Nationality: American. Born: Norma Jean Mortenson (or Baker) in Los Angeles, California, 1 June 1926. Education: Studied acting at Actors Lab in Los Angeles and Actors Studio in New York. Family: Married 1) James Dougherty, 1942 (divorced 1948); 2) the baseball player Joe DiMaggio, 1954 (divorced 1954); 3) the writer Arthur Miller, 1956 (divorced 1961). Career: During World War II worked in aircraft factory, then began modeling; 1946—short contract with 20th Century-Fox; 1948—film debut in Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!; 1950—success in films The Asphalt Jungle and All about Eve led to long-term contract with Fox. Died: Probable suicide, 5 August 1962.
Films as Actress:
Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (Summer Lightning) (Herbert) (as extra); Dangerous Years (Pierson) (as Evie); Ladies of the Chorus (Karlson) (as Peggy Martin)
Love Happy (Miller) (as extra)
A Ticket to Tomahawk (Sale) (as Clara); The Asphalt Jungle (Huston) (as Angela Phinlay); All about Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz) (as Miss Caswell); The Fireball (The Challenge) (Garnett) (as Polly); Right Cross (John Sturges) (as girl at nightclub)
Home Town Story (Pierson) (as Miss Martin); As Young as You Feel (Harmon Jones) (as Harriet); Love Nest (Joseph M. Newman) (as Roberta Stevens); Let's Make It Legal (Sale) (as Joyce)
Clash by Night (Fritz Lang) (as Peggy); We're Not Married (Goulding) (as Annabel Norris); Don't Bother to Knock (Roy Ward Baker) (as Nell); Monkey Business (Hawks) (as Lois Laurel); "The Cop and the Anthem" ep. of O. Henry's Full House (Full House) (Koster) (as streetwalker)
Niagara (Hathaway) (as Rose Loomis); Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks) (as Lorelei Lee); How to Marry a Millionaire (Negulesco) (as Pola Debevoise)
River of No Return (Preminger) (as Kay Weston); There's No Business Like Show Business (Walter Lang) (as Vicky)
The Seven Year Itch (Wilder) (as the Girl)
Bus Stop (Logan) (as Cherie)
The Prince and the Showgirl (Olivier) (as Elsie Marina)
Some Like It Hot (Wilder) (as Sugar Kane)
Let's Make Love (Cukor) (as Amanda Dell)
The Misfits (Huston) (as Roslyn Tabor)
By MONROE: books—
My Story, New York, 1974.
Marilyn in Her Own Words, New York, 1983; as Marilyn on Marilyn, London, 1983.
A Never-Ending Dream, edited by Guus Luijters, New York, 1986.
On MONROE: books—
Martin, Pete, Will Acting Spoil Marilyn Monroe?, New York, 1956.
Zolotow, Maurice, Marilyn Monroe, New York, 1960; rev. ed., 1990.
Carpozi, George Jr., Marilyn Monroe: "Her Own Story," New York, 1961.
Violations of the Child: Marilyn Monroe, by "Her Psychiatrist Friend," New York, 1962.
The Films of Marilyn Monroe, edited by Michael Conway and Mark Ricci, New York, 1964.
Hoyt, Edwin, Marilyn: The Tragic Years, New York, 1965.
Guiles, Fred, Norma Jean: The Life of Marilyn Monroe, New York, 1969.
Wagenknecht, Edward, Marilyn Monroe: A Composite View, Philadelphia, 1969.
Huston, John, An Open Book, New York, 1972.
Mailer, Norman, Marilyn, New York, 1973.
Mellen, Joan, Marilyn Monroe, New York, 1973.
Rosen, Marjorie, Popcorn Venus, New York, 1973.
Kobal, John, Marilyn Monroe: A Life on Film, New York, 1974.
Murray, Eunice, with Rose Shade, Marilyn: The Last Months, New York, 1975.
Sciacca, Tony, Who Killed Marilyn?, New York, 1976.
Weatherby, W. J., Conversations with Marilyn, New York, 1976.
Pepitone, Lena, and William Stadiem, Marilyn Monroe Confidential: An Intimate Personal Account, New York, 1979.
Dyer, Richard, editor, Marilyn Monroe, London, 1980.
Mailer, Norman, Of Women and Their Elegance, New York, 1981.
Anderson, Janice, Marilyn Monroe, New York, 1983.
Summers, Anthony, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, London, 1985.
Kahn, Roger, Joe and Marilyn: A Memory of Love, New York, 1986.
Rollyson, Carl E., Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1986.
Steinem, Gloria, and George Barris, Marilyn, New York, 1986.
Arnold, Eve, Marilyn Monroe: An Appreciation, London, 1987.
