A silver screen siren and an icon of popular culture to this day, Marilyn Monroe was the original blonde bombshell. Inspirational explores the life and times of one of Hollywood’s greatest ever stars.
Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson at the Los Angeles County Hospital, California on 1st June 1926, went on to become one of the world’s most iconic women and left a legacy that extends well beyond her all-too-brief life.
A difficult, troubled childhood befell Monroe as she spent much of her early life in and out of foster care and orphanages. She never knew her father and, after developing psychiatric problems, her mother, Gladys Baker, was placed into a mental institution.
In an interview in 1962, Monroe confessed that it was during these challenging early years that she realised her love of acting: “When I was five I think, that’s when I started wanting to be an actress. I loved to play. I didn’t like the world around me because it was kind of grim, but I loved to play house. It was like you could make your own boundaries.
“When I heard that this was acting, I said that’s what I want to be. Some of my foster families used to send me to the movies to get me out of the house and there I’d sit all day and way into the night. Up in front, there with the screen so big, a little kid all alone, and I loved it.”
After a number of years of moving between foster homes and orphanages, family friend Grace Goddard filed to become her legal guardian. It wasn’t until a year later that Monroe moved out of the orphanage and into Goddard’s family home, but it was only to be a short stay.
After being molested by Goddard’s husband Erwin, she once again moved around, this time between family friends and relatives, before moving in with Grace’s aunt, Ana Atchinson Lower. However, after Erwin’s work required him to relocate, and with Grace still as her legal guardian, Monroe faced the threat of returning to the orphanage as Californian Law prevented her from leaving the state.
As a solution to this, Monroe married 21-year-old James ‘Jim’ Dougherty in 1942, just days after her 16th birthday. She dropped out of school to become a housewife before Dougherty enlisted in the Merchant Marines. He was stationed in the South Pacific during the war and Monroe worked in a munitions factory, which is where her path to stardom began.
After meeting a photographer, she signed up to a modelling agency and dyed her natural, brunette hair blonde as she deemed it would make her more employable. It was a wise decision as, by 1946, she had become an established pin-up for men’s magazines and advertisements.
As her career began to take off and she signed her first acting contract, her marriage was heading in the opposite direction. She was divorced late in 1946 and also changed her name to the stage moniker we all recognise today, Marilyn Monroe.
It was the 1950s before people really began to take note of the emerging talent that was Marilyn Monroe. Her small part in The Asphalt Jungle (1950) impressed audiences and led to her getting a role in the critically acclaimed All About Eve which went on to receive 14 Academy Award nominations.
Monroe went on to star in Niagara (1953) before being paired with another bombshell of the time, Jane Russell, in the comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Further success on the silver screen followed in the likes of How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) with Lauren Bacall, There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954) and The Seven Year Itch (1955).
Her starring role in The Seven Year Itch resulted in one of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history as she stood over a subway grate with the air blowing up the skirt of her white dress. The very dress Monroe wore in the film later sold for a record-breaking $5.6m, making it the most valuable movie costume of all time.
By the mid 1950s Monroe had established herself as a Hollywood star and a worldwide sex symbol. She had married baseball player Jo DiMaggio in 1954 and appeared nude in the debut edition of Playboy magazine.
Despite her success, she struggled with anxiety and was disillusioned with the world of acting, stating that “dreaming about being an actress is more exciting than being one.”
Her marriage to DiMaggio failed after just nine months, with claims that the worldwide publicity received by the image of Monroe standing at the subway grate was the final nail in the coffin.
A self assured woman who knew her own mind, faults and insecurities, at the time Monroe was quick to sum up her situation: “I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I’m out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”
Following the divorce, work began to slow as the decade went on, however she did receive critical acclaim for her performance in Bus Stop (1956), where she played the role of a saloon singer who dreamt of the big time but was held back by the love interest of a cowboy.
After working with the now hugely successful and adored screen siren on the film, director Joshua Logan described Monroe as “near genius as any actress I ever knew”.
“GIVE A GIRL THE RIGHT SHOES, AND SHE CAN CONQUER THE WORLD.”
In her private life, Monroe had a string of relationships before marrying her third husband playwright Arthur Miller in 1956. The marriage lasted for four years, however during this time she began to fall prey to alcohol and pills.
Despite a number of smaller roles and a brief hiatus, it was 1959 before Monroe took centre stage again in the now iconic Some Like It Hot, a performance which saw her rewarded with the Golden Globe for Best Actress.
Some Like It Hot turned out to be Monroe’s last cinematic success though as The Misfits, written by her ex-husband Miller and released in 1961, turned out to be her last completed film and was poorly received. Despite winning the World Film Favourite award at the 1962 Golden Globes, Monroe’s drug addiction was beginning to take its toll, culminating in her being sacked from Something’s Got to Give just a few weeks later for her excessive time away from the set.
Her final moment in the limelight came in May 1962 with her now legendary performance of ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ at Madison Square Gardens during the birthday celebrations of President John F. Kennedy. Following her mantra of “the body is meant to be seen, not covered up”, Monroe caused a stir with her beige, skin-tight dress adorned with rhinestones, which was designed to give the illusion of her being nude.
After the performance, Monroe went into seclusion before being found dead at her home on 5th August 1962 at the age of just 36. The death was recorded as suicide from an overdose of sleeping pills, however there still remains a number of conspiracy theories surrounding the iconic star’s passing.
Named amongst the ‘Greatest Female Screen Legends in American Film History’ by The American Film Institute, Marilyn Monroe has a legacy and popularity that lives on to this day. A complicated individual, Monroe overcame the difficulties in her childhood and her unstable private lifestyle to become a sex symbol, a beauty icon and one of the greatest ever actresses to grace the silver screen.