On June 1, 1926, at approximately 9:30 am, Gladys Baker, a film negative cutter at Consolidated Film Industries, gave birth to a baby girl at Los Angeles General Hospital. She named her Norma Jeane Mortenson, but the last name was misspelt on the birth certificate as “Mortenson” instead of “Mortensen.” Norma Jeane’s father was indeed Charles Stanley Gifford, not Gladys’ estranged husband.
Norma Jeane’s early life was marked by instability and frequent changes in her living arrangements. At just two weeks old, she was placed into foster care with Ida and Wayne Bolender, who lived in Hawthorne, California. Gladys, despite struggling with mental health issues, visited Norma Jeane on weekends whenever possible.
After a few years, Gladys regained stability and brought Norma Jeane to live with her in a rented home. Unfortunately, Gladys’ mental health deteriorated once again, leading to her admission to a psychiatric institution in 1935. Norma Jeane was placed back into foster care, bouncing from one home to another throughout her childhood. She spent time with several families, including the Goddards, who would play a pivotal role in her life.
Grace Goddard, a close friend of Gladys, became Norma Jeane’s guardian and arranged a marriage for her at the age of 16 to avoid her returning to the orphanage.
On June 19, 1942, Norma Jeane married James “Jim” Dougherty, who was 21 at the time. Jim served in the merchant marines during World War II, leaving Norma Jeane with newfound independence. She began working at Radioplane Munitions Factory in Van Nuys, California, where she operated a drill press and inspected parachutes for the war effort.
During her time at Radioplane, Norma Jeane caught the attention of an army photographer named David Conover, who was shooting morale-boosting photographs of women contributing to the war effort. Impressed by her photogenic quality, Conover encouraged Norma Jeane to pursue a modelling career. She signed with the Blue Book Modeling Agency and started booking jobs. To enhance her appeal, Norma Jeane decided to lighten her naturally dark hair, gradually transforming herself into the iconic blonde image that would become synonymous with Marilyn Monroe.
With her sights set on a career in acting, Norma Jeane recognised the need to leave her marriage behind and sought a divorce.
Marilyn’s breakthrough moment came when she caught the attention of Twentieth Century-Fox studio executive Ben Lyon in 1946. It was with Lyon that she changed her name to Marilyn Monroe, choosing her mother’s maiden name and her grandmother’s last name as her new identity. He also arranged a screen test for her, and impressed by her natural talent and radiant presence, Lyon offered her a contract. Marilyn’s first credited film appearance came in the 1947 musical comedy Dangerous Years, followed by a minor role in Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! which was released in 1948.
Over the next few years, Marilyn worked diligently to build her career. She appeared in various films, often in supporting roles, honing her craft and learning the intricacies of the industry. It was not until 1950 that she garnered critical acclaim for her performances in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve.
In 1953, Marilyn achieved great success with the release of three major films: Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and How To Marry A Millionaire. These movies solidified her status as a box-office sensation and sex symbol of the era. Her seductive performances and undeniable screen presence captivated audiences worldwide.
During this time, Marilyn’s personal life also grabbed headlines. She became romantically involved with Joe DiMaggio, a legendary baseball player, and the couple married in San Fransico on January 14, 1954. However, their relationship faced challenges due to Marilyn’s career and the demands it placed on their marriage. The famous scene of Marilyn’s dress billowing up over a subway grate during the filming of The Seven Year Itch in 1954 supposedly put extra strain on their relationship further, and they divorced later that year.
In the aftermath of her divorce, Marilyn focused on asserting her independence. In 1955, she founded her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, in partnership with photographer and friend Milton Greene. During this period, Marilyn also sought to expand her artistic horizons and relocated to New York City to study under Lee Strasberg at the prestigious Actor’s Studio.
It was during her time in New York that Marilyn grew closer to playwright Arthur Miller. They fell in love, and their relationship culminated in marriage in June 1956, with two separate ceremonies—civil and Jewish. The union of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller created a mix of glamour and intellectualism that fascinated the public.
Tragically, Marilyn’s desire to have children was unfulfilled. She suffered an ectopic pregnancy in 1957, which deeply affected her and a miscarriage in 1958. In 1959, she starred in the comedy classic Some Like It Hot, directed by Billy Wilder. The film showcased her comedic talent and earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in 1960.
In 1960 during the production of Let’s Make Love, Marilyn and her co-star Yves Montand had a brief affair whilst their spouses were out of the country
In 1957, as a tribute to Marilyn, Arthur Miller began to write the screenplay for The Misfits, directed by John Huston. The film, which depicted the lives of cowboys in the modern West, was meant to be a gift for Marilyn. However, the intense and demanding production, combined with the strains on their marriage, led to Marilyn and Arthur’s separation and later divorce.
After her divorce in 1961, Marilyn Monroe found herself wrongly incarcerated in Payne Whitney after confiding in her doctor, Marianne Kris, about her feelings of depression. Unfortunately, instead of receiving the support and understanding she needed, Marilyn was institutionalised against her will. However, Marilyn managed to reach out to Joe DiMaggio, her former husband, who took immediate action. He arranged for her release from the institution and facilitated her transfer to another hospital for proper care and recovery. Once Marilyn returned to her New York City apartment, she began strategising her future plans and preparing for a move to Los Angeles, determined to regain control over her life and career.
In 1962, Marilyn began filming Something’s Got To Give, but her health issues, including sinusitis, caused frequent absences from the set. Despite her setbacks, Marilyn was determined to revive her career and had a meeting scheduled with Twentieth Century Fox to discuss the reinstatement of the film. Unfortunately, on August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her Brentwood home. The circumstances surrounding her death remain a subject of speculation and controversy however science has demonstrated Marilyn suffered an overdose.
Marilyn’s untimely passing sent shockwaves through the world, and her funeral took place at Westwood Memorial Park Cemetery on August 8, 1962.