Crown, Lawrence, Marilyn at Twentieth Century-Fox, New York, 1987.
Dyer, Richard, Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society, London, 1987.
Miller, Arthur, Timebends, New York, 1987.
Shevey, Sandra, The Marilyn Scandal: Her True Life Revealed by Those Who Knew Her, London, 1987.
McCann, Graham, Marilyn Monroe, Cambridge, 1988.
Mills, Bart, Marilyn on Location, London, 1989.
Schirmer, Lothar, Marilyn Monroe and the Camera, London, 1989.
Marriott, John, Marilyn Monroe, Philadelphia, 1990.
Haspiel, James, Marilyn: The Ultimate Look at the Legend, London, 1991.
Brown, Peter H., Marilyn: The Last Take, New York, 1992.
Strasberg, Susan, Marilyn and Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends, New York, 1992.
Wayne, Jane Ellen, Marilyn's Men: The Private Life of Marilyn, New York, 1992.
Gregory, Adela, Crypt 33: The Saga of Marilyn Monroe—The Final Word, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1993.
Guiles, Fred Lawrence, Norma Jean: The Life of Marilyn Monroe, New York, 1993.
Spoto, Donald, Marilyn Monroe: The Biography, New York, 1993.
Miracle, Berniece Baker, and Mona Rae Miracle, My Sister Marilyn: A Memoir of Marilyn Monroe, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1994.
Baty, S. Paige, American Monroe: The Making of a Body Politic, Berkeley, 1995.
Lefkowitz, Frances, Marilyn Monroe, New York, 1995.
Paris, Yvette, Dying to Be Marilyn, Fort Collins, 1996.
Leaming, Barbara, Marilyn Monroe, New York, 1998.
Wolfe, Donald H., The Last Days of Marilyn Munroe, New York, 1998.
Ajlouny, Joseph, Marilyn, Norma Jean & Me, Farmington Hills, 1999.
Karanikas Harvey, Diana, Marilyn, New York, 1999.
Kidder, Clark, Marilyn Monroe: Cover-To-Cover, Iola, 1999.
Levinson, Robert S., The Elvis & Marilyn Affair, New York, 1999.
Victor, Adam, Marilyn: The Encyclopedia, New York, 1999.
On MONROE: articles—
Baker, P., "The Monroe Doctrine," in Films and Filming (London), September 1956.
Current Biography 1959, New York, 1959.
Obituary in New York Times, 6 August 1962.
Odets, Clifford, "To Whom It May Concern: Marilyn Monroe," in Show (Hollywood), October 1962.
Roman, Robert, "Marilyn Monroe," in Films in Review (New York), October 1962.
Fenin, G., "M.M.," in Films and Filming (London), January 1963.
Durgnat, Raymond, "Myth: Marilyn Monroe," in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1974.
"Marilyn Monroe Issue" of Cinéma d'aujourd'hui (Paris), March/April 1975.
Haspiel, J. R., "Marilyn Monroe: The Starlet Days," in Films in Review (New York), June/July 1975.
Stuart, A., "Reflection of Marilyn Monroe in the Last Fifties Picture Show," in Films and Filming (London), July 1975.
Haspiel, J. R., "That Marilyn Monroe Dress," in Films in Review (New York), June/July 1980.
Gilliatt, Penelope, "Marilyn Monroe," in The Movie Star, edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
Stenn, D., "Marilyn Inc.," and David Thomson, "Baby Go Boom!," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1982.
Belmont, Georges, "Souvenirs d'Hollywood," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1987.
Minifie, D., "Marilyn Monroe," in Films and Filming (London), August 1987.
Haun, H., "Marilyn Monroe," in Films in Review (New York), November 1987.
Lexton, Maria, "Book of Revelation," in Time Out (London), 8 July 1992.
Legrand, Gérard, "The Irresistible Marilyn," in Radio Times (London), 11 July 1992.
Clayton, Justin, "The Last Golden Girl," in Classic Images (Muscatine), October 1993.
Hoberman, J., "Korea and a Career," in Artforum, January 1994.
Spoto, D., "Marilyn Monroe," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1994.
McGilligan, Patrick, "Irony," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1995.
Norman, Barry, in Radio Times (London), 11 May 1996.
Golden, Eve, "Marilyn Monroe at 70: A Reappraisal," in Classic Images (Muscatine), June 1996.
Savage, S., "Evelyn Nesbit and the Film(ed) Histories of the Thaw-White Scandal," in Film History (London), no. 2, 1996.
Cardiff, J., "Magic Marilyn," in Eyepiece (Greenford), no. 4, 1997.
