Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926 –
August 5, 1962), born Norma Jeane Mortenson, but baptized Norma Jeane
Baker, was an American actress, singer, and model. After spending much of
her childhood in foster homes, Monroe began a career as a model, which led
to a film contract in 1946. Her early roles were minor, but her
performances in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve (both 1950) were well
received. Monroe was praised for her comedic ability in such films as
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, Some Like It Hot and
The Seven Year Itch.
The typecasting of Monroe's "dumb blonde" persona limited her career
prospects, so she broadened her range. She studied at the Actors Studio
and formed Marilyn Monroe Productions. Her dramatic performance in Bus
Stop was hailed by critics, and she won a Golden Globe Award for her
performance in Some Like it Hot.
The final years of Monroe's life were marked by illness, personal
problems, and a reputation for being unreliable and difficult to work
with. The circumstances of her death, from an overdose of barbiturates,
have been the subject of conjecture. Though officially classified as a
"probable suicide", the possibility of an accidental overdose, as well as
the possibility of homicide, have not been ruled out. In 1999, Monroe was
ranked as the sixth greatest female star of all time by the American Film
Marilyn was born in the Los Angeles County Hospital on June 1, 1926, as
Norma Jeane Baker, the third child born to Gladys Pearl Baker, née Monroe,
Monroe's birth certificate names the father as Martin Edward Mortenson (of
Norwegian ancestry), with his residence stated as "unknown". The name
Mortenson is listed as her surname on the birth certificate, although
Gladys immediately had it changed to Baker, the surname of her first
husband and which she still used. Gladys Baker had married a Martin E.
Mortenson in 1924, but they had separated before Gladys' pregnancy.
Several of Monroe's biographers suggest that Gladys Baker used his name to
avoid the stigma of illegitimacy. Mortenson died at the age of 85, and
Monroe's birth certificate, together with her parents' marriage and
divorce documents, were discovered. The documents showed that Mortenson
filed for divorce from Gladys on March 5, 1927, and it was finalized on
October 15, 1928.
Throughout her life, Marilyn Monroe denied that Mortenson was her father.
She said that, when she was a child, she had been shown a photograph of a
man that Gladys identified as her father, Charles Stanley Gifford. She
remembered that he had a thin mustache and somewhat resembled Clark Gable,
and that she had amused herself by pretending that Gable was her father.
Gladys was mentally unstable and financially unable to care for the young
Norma Jeane, so she placed her with foster parents Albert and Ida Bolender
of Hawthorne, California, where she lived until she was seven.
In 1933, Gladys bought a house and brought Norma Jeane to live with her. A
few months after moving in, however, Gladys suffered a mental breakdown,
beginning a series of mental episodes that would plague her for the rest
of her life. In My Story, Monroe recalls her mother "screaming and
laughing" as she was forcibly removed to the State Hospital in Norwalk.
Norma Jeane was declared a ward of the state, and Gladys' best friend,
Grace McKee, became her guardian. It was Grace who had told Monroe that
someday she would become a movie star. Grace was captivated by Jean
Harlow, and would let Norma Jeane wear makeup and take her out to get her
hair curled. They would go to the movies together, forming the basis for
Norma Jeane's fascination with the cinema and the stars on screen.
Grace McKee married Ervin Silliman (Doc) Goddard in 1935, and
nine-year-old Norma Jeane was sent to the Los Angeles Orphans Home (later
renamed Hollygrove), and then to a succession of foster homes. During the
time at Hollygrove, several families were interested in adopting her;
however, reluctance on Gladys' part to sign adoption papers thwarted those
attempts. In 1937, Grace took Norma Jeane back to live with her, Goddard,
and one of Goddard's daughters from a previous marriage. This arrangement
did not last for long, as she was nearly sexually assaulted by a drunk Doc
Goddard on at least one occasion. Grace sent her to live in with her
great-aunt, Olive Brunings. This arrangement also did not last long, as
12-year-old Norma Jeane was assaulted (some reports say sexually) by one
of Olive's sons. Biographers and psychologists have questioned whether at
least some of Norma Jeane's later behavior (i.e. hypersexuality, sleep
disturbances, substance abuse, disturbed interpersonal relationships), was
a manifestation of the effects of childhood sexual abuse in the context of
her already problematic relationships with her psychiatrically ill mother
and subsequent caregivers. In early 1938, Grace sent her to live with yet
another one of her aunts, Ana Lower, who lived in the Van Nuys section of
Los Angeles. The time with Lower provided the young Norma Jeane with one
of the few stable periods in her life. Years later, she would reflect
fondly about the time that she spent with Lower, whom she affectionately
called "Aunt Ana." Unfortunately, by 1942, the elderly Lower developed
serious health problems, and thus Norma Jeane went back to live with the
Goddards. It was there where she met a neighbor's son, James Dougherty,
and began a relationship with him.
Her time with the Goddards would once again prove to be short. At the end
of 1942, Grace and Doc decided to relocate to Virginia, where Doc had
received a lucrative job offer. It is unclear whether the Goddards did not
or could not take Norma Jeane with them; nevertheless, Grace needed to
find a home for her before they moved. An offer from a neighborhood family
to adopt Norma Jeane was proposed but Gladys still would not allow it.
