills.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born as Norma Jeane Mortenson to Gladys Pearl Baker. She did not know the identity of her biological father, and amused herself by imagining that the Hollywood actor Clarke Gable was her father.
Her mother was mentally unstable and thus the young Norma was placed in foster care. She was placed in the care of her mother’s friend Grace who told her that she would one day become a movie star and took her to see films.
Norma was later sent to an orphanage and a series of foster homes. In some of the foster homes she was sexually abused and ill-treated.
She married James Dougherty when she was just 15 or 16 years of age. She lived with his mother when her husband enlisted in the Merchant Marine during the World War II.
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She started working with The Blue Book Modeling Agency while her husband was away at war. She dyed her dark hair blonde and appeared on several magazine covers. She became a very successful model and got noticed by Ben Lyon, a 20th Century Fox executive who offered her a six-month contract.
She adopted the name Marilyn Monroe at the suggestion of Lyon. Her first credited role was as a waitress in the 1947 movie, ‘Dangerous Years’. She continued appearing in minor roles over the next few years with no major success.
She played a small but important role in the 1950 movie, ‘The Asphalt Jungle’ which was based on the novel of the same name. The film revolves around the story of a group of men who plan a jewelry robbery.
She continued playing minor roles over the next two years. In 1952, two of her unclad photographs appeared on calendars. She defended her decision to pose unclad by stating that she was a struggling actress and needed money to pay the rent. This created an outpouring of sympathy for her and made her popular.
She was flooded with film offers in 1952 and appeared in several movies within the year: ‘Monkey Business’, ‘Clash by Night’, ‘We’re Not Married!’, and ‘Don’t Bother to Knock’. The last one was her first starring role.
She was given the first billing in the film ‘Niagara’ in 1953. The thriller-film noir was one of the biggest box office hits of the year. She achieved star status with this film.
Even though she had naturally dark hair, she used to dye it blonde and created for herself the image of a blonde bombshell. She portrayed a dumb blonde in the movie ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ in 1953 which went on to become a major hit.
She played ‘the girl’ in the 1955 movie ‘The Seven Year Itch’ which was based on a three-act play of the same name. It had the iconic image of Marilyn standing on a subway grate as her white dress is blown by a passing train. The film was a big box office hit.
In 1956, her movie ‘Bus Stop’ was released. The film was a dramatic piece unlike her other films most of which were comedies or musicals. She sang one song, ‘The Old Black Magic’ in the movie.
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In 1959, she played Sugar "Kane" Kowalczyk, a ukulele player and singer in ‘Some Like it Hot’ which was both a critical as well as commercial success. The film is considered to be one of the best films ever made in Hollywood.
Her final film appearance was in ‘The Misfits’ in 1961 in which she played a recently divorced woman. The film also featured Clark Gable in what was also his final film appearance.
She was much appreciated as a dumb blonde in the movie ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ in which she played a pretty gold-digging woman. The pink dress she wears in the film and her rendition of the song ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ have since acquired iconic status.
Her best known film is the comedy ‘Some Like it Hot’ which is her most commercially successful film. The movie was listed as the greatest American comedy film of all time by the American Film Institute in 2000.
Awards & Achievements
She won the Golden Globe Henrietta Award: World Film Favorite Female in 1953.
She was presented with the Golden Globe Best Motion Picture Actress in Comedy or Musical for ‘Some Like It Hot’ in 1960.
Personal Life & Legacy
She married thrice, with each of her marriages ending in divorce. Her first husband was James Dougherty whom she married when she was just a teenager. She later eloped with and married baseball player Joe DiMaggio. This marriage too ended in divorce. Her final marriage was to Arthur Miller whom she later divorced.
She was rumored to have high profile affairs with John and Robert Kennedy.
She suffered from several mental illnesses during the last years of her life and was also an alcohol addict. She was found dead in her home on 5 August 1962 by her psychiatrist Ralph Greenson. The cause of her death was stated as “probable suicide” by drug overdose.