Jacobowitz, F., and R. Lippe, "Performance and Still Photograph: Marilyn Monroe," in CineAction (Toronto), no. 44, 1997.
On MONROE: films—
Marilyn, documentary, narrated by Rock Hudson, 1963.
Marilyn Monroe, Life Story of America's Mystery Mistress, documentary, 1963.
Marilyn: The Untold Story, directed for television by John Flynn, Jack Arnold, and Lawrence Schiller, 1980.
Marilyn and the Kennedys, documentary for television, 1985.
Marilyn Monroe: Beyond the Legend, documentary, 1985.
Marilyn: Say Goodbye to the President, documentary, 1985.
Marilyn Monroe, documentary, 1990.
Marilyn Monroe: The Last Word, documentary, 1990.
Marilyn Monroe: The Woman behind the Myth, documentary, 1990.
Marilyn and Me, directed for television by John Patterson, 1991.
Marilyn Monroe: The Marilyn Files, documentary, 1991.
Norma Jean & Marilyn, television movie, 1996.
* * *
More pages have been written about Marilyn Monroe than any other movie star. She has inspired all sorts of fellow artists, from novelists to painters to rock songwriters. In 1996, 34 years after Monroe's death (at age 36), HBO brought Oscar winner Mira Sorvino to the small screen in yet another retelling of Monroe's life. Representations of femininity, sexuality, and American ambition created by and around Monroe continue to fascinate, indicating that tensions among these factors continue to exist.
To some she was a gifted comedienne, to others a sexual joke, but there is no doubt that Marilyn Monroe staked a claim for herself in film history as the quintessential "dumb" blond, the biggest of the blond bombshells. She had, according to Billy Wilder, "flesh impact." And her face was her fortune as much as her voluptuous figure (Wilder again): "The luminosity of that face! There has never been a woman with such voltage on the screen, with the exception of Garbo."
Monroe's appeal lay in more than her physical attributes. Another director, Joshua Logan, described her as "naive about herself and touching, rather like a little frightened animal." Lee Strasberg saw "a combination of wistfulness, radiance, yearning [that] set her apart and [made] everyone wish to . . . share in the childish naivete which was at once so shy and yet so vibrant." Or, in the words given to Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers in Monroe's film Monkey Business, she was "half child, but not the half that shows."
Monroe's triumphs in projecting the woman-as-child arose in part from the traumas of her personal life. Orphaned as a child by her father's desertion and mother's insanity, brought up in an orphanage and foster homes, and married at 16 to a boy of 20, she developed, according to critic Molly Haskell, a "painful, naked, and embarrassing need for love." Moreover, her mother's insanity, and the fact that both her mother's parents had also been committed to institutions, may have deepened fears of abandonment instilled by her childhood experiences. Certainly her genetic heritage did nothing to encourage her to envision a future as a responsible adult.
Yet she was adult enough to work throughout her life to develop her control over her psycho-physical actor's instrument. Most of all, Monroe engaged with Constantin Stanislavski's ideas—that an actor's job is to make every physical move meaningful, to embrace and embody the world as it is for her, not for convention—variations of which she studied in the early 1950s with Michael Chekhov and, more famously, in the mid-1950s with Lee and Paula Strasberg. To further clarify for herself ways to physicalize her characters' inner states, Monroe kept with her Mabel Elsworth Todd's book The Thinking Body. Once Monroe had the "handle" for a role or scene, she was, according to Montgomery Clift, "an incredible person to act with. . .
. Playing a scene with her . . . was like an escalator. You'd do something, and she'd catch it and would go like that, just right up."
Her first films relegated her display of such talents to modeling jobs and acting classes. Under contract at Twentieth Century-Fox in 1946–47, she had bit parts in two forgettable films (Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! and Dangerous Years). In 1948 Columbia gave her a six-month contract and an introduction to the studio's head acting teacher Natasha Lytess, a former member of Max Reinhardt's company. Until the mid-1950s, Lytess would be Monroe's personal drama coach and a fixture on her sets. Monroe's official debut was a leading role in a B picture, Ladies of the Chorus. Though she showed promise, it wasn't until her first film for MGM, The Asphalt Jungle, that she made a real impact with both the public and the critics. Small parts in All about Eve and in several B pictures led to more substantial roles in We're Not Married and Monkey Business.
For her biggest role yet, in Don't Bother to Knock, Monroe received mixed reviews playing a psychotic babysitter obsessed with her dead lover. As Carl Rollyson notes, Monroe in this film builds perhaps too obviously upon what her second acting instructor, Stanislavski's associate Michael Chekhov, called "the psychological gesture." Such a keystone gesture—here Monroe's twisting together of her fingers—not only encapsulates a character's mental state but allows changes in it to be revealed over time. Throughout her career, as pinup girl, on-stage USO diva in Korea, and movie star, Monroe can be seen carefully framing her own body—using her hands, arms and hips especially—for maximum emotional resonance. Her appeal as a screen actress and archetypal image rests upon this self-composition more than is commonly acknowledged.