With few options left, Grace approached Dougherty's mother and suggested
that Jim marry her so that she would not have to return to an orphanage or
foster care. Dougherty was initially reluctant because Norma Jeane was
only sixteen years old, but he finally relented and married her in a
ceremony, arranged by Ana Lower, after graduating from high school in June
1942. Monroe would state in her autobiography that she did not feel like a
wife; she enjoyed playing with the neighborhood children until her husband
would call her home. In 1943, with World War II raging, Dougherty enlisted
in the Merchant Marine and was shipped out to the Pacific. Frightened that
he might not come back alive, Norma Jeane begged him to give her a child
before he left. Dougherty disagreed, feeling that she was too young to
have a baby, but he promised that they would revisit the subject when he
returned home. After he shipped out, Norma Jeane moved in with Dougherty's
While Dougherty was in the Merchant Marine, Norma Jeane found employment
in the Radioplane Munitions Factory. She sprayed airplane parts with fire
retardant and inspected parachutes. During this time, Army photographer
David Conover snapped a photograph of her for a Yank magazine article. He
encouraged her to apply to The Blue Book Modeling Agency. She signed with
the agency and began researching the work of Jean Harlow and Lana Turner.
She was told that they were looking for models with lighter hair, so Norma
Jeane bleached her brunette hair to a golden blonde.
Norma Jeane Dougherty became one of Blue Book's most successful models,
appearing on dozens of magazine covers. Jim Dougherty was oblivious of his
wife's new job and only became aware of it when he discovered a shipmate
of his admiring a photo of a sexy model in a magazine -- and the model was
Norma Jeane. Dougherty wrote her several letters telling her that once he
returned from service, she would have to give up her modeling. A
dissatisfied Norma Jeane, who now saw the possibilities of a modeling and
acting career, decided then to divorce Dougherty. The marriage ended when
he returned from overseas in 1946.
Her successful modeling career brought her to the attention of Ben Lyon, a
20th Century Fox executive, who arranged a screen test for her. Lyon was
impressed and commented, "It's Jean Harlow all over again." She was
offered a standard six-month contract with a starting salary of $125 per
week. Lyon did not like her name and chose "Carole Lind" as a stagename,
after Carole Lombard and Jenny Lind, but he soon decided it was not an
appropriate choice. Norma Jeane was invited to spend the weekend with Lyon
and his wife Bebe Daniels at their home. It was there that they decided to
find her a new name. Following her idol Jean Harlow, Norma Jeane decided
to choose her mother's maiden name of Monroe. Several variations such as
Norma Jeane Monroe and Norma Monroe were tried and initially "Jeane
Monroe" was chosen. Lyon, however, felt that there were too many actresses
with the name Jean, or a variation of it such as Jean Peters, Gene
Tierney, Jeanne Crain, and Jean Arthur. Wanting a more distinctive name,
Lyon suggested "Marilyn," commenting that she reminded him of Marilyn
Miller, the sexy 1920's Broadway actress. Norma Jeane was initially
hesitant due to the fact that Marilyn was the contraction of the name Mary
Lynn, a name she did not like. Lyon, however, felt that the name "Marilyn
Monroe" was sexy, had a "nice flow," and would be "lucky" due to the
double "M" and thus Norma Jeane Baker took the name Marilyn Monroe.
She appeared in Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! and Dangerous Years (both 1947),
but when her contract was not renewed, she returned to modeling. She
attempted to find opportunities for film work, and while unemployed, she
posed for nude photographs. That year, she was also crowned the first
"Miss California Artichoke Queen" at the annual artichoke festival in
In 1948, Monroe signed a six-month contract with Columbia Pictures and was
introduced to the studio's head drama coach Natasha Lytess, who became her
acting coach for several years. She starred in the low-budget musical
Ladies of the Chorus, but the film was not a success, and her contract was
not renewed. During her short stint at Columbia, studio head Harry Cohn
softened her appearance somewhat by correcting a slight overbite she had.
In addition, he had her golden brownish-blonde hair lightened to platinum
She appeared in a small role in the Marx Brothers film Love Happy (1949)
and impressed the producers, who sent her to New York to feature in the
film's promotional campaign.
Love Happy brought Monroe to the attention of the agent, Johnny Hyde, who
agreed to represent her. He arranged for her to audition for John Huston,
who cast her in the drama The Asphalt Jungle as the young mistress of an
aging criminal. Her performance brought strong reviews, and was seen by
the writer and director, Joseph Mankiewicz. He accepted Hyde's suggestion
of Monroe for a small comedic role in All About Eve as Miss Caswell, an
aspiring actress, described by another character as a student of "The
Copacabana School of Dramatic Art". Mankiewicz later commented that he had
seen an innocence in her that he found appealing, and that this had
confirmed his belief in her suitability for the role. Following Monroe's
success in these roles, Hyde negotiated a seven-year contract for her with
20th Century Fox, shortly before his death in December 1950. It was at
some time during this 1949-50 period that Hyde arranged for her to have a
slight bump of cartilage removed from her somewhat bulbous nose which
further softened her appearance and accounts for the slight variation in
look she had in films after 1950.
Monroe enrolled at UCLA in 1951 where she studied literature and art
appreciation, and appeared in several minor films playing opposite such
long-established performers as Mickey Rooney, Constance Bennett, June
Allyson, Dick Powell and Claudette Colbert. In March 1951, she appeared as
a presenter at the 23rd Academy Awards ceremony.
In 1952, Monroe appeared on the cover of Look magazine wearing a Georgia
Tech sweater as part of an article celebrating female enrollment to the
school's main campus.
