Born in: Los Angeles
Career: Actress, Singer and Model
Died on: August 5, 1962
Marilyn Monroe, the name is enough to generate an image of the yesteryears’ Hollywood icon in the mind of any individual. A Golden Globe award winning actress, Monroe was also a very successful singer and model of her time. Such was her popularity amongst the masses that she became a fashion as well as cultural icon within no time. The talent of Monroe, combined with her sensual looks, made her one of the most popular Hollywood stars of the 1950s and early 1960s. Today, she is the only female on the ‘Top Earning Dead Celebrities List’ of Forbes.
Marilyn Monroe was born as ‘Norma Jeane Mortenson’ on 1st June 1926, in the charity ward of the Los Angeles County Hospital. Her mother was Gladys Pearl (Monroe) Baker and her father is believed to be Martin Edward Mortenson, Gladys’s second husband. Her grandmother got her baptized as ‘Norma Jeane Baker’, by Aimee Semple McPherson. Since Gladys was mentally unstable and not capable of bringing up Monroe, she placed her with foster parents, Albert and Ida Bolender of Hawthorne, California. Monroe remained with her foster parents till she was about 7 years of age
Thereafter, she moved in with her mother. However, a few months later, Gladys suffered a breakdown and was moved to the State Hospital in Norwalk. Monroe was placed under the guardianship of Grace McKee, Gladys' best friend. After McKee’s marriage, in 1935, Monroe was sent to the Los Angeles Orphans Home and from there, to a succession of foster homes. One of her foster parents, the Goddards, got her married to their neighbor’s son, James Dougherty, only weeks after she had turned 16. The marriage lasted till 1946, when Monroe decided to pursue her career.
Early Stages of Career
Monroe’s husband was in the Merchant Marine during World War II. During this time, she moved in with her mother-in-law and started working in the Radioplane Munitions Factory, owned by Hollywood actor Reginald Denny. It was while working in the factory that David Conover, Army photographer, clicked her photo for a YANK magazine article. He is the one who convinced her to apply to the ‘The Blue Book’ modeling agency. After being signed by the agency, she enrolled in drama and singing classes. This is the time when Monroe had her hair cut, straightened and lightened to golden blonde.
Entry in Movies
Monroe became one of the most successful models of ‘Blue Book’ and appeared on dozens of magazine covers, while working for the agency. Ben Lyon spotted her in 1946 and arranged her screen test with 20th Century Fox. She was signed for a six months contract initially, which was later renewed by the studio. It was Lyon who suggested her to change her name from ‘Norma Jeane’ to Marilyn and then, the actress took her mother's maiden name of Monroe. With Fox, Monroe did a few minor roles. Thereafter, the studio did not renew her contract.
Monroe went back to modeling and it was around this time that she posed for nude photographs, which were later featured in the first issue of Playboy. She did a six-month stint at Columbia Pictures, in 1948, during which she starred in ‘Ladies of the Chorus’. She was again signed by Fox, this time at Johnny Hyde’s insistence, and was given supporting parts a few movies. On Hyde’s advice, she also went under the knife to get a nose and chin job. In the next 2 years, she did a number of insignificant roles.
Recognition and Major Break
The first time Monroe was noticed by the critics was when she was used to boost box office potential of ‘Clash by Night’, a Fritz Lang movie. The success of the film led them to use her again, this time for ‘Monkey Business’, starring Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers. Monroe’s first major break came with Fox, when she was signed for the 1952 movie, ‘Don't Bother to Knock’. Though it was a B-grade movie, Monroe’s performance was greatly appreciated. She was believed to be ready for more leading roles.
Monroe’s first major success came with ‘Niagara’, in 1953, in which she was acclaimed by the critics. Around this time only, her nude photos, taken by Tom Kelley, were bought by Hugh Hefner and released in the first edition of Playboy. Monroe accepted the photographs as hers. With the release of ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ and ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’, she became one of the A-list actresses. After a couple of movies, she got tired of the stereotypical roles being offered to her. Monroe broke her contract with Fox, after completing ‘The Seven Year Itch’ & went to Hollywood, to study acting at the ‘Actors Studio’ in New York.
