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Although she would eventually become one of the most celebrated actresses in film history, Marilyn's beginnings were humble to say the least.
A Los Angeles native, she was born Norma Jeane Mortenson in the charity ward of Los Angeles County Hospital. Her grandmother, Della Monroe Grainger, later had her baptized Norma Jeane Baker.
Biographers used to differ on whether the man listed on her birth certificate, Norwegian-born Martin Edward Mortenson, was not her true biological father.
The most likely candidate for a while seemed to be Charles Stanley Gifford, a salesman for the studio where Marilyn's mother, the late Gladys Pearl Monroe Baker Eley, worked as a film-cutter. However in later years, more and more have gone for the theory that Mortenson was in fact her true father.
Unable to persuade Della to take the baby, an overwhelmed Gladys placed Norma Jeane with Albert and Ida Bolender of Hawthorne, southwest of Downtown Los Angeles, where she lived until she was seven.
The Bolenders were a religious couple who supplemented their meager income by being foster parents.
In her autobiography, My Story, ghostwritten by Ben Hecht (and not always a reputable source because it was largely a publicity vehicle), Marilyn said she thought Wayne and Ida were her parents until Ida, rather cruelly, corrected her.
After Marilyn's death, Ida claimed that she and Wayne had seriously considered adopting her, which they could not have done without Gladys's consent.
According to My Story , Gladys visited Norma Jeane every Saturday, but never hugged or kissed her, or even smiled. One day, Gladys announced that she had bought a house for them.
A few months after moving in, she suffered a breakdown. Marilyn recalled Gladys "screaming and laughing" as she was forcibly removed to the State Mental Hospital in Norwalk, where Della had died; Gladys's father, Otis, died in a mental hospital near San Bernardino.
Norma Jeane was declared a ward of the state. Gladys's best friend, Grace McKee, later Goddard, became her guardian. After Grace married in 1935, Norma Jeane was sent to Los Angeles Orphanage, then to as many as twelve foster homes, in which she was subjected to abuse and neglect.
However, there is no evidence that Marilyn had actually lived in so many foster homes and that she really had been abused. In her interviews Marilyn often gave exaggerated information about her childhood.
Then in September 1941, Grace took her in again. She was then introduced to a neighbor's son, James Dougherty, who would become her first husband.
The Goddard family was moving to the East Coast and felt marriage would be the best solution for the then-teenaged Norma Jeane. Since Marilyn was underage at the time, she had to get married or otherwise she would have had to return to the orphanage.
Norma Jeane had come to think little of herself, yet also developed a gritty, opportunistic side and a super-human drive. She was very intelligent and more unhappy than her screen image suggested
Marilyn Monroe's face was certainly her fortune and to this very day — over 40 years after her mysterious death — she still generates huge interest in her life and career.
While her first husband, James Dougherty, was at war, the young Norma Jean began work in a factory. It was here she was spotted by photographer David Conover and he immediately saw her potential as a model.
She signed with The Blue Book Modelling agency and became one of their most successful models appearing on hundreds of magazine covers.
But with strong aspirations of becoming an actress, Norma Jean came to the attention of 20th Century Fox by way of talent scout Ben Lyon who arranged a screen test. She passed and was offered a standard six month contract starting at $75 a week. It was here that her name was changed.
She was named after an actress called Marilyn Miller and Monroe was her mother's maiden name, which Marilyn suggested herself, although she probably was not aware of just how many actors use their mother's maiden name as their professional surnames. The year was 1946 and "Marilyn Monroe" was born (when Norma Jeane was 20).
During her first six months at Fox she didn't work at all but learned about hair, make-up, costumes, acting and lighting.
Fox decided to renew her contract when it expired and in the next six months she appeared in minor roles in two movies; Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! and Dangerous Years (both released in 1947).
But the films failed at the box office and Fox decided not to offer her a contract for a third time. Not discouraged, Monroe threw herself into her modelling work and rapidly began to build contacts around Hollywood and she became an expert at 'networking'.
A six month stint at Columbia Pictures saw her starring in one movie — Ladies of the Chorus in 1948 but once again she was dropped. At this point she met Johnny Hyde, one of Hollywood's top agents.
He got her back at Fox (after MGM passed on the chance to sign her) and although studio head Darryl F. Zanuck was not convinced of her potential to become a star she slowly began to change his mind with scene stealing performances in Bette Davis's classic All About Eve in 1950 and especially with The Asphalt Jungle released the same year.