In the early 1950s, Monroe and Gregg Palmer both unsuccessfully auditioned
for roles as Daisy Mae and Abner in a proposed Li'l Abner television
series based on the Al Capp comic strip, but the effort never
In March 1952, Monroe faced a possible scandal when one of her nude photos
from a 1949 session with photographer Tom Kelley was featured in a
calendar. The press speculated about the identity of the anonymous model
and commented that she closely resembled Monroe. As the studio discussed
how to deal with the problem, Monroe suggested that she should simply
admit that she had posed for the photograph but that she should emphasize
that she had done so only because she had no money to pay her rent. She
gave an interview in which she discussed the circumstances that led to her
posing for the photographs, and the resulting publicity elicited a degree
of sympathy for her plight as a struggling actress.
She made her first appearance on the cover of Life magazine in April 1952,
where she was described as "The Talk of Hollywood". Stories of her
childhood and upbringing portrayed her in a sympathetic light: a cover
story for the May 1952 edition of True Experiences magazine showed a
smiling and wholesome Monroe beside a caption that read, "Do I look happy?
I should — for I was a child nobody wanted. A lonely girl with a dream —
who awakened to find that dream come true. I am Marilyn Monroe. Read my
Cinderella story." It was also during this time that she began dating
baseball player Joe DiMaggio. A photograph of DiMaggio visiting Monroe at
the 20th Century Fox studio was printed in newspapers throughout the
United States, and reports of a developing romance between them generated
further interest in Monroe.
Over the following months, four films in which Monroe featured were
released. She had been lent to RKO Studios to appear in a supporting role
in Clash by Night, a Barbara Stanwyck drama, directed by Fritz Lang.
Released in June 1952, the film was popular with audiences, with much of
its success credited to curiosity about Monroe, who received generally
favorable reviews from critics. This was followed by two films released in
July, the comedy We're Not Married, and the drama Don't Bother to Knock;
We're Not Married featured Monroe as a beauty pageant contestant, and
while Variety described the film as "lightweight", its reviewer commented
that Monroe was featured to full advantage in a bathing suit, but that
some of her scenes suggested a degree of exploitation. In Don't Bother to
Knock, she played a starring role as a babysitter who threatens to attack
the child in her care. The downbeat melodrama was poorly reviewed,
although Monroe commented that it contained some of her strongest dramatic
acting. Monkey Business, a Howard Hawks directed comedy, costarring Cary
Grant and Ginger Rogers, was released in September, and achieved good
ticket sales despite weak reviews. In O. Henry's Full House for 20th
Century Fox, released in August 1952, she had a single one-minute scene
with Charles Laughton yet received top billing alongside him and the
film's other stars, including Anne Baxter, Jeanne Crain, Farley Granger,
Jean Peters, Richard Widmark, Dale Robertson and Oscar Levant
Darryl F. Zanuck considered that Monroe's film potential was worth
developing and cast her in Niagara, as a femme fatale scheming to murder
her husband, played by Joseph Cotten. During filming, Monroe's make-up
artist Whitey Snyder noticed her stage fright (that would ultimately mark
her behavior on film sets throughout her career); the director assigned
him to spend hours gently coaxing and comforting Monroe as she prepared to
film her scenes.
Much of the critical commentary following the release of the film focused
on Monroe's overtly sexual performance, and a scene which shows Monroe
(from the back) making a long walk toward Niagara Falls received frequent
note in reviews. After seeing the film, Constance Bennett reportedly
quipped, "There's a broad with her future behind her." Whitey Snyder also
commented that it was during preparation for this film, after much
experimentation, that Monroe achieved "the look, and we used that look for
several pictures in a row ... the look was established."
While the film was a success, and Monroe's performance had positive
reviews, her conduct at promotional events sometimes drew negative
comments. Her appearance at the Photoplay awards dinner in a skin-tight
gold lamé dress was criticized. Louella Parsons' newspaper column quoted
Joan Crawford discussing Monroe's "vulgarity" and describing her behavior
as "unbecoming an actress and a lady". Monroe had previously received
criticism for wearing a dress with a neckline cut almost to her navel when
she acted as Grand Marshall at the Miss America Parade in September 1952.
A photograph from this event was used on the cover of the first issue of
Playboy in December 1953, with a nude photograph of Monroe, taken in 1949,
inside the magazine.
Her next film was Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) co-starring Jane Russell
and directed by Howard Hawks. Her role as Lorelei Lee, a gold-digging
showgirl, required her to act, sing, and dance. The two stars became
friends, with Russell describing Monroe as "very shy and very sweet and
far more intelligent than people gave her credit for". She later recalled
that Monroe showed her dedication by rehearsing her dance routines each
evening after most of the crew had left, but she arrived habitually late
on set for filming. Realizing that Monroe remained in her dressing room
due to stage fright, and that Hawks was growing impatient with her
tardiness, Russell started escorting her to the set.
At the Los Angeles premiere of the film, Monroe and Russell pressed their
hand- and footprints in the cement in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese
Theatre. Monroe received positive reviews and the film grossed more than
double its production costs. Her rendition of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best
Friend" became associated with her. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes also marked
one of the earliest films in which William Travilla dressed Monroe.
Travilla dressed Monroe in eight of her films including Bus Stop, Don't
Bother to Knock, How to Marry a Millionaire, River of No Return, There’s
No Business Like Show Business, Monkey Business, and The Seven Year Itch.
How to Marry a Millionaire, a comedy about three models scheming to
attract a wealthy husband, teamed Monroe with Betty Grable and Lauren
Bacall, directed by Jean Negulesco. The producer and scriptwriter,
Nunnally Johnson, said that it was the first film in which audiences
"liked Marilyn for herself and that she diagnosed the reason very
shrewdly. She said that it was the only picture she'd been in, in which
she had a measure of modesty... about her own attractiveness."
