Marilyn Monroe - Actress
Created | Updated Nov 27, 2010
I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night - there must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But, I'm not going to worry about them. I'm dreaming the hardest.
- Marilyn Monroe.
Marilyn Monroe was an American actress and icon of the 'silver screen' era of movies. Born Norma Jeane1 Mortenson, on 1 June, 1926, in the Charity Ward of Los Angeles General Hospital in California, she was to adopt her stage name in the 1950s. The name Marilyn came from the stage-musical star Marilyn Miller and Monroe was her grandmother's maiden name.
Monroe's mother, Gladys Pearl Mortenson, a negative cutter, was married to Martin Edward Mortenson when the baby was conceived, but it is not conclusive that he was the father; another likely candidate was Charles Stanley Gifford, with whom Gladys was working at the time. Her grandmother, Della Monroe Grainger later baptised her as Norma Jeane Baker2. Left all alone and unable to cope, Monroe's mother placed her with foster parents, Albert and Ida Bolender, until she was seven and Gladys had raised enough money to buy a property of her own. Then in 1935, Gladys was hospitalised with psychological problems3. Once again, Monroe was left to be brought up in foster homes and in the Los Angeles Orphans Home, later renamed Hollygrove. On 26 June, 1937, her mother's friend Grace McKee, who was Monroe's legal guardian, and McKee's husband Doc Goddard adopted her. However after five years, McKee's husband's job forced the couple to move to West Virginia, and they couldn't afford to take Monroe with them.
I never looked at Marilyn as Norma Jeane. To me there were two people and I didn't know Marilyn.
- Jimmy Dougherty.
Grace McKee left Monroe with two choices: either get married or return to living in an orphanage. She chose the former and wed Jimmy Dougherty on 19 June, 1942. The couple were happily married for two years, until Dougherty's job in the Merchant Marines took him to the South Pacific.
She has the tiniest waist in the world which, of course, helps to accentuate the rest of her. She also has the nicest eyebrows, if anyone ever noticed. They are very thick and natural, and her eyes are wide apart. When she isn't dressed up she looks like a little kid, no make-up, etc. Her hair looks like an egg-beater went through it, but you wouldn't miss her in a crowd - you wouldn't miss Marilyn anywhere.
- Jane Russell.
In 1944 Monroe took a job at the Radio Plane Munitions Factory in Burbank, California, where she met David Conover, an army photographer. He took many photos of her at work on the assembly line to put in Yank magazine, and encouraged her to enrol with Emmeline Snively's Blue Book Modelling Agency. She also began to research the work of famous actresses Jean Harlow and Lana Turner, and enrolled in drama classes. However, when her husband returned from work in 1946, Monroe had another choice to make: to be with her husband or to pursue a career as a model. This time she chose her career, and the couple divorced in the autumn of 1946.
During the 1950s, Monroe, with a Body Mass Index of 20, was thought to epitomise beauty. However, the ideal body image has since changed and, although her body is considered to be well within the healthy range for a woman today, it is not idealised.
She was incredibly beautiful, and the images of her are sensational. She made love to the camera; she knew what the camera could do for her, like Diana in a way. You could see the way the pictures changed.
- Stephen Vowles, a Monroe memorabilia collector.
Monroe enchanted people for years and continues to do so, though it is her on-screen personality that people are most acquainted with. She quickly learned how to work the camera, and men came to see her as beautiful and untouched, like the femme fatales of the silent screen such as Gloria Swanson and Jean Harlow. Jean Negulesco, director of How to Marry a Millionaire once said, 'She represents to man something we all want in our unfulfilled dreams. A man, he's got to be dead not to be excited by her'. Indeed, her sexuality got her noticed not only in films, but in men's magazines such as Playboy and People Magazine as well as on a 32¢ US commemorative postage stamp.
Beneath this façade, Monroe 'seemed very shy, and I remember that when the studio workers would whistle at her, it seemed to embarrass her', said Cary Grant, her co-star in Monkey Business. 'The fact is that I'm lonely - in spite of the fastest ride to popularity that any girl ever had. Too much publicity makes you lonely', Monroe would reply. In fact Monroe would spend most of her lifetime as a lonely female, searching to be loved and wanted.
As an Actress
Mae West, Theda Bara and Bo-Peep all rolled into one.