By 1952 Zanuck was nearly convinced and she played her first role as a leading lady in Don't Bother To Knock.
As a deranged babysitter who attacks the little girl she is looking after in a rage, Marilyn received mixed reviews but she later stated this was one of her own favorite performances.
If the critics doubted her abilities as a dramatic actress, they were left in no doubt about her sex appeal. Marilyn proved to Zanuck she could carry a big budget movie when she headlined Niagara in 1953. Her screen charisma was so powerful, movie critics seemed to forget about the plot and focused on Marilyn and her unique connection with the camera.
It was around this time that nude photos of Marilyn began to surface. Shot by Tom Kelley when she was struggling, the prints were bought by Hugh Hefner and appeared in the first edition of his new magazine, Playboy in December 1953.
It was a smash hit. And when the press realised that the nubile beauty in the magazine was up and coming starlet Marilyn Monroe, the media went into overdrive.
Marilyn's relaxed attitude (Journalist: "What did you have on during the photo shoot?" Marilyn: "Chanel No. 5!") quickly endeared her to the public.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire both released in 1953 catapulted Marilyn into A list status and she quickly became the world's biggest movie star.
It didn't matter that her next two films, River of No Return and There's No Business Like Show Business under performed, the public were already hooked. But Monroe grew tired of the dumb blonde roles Zanuck assigned her and after completing work on The Seven Year Itch in 1954, she broke her contract and fled Hollywood to study acting at The Actor's Studio in New York.
Fox would not budge on Monroe's new contract demands and insisted she return to the studio to start work on productions she considered inappropriate (Heller In Pink Tights and How To Be Very, Very Popular being two of them).
But when The Seven Year Itch raced to the top of the box office in the Summer of 1955, and with other Fox starlets Jayne Mansfield and Sheree North failing to click with audiences, Zanuck finally admitted defeat and a triumphant Monroe returned to Hollywood where a new contract was immediately drawn up.
The first film to be made was Bus Stop directed by Joshua Logan who compared Monroe to Greta Garbo. Critics immediately noted that this was a new Marilyn working hard at her craft and she gave a subtle and effective performance as "Cherie", the saloon singer who is whisked off her feet by an amorous cowboy.
By this time she had formed her own production company (Marilyn Monroe Productions) with photographer Milton H. Greene, in which the first film released by the company was The Prince and the Showgirl which she produced.
The film was received with lukewarm reviews and the public were indifferent, but with the release of Some Like It Hot in 1959, Marilyn was back on track and Billy Wilder's production was her biggest hit.
In The Misfits, released in 1961, she turned in a moving performance opposite screen stalwart Clark Gable but it was to be the last film either actor would make. Gable died of a heart attack shortly after filming was completed and although Monroe started work on a new movie, Something's Got to Give, she died during production.
She married James Dougherty on June 19, 1942 at the age of 16. Grace, moving with her husband, wanted Norma Jeane to marry to avoid going to an orphanage.
In The Secret Happiness of Marilyn Monroe and To Norma Jeane With Love, Jimmie, Dougherty claims that they were in love and would have lived happily ever after had not dreams of stardom lured her away; she always maintained theirs was a marriage of convenience fostered upon them by Grace Goddard, who paid Dougherty to take her charge out on dates.
In the 2004 documentary, Marilyn's Man, he claims to have invented the "Marilyn Monroe" persona, that she was forced to divorce him by Fox, and had always yearned to return to him.
No biographer ever came across any evidence to support this, and there is no evidence the pair even stayed in contact.
Monroe was reportedly furious when Dougherty gave an interview to the fan magazine Photoplay in 1953 in which he claimed she threatened to jump off the Santa Monica Pier if he ever left her. He later appeared as a contestant on the To Tell the Truth as "Marilyn Monroe's real first husband."
Dougherty's own actions didn't support his claims of being Monroe's Svengali or her only true love.
He remarried months after Monroe divorced him on September 13, 1946. The August 6, 1962, New York Times reported that, when informed of her death, he stated "I'm sorry" and continued his LAPD patrol; he did not attend her funeral.