Monroe's films of this period established her "dumb blonde" persona and
contributed to her popularity. In 1953 and 1954, she was listed in the
annual "Quigley Poll of the Top Ten Money Making Stars", which was
compiled from the votes of movie exhibitors throughout the United States
for the stars that had generated the most revenue in their theaters over
the previous year.
During this time, Monroe discussed her acting ambitions, telling the New
York Times "I want to grow and develop and play serious dramatic parts. My
dramatic coach, Natasha Lytess, tells everybody that I have a great soul,
but so far nobody's interested in it." She saw a possibility in 20th
Century Fox's upcoming film, The Egyptian, but was rebuffed by Darryl F.
Zanuck who refused to screen test her.
Instead, she was assigned to the western River of No Return, opposite
Robert Mitchum. Director Otto Preminger resented Monroe's reliance on
Natasha Lytess, who coached Monroe and announced her verdict at the end of
each scene. Eventually Monroe refused to speak to Preminger, and Mitchum
had to mediate. On the finished product, she commented, "I think I deserve
a better deal than a grade Z cowboy movie in which the acting finished
second to the scenery and the CinemaScope process."
In late 1953, Monroe was scheduled to begin filming The Girl in Pink
Tights with Frank Sinatra, and when she failed to appear for work, 20th
Century Fox suspended her. She and Joe DiMaggio were married in San
Francisco on January 14, 1954, and they travelled to Japan soon after,
combining a honeymoon with a business trip previously arranged by
DiMaggio. For two weeks she took a secondary role to DiMaggio as he
conducted his business, and said to a reporter, "Marriage is my main
career from now on." She then travelled alone to Korea where she performed
for 13,000 American Marines over a three-day period, and later commented
that the experience had helped her overcome a fear of performing in front
of large crowds.
Returning to Hollywood in March 1954, Monroe settled her disagreement with
20th Century Fox and appeared in There's No Business Like Show Business, a
musical which failed to recover its production costs. The film was
received poorly; Ed Sullivan described Monroe's performance of the song
"Heat Wave" as "one of the most flagrant violations of good taste" he had
witnessed, Time compared her unfavorably to co-star Ethel Merman, while
Bosley Crowther for The New York Times said that Mitzi Gaynor had
surpassed Monroe's "embarrassing to behold" performance. The reviews
echoed Monroe's opinion of the film, which she had made reluctantly, with
the assurance that she would be given the starring role in the film
adaptation of the Broadway hit The Seven Year Itch.
In September 1954, Monroe filmed one of the key scenes for The Seven Year
Itch in New York City. In it, she stands with her co-star, Tom Ewell,
while the air from a subway grating blows her skirt up. A large crowd
watched as director Billy Wilder ordered the scene to be refilmed many
times. Among the crowd was Joe DiMaggio, who was reported to have been
infuriated by the spectacle. After a quarrel, witnessed by journalist
Walter Winchell, the couple returned to California where they avoided the
press for two weeks, until Monroe announced that they had separated. Their
divorce was granted in November 1954. The filming was completed in early
1955, and after refusing what Monroe considered to be inferior parts in
The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing and How to Be Very, Very Popular, she
decided to leave Hollywood on the advice of Milton Greene.
Greene had first met Monroe in 1953 when he was assigned to photograph her
for Look magazine. While many photographers tried to emphasize her sexy
image, Greene presented her in more modest poses, and she was pleased with
his work. As a friendship developed between them, she confided in him her
frustration with her 20th Century Fox contract and the roles she was
offered. Her salary for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes amounted to $18,000,
while freelancer Jane Russell was paid more than $100,000. Greene agreed
that she could earn more by breaking away from 20th Century Fox. He gave
up his job in 1954, mortgaged his home to finance Monroe, and allowed her
to live with his family as they determined the future course of her
Truman Capote introduced Monroe to Constance Collier, who gave her acting
lessons. She felt that Monroe was not suited to stage acting, but
possessed a "lovely talent" that was "so fragile and subtle, it can only
be caught by the camera". After only a few weeks of lessons, Collier died.
Monroe had met Paula Strasberg and her daughter Susan on the set of
There's No Business Like Show Business, and had previously said that she
would like to study with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. In March
1955, Monroe met with Cheryl Crawford, one of the founders of the Actors
Studio, and convinced her to introduce her to Lee Strasberg, who
interviewed her the following day and agreed to accept her as a student.
In May 1955, Monroe started dating playwright Arthur Miller; they had met
in Hollywood in 1950 and when Miller discovered she was in New York, he
arranged for a mutual friend to reintroduce them. On June 1, 1955,
Monroe's birthday, Joe DiMaggio accompanied Monroe to the premiere of The
Seven Year Itch in New York City. He later hosted a birthday party for
her, but the evening ended with a public quarrel, and Monroe left the
party without him. A lengthy period of estrangement followed.
Throughout 1955, Monroe studied with the Actors Studio, and found that one
of her biggest obstacles was her severe stage fright. She was befriended
by the actors Kevin McCarthy and Eli Wallach who each recalled her as
studious and sincere in her approach to her studies, and noted that she
tried to avoid attention by sitting quietly in the back of the class. When
Strasberg felt Monroe was ready to give a performance in front of her
peers, Monroe and Maureen Stapleton chose the opening scene from Eugene
O'Neill's Anna Christie, and although she had faltered during each
rehearsal, she was able to complete the performance without forgetting her
lines. Kim Stanley later recalled that students were discouraged from
applauding, but that Monroe's performance had resulted in spontaneous
applause from the audience. While Monroe was a student, Lee Strasberg
commented, "I have worked with hundreds and hundreds of actors and
actresses, and there are only two that stand out way above the rest.