Monroe's first starring role was in Niagara, which elevated her to the ranks of 1953's top-grossing stars. As a faithless wife, she delivered a credible performance while projecting a great deal of sex appeal. Her undulations across some cobblestones represented the longest walk in cinema history—116 feet of film.
Niagara was followed by other rich roles. As Lorelei in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she showed she could sing and anchored the first of many delightful production numbers. (These redeemed such lesser films as River of No Return and Let's Make Love.) How to Marry a Millionaire further proved her comic talents. As the innocent myopic Pola Debevoise, a gold digger reluctant to wear glasses, she walked into walls and read books upside down with comic aplomb.
Monroe's next big film was The Seven Year Itch, in which she played a lightly parodic media sex goddess with subtle sensitivity. But by then she was disillusioned with her success and bored with her "dumb blond" image. Wanting to continue her artistic growth as a working actress, she left Hollywood for New York and the Actors Studio. Public reaction was unkind. Life magazine called the move "irrational," and Time found her all wet: "her acting talents, if any, run a needless second" to her truest virtues—"her moist 'come-on' look . . . moist, half-closed eyes and moist, half-opened mouth."
But Monroe spent a year with Lee Strasberg, director of the Actors Studio, learning to tap her own experience to work into her characters. At the Strasbergs' prompting, she entered psychoanalysis to negotiate her new self-knowledge. By the end of the year she had more sophisticated tools for exploring her characters—but she was gradually disintegrating as a person. The ego she had so carefully assembled in her early twenties came unglued in her increasing, drug-fueled fears of something lacking in herself.
Still, Bus Stop, her first film upon returning to Hollywood, was a revelation to the critics: "get set for a surprise. Marilyn Monroe has finally proved herself an actress" (Bosley Crowther, New York Times). Working for the first time with a southern accent, Monroe caught the delicate balance the script sets between her character's self-image and her limitations, especially in her songs. Critics disagreed over whether Monroe's modulated, realistic portrayal was due to the Strasbergs' influence or to the fact that it was her first role of any depth.
Her next film was made by her own company, which she had set up with Milton Greene. Although she and Laurence Olivier, her co-star and director, delivered good performances in The Prince and the Showgirl, problems between them on the set exacerbated Monroe's growing insecurity and addictions and did little to offset her distress over a troubled third marriage, to playwright Arthur Miller.
Monroe's sex appeal and comic timing were happily arrayed again in Some Like It Hot. But her next film, Let's Make Love, was a critical failure that brought her into an unhappy romance with her co-star, Yves Montand. By the time she did The Misfits (written for her by Miller), although she delivered a multifaceted, poignant performance, her chronic lateness and addiction to alcohol and pills were out of control. These afflictions caused her removal from a subsequent film, Something's Got to Give, and she died two months later of a drug overdose.
Her death was a tragic conclusion to a promising career. According to director John Huston, something disturbing happened to Monroe between The Asphalt Jungle and The Misfits, but it deepened her responses; now her acting came from inside. As a child, Monroe "used to playact all the time. For one thing, it meant I could live in a more interesting world than the one around me." But the magnificent life she brought to the screen finally eluded her in reality.
—Catherine Henry, updated by Susan Knobloch
(b. 1 June 1926 in Los Angeles, California; d. 5 August 1962 in Brentwood, California), actress, model, and legendary sex symbol who, after reaching a career peak in the late 1950s, entered a downward spiral that culminated with her death by drug overdose.
Monroe was born Norma Jean Mortensen, the only child of Gladys Pearl Baker, a film technician, and Edward Mortensen, a mechanic. They were together only briefly, and Mortensen had deserted his wife by the time Monroe was born. When she entered school, Monroe was going by the name of Norma Jean Baker. As revealed in numerous biographies written after she became famous, Monroe's childhood was as bleak as her stardom was glamorous. Both her mother's parents had been committed to mental institutions, and Gladys herself spent so much time in and out of mental hospitals that her daughter had to be raised in a succession of foster homes and orphanages.