In an interview for the Biography Channel, Dougherty admitted that Grace Goddard approached his mother who then asked him if he'd be willing to marry Norma Jeane so she wouldn't have to go to an orphanage. He was married to his third wife until her death in 2003, and lived in Maine until his own death on August 15, 2005, from complications of leukemia.
In 1951, Joe DiMaggio saw a picture of Marilyn with two Chicago White Sox players, but waited until after he retired from baseball to ask the PR man who arranged the stunt to set them up on a date. But she did not want to meet him, fearing him the stereotypical jock. Their January 14, 1954 elopement at City Hall in San Francisco was the culmination of a two-year courtship that had captivated the nation.
The union was complex, marred by his jealousy and her casual infidelity. DiMaggio wanted to settle down. Marilyn wanted to as well, but she craved fame and would do just about anything for it. DiMaggio was also said to have been disgusted by Marilyn's sloppiness and poor hygiene.
DiMaggio biographer Richard Ben Cramer asserts things got violent as a result. One incident allegedly happened after the skirt blowing scene in The Seven Year Itch was filmed on New York's Lexington Avenue before hundreds of fans; director Billy Wilder recalled "the look of death" on DiMaggio's face as he watched.
When she announced she would seek a divorce — just 274 days after the wedding — (on grounds of mental cruelty), she was quoted as telling 20th Century Fox "our careers just seemed to get in the way of each other." Oscar Levant quipped it proved no man could be a success in two pastimes. She eventually divorced him on October 27, 1954.
She married the playwright Arthur Miller, whom she met in 1951, in a civil ceremony on June 29, 1956, then in a Jewish ceremony two days later (she had converted to Judaism for Miller).
When they returned from England after she wrapped The Prince and the Showgirl, they learned she was pregnant. Sadly, she suffered from endometriosis; the pregnancy was ectopic and had to be aborted to save her life. A second pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.
By 1958, Monroe was supporting them. Not only did she pay alimony to Miller's first wife, he reportedly bought a Jaguar while they were in England, shipped it to the States, and charged it to her production company.
His script The Misfits was meant to be a Valentine to her. Instead, by the time filming started, the marriage was broken beyond repair. Marilyn's behavior≈fueled by drugs and alcohol≈was erratic. A Mexican divorce was granted on January 24, 1961.
DiMaggio re-entered her life as her marriage to Miller was ending. On February 4, 1961, she was admitted by her then-psychiatrist into Manhattan's Payne-Whitney Clinic, reportedly placed in the ward for the most seriously disturbed.
He got her out six days later, and took her to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic at New York Presbyterian Hospital. After her release on March 5, she joined him in Florida where he was a batting coach for his old team, the New York Yankees.
Their "just friends" claims did not stop remarriage rumours from flying. Bob Hope even "dedicated" Best Song nominee "The Second Time Around" to them at the 1960 Academy Awards telecast. According to DiMaggio biographer Maury Allen, Joe quit his job with a military post-exchange supplier on August 1, 1962 to return to California and ask Marilyn to remarry him.
On February 17, 1962, Miller married the German-born Inge Morath, one of the Magnum photographers recording the making of The Misfits. In January 1964, his After the Fall opened, featuring a beautiful, child-like, yet devouring shrew named Maggie. It upset all of Monroe's friends, including legendary stage actress Helen Hayes, who, if not a personal friend of Marilyn, was nonetheless furious and appalled at Miller's brazen use of Marilyn's almost mythic fame.
His newest Broadway-bound work (before his death), Finishing the Picture, is based on the making of The Misfits, Marilyn's last movie.
In May of 1962 she sang Happy Birthday, Mr. President at a televised birthday party for President John F. Kennedy.
The French chiffon dress she wore that night was sold at auction by Christie's for a world-record $1.3 million. 20th Century-Fox fired her soon after the infamous event while she was working on her soon-to-be unfinished film Something's Got to Give, co-starring Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse and directed by George Cukor. But due to a clause in Martin's contract giving him approval over the leading lady, Marilyn was re-hired to finish the film as Martin refused to work with any other actress.
Also Marylin had several affairs during her life. They were with President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Yves Montand and she also allegedly had a one-night lesbian stand with Joan Crawford.
Death and aftermath
Marilyn Monroe was found dead August 5, 1962 in the bedroom of her Brentwood, California, home at age 36 from an overdose of barbiturates.