Number one is Marlon Brando, and the second is Marilyn Monroe."
The Seven Year Itch was released and became a success, earning an
estimated $8 million. Monroe received positive reviews for her performance
and was in a strong position to negotiate with 20th Century Fox. On New
Year's Eve 1955, they signed a new contract which required Monroe to make
four films over a seven-year period. The newly formed Marilyn Monroe
Productions would be paid $100,000 plus a share of profits for each film.
In addition to being able to work for other studios, Monroe had the right
to reject any script, director or cinematographer she did not approve of.
The first film to be made under the contract and production company was
Bus Stop directed by Joshua Logan. Logan had studied under Konstantin
Stanislavsky, approved of method acting, and was supportive of Monroe.
Monroe severed contact with her drama coach, Natasha Lytess, replacing her
with Paula Strasberg, who became a constant presence during the filming of
Monroe's subsequent films.
In Bus Stop, Monroe played Chérie, a saloon bar singer with little talent
who falls in love with a cowboy. Her costumes, make-up and hair reflected
a character who lacked sophistication, and Monroe provided deliberately
mediocre singing and dancing. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times
proclaimed: "Hold on to your chairs, everybody, and get set for a rattling
surprise. Marilyn Monroe has finally proved herself an actress." In his
autobiography, Movie Stars, Real People and Me, director Logan wrote: "I
found Marilyn to be one of the great talents of all time... she struck me
as being a much brighter person than I had ever imagined, and I think that
was the first time I learned that intelligence and, yes, brilliance have
nothing to do with education." Logan championed Monroe for an Academy
Award nomination and complimented her professionalism until the end of his
life. Though not nominated for an Academy Award, she received a Golden
During this time, the relationship between Monroe and Miller had
developed, and although the couple were able to maintain their privacy for
almost a year, the press began to write about them as a couple, often
referred to as "The Egghead and The Hourglass". The reports of their
romance were soon overtaken by news that Miller had been called to testify
before the House Un-American Activities Committee to explain his supposed
communist affiliations. Called upon to identify communists he was
acquainted with, Miller refused and was charged with contempt of Congress.
He was acquitted on appeal. During the investigation, Monroe was urged by
film executives to abandon Miller, rather than risk her career but she
refused, later branding them as "born cowards". The press began to discuss
an impending marriage, but Monroe and Miller refused to confirm the rumor.
In June 1956, a reporter was following them by car, and as they attempted
to elude him, the reporter's car crashed, killing a female passenger.
Monroe became hysterical upon hearing the news, and their engagement was
announced, partly in the expectation that it would reduce the excessive
media interest they were being subjected to. They were married on June 29,
Bus Stop was followed by The Prince and the Showgirl directed by Laurence
Olivier, who also co-starred. Prior to filming, Olivier praised Monroe as
"a brilliant comedienne, which to me means she is also an extremely
skilled actress". During filming in England he resented Monroe's
dependence on her drama coach, Paula Strasberg, regarding Strasberg as a
fraud whose only talent was the ability to "butter Marilyn up". He
recalled his attempts at explaining a scene to Monroe, only to hear
Strasberg interject, "Honey - just think of Coca-Cola and Frank Sinatra."
Despite Monroe and Olivier clashing, Olivier later commented that in the
film "Marilyn was quite wonderful, the best of all." Monroe's performance
was hailed by critics, especially in Europe, where she won the David di
Donatello, the Italian equivalent of the Academy Award, as well as the
French Crystal Star Award. She was also nominated for a BAFTA.
It was more than a year before Monroe began her next film. During her
hiatus, she lived with Miller in Amagansett, Long Island and suffered a
miscarriage on August 1, 1957. With Miller's encouragement, she returned
to Hollywood in August 1958, and filmed Some Like it Hot directed by Billy
Wilder, and co-starring Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Wilder had
experienced Monroe's tardiness, stage fright, and inability to remember
lines during production of The Seven Year Itch, but now her behavior was
more hostile, and was marked by refusals to participate in filming, and
occasional outbursts of profanity. She consistently refused to take
direction from Wilder, or insisted on numerous retakes of simple scenes
until she was satisfied. She developed a rapport with Lemmon, but she
disliked Curtis after hearing that he had described their love scenes as
"like kissing Hitler". Curtis later stated that the comment was intended
as a joke. During filming, Monroe discovered that she was pregnant, but
suffered another miscarriage in December 1958, as filming was completed.
The film became a resounding success, and was nominated for five Academy
Awards. Monroe was acclaimed for her performance and won the Golden Globe
Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. Wilder
commented that the film was the biggest success he had ever been
associated with. He discussed the problems he encountered during filming,
saying "Marilyn was so difficult because she was totally unpredictable. I
never knew what kind of day we were going to have... would she be
cooperative or obstructive?" He had little patience with her method acting
technique and said that instead of going to the Actors Studio "she should
have gone to a train-engineer's school ... to learn something about
arriving on schedule." Wilder had become ill during filming, and
explained, "We were in mid-flight – and there was a nut on the plane." In
hindsight, he discussed Monroe's "certain indefinable magic" and "absolute
genius as a comic actress."
By this time, Monroe had only completed one film, Bus Stop, under her four
picture contract with 20th Century Fox. She agreed to appear in Let's Make
Love, which was to be directed by George Cukor, but she was not satisfied
with the script, and Arthur Miller rewrote it. Gregory Peck was originally
cast in the male lead role, but he refused the role after Miller's
rewrite; Cary Grant, Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and Rock Hudson also
refused the role before it was offered to Yves Montand. Monroe and Miller
befriended Montand and his wife, actress Simone Signoret, and filming
progressed well until Miller was required to travel to Europe on business.