Though she attended Van Nuys High School, the sixteen-year-old Monroe dropped out to marry James Edward Dougherty, an aircraft production worker, on 19 June 1942. Her career in modeling began while Dougherty was away in the merchant marine during World War II, a period when Monroe supported herself partly by posing for covers of minor photo magazines. She divorced Dougherty in 1946, cut her hair and bleached it blonde, changed her name to Marilyn Monroe, took a screen test with Twentieth Century–Fox, and signed her first movie contract. After several forgettable pictures, Monroe appeared in John Huston's Asphalt Jungle (1950), her first important film. She studied acting with Natasha Lytess in the late 1940s and early 1950s and survived a scandal involving a nude calendar photo taken during a period when she had no acting work. Instead of ending her career, news of the photo only added to her sexual mystique.
By the mid-1950s Monroe was a star, enjoying popular and sometimes critical success with such films as Niagara (1953), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), and The Seven-Year Itch (1955). After the last of these movies, Monroe grew weary of the "dumb blonde" image she had long cultivated, an image that had as much to do with her breathy voice and hourglass shape as with her platinum hair. Eager to grow artistically, she studied with Lee and Paula Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York City during 1956, and her efforts paid off in the most impressive performances of her career, including Bus Stop (1956) and Some Like It Hot (1959).
Professional changes accompanied personal ones, as Monroe left one man noted for his athletic prowess and married another who earned his living with his intellect. The first of these husbands was Joe DiMaggio, the great New York Yankees slugger, whom she wed on 14 January 1954 and divorced just nine stormy months later. The other was the playwright Arthur Miller, whom she married on 29 June 1956. (Though she was married three times, Monroe had no children.) She adopted Miller's faith, Judaism, and cultivated an interest in literature: from this period comes a photograph of Monroe reading James Joyce's ponderous Finnegan's Wake.
The Monroe of the late 1950s had reached the pinnacle of her career, but the decline that followed in the early 1960s was almost surreal in its haste. By the time Let's Make Love appeared in 1960 to a tepid critical reception, she had long since begun displaying signs of the behavior that would send her life and career into a tailspin. A sufferer from insomnia, Monroe had become addicted to sleeping pills and compounded the dangers associated with these and other barbiturates by combining them with alcohol, which she had begun increasingly to abuse by the early 1960s. At the encouragement of the Strasbergs, Monroe had entered into psychoanalysis during the late 1950s, a move that initially yielded benefits both professional and personal. As a subscriber to the ideas embodied in the Stanislavski acting method (named for the famed Russian actor and director), Monroe believed in inhabiting a character's personality as fully as possible; in order to do this, it was necessary to understand one's own personality to the fullest. On a more personal level, psychoanalysis helped her confront the pain and loneliness of her childhood as well as the pressure and sense of exploitation that came from being Hollywood's most acclaimed starlet—and from being a subject of the male sexual fantasy.
Although psychoanalysis helped Monroe at first, ultimately it became a crutch. As her personal and professional life spun out of control, Monroe relied on her therapist more and more to get her through each day. Examining and reexamining the painful details of her past was like overscratching an itch: by dwelling on the tendency toward mental illness in the Baker family, Monroe began to fear that she, too, might be mentally imbalanced, or at least that she might be judged so.
The 1950s had been Monroe's decade, so it was fitting that the beginning of her career's end occurred in 1960. First there was Let's Make Love, a dismal picture compounded by a troubled off-screen romance with her costar, Yves Montand. The affair served only to pinpoint the troubles in her marriage to Miller, with whom she had little more than a professional relationship by 1960. Even that would come to an end, along with their marriage, in the aftermath of Monroe's last completed film.
Based on a script by Miller, The Misfits (1961) is the story of a beautiful divorcee and the men who clamor for her affections. Because Miller repeatedly revised scenes while on location, the resulting plot is a mishmash. Despite the challenges, however, John Huston, with whom Monroe had worked on The Asphalt Jungle, turned in an exemplary performance as director. So, too, did Monroe's costars Clark Gable, Eli Wallach, and an actor who rivals Monroe as a great tragic figure, Montgomery Clift. As for the star of the film, however, her contribution was uneven at best. Outward signs of Monroe's disintegration first became apparent during the filming of The Misfits, when she regularly showed up late to the set and sometimes failed to turn up at all.
Gable's death on 16 November 1960, just twelve days after completion of The Misfits, upset Monroe deeply. Two months later Monroe divorced Miller. The film was released the following month, on 1 February, to abominable reviews. Monroe had approximately eighteen months left to live, and she would spend little of it actually filming. Her fears of mental instability came to fruition when, in late 1961, she was confined briefly to an institution. Early in 1962 she moved into a modest bungalow in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles and on 23 April began work on the prophetically titled Something's Got to Give. Monroe's erratic behavior on the set of The Misfits carried over to her current picture, and this time Fox ran out of patience. After only twelve days of shooting, the studio fired her. They even took legal action against Monroe, suing her for $500,000. (She is estimated to have earned $200 million for Fox over the course of her career.)