As with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, conspiracy theories have sprung up around the circumstances of her death. While the conspiracy theorists have tried to make their "case" for murder due to her involvement with the Kennedy family, they cannot explain why all of the President's other alleged girlfriends, with the exception of Mary Pinchot Meyer, survived him.
Marilyn's body was discovered by live-in housekeeper, Mrs. Eunice Murray, assigned to Marilyn's care by her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson.
Conspiracy theorists have also tried to make their "case" on the relationship between Murray and Greenson, and Monroe's personal publicist, Pat Newcomb. Several days after Monroe's death, Murray attempted to cash a $200.00 check made out to her by Monroe.
The un-cancelled check is today on display in the Monroe exhibit at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum.
In the Fall of 1962, Murray left the country for an extended European cruise on the Queen Mary; Newcomb joined the Kennedy administration in the ensuing months.
Murray told her own version of that fateful night in "Marilyn, The Last Months." The book was written by a ghostwriter in the early 1970s while Murray was living in Santa Monica; Pat Newcomb was a frequent visitor. In her later years, Murray moved back East, possibly to Martha's Vineyard, remarried for a short time, and survived the passing of her second husband. Murray has since passed away.
A formal investigation in 1982 by the Los Angeles County District Attorney came up with no evidence of foul play, but the stories persist. Los Angeles County coroner Dr. Thomas Noguchi, who'd performed the autopsy (and the autopsies of Robert F. Kennedy, Natalie Wood and William Holden, among other celebrities), wrote in his book Coroner that Marilyn's death had been highly likely a suicide.
Yet he conceded that he could find no trace in the stomach or intestines of any of the overdose of barbiturates that had reportedly been the cause of death; some conspiracy theorists claim this proves the drug overdose had been forcibly administered to Monroe (after she'd been rendered unconscious with chloral hydrate) perhaps by intravenous injection or, more likely, by rectal suppository, leaving no marks. Chicago mobster Sam Giancana reportedly claimed to have ordered Monroe's killing with the help of the CIA and the Kennedys.
Most of these theories are seen to be without much evidence.
On August 5, 2005, the Los Angeles Times published an account of Monroe's death by former Los Angeles County prosecutor John W. Miner, who was present at the autopsy as well as Miner's notes purportedly made from tapes Monroe had made for her psychiatrist, Ralph Greenson, which he claims show she was not suicidal.
Yet, as the Times itself noted, Miner's claims must be taken with a grain of salt: Greenson's widow told the Times her husband never mentioned a tape made by Monroe, and Miner did not mention to the District Attorney in 1982 of either a tape or that he had made notes from it. It is speculated that the man seems to have made these tapes up to put forward his theory and make it stick.
A devastated DiMaggio claimed her body and arranged her funeral. According to her half-sister, Berniece Baker Miracle, he just took over and she allowed him to do so. For 20 years, he had a dozen red roses delivered three times a week to her crypt.
Unlike the other men who knew her intimately (or had claimed to), the highly private DiMaggio never publicly spoke about her nor wrote a book about his life with her.
Marilyn is interred in a crypt at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery just off of Wilshire Boulevard. She had Grace Goddard interred there because Grace's aunt √ who cared for Norma Jeane briefly √ is there. Just as her career took off, she asked her make-up man, Whitey Snyder, to promise he would make her up when she died.
Snyder joked he would if her body was brought to him while it was warm. A few days later, he received a money clip: "Whitey Dear, While I am still warm, Marilyn." He fulfilled that promise with the help of a bottle of whiskey.
When Gladys was between mental hospitals, she married her last husband, John Stewart Eley, who died in 1952. Diagnosed as a schizophrenic, she walked out of a sanitarium in the early 1970s and flew to Florida, where Berniece picked her up at the airport.
She died of congestive heart failure on March 11, 1984 at a nursing home. Obsessed by Christian Science, she would refuse to discuss either Norma Jeane or Marilyn Monroe, unable or unwilling to relive the past.
But if Marilyn's death signalled the end of a human being, it was only the beginning of an icon. Despite (or because of) the endless conspiracy theories, Marilyn still captivates the world and her image can be seen nearly everywhere.
The actress who worried nobody would take her seriously has become one of the most famous and most adored women in history.
There have been many imitators and wannabes but no one has surpassed Monroe for her beauty, charisma and lasting appeal. She will always be remembered as the most beloved star in Hollywood history.