Monroe began to leave the film set early and on several occasions failed
to attend, but her attitude improved after Montand confronted her.
Signoret returned to Europe to make a film, and Monroe and Montand began a
brief affair that ended when Montand refused to leave Signoret. The film
was not a critical or commercial success.
Monroe's health deteriorated during this period, and she began to see a
Los Angeles psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson. He later recalled that
during this time she frequently complained of insomnia, and told Greenson
that she visited several medical doctors to obtain what Greenson
considered an excessive variety of drugs. He concluded that she was
progressing to the point of addiction, but also noted that she could give
up the drugs for extended periods without suffering any withdrawal
symptoms. According to Greenson, the marriage between Miller and Monroe
was strained; he said that Miller appeared to genuinely care for Monroe
and was willing to help her, but that Monroe rebuffed while also
expressing resentment towards him for not doing more to help her. Greenson
stated that his main objective at the time was to enforce a drastic
reduction in Monroe's drug intake.
In 1956 Arthur Miller had lived briefly in Nevada and wrote a short story
about some of the local people he had become acquainted with, a divorced
woman and some aging cowboys. By 1960 he had developed the short story
into a screenplay, and envisaged it as containing a suitable role for
Monroe. It became her last completed film, The Misfits, directed by John
Huston and costarring Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift Eli Wallach and Thelma
Ritter. Shooting commenced in July 1960, with most taking place in the hot
Northern Nevada Black Rock Desert. Monroe was frequently ill and unable to
perform, and away from the influence of Dr. Greenson, she had resumed her
consumption of sleeping pills and alcohol. A visitor to the set, Susan
Strasberg, later described Monroe as "mortally injured in some way," and
in August, Monroe was rushed to Los Angeles where she was hospitalized for
ten days. Newspapers reported that she had been near death, although the
nature of her illness was not disclosed. Louella Parsons wrote in her
newspaper column that Monroe was "a very sick girl, much sicker than at
first believed," and disclosed that she was being treated by a
Monroe returned to Nevada and completed the film, but she became hostile
towards Arthur Miller, and public arguments were reported by the press.
Making the film had proved to be an arduous experience for the actors; in
addition to Monroe's distress, Montgomery Clift had frequently been unable
to perform due to illness, and by the final day of shooting, Thelma Ritter
was in hospital suffering from exhaustion. Gable, commenting that he felt
unwell, left the set without attending the wrap party. Monroe and Miller
returned to New York on separate flights.
Within ten days Monroe had announced her separation from Miller, and Gable
had died from a heart attack. Gable's widow, Kay, commented to Louella
Parsons that it had been the "eternal waiting" on the set of The Misfits
that had contributed to his death, though she did not name Monroe. When
reporters asked Monroe if she felt guilty about Gable's death, she refused
to answer, but the journalist Sidney Skolsky recalled that privately she
expressed regret for her poor treatment of Gable during filming and
described her as being in "a dark pit of despair." Monroe later attended
the christening of the Gables' son, at the invitation of Kay Gable.
The Misfits was the subject of mediocre reviews, and was not a commercial
success, though some praised the performances of Monroe and Gable. Huston
later commented that Monroe's performance was not acting in the true
sense, and that she had drawn from her own experiences to show herself,
rather than a character. "She had no techniques. It was all the truth. It
was only Marilyn."
During the following months, Monroe's dependence on alcohol and
prescription medications began to take a toll on her health, and friends
such as Susan Strasberg later spoke of her illness. Her divorce from
Arthur Miller was finalized in January 1961, with Monroe citing
"incompatibility of character," and in February she voluntarily entered
the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic. Later describing the experience as a
"nightmare," she was able to phone Joe DiMaggio from the clinic, who
immediately traveled from Florida to New York to facilitate her transfer
to the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, where she remained for three
weeks. Illness prevented her from working for the remainder of the year;
she underwent surgery to correct a blockage in her Fallopian tubes in May,
and the following month underwent gall bladder surgery. She returned to
California and lived in a rented apartment as she convalesced.
In 1962 Monroe began filming Something's Got to Give, which was to be the
third film of her four-film contract with 20th Century Fox. It was to be
directed by George Cukor, and co-starred Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse. She
was ill with a virus as filming commenced, and suffered from high
temperatures and recurrent sinusitis. On one occasion she refused to
perform with Martin as he had a cold, and the producer Henry Weinstein
recalled seeing her on several occasions being physically ill as she
prepared to film her scenes, and attributed it to her dread of performing.
He commented, "Very few people experience terror. We all experience
anxiety, unhappiness, heartbreaks, but that was sheer primal terror
On May 19, 1962, she attended the birthday celebration of President John
F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, at the suggestion of Kennedy's
brother-in-law, actor Peter Lawford. Monroe performed "Happy Birthday"
along with a specially written verse based on Bob Hope's "Thanks for the
Memory". Kennedy responded to her performance with the remark, "Thank you.
I can now retire from politics after having had 'Happy Birthday' sung to
me in such a sweet, wholesome way."
Monroe returned to the set of Something's Got to Give and filmed a
sequence in which she appeared nude in a swimming pool. Commenting that
she wanted to "push Liz Taylor off the magazine covers," she gave
permission for several partially nude photographs to be published by Life.