Nonetheless, they had to finish the film—the first that would contain nude scenes with Monroe—so the studio agreed to reinstate her. Before shooting could resume, however, Monroe was found dead in her Brentwood bungalow. An autopsy showed a deadly quantity of barbiturates in her system, and though her death is widely regarded as a suicide, she left behind no note. DiMaggio made the funeral arrangements, and for three decades, until his own death in 1999, he regularly placed flowers on her grave. Monroe is buried at Westwood Village Memorial Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Part sex goddess, part little girl, Monroe made herself the most popular actress in history by cultivating an on-screen style that seemed natural, though, in fact, it was the result of considerable effort on her part. She excelled at comedy, as in Some Like It Hot, but could render performances that smoldered with a latent intensity and sense of the tragic, as in Bus Stop. Her persona in that movie seems closest to the popular image of Monroe as at once vulnerable and a paragon of sexuality. Monroe was unquestionably a tragic figure, both at the beginning and at the end of her life. At the start of her long journey was a miserable childhood, with all its horrors in the form of insanity, abandonment, abuse, and poverty. At the conclusion was a death as lonely as her girlhood. Painful as all this tragedy is, it is essential to the Marilyn Monroe story and explains the power she continues to hold over the imagination. The agony at both ends of her existence only makes the glamour in between all the more luminous; without Norma Jean Baker, Marilyn Monroe could never shine as bright as she still does.
There are more than a hundred books on Monroe, including My Story (1974), which Monroe cowrote with the playwright and novelist Ben Hecht a few months before her death, and a series of interviews in Marilyn Monroe in Her Own Words (1983). Among biographies, one of the most reliable is Fred Guiles, Norma Jean (1969), and one of the most popular is Norman Mailer, Marilyn (1973), which draws on the factual information in the Guiles book. Another important source, one that includes photocopies of vital documents, is Robert F. Slatzer, The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe (1974). An obituary is in the New York Times (6 Aug. 1962).
Decades after Marilyn Monroe's death, the film actress and model has remained one of Hollywood's greatest sex symbols with her eye-catching style, champagne blond hair, and breathless manner of speaking.
Growing up Norma Jean
Norma Jean Baker, better known as Marilyn Monroe, experienced a disrupted, loveless childhood that included two years at an orphanage. When Norma Jean, born on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles, California, was seven years old, her mother, Gladys (Monroe) Baker Mortenson, was hospitalized after being diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, a severe mental condition. Norma was left in a series of foster homes and the Los Angeles Orphans' Home Society. The constant move from one foster home to another resulted in Norma's "sketchy" educational background.
After Norma's sixteenth birthday, her foster parents had to move from California. To avoid an orphanage or a new foster home, Norma chose to get married. On June 19, 1942, Norma married James Dougherty, but the marriage would all but end when he joined the U.S. Merchant Marines in 1943. Though her difficult childhood and early failed marriage would make Norma Jean a strong and resilient woman, these experiences would also add to her insecurities and flaws—things that would ultimately shape her into a great tragic figure of the twentieth century.
During World War II (1939–45; a war fought between the Axis powers: Japan, Italy, and Germany—and the Allies: England, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States), Norma Jean worked at the Radio Plane Company in Van Nuys, California, but she was soon discovered by photographers. She enrolled in a three-month modeling course, and in 1946, aware of her considerable charm and the potential it had for a career in films, Norma obtained a divorce from Dougherty. She then headed for Hollywood, where Ben Lyon, head of casting at Twentieth Century Fox, arranged a screen test. On August 26, 1946, she signed a one hundred twenty-five dollar a week, one-year contract with the studio. Ben Lyon was the one who suggested a new name for the young actress—Marilyn Monroe.
During Monroe's first year at Fox, she did not appear in any films, and her contract was not renewed. In the spring of 1948 Columbia Pictures hired her for a small part in Ladies of the Chorus. In 1950 John Huston (1906–1987) cast her in Asphalt Jungle, a tiny part which landed her a role in All About Eve. She was now given a seven-year contract with Twentieth Century Fox and appeared in The Fireball, Let's Make It Legal, Love Nest, and As Young as You Feel.
In 1952, after an extensive publicity campaign, Monroe appeared in Don't Bother to Knock, Full House, Clash by Night, We're Not Married, Niagara, and Monkey Business. The magazine Photoplay termed her the "most promising actress," and she was earning top dollars for Twentieth Century Fox.
Popularity and personal failures
On January 14, 1954, Monroe married Yankee baseball player Joe Di Maggio (1919–1999). But the pressures created by her billing as a screen sex symbol caused the marriage to fall apart, and the couple divorced on October 27, 1954.