Marilyn decorated her last house in Fifth Helena Drive with Mexican furniture from her trip to Mexico.
That was also the only home she had by herself, after so many years living in hotels or others' homes. It was shown to her by her pyschiatrist, Dr. Greenson, because it was close to his own in both appearance and location (she frequently attended sessions at his private residence.)
Childhood pictures show that Marilyn was born a blonde, but her hair turned "mousy" brown as she grew up. She dyed her hair several different shades of blonde as an adult.
The song Candle in the Wind (1973), which was written by Bernie Taupin and performed by Elton John, was about Monroe. In 1997, Elton John rewrote the song for Diana, Princess of Wales and performed it at her funeral.
James Cunningham outlined her life in his song Norma Jean wants to be a movie star in 1974.
Unlikely fans included Albert Einstein, Ayn Rand, Jean-Paul Sartre, Edith Sitwell, and Vladimir Nabokov.
Actor Colin Farrell has admitted that, as a child, he would put sweets under his pillow for Monroe when she came down to visit from heaven.
When Prince Rainier III of Monaco was looking for a famous wife to marry, Marilyn was suggested, but as he was a devout Catholic, the oft-married, non-Catholic, somewhat scandalous Monroe could not have ever been a serious contender.
He married Grace Kelly, instead, whose Catholicism and prim beauty (despite her own tawdry affairs in Hollywood) gave Monaco an additional aspect of the right kind of fame it sought.
Marilyn's features are copyrighted to her estate, and are not allowed to be copied exactly.
Marilyn had a mild stutter, which was most severe during her teens. She commented in an interview, "I stuttered... Later on, in my teens, when I was at Van [Nuys] High School, they elected me secretary of the English class, and every time I had to read the minutes I’d say, ▒Minutes of the last m-m-m-meeting.’ It was terrible." 
Her first screen test was shot by legendary cinematographer Leon Shamroy.
The $200.00 check that Eunice Murray attempted to cash after Monroe's death is on display at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum at the old Max Factor Building in Hollywood.
Hugh Hefner bought a crypt next to Marilyn for $85,000 and the other crypt next to her was sold for $125,000. There are no empty spots available near Marilyn.
A myth that Marilyn was born with six toes resulted from the publication of photos taken by Joseph Jasgur in March 1946. The pictures were published in The Birth of Marilyn: The Lost Photographs of Norma Jean by Jasgur and Jeannie Sakol. Two pictures can be interpreted as showing six toes, although they can be explained as tricks of light. Since there is no corroborating evidence from other photographs or written records, the story is commonly dismissed as an urban legend.
Marilyn was named Miss Artichoke in 1948.
Marilyn had to wear two pairs of white underwear under her famous white dress for the "subway grate" scene in The Seven Year Itch, as bystanders could see a little bit too much. The scene was refilmed back at the Fox studios, for crowds in New York City were distracting.
Director Billy Wilder (who made two movies with Marilyn: The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot) said that Marilyn had breasts like granite and a brain like Swiss cheese. Wilder has also said Marilyn was a genius, so one could say it was an on/off relationship.
Was once a roommate of actress Shelley Winters.
People rarely looked past the image Marilyn portrayed, but she was said to be quite intelligent — it was hidden behind her image as a dumb blonde with beautiful features. She herself always regretted not being able to continue with high school and wrote poems and was very much involved in literature.
Celebrity photographer George Barris claims he took the last pictures of Marilyn. However, it was confirmed Allan Grant took the last pictures of Marilyn during her interview with Life magazine on July 7, 1962.
Among the men Marilyn allegedly had affairs with: John F. Kennedy, Henry Fonda, Robert F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Yves Montand and Elia Kazan.
Frank Sinatra gave Marilyn a Maltese  puppy that she named "Maf Honey". The Maf was supposedly short for "Mafia".
She had a beauty mark above her lip, which some people falsely believe to be fake. 
In 1953, Marilyn Monroe appeared as the first Playboy centrefold.
Something's Got to Give (1962) $100,000
The Misfits (1961) $250,000
Some Like It Hot (1959) $200,000 + 10% gross over $4 million.
The Seven Year Itch (1955) $1,500/wk
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) $1,250/wk
We're Not Married! (1952) $750/wk
All About Eve (1950) $500/wk, 1-wk guarantee
The Asphalt Jungle (1950) $1,050
Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1948) $75/week
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