Having only reported for work on twelve occasions out of a total of 35
days of production, Monroe was dismissed. The studio 20th Century Fox
filed a lawsuit against her for half a million dollars, and the studio's
vice president, Peter Levathes, issued a statement saying "The star system
has gotten way out of hand. We've let the inmates run the asylum, and
they've practically destroyed it." Monroe was replaced by Lee Remick, and
when Dean Martin refused to work with any other actress, he was also
threatened with a lawsuit.
Following her dismissal, Monroe engaged in several high-profile publicity
ventures. She gave an interview to Cosmopolitan and was photographed at
Peter Lawford's beach house sipping champagne and walking on the beach.
She next posed for Bert Stern for Vogue in a series of photographs that
included several nudes. Published after her death, they became known as
'The Last Sitting'. Richard Meryman interviewed her for Life, in which
Monroe reflected upon her relationship with her fans and her uncertainties
in identifying herself as a "star" and a "sex symbol." She referred to the
events surrounding Arthur Miller's appearance before the House Un-American
Activities Committee in 1956, and her studio's warning that she would be
"finished" if she showed public support for him, and commented, "You have
to start all over again. But I believe you're always as good as your
potential. I now live in my work and in a few relationships with the few
people I can really count on. Fame will go by, and, so long, I've had you
fame. If it goes by, I've always known it was fickle. So at least it's
something I experienced, but that's not where I live."
In the final weeks of her life, Monroe engaged in discussions about future
film projects, and firm arrangements were made to continue negotiations.
Among the projects was a biography of Jean Harlow later filmed
unsuccessfully with Carroll Baker. Starring roles in Billy Wilder's Irma
La Douce and What a Way to Go! were also discussed; Shirley MacLaine
eventually played the roles in both films. Kim Novak replaced her in Kiss
Me, Stupid, a comedy in which she was to star opposite Dean Martin. A film
version of the Broadway musical, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, and an unnamed
World War I–themed musical co-starring Gene Kelly were also discussed, but
the projects did not occur. Her dispute with 20th Century Fox was
resolved, and her contract renewed into a $1 million two-picture deal, and
filming of Something's Got to Give was scheduled to resume in early fall
1962. Also on the table was an Italian film offer worth several million
giving her script, director and co-star approval. Allan "Whitey" Snyder
who saw her during the last week of her life, said Monroe was pleased by
the opportunities available to her, and that she "never looked better and
was in great spirits."
On August 5, 1962, LAPD police sergeant Jack Clemmons received a call at
4:25 a.m. from Dr. Ralph Greenson, Monroe's psychiatrist, proclaiming that
Monroe was found dead at her home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California.
She was 36 years old. At the subsequent autopsy, eight milligram percent
of Chloral Hydrate and 4.5 milligram percent of Nembutal were found in her
system, and Dr. Thomas Noguchi of the Los Angeles County Coroners office
recorded cause of death as "acute barbiturate poisoning," resulting from a
"probable suicide". Many theories, including murder, circulated about the
circumstances of her death and the timeline after the body was found. Some
conspiracy theories involved John and Robert Kennedy, while other theories
suggested CIA or Mafia complicity.
On August 8, 1962, Monroe was interred in a crypt at Corridor of Memories
#24, at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, Los
Angeles. Lee Strasberg delivered the eulogy. The crypt space immediately
to the left of Monroe's was bought and reserved by Hugh Hefner in 1992.
In August 2009, the crypt space directly above that of Monroe was placed
for auction on eBay. Elsie Poncher plans to exhume her husband and move
him to an adjacent plot. She advertised the crypt, hoping "to make enough
money to pay off the $1.6 million mortgage" on her Beverly Hills mansion.
Monroe married Jimmy Dougherty on June 19, 1942. In The Secret Happiness
of Marilyn Monroe and To Norma Jeane with Love, Jimmie, he claimed they
were in love, but dreams of stardom lured her away. In 1953, he wrote a
piece called "Marilyn Monroe Was My Wife" for Photoplay, in which he
claimed that she threatened to jump off the Santa Monica Pier if he left
her. In the 2004 documentary Marilyn's Man, Dougherty made three new
claims: that he invented the "Marilyn Monroe" persona; studio executives
forced her to divorce him; and that he was her true love and her
"dedicated friend for life."
Dougherty's actions seem to contradict these claims: he remarried months
after Monroe divorced him; his sister told the December 1952 Modern Screen
Magazine that he left Monroe because she wanted to pursue modeling, after
he initially gave her permission to do so; he confirmed Monroe's version
of the beginning of their relationship in an A&E Network Monroe
documentary that his mother had asked him to marry her so that she would
not be returned to an orphanage. Most telling, on August 6, 1962, The New
York Times reported that, on being informed of her death, Dougherty
replied "I'm sorry" and continued his LAPD patrol. He did not attend
In 1951, Joe DiMaggio saw a picture of Monroe with Chicago White Sox
players Joe Dobson and Gus Zernial, but did not ask the man who arranged
the stunt to set up a date until 1952. Monroe wrote in My Story that she
did not want to meet him, fearing a stereotypical jock. They eloped on
January 14, 1954. During their honeymoon in Japan, she was asked to visit
Korea as part of the USO. She performed ten shows in four days for over
Maury Allen quoted New York Yankees PR man Arthur Richman that Joe told
him that the marriage went wrong from then. On September 14, 1954, Monroe
filmed the skirt-blowing scene for The Seven Year Itch in front of New
York's Trans-Lux Theater. Bill Kobrin, then Fox's east coast
correspondent, told the Palm Springs Desert Sun in 1956 that it was Billy
Wilder's idea to turn the shoot into a media circus, and that the couple
had a "yelling battle" in the theater lobby. She filed for divorce on
grounds of mental cruelty 274 days after the wedding.