- Groucho Marx.
In 1946, Ben Lyon, a talent scout for Twentieth Century Fox, approached her and asked her to do a screen test. On completion, she was offered a six-month contract with the studios, adopted the stage name4 Marilyn Monroe and started dyeing her hair blonde. During her six-month contract she didn't appear in any films, but her contract was renewed, and she took walk-on parts in Dangerous Years and Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!. However, after these films, Twentieth Century Fox let her go, and she returned to modelling. Then Groucho Marx called upon Monroe to deliver an appearance in Love Happy, a movie that showed the Marx Brothers helping Broadway hopefuls while dealing with diamond thieves. Groucho Marx informed Marilyn Monroe that he had a role which called for 'a young lady who can walk by me in such a manner as to arouse my elderly libido and cause smoke to issue from my ears'. Monroe obliged and was quickly cast.
She really wanted to be Jean Harlow. That was her goal. She always said she would probably die young, like Harlow; that the men in her life were disasters, like Harlow's; that her relationship with her mother was complicated, like Harlow's. It was as if she based her life on Harlow's - the instant flash, then over.
- Amy Greene.
After her performance in Love Happy, Monroe received little work and therefore decided she would be photographed nude. She soon caught the eye of powerful Hollywood agent Johnny Hyde, who fell deeply in love with her and wished to marry her. However, Monroe turned down his proposal after he suggested that she enhance her physical appearance by having plastic surgery on her chin and nose, regularly bleach her hair and tie her tubes so that she could never have children. He also encouraged Twentieth Century Fox to create another contract for her, and helped her land her role in Asphalt Jungle.
She went right down into her own personal experience for everything, reached down and pulled something out of herself that was unique and extraordinary. She had no techniques. It was all the truth, it was only Marilyn. But it was Marilyn, plus. She found things, found things about womankind in herself.
- John Huston, director of The Asphalt Jungle and The Misfits.
After appearing in Asphalt Jungle, Monroe appeared in All About Eve and Clash by Night. By this time her agents had found out that she had made a nude calendar and wanted her to deny it all to her fans. However, Monroe didn't deny it, saying that at the time she had needed the money. Her fans understood and the 'Golden Dreams' calendar became a much sought-after piece of memorabilia. Meanwhile, Monroe appeared in Let's Make It Legal and As Young As You Feel. But the film that really catapulted her to long-standing fame was Niagara in 1953, in which she played a bride with a desire to kill her husband. She performed so well that she was encouraged to take up roles in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire, which were hugely successful.
On 14 January, 1954, Monroe married baseball superstar Joe DiMaggio, who she had met two years earlier while filming Monkey Business at San Francisco's City Hall. When the press got to hear of the relationship, Monroe had this to say in response:
I don't know if I'm in love with him yet, but I know I like him more than any man I've ever met.
On honeymoon in Japan, Monroe took time out to entertain the US Army in Korea. DiMaggio was unhappy with her doing so, having preferred their honeymoon to be intimate. DiMaggio was also upset with Monroe over the scene in The Seven Year Itch that showed her standing on a subway grate with her skirt blowing up around her waist. As a consequence, the couple were frequently having arguments and it was clear that her husband was jealous, though when it came to the divorce settlement on 27 October, 1954, they claimed that the divorce was as a result of 'conflict in careers'.
Marilyn Monroe Productions
It takes a clever woman to play a dumb blonde.
- Stephen Vowles, a Monroe memorabilia collector.
Soon, Monroe had had enough of the bottle blonde image she had first taken up to get herself noticed and wanted to pursue a more serious acting career. She swapped Hollywood for New York City, to study at Lee Strasberg's Actors' Studio, and she set up her own film production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, with fashion photographer Milton Greene. She told a press conference that she set the company up, 'so I can play the better kind of roles I want to play'. Marilyn Monroe Productions produced Bus Stop and The Prince and the Showgirl, co-starring Monroe and Laurence Olivier, who said Monroe was 'a brilliant comedienne, which to me means she is also an extremely skilled actress'. Monroe's talent and versatility not only came across in the films she produced, but in those given to her by Twentieth Century Fox. Despite her temper tantrums - made public by director Billy Wilder - Monroe won a Golden Globe for Best Comedy Actress with her role as Sugar Kane in Some Like it Hot. She followed this by appearing in Let's Make Love, the movie that made Cole Porter's song 'My Heart Belongs to Daddy' a huge success.