Marilyn Monroe Productions and Return to Fox
In New York, Monroe set up her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, with fashion photographer Milton H. Greene. Monroe came back to Hollywood, on her conditions, and did ‘Bus Stop’ (under her own production company). For the movie, she was nominated for a Golden Globe and also won critical acclaim. The second movie filmed under her production company, ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’, was also a huge hit. Monroe won BAFTA Film Award nomination, David di Donatello Award (Italian) and Crystal Star Award (French) for her performance in the movie.
The year 1959 brought Monroe the biggest hit of her career, ‘Some Like It Hot’. For the movie, she won a Golden Globe Award, for Best Actress in Musical or Comedy. Thereafter, she appeared in ‘Let's Make Love’, made under Twentieth Century-Fox. Though not a commercial or critical success, the film became known for her song ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’. Her next movie, ‘The Misfits’, attracted controversy because of her co-star Clark Gable's death, by heart attach, which was blamed on Monroe.
Nevertheless, ‘The Misfits’ is considered as an excellent film, by contemporary movie critics. In 1962, Bert Stern clicked some of the most famous photographs of Monroe, for Vogue magazine, which are today known as ‘The Last Sitting’. Monroe came back to Hollywood, to continue the filming of ‘Something's Got to Give’. However, the problems on the set resulted in the movie remaining unfinished. Once being dropped from the movie ‘Cleopatra’, for financial reasons, she was rehired at co-star Dean Martin’s insistence.
Loss of a Star
Around the time of Cleopatra’s filming, Monroe was planning to work on a number of projects, including one with Frank Sinatra. Just before she was to start the shooting of ‘Something's Got to Give’, she was found dead in her Los Angeles home, on 5th August 1962. She was hardly 36 years old at that time. Though it is said that she committed suicide, nothing can be said with certainty. Many people, including the police officers who arrived at the scene, believed it to be a case of murder, rather than suicide.
Monroe married James Dougherty in June 1942, but the union came to end three years later, when she decided to pursue her career. She eloped with Joe DiMaggio in 1954 and the couple got married. Their honeymoon, followed by her skirt-blowing scene for ‘The Seven Year Itch’, resulted in distances. Monroe filed for divorce, on grounds of mental cruelty, 274 days after the wedding. In June 1956, Monroe married playwright Arthur Miller, in a civil ceremony in White Plains, New York. The couple got divorced five years later, in 1961. She was also rumored to have been involved with Robert Kennedy as well as John F. Kennedy.
1947 - The Shocking Miss Pilgrim
1947 - Dangerous Years
1948 - You Were Meant for Me
1948 - Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!
1948 - Green Grass of Wyoming
1948 - Ladies of the Chorus
1949 - Love Happy
1950 - A Ticket to Tomahawk
1950 - The Asphalt Jungle
1950 - The Fireball
1950 - All About Eve
1950 - Right Cross
1951: Home Town Story
1951: As Young as You Feel
1951 - Love Nest
1951 - Let's Make It Legal
1952 - Clash by Night
1952 - We're Not Married
1952 - Don't Bother to Knock
1952 - Monkey Business
1952 - O. Henry's Full House
1953 - Niagara
1953 - Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
1953 - How to Marry a Millionaire
1954 - River of No Return
1954 - There's No Business Like Show Business
1955 - The Seven Year Itch
1956 - Bus Stop
1957 - The Prince and the Showgirl
1959 - Some Like It Hot
1960 - Let's Make Love
1961 - The Misfits
1962 - Something's Got to Give (unfinished)
Awards and Nominations
1952 - Photoplay Award: Special Award
1953 - Golden Globe Henrietta Award: World Film Favorite Female.
1953 - Photoplay Award: Most Popular Female Star
1956 - BAFTA Film Award nomination: Best Foreign Actress (The Seven Year Itch)
1956 - Golden Globe nomination: Best Motion Picture Actress in Comedy or Musical (Bus Stop)
1958 - BAFTA Film Award nomination: Best Foreign Actress (The Prince and the Showgirl)
1958 - David di Donatello Award (Italian): Best Foreign Actress (The Prince and the Showgirl)
1959 - Crystal Star Award (French): Best Foreign Actress (The Prince and the Showgirl)
1960 - Golden Globe: Best Motion Picture Actress in Comedy or Musical (Some Like It Hot)
1962 - Golden Globe, World Film Favorite: Female
Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 6104 Hollywood Blvd.
1999 - Ranked as the sixth greatest female star of all time, by the American Film Institute