Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles, California. Although she became famous for being one of Hollywood’s biggest sex symbols, she fought hard to break that stereotype, which contributed to her sadness and turmoil.
Norma Jeane’s mother, Gladys Baker, a film technician, later baptized her with her maiden name after her father, Edward Mortenson, deserted the family. Her mother’s mental illness surfaced shortly after her birth and she was institutionalized for most of Norma Jeane’s early years. This made it impossible to care for her daughter, so Norma Jeane was placed in a series of foster homes as well as a brief stint in an orphanage.
Things looked up for Norma Jeane in 1937 when she was placed in the care of her mother’s friend, Grace, and her husband Doc Goddard. However, when Doc’s job transferred him to the East Coast in 1942, the Goddards could not afford to take Norma Jeane with them and put her back in the foster care system.
In order to escape foster care, Norma Jeane, 16, ran off and married 20-year-old James Dougherty. A year later, in 1943, Dougherty joined the U.S. Merchant Marines while Norma Jeane took a job at an airplane parts plant. While there, she was discovered by a photographer who encouraged her to become a professional model.
During her husband’s stint in the South Pacific, Norma Jeane’s modeling career took off, fueling her desire to become an actress in the likes of Jean Harlow and Lana Turner. When Dougherty returned, he found her to be a different person, ultimately leading to the dissolution of their marriage.
In 1946, she fulfilled her acting dream by signing a one-year contract with Twentieth Century-Fox on August 26, 1946. A casting director suggested she take the name Marilyn, and she added her grandmother’s last name, Monroe. Her transformation into the iconic “Marilyn Monroe” with bleach blonde hair was underway.
Although her sexual appeal was undeniable, her stint at Fox didn’t amount to anything so Monroe signed to another studio, Columbia Pictures – which also didn’t amount to any major film roles.
In 1950, things began to come together for Marilyn’s career. After posing nude for photographer Tom Kelly for a calendar, she had a bit part in the movie The Asphalt Jungle, which generated a huge amount of fan mail for the budding star. That same year, she turned heads starring opposite Bette Davis in All About Eve.
But it wasn’t until she landed her first starring role as Rose Loomis – a married woman plotting to kill her husband – in Niagara (1953) that Monroe became a bona fide star.
Although All About Eve and Niagara brought Monroe the fame she sought, it was her role in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) – starring opposite Jane Russell that solidified her iconic sexy, blonde bombshell image – a stereotype she would later fight against.
In January 1954, Monroe married baseball player Joe DiMaggio, only to have the marriage end in divorce in October of that same year.
In 1955, Monroe starred in The Seven Year Itch in which the now iconic scene with her standing over a subway draft blowing up her white halter dress was filmed. The Seven Year Itch typecast her as the “dumb blonde.” Wanting to be taken seriously, Monroe moved to New York to study acting. She studied with Lee Strasberg – who often accompanied her on movie sets to lend support.
Her training showed promise when she received great reviews with her film Bus Stop (1956). Shortly after the film’s release, Monroe began to withdraw and was beginning to show signs of depression that led to an excessive use of drugs and alcohol. She drank heavily and began to cause problems on movie sets by showing up late, if at all.
She married playwright Arthur Miller shortly after Bus Stop’s release and lived a relatively quiet life for two years. She later appeared in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) with Sir Lawrence Olivier, Some Like It Hot (1959) with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon and in Let’s Make Love (1960) opposite Yves Montand, with whom Monroe had an extra-marital affair.
In early 1961, Monroe and Miller divorced and rumors filled the air with more love affairs – allegedly with President John. F. Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy.
Her mental health began to deteriorate further while on the set of The Misfits (1961) co-starring Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift. She was again, notoriously late to set, which enraged her co-stars. She unraveled after she found out Clark Gable died of a heart attack two months after the film’s release.
In 1962, Monroe was dismissed after one month of filming on her last film, Something’s Got To Give. During this time period, she was admitted to a mental hospital for a short period of time.
On August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead by her housekeeper in her bedroom with an empty bottle of sleeping pills by her side. Her death was ruled a possible suicide but some speculate she was murdered.
Many actresses have played Marilyn Monroe, but the most recent spin on the star’s life is with the upcoming movie, My Week With Marilyn, starring Michelle Williams. The movie chronicles a period of time when Marilyn (played by Williams) was filming The Prince and the Showgirl in England from the perspective of Colin Clark – an on-set assistant – in love with her – who spent one week alone with the star.