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By Susan M. Kelly

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1955 Marilyn Monroe 8-3/8" x 10-7/8" Skye Publications Premium Photos1959 Marilyn Monroe R778-1 Maple Leaf Playing CardBorn to an absentee father and a mentally impaired mother, young Norma Jean Mortenson seemed destined for a life of hardship and obscurity.  Though the lonely little girl would grow up to become one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood history, she remained a lost child at heart, struggling to find acceptance and a place in the world, right up until her tragic end.

Norma Jean came into the world on June 1, 1926, the daughter of Gladys and a father who left his wife two months before their daughter was born.  Gladys gave her daughter the last name of a man she had dated before Norma’s father and she grew up Norma Jean Baker, a shy, quiet, confused little girl.  Gladys was in and out of mental institutions throughout Norma’s childhood, forcing the girl to be taken into foster care and, at nine, into an orphanage.

Upon leaving the orphanage, the 16 year old Norma married 21 year old James Dougherty in 1942.  The marriage was ill-fated, ending in divorce just four years later, by which time Norma was working as a model.  It was then that she made what would become a fortuitous decision when she bleached her naturally dark hair blonde.  Shortly thereafter some publicity shots came to the attention of RKO pictures chief Howard Hughes, who offered her a screen test.  An agent suggested she sign with the bigger and more prestigious 20th Century Fox instead and she was inked to a six month deal.

Upon signing with 20th Century Fox, Norma Jean was urged to change her name to something more marquee friendly and at the suggestion of the studio, she was christened Marilyn Monroe.  She began her career with bit parts in films such as “The Shocking Miss Pilgrim” (1947) and “Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!” (1948). Her initial performances didn’t impress and 20th Century Fox declined to renew her contract.  She briefly went back to modeling and attended acting school before being picked up by Columbia Pictures, where she was cast as Peggy Martin in “Ladies of the Chorus” (1948), a role which allowed her to showcase her musical skills.  The reviews were favorable for Marilyn, though not for the film itself, but she was dropped by Columbia nonetheless and returned to modeling.

In 1949 she posed for what would become arguably the most famous pin-up calendar shot of all time and would eventually become the first ever centerfold for Playboy magazine.  The following year, Marilyn finally managed to find her niche in Hollywood, receiving excellent reviews for her work in “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950) for MGM and “All About Eve” (1950) for Fox.  Though small, her roles in both films would endear her to audiences as the ditzy but sexy blonde bombshell.

Over the next few years she appeared in a steady stream of films including “Love Nest” (1951), “Don’t Bother to Knock” (1952) and “Monkey Business” (1952).  In 1953 she was cast as scheming showgirl Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, a film which featured her now trademark performance of “Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend”.  The same year, she made headlines when she married New York Yankee great Joe DiMaggio.  The union of the beauty and the quiet superstar seemed something out of a Hollywood script but unfortunately for Marilyn it too was ill-fated, lasting only eight months.

1954 Marilyn Monroe 7-1/2" X 11-1/2" Star Premium Photo1951 Theatre Program featuring Marilyn Monroe and Richard Widmark in "Don't Bother to Knock"By the time she met and married DiMaggio, Marilyn had become a genuine box office draw and she continued to stretch her acting muscles with roles in “How to Marry a Millionaire” (1953) and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (1954).  In 1955 she made another trademark appearance in “The Seven Year Itch” (1955), as she famously stood on a subway grate while her dress was blown up around her by a passing subway train.  Her status as the object of desire for millions of movie goers, particularly men, was now complete, yet something of the lost, lonely girly still remained in Marilyn.  She longed to prove herself as a serious actress and to that end she studied with renowned acting coach Lee Strasberg at the Actor’s Studio in New York.

She emerged from her studies and immediately gave a powerful performance in “Bus Stop” (1956), winning critical acclaim for the role.  The same year she married for the third time, to playwright Arthur Miller.  On the heels of her success in “Bus Stop”, she flew to Britain to film “The Prince and the Showgirl” (1957), which proved to be a flop.  Exhausted, Marilyn took a year off before returning with yet another brilliant comic turn opposite Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in “Some Like It Hot” (1959).  The film was a smash and Marilyn appeared to be on top of the world professionally, but her personal demons were quickly catching up to her.

She would appear in only two more films, “Let’s Make Love” (1960), and “The Misfits” (1961), a powerful drama written for her by Miller and directed by the legendary John Huston.  Though her performance was a success her behavior was becoming increasingly erratic.  Marilyn and Arthur Miller divorced later that year, leaving her once again alone, afraid and horribly insecure.  Though she was cast in “Something’s Got to Give” (1962), her increasing absenteeism forced 20th Century Fox to fire her.  She withdrew to her Los Angeles home, where she would be found dead of an apparent drug overdose on August 5, 1962.

Though her image as the ultimate blonde bombshell continues to live on, the burden of insecurity, instability and isolation took Marilyn Monroe far too early.  She spent her short life trying desperately to fit in and wanting only to be loved and through her indelible performances and her incomparable image, she has finally found a home in the hearts of millions of fans.
Susan M. Kelly is a freelance writer who lives and works in Dunellen, New Jersey. Watch for her profiles in The Movie Profiles & Premiums Newsletter.

Other Marilyn Monroe Pages:

A Tribute to Marilyn Monroe -- From Brad Lang's Classic Movies site
Marilyn Monroe's Official Web site -- Marilyn Monroe's official Web site welcome page with links to her biography, movies page, pictures and much more.