Continually cast as the "dumb blond," Monroe made The Seven Year Itch in 1954. Growing weary of the stereotyping (broad generalizations based on appearance), she broke her contract with Fox and moved to New York City. There she studied at the Actors Studio with Lee and Paula Strasberg. Gloria Steinem (1934–) recalls a conversation with Monroe during that time in which Monroe referred to her own opinion of her abilities compared to a group of notables at the Actors Studio. "I admire all these people so much. I'm just not good enough."
In 1955 Monroe formed her own studio, Marilyn Monroe Productions, and renegotiated a contract with Twentieth Century Fox. She appeared in Bus Stop in 1956 and married playwright Arthur Miller (1915–) on July 1, 1956. Critics described Monroe in the film The Prince and the Showgirl, produced by her own company, as "a sparkling light comedienne." Monroe won the Italian David di Donatello award for "best foreign actress of 1958," and in 1959 she appeared in Some Like It Hot. In 1961 she starred in The Misfits, for which her husband Miller wrote the screenplay.
End of a star
The couple was divorced on January 24, 1961, and later that year Monroe entered a New York psychiatric clinic. After her brief hospitalization there she returned to the Fox studio to work on a film, but her erratic (unsteady and irregular) behavior betrayed severe emotional disturbance, and the studio fired her in June 1962.
Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her Los Angeles bungalow on August 5, 1962, an empty bottle of sleeping pills by her side. The exact events surrounding her death are not totally known and have been the subject of many rumors and books over the years. Monroe's image is one of the most lasting and widely seen of any star in the twentieth century—and today. As a subject of biographies, more than twenty books have been written about her short and tragic life.
For More Information
Barris, George. Marilyn—Her Life in Her Own Words: Marilyn Monroe's Revealing Last Words and Photographs. Secausus, NJ: Carol Pub. Group, 1995.
McDonough, Yona Zeldis, ed. All the Available Light: A Marilyn Monroe Reader. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.
Slatzer, Robert F. The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe. New York: Pinnacle House, 1974.
Spoto, Donald. Marilyn Monroe: The Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.
Victor, Adam. The Marilyn Encyclopedia. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1999.
The film actress Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) epitomized the Hollywood sex symbol with her provocative clothes, champagne blond tresses, and breathless, whisper-voiced manner of speaking.
Norma Jean Baker, better known as Marilyn Monroe, experienced a disrupted, loveless childhood that included two years at an orphanage. When Norma Jean, born on June 1, 1926, was seven years old her mother, Gladys (Monroe) Baker Mortenson, was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and hospitalized. Norma was left to a series of foster homes and the Los Angeles Orphans' Home Society. She opted for an early marriage on June 19, 1942, and her husband, James Dougherty, joined the U.S. Merchant Marine in 1943.
During the war years Norma Jean worked at the Radio Plane Company in Van Nuys, California, but she was soon discovered by photographers. She enrolled in a 3-month modelling course, and in 1946, aware of her considerable charm and the potential it had for a career in films, Norma obtained a divorce. She headed for Hollywood, where Ben Lyon, head of casting at Twentieth Century Fox, arranged a screen test. On August 26, 1946, she signed a $125 a week, one-year contract with the studio. Ben Lyon was the one who suggested a new name for the fledgling actress— Marilyn Monroe.
During her first year at Fox Monroe did not appear in any films, and her contract was not renewed. In the spring of 1948 Columbia Pictures hired her for a small part in Ladies of the Chorus. In 1950 John Huston cast her in Asphalt Jungle, a tiny part which landed her a role in All About Eve. She was now given a seven-year contract with Twentieth Century Fox and appeared in The Fireball, Let's Make It Legal, Love Nest, and As Young as You Feel.
In 1952, after an extensive publicity campaign, Monroe appeared in Don't Bother to Knock, Full House, Clash by Night, We're Not Married, Niagara, and Monkey Business. After this the magazine Photoplay termed her the "most promising actress," and she was earning top dollars for Twentieth Century Fox.
On January 14, 1954, she married Yankee baseball player Joe Di Maggio. But the pressures created by her billing as a screen sex symbol caused the marriage to founder, and the couple divorced on October 27, 1954.
Continually cast as a dumb blond, Monroe made Seven Year Itch in 1954. Growing weary of the stereotyping, she broke her contract with Fox and moved to New York City. There she studied at the Actors Studio with Lee and Paula Strasberg. Gloria Steinem recalls a conversation with Monroe during that time in which Monroe referred to her own opinion of her abilities compared to a group of notables at the Actors Studio. "I admire all these people so much. I'm just not good enough."