Monroe and Miller
I've learned about living from her. I took her as a serious actress even before I met her. I think she's an adroit comedienne, but I also think she might turn into the greatest tragic actress that can be imagined.
- Arthur Miller, writer and husband.
Monroe was known to have many affairs during her lifetime. She even had an affair with playwright Arthur Miller, who soon became her husband after he divorced Mary Slattery. Monroe and Miller, otherwise known as the hourglass and the egghead, got married on 29 June, 1956. As a reflection of his love for Monroe he then started work on The Misfits, but on filming the marriage suffered - Monroe was constantly turning up late to set and she was taking drugs and alcohol. Monroe even left him all alone to go out with her friends.
One evening I was about to drive away from the location - miles out in the desert - when I saw Arthur standing alone. Marilyn and her friends hadn't offered him a ride back; they'd just left him. If I hadn't happened to see him, he would have been stranded out there. My sympathies were more and more with him.
- John Huston, author of An Open Book.
Consequently, Monroe and Miller's relationship did not last long and they divorced on 24 January, 1961.
The Kennedy Connection
I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.
- John F Kennedy.
On 19 May, 1962, During the making of Something's Got to Give, Monroe skipped rehearsals and travelled to New York to sing 'Happy Birthday Mr President' at Madison Square Garden. This was not the first or last time that she skipped rehearsals and she acknowledged it: 'I am invariably late for appointments - sometimes as much as two hours. I've tried to change my ways but the things that make me late are too strong, and too pleasing'. This time though, she was also romantically linked to the Kennedy brothers. John and Robert met her at high-profile parties, and were both rumoured to have slept with Monroe. The fact that she was rumoured to be having affairs with these men prompted the notion of a cover-up when she died.
No More Monroe
Do you remember when Marilyn Monroe died? Everybody stopped work, and you could see all that day the same expressions on their faces, the same thought: 'How can a girl with success, fame, youth, money, beauty...how could she kill herself?' Nobody could understand it because those are the things that everybody wants, and they can't believe that life wasn't important to Marilyn Monroe, or that her life was elsewhere.
- Marlon Brando.
So why did it have to end? Nobody knows. She had alluded to various future projects in an interview with Life magazine. She was planning to take on a film project with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra and star in a biopic of Jean Harlow, as well as put in appearances in What a Way to Go!, Kiss Me, Stupid, and A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. She had everything going for her. Despite all this, on 5 August, 1962, 36-year-old Marilyn was found dead in bed at her Brentwood, Los Angeles home. Whether it was due to an accidental overdose of Nembutal sleeping pills, suicide or murder is unknown even after years of speculation. One story even suggests that the doctors had to break down the door to get into Monroe's bedroom, and having done so found by her side an empty bottle of sleeping pills. The coroner said it was a 'possible suicide'.
DiMaggio - who, the press speculated, she was seeing again and possibly re-marrying - carried out the funeral plans, and Marilyn Monroe was laid to rest in the Corridor of Memories at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles. For the next twenty years he had white roses delivered to her grave twice a week. Since DiMaggio's death his belief that the Kennedy brothers killed Monroe has come to light in a book written by DiMaggio's lawyer and companion, Morris Engelberg. In it the author reports that DiMaggio said 'They [The Kennedy Brothers] murdered the one person I loved', all because she knew too much about their relationship with the Mafia, and had threatened to tell the public after Robert had dumped her. Her diary, which went missing shortly after her death, reflects upon her relationship with the Kennedy brothers. Engelberg's book says of it, 'She spoke with RFK [Robert Kennedy] three or four times a week and he told her about the work he was doing. He mentioned which mobsters they were going after. Marilyn would pass on some of those tidbits to Sinatra, according to Joe Jnr'.
Monroe is seen as a sex symbol to this day and has many a fan including an old friend of hers. Robert Slatzer, who brought white roses to her grave on the 40th anniversary of her death said, 'I'll always remember her laughing, smiling and being considerate of other people. When you became her friend, you became her friend for life'.
Goodbye Norma Jean
Though I never knew you at all
You had the grace to hold yourself
While those around you crawled.
- Bernie Taupin.