In February 1961, Monroe was admitted to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric
Clinic. She contacted DiMaggio, who secured her release. She later joined
him in Florida, where he was serving as a batting coach at the New York
Yankees' training camp. Bob Hope jokingly dedicated Best Song nominee The
Second Time Around to them at the 1961 Academy Awards.
According to Allen, on August 1, 1962, DiMaggio – alarmed by how Monroe
had fallen in with people he considered detrimental to her well-being –
quit his job with a PX supplier to ask her to remarry him.
After Monroe's death, DiMaggio claimed her body and arranged her funeral.
For 20 years, he had a half-dozen red roses delivered to her crypt three
times a week.
In 2006, DiMaggio's adopted granddaughters auctioned the bulk of his
estate, which featured two letters Monroe penned to him and a photograph
signed "I love you, Joe, Marilyn."
On June 29, 1956, Monroe married playwright Arthur Miller, whom she first
met in 1950, in a civil ceremony in White Plains, New York. City Court
Judge Seymour Robinowitz presided over the hushed ceremony in the law
office of Sam Slavitt (the wedding had been kept secret from both the
press and the public). In reflecting on his courtship of Monroe, Miller
wrote, "She was a whirling light to me then, all paradox and enticing
mystery, street-tough one moment, then lifted by a lyrical and poetic
sensitivity that few retain past early adolescence." Nominally raised as a
Christian, she converted to Judaism before marrying Miller. After she
finished shooting The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier, the
couple returned to the United States from England and discovered she was
Miller's screenplay for The Misfits, a story about a despairing divorcée,
was meant to be a Valentine gift for his wife, but by the time filming
started in 1960 their marriage was beyond repair. A Mexican divorce was
granted on January 24, 1961 in Ciudad Juarez by Francisco Jose Gomez
Fraire. On February 17, 1962, Miller married Inge Morath, one of the
Magnum photographers recording the making of The Misfits.
In January 1964, Miller's play After The Fall opened, featuring a
beautiful and devouring shrew named Maggie. Simone Signoret noted in her
autobiography the morbidity of Miller and Elia Kazan resuming their
professional association "over a casket." In interviews and in his
autobiography, Miller insisted that Maggie was not based on Monroe.
However, he never pretended that his last Broadway-bound work, Finishing
the Picture, was not based on the making of The Misfits. He appeared in
the documentary The Century of the Self, lamenting the psychological work
being done on her before her death.
On May 18, 1962, Monroe made her last significant public appearance,
singing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" at a birthday party for President
John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden. The dress that she wore to the
event, specially designed and made for her by Jean Louis, sold at an
auction in 1999 for USD $1.26 million.
Rumors have existed since the 1960s that Monroe had affairs with Robert
Kennedy or John Kennedy, or both. Allegations of an affair with President
Kennedy did not make it into the mainstream press until the 1970s, but a
pamphlet was published in 1964, after Monroe's death, entitled The Strange
Death of Marilyn Monroe, by investigator Frank Cappell. It alleged a
relationship between Monroe and Bobby Kennedy. JFK's reputed mistress
Judith Exner, in her 1977 autobiography, also wrote about an affair that
she said the president and Monroe had.
Conspiracy theorist Anthony Summers examines the issue of Monroe's
relationships with the Kennedy brothers at length in two books: his 1993
biography of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, entitled Official and
Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, and his 1985 biography
of Monroe, entitled Goddess. In the Hoover book, Summers concludes that
Monroe was in love with President Kennedy and wanted to marry him in the
early 1960s; that she called the White House frequently; and that, when
the married President had to break off their affair, Monroe became even
more depressed, and then turned to Robert Kennedy, who may have visited
Monroe in Los Angeles about the time that she died.
Patricia Seaton Lawford, the fourth wife of actor Peter Lawford, also
deals with the Monroe - Kennedy matters in her 1988 biography of Peter
Lawford, entitled The Peter Lawford Story. Lawford's first wife was
Patricia Kennedy Lawford, the sister of John and Robert; Lawford was very
close to the Kennedy family for over a decade, including the time of
In her will, Monroe left Lee Strasberg her personal effects, which
amounted to just over half of her residuary estate. She expressed her
desire that he "distribute the effects among my friends, colleagues and
those to whom I am devoted." Instead, he stored them in a warehouse, and
willed them to his widow, Anna. Inez Melson successfully sued Los
Angeles-based Odyssey Auctions in 1994 to prevent the sale of items taken
by Monroe's former business manager. In October 1999, Christie's auctioned
the bulk of the items, including those recovered from Melson's family,
netting US $13,405,785.
Anna Strasberg then sued the children of four photographers to determine
rights of publicity, which permits the licensing of images of deceased
personages for commercial purposes. The decision was worth millions as to
whether Monroe was a resident of California (where she died) or New York
(where her will was probated).
On May 4, 2007, a judge in New York ruled that Monroe's rights of
publicity ended at death. In October 2007, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
signed Senate Bill 771. The legislation was supported by Strasberg and the
Screen Actors Guild, and established that non-family members may inherit
rights of publicity through the residuary clause of the deceased's will,
provided that the person was a resident of California at the time of
In March 2008, the United States District Court in Los Angeles ruled that
Monroe was a resident of New York at the time of her death, citing that
the executor of her estate told California tax authorities as much, and
that a 1966 sworn affidavit by her housekeeper quoted Monroe as saying
that she considered New York City her primary residence. The decision was
reaffirmed by the United States District Court of New York in September