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Who is Marilyn Monroe?

By Garry Crystal
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Marilyn Monroe was an actress and model popular in the 1950s. She lived a troubled life filled with a mentally ill mother, mental and physical abuse, multiple foster care families, three husbands and drug use. She is known for her films such as The Seven Year Itch, through which she became an icon of glamor and sexuality. Monroe died while still very young, but she had a profound effect on actresses and models who followed her. She remains one of the most beloved people of Hollywood to this day.

Birth and Early Life

Born Norma Jeane Mortenson in Los Angeles on 1 June 1926, Monroe's mother was Gladys Pearl Baker. The birth certificate lists Martin Edward Mortenson, Gladys former husband, as her father, but there is speculation that she used his name to spare her daughter the stigma of being illegitimate. Gladys soon changed the child's name to Norma Jeane Baker.

Gladys suffered from mental instability, and as a result, Norma Jeane lived with foster parents Ida and Albert Bolender until she was seven. After living with her mother again for a brief period, the child was declared a ward of the state, and her mother's best friend, Grace McKree, took over guardianship. When Grace married, Norma was sent to an orphanage, was passed through the foster system and eventually landed back with Grace.

First Marriage

Eventually, Norma Jeane began a relationship with James (Jim) Dougherty, whom she married in 1942. The marriage was arranged by Grace, who planned to move away and who did not want the girl to enter the foster system again. The marriage took place when Norma Jeane was just 16, and it lasted only four years.

Early Career

During her first marriage, Jim enlisted in the military and was called to duty during World War II. As he served, Norma Jeane went to work in the Radioplanes Munitions Factory. There, she caught the attention of photographer David Conover, who had been assigned to snap some pictures of women in the factory to boost morale of the military servicemen. Conover suggested to her that she pursue modeling, which she did.

To kick-start her modeling career, Norma Jeane dyed her hair blonde and quickly became one of the most successful models for The Blue Book Modeling Agency. She studied acting and gained a studio contract with 20th Century Fox. Working with Ben Lyon, she eventually changed her first name to Marilyn and adopted her grandmother's surname, Monroe.

Despite her contract with 20th Century Fox, Monroe's roles were extremely limited, with many not having any lines. When her contract with 20th Century Fox expired, Monroe bounced around several modeling agencies and film studios, being cast in small roles. Finally, in the 1953 film, Niagara, Monroe caught the world’s attention. She was voted best new actress, and it seemed that she could do no wrong.

Second Marriage

On 14 January 1954, Marilyn married baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, although the marriage lasted only nine months. Much of the issue in the marriage was DiMaggio's discontent with his wife's increasingly sexy image. He reportedly was infuriated by the crowd's positive response during the famous scene in The Seven Year Itch (1955), in which air from a subway grate repeatedly blows up Monroe's skirt. Monroe accused DiMaggio of being mentally abusive. Despite this, the pair remained friends after their divorce.

Continued Fame and Success

Determined to become a serious actress, Monroe moved to New York to study acting. Her success continued to grow, and she won a Golden Globe award for her role in Some like it Hot (1959). She was a natural in comedies such as Bus Stop (1956).

Third Marriage

Marilyn Monroe married for a third time in 1956 to playwright Arthur Miller, which seemed to many to be a strange match. Some even called the marriage "the beauty and the brains." This marriage lasted only five years, and she entered a mental hospital following the divorce.

Final Years

Monroe's private life in her later years was surrounded by rumor and gossip. Tales of drugs, abortions and affairs with famous people, including President John F. Kennedy, are all well documented. The press would not leave her alone, and every part of her life seemed fair game to the media. In 1962, she died at the age of 36. At the time, she was the most famous actress in the world.

The cause of Monroe’s death has also been surrounded by rumors. Drugs were found in her system, leading to speculation about whether she might have committed suicide or was killed in order to prevent a scandal regarding her alleged affair with President Kennedy. Since her death, speculation has been constant.

Legacy

The public loved Marilyn Monroe during her life, and she still has a huge fan following. Her childlike innocence shone through and touched many people’s hearts. She stills exerts a huge influence on many people today. Every new blonde that appears, from Debbie Harry to Madonna, seems to credit the actress with an influence on her career.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Discussion Comments

By anon332512 — On Apr 29, 2013

I'm writing an essay on her death, and from the evidence I've seen, it was definitely murder. They say her colon was destroyed which was most likely caused by an enema(a procedure where liquids are put into the rectum via the anus). Gross, I know. And the housekeeper changed her story about four or five times.