In 1955 she formed her own studio, Marilyn Monroe Productions, and re-negotiated a contract with Twentieth Century Fox. She appeared in Bus Stop in 1956 and married playwright Arthur Miller on July 1, 1956.
Critics described Monroe in the film The Prince and the Showgirl, produced by her own company, as "a sparkling light comedienne." Monroe won the Italian David di Donatello award for "best foreign actress of 1958," and in 1959 she appeared in Some Like It Hot. In 1961 she starred in The Misfits, for which Arthur Miller did the screenplay.
The couple was divorced on January 24, 1961, and later that year Monroe entered a New York psychiatric clinic. After her brief hospitalization there she returned to the Fox studio to work on a film, but her erratic behavior betrayed severe emotional disturbance, and the studio discharged her in June 1962.
Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her Los Angeles bungalow on August 5, 1962, an empty bottle of sleeping pills by her side.
As a subject of biographies and Hollywood exposé, Marilyn Monroe had no equal. More than 20 books have been written on her brief life. Some, like Norma Jean (1969) by Fred Lawrence Guiles, Edwin P. Hoyt's Marilyn: The Tragic Venus (1965, 1973), or Robert F. Slatzer's The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe (1974), investigate her life in detail. Others are memoirs: Marilyn Monroe: Confidential (1979) by Lena Pepitone and William Stadiem is one such volume. Norman Mailer's Marilyn (1973) includes photographs, and The Films of Marilyn Monroe (1964) by Michael Conway and Mark Ricci details her many movies and shows stills as well as review excerpts. A careful overall biography is Goddess (1985) by Anthony Summers. Gloria Steinem's Marilyn (1986) is an insightful account of a tragic life. □
MONROE, MARILYN (1926–1962), U.S. actress. Monroe was born Norma Jean Mortensen in Los Angeles, California, to mechanic Edward Mortensen and rko film technician Gladys Monroe. Her father abandoned the family before her birth, her mother was frequently institutionalized because of paranoid schizophrenia, and Monroe was raised in a series of foster homes. After a failed youthful marriage to James Dougherty and a few modeling jobs she changed her name to Marilyn Monroe. Contracts with Columbia and Fox resulted in small parts in John Huston's Asphalt Jungle (1950), All About Eve (1950), Let's Make It Legal (1951), Niagara (1952), and Monkey Business (1952). In 1953, she appeared nude in the first issue of Playboy, certifying her role as the All-American sex symbol. In 1954, she married baseball player Joe DiMaggio; however, the stormy marriage was brief and the couple divorced the same year. After making Billy Wilder's Seven Year Itch (1954) she broke her contract with Fox and moved to New York City to study with Lee and Paula *Strasberg at the Actors Studio. Introduced to playwright Arthur *Miller by Elia *Kazan, she converted to Judaism in a ceremony officiated by Rabbi Robert Goldberg two days after they married. She went on to appear in a string of successful films, including Bus Stop (1956), Some Like It Hot (1959), and Let's Make Love (1960). In 1961, she starred in The Misfits, which featured a script written by Arthur Miller. The Huston film was a difficult shoot, and was followed by the death of star Clark Gable 12 days after it was completed. Monroe divorced Miller in 1961, and entered a New York psychiatric clinic later that year. She returned to Fox in 1962 to finish her part in the film Something's Got to Give, but was found dead in her Brentwood, California, home on Aug. 5; an autopsy found a lethal dose of barbiturates.
[Adam Wills (2nd ed.)]
Marilyn Monroe, 1926–62, American movie actress, b. Los Angeles as Norma Jean Baker or Norma Jeane Mortenson. Raised in orphanages after 1935 and first married at 14, Monroe, who began her career as a pin-up model, became a world-famous sex symbol and, after her death, a Hollywood legend. She was noted for her distinctively breathy singing style and seductive film roles, and she was also a superb light comedienne. At first patronized by critics, she studied acting and won more challenging roles. Her death from a barbituate overdose at age 36, a possible suicide, only increased her mystique. Her films include Niagara (1952), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), The Seven-Year Itch (1955), Bus Stop (1956), Some Like It Hot (1959), and The Misfits (1960). Monroe's second husband was Joe DiMaggio; her third, Arthur Miller.
See the controversial study by Norman Mailer (1973) and the play After the Fall (1963) by Arthur Miller; S. Buchthal and B. Comment. ed., Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters (2010) and L. Banner, ed., MM—Personal: From the Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe (2011); biographies by F. L. Guiles (1969), G. McCann (1988), M. Zolotow (rev. ed. 1990), C. E. Rollyson (1993), D. Spoto (1993), B. Leaming (1998), and L. Banner (2012); J. Meyers, The Genius and the Goddess: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe (2010); study by S. Churchwell (2005).