Although Marilyn was addicted to sedatives and mostly relied on them when she was stressed, her physician and her internist never once talked to each other about weaning her off of Nembutal (a sedative). Greenson and Engelberg were their names.

Another thing: Marilyn died sometime between 9:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. on August 4, 1962, but the cops arrived at 4:30 a.m. on August 5, 1962. Why is that?

I mean, come on now. This is Marilyn Monroe, for Christ's sake. She was an icon! So who would want to do such a thing? It might've been John or Robert Kennedy's wives. She did have a fling with both of them if you catch my drift. It may have also been Sam Giancana or the mafia. She had relations with both.

Also, loss of organ/tissue samples after the initial autopsy, the absence of phone records, the destruction of police records, and the great spectrum of confusing and often contradictory theories and testimonies have conspired to keep this a mystery.

By anon328780 — On Apr 05, 2013

Marilyn did not commit suicide. She died of a drug overdose. I think she did that because of her life and everything going on. We love you still, Marilyn. RIP.

By anon296776 — On Oct 12, 2012

Marilyn Monroe was a shooting star that still shoots in our hearts and one of the most influential people in my life.

It is not what happened to her, but the fact that she was here and live the short life which was chosen for her, not by her, but by the unspeakable. She loved, lived and died.

By anon276285 — On Jun 23, 2012

Wisegeek is right. Well, half right. Marilyn Monroe's first husband was DiMaggio; the Dougherty story was only part of the Hollywood story and she never in reality married him. You can look up the Marilyn Monroe foundation for the real story.

By anon269467 — On May 18, 2012

R.I.P Marilyn Monroe. You will always be remembered.

By anon249852 — On Feb 23, 2012

No, she probably died of a heart attack from all the fame.

By anon218471 — On Sep 29, 2011

Marilyn Monroe's real name was Nancy Cusumano. Her real story is finally revealed. I read about it on the net and in Italy of all places. It seems it is documented in the courts and elsewhere in books etc., that she had a daughter, Nancy, before she became famous. And she was from NYC, with her Italian American family and all the other stuff you read and everything is just PR, which all makes sense.

Anyway, it seems her daughter has documented and researched and written the whole story. If you want to know what's really up, see the Marilyn Monroe Foundation and her daughter Nancy. It is reality.

By anon95690 — On Jul 13, 2010

That's what the media can do to people and that's why most celebrities have gone crazy. They should have just left her alone to live her personal life. But the paparazzi don't understand that because all they care about is the money they would get when they publish a story. R.I.P MM.

By anon84302 — On May 14, 2010

I think she committed suicide.

That much fame- could've made anyone go insane.

By anon76917 — On Apr 12, 2010

i think that marilyn monroe was an inspiration to society!

By anon69445 — On Mar 08, 2010

I think that marilyn was one of the best actresses in the history of the world because she changed the future of acting very much so in only a very short amount of time. she was not like the young girls that are stars now. Whey wear skimpy clothes and do not respect themselves. she always did she will be missed!

By anon63994 — On Feb 04, 2010

she did commit suicide but nobody wants to believe it. i know just about everything about her.

By anon59976 — On Jan 11, 2010

Marilyn Monroe married her first husband Jim Dougherty at 16, not 21. She had "obtained" a modeling job while she was being photographed at work at the radio plane munitions factory in burbank CA. She was being photographed to display women's efforts in the war.

Marilyn died of an overdose of nembutal; the dose found in her system was enough to kill seven people. She was found dead the day before a scheduled press conference supposedly to go public with the kennedy affair. there were too many coincidences surrounding her death.

This article i feel gives Marilyn no justice. She was an amazing and unique woman. she is and always will be my hero and idol. she's forever loved. RIP Marilyn

By anon55362 — On Dec 07, 2009

I think she got murdered as she was young and had a good career. So she wouldn't killed herself if she was so happy.

By anon41220 — On Aug 13, 2009

I think that she died in her sleep. But who knows what she was dealing with or confronting? We may never know, but she was truly a unique person and actress. She has and will remain my favorite. R.I.P Marilyn Monroe.

By anon40864 — On Aug 11, 2009

I thought Marilyn committed suicide, as to hanging. all my family believed so, but i think this story as she died in her sleep at 36 is a much better, and sensible. :) R.I.P Marilyn.

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