(1 June 1926 – 5 August 1962), born Norma Jeane Mortenson
baptized Norma Jeane Baker
, was an American actress, singer, and
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. She was praised for her
comedic ability in such films as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to
Marry a Millionaire, and The Seven Year Itch, and became one of
Hollywood's most popular and glamorous performers.
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 William
Inge's Bus Stop was hailed by critics, and she won a Golden Globe
Award for her performance in Some Like it Hot.
Marilyn Monroe Person to Person Interview
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 has not been ruled out,
while conspiracy theorists argue that she was murdered.
In 1999, Monroe was ranked as the sixth greatest female star of all time
by the American Film Institute.
Family and early life
Monroe was born in the Los Angeles County Hospital,
the third child born to Gladys Pearl Baker (1902–1984).
Monroe's birth certificate names the father as Edward Mortenson, a
his residence stated as "unknown."
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.
When Mortenson died, at the age of 85, Monroe's birth certificate together
with her parents' marriage and divorce documents were discovered. These
documents showed that Mortenson filed for divorce from Gladys on March 5,
1927, and the case was finalized on October 15, 1928, thus proving that
Marilyn was born legitimate.
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 Baker identified as her father. She remembered that he had a
thin moustache and somewhat resembled Clark Gable, and that she had amused
herself by pretending that Gable was her father, but never determined her
father's true identity.
Mentally unstable and financially unable to care for Norma Jeane, Gladys
placed her with foster parents Albert and Ida Bolender of Hawthorne,
California, where she lived until she was seven. In her autobiography My
Story (co-authored with screenwriter and novelist Ben Hecht)
Monroe stated she believed that the Bolenders were her parents until Ida
corrected her. After that Norma Jeane referred to them as Aunt & Uncle.
During one of her weekly visits, Gladys told Norma Jeane that she had
bought a house for them, and Norma Jeane was allowed to move in with her
mother. A few months after moving in, Gladys suffered a breakdown. In My
Story, Monroe recalls her mother "screaming and laughing" as she was
forcibly removed to the State Hospital in Norwalk. Monroe 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
"...an important woman... 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.
After Grace McKee married Ervin Silliman Goddard in 1935, the 9 year-old
Monroe was sent to the Los Angeles Orphans Home (later renamed Hollygrove),
and then to a succession of foster homes. Two years later Grace took Norma
Jeane back to live with her, Goddard and one of Goddard's daughters from a
previous marriage. When Goddard tried to molest Norma Jeane, Grace sent her
to live with her great aunt, Olive Brunings. Norma Jeane was assaulted by
one of Olive's sons at the age of 12 and then went on to live with Grace's
aunt, Ana Lower. When Ana developed health problems, Norma Jeane went back
to live with Grace and Ervin Goddard, where she met a neighbor's son, Jim
Dougherty, and soon began a relationship with him.
Grace and her husband were about to move East and could not take Norma
Jeane. Another family wanted to adopt Norma Jeane, but Gladys would not
allow it. Grace then approached a neighbour suggesting that her son, James
Dougherty, could marry Norma Jeane so that she would not have to return to
an orphanage or foster care, and in June 1942, they were married. Monroe
would state in her autobiography that she did not feel like a wife; she
enjoyed playing with the neighbourhood children until her husband would call
her home. The marriage lasted until 1946 when Monroe decided to pursue her
as Mrs. Norma Jeane Dougherty in Yank Magazine, 1945
Modelling and early film work
While Dougherty was in the Merchant Marine during World War II, Norma
Jeane moved in with her mother-in-law, and 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 modelling 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 dyed 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. In 1946, she came 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
It was agreed that she would change her name. Lyon told her that she
reminded him of the actress Marilyn Miller and she took her grandmother's
name of Monroe as her surname.
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.
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.
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, Herman 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
Monroe enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles studying
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 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 cartoon, but the effort never
In March 1952, Monroe faced a possible scandal when one of her nude
photographs from 1949 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 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 the 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 loaned 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
favourable 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, co-starring Cary
Grant and Ginger Rogers, was released in September, and achieved good ticket
sales despite weak reviews.
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 the stage
fright that was to mark her behaviour on film sets throughout her career,
and was assigned by the director to spend hours gently coaxing and
comforting Monroe as she prepared to film her scenes.
Much of the critical comment following the release of the film was in
relation to Monroe's overtly sexual performance,
and a scene which shows Monroe (from the back) making a long walk towards
Niagara Falls was frequently referred to 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 was reviewed
positively, 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. Joan Crawford was quoted in
Louella Parsons' newspaper column, discussing Monroe's "vulgarity" and
describing her behavior as "unbecoming an actress and a lady."
She 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 edition 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. Playing Lorelei Lee, a gold-digging
showgirl, she was required to 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 was 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 foot prints 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 Monroe was dressed by William Travilla, a designer who would go on
to dress 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 theatres over the
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. It was directed by Otto Preminger who resented
Monroe's reliance on Natasha Lytess, who coached her and gave her verdict at
the end of each scene. Eventually Monroe refused to speak to Preminger, and
Mitchum was required 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, she
was suspended by 20th Century Fox.
She and DiMaggio were married in San Francisco on January 14, 1954, and
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 adaption 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 over her head. A
large crowd watched as director Billy Wilder ordered the scene to be
re-filmed 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, at
the advice of Milton Greene.
The Actors Studio and formation of Marilyn
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
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 the 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
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
Stanley later recalled that students were discouraged from applauding, but
that Monroe's performance had resulted in spontaneous applause from the
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
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 Globe nomination.
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
The press began to discuss an impending marriage, but Monroe and Miller
refused to confirm the rumour. 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, 1956.
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 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. Although Wilder had experienced Monroe's
tardiness, stage fright, and inability to remember lines during production
of The Seven Year Itch, her behaviour was more hostile, and was
marked by refusals to participate in filming, and occasional outbursts of
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,"
and after Some Like it Hot was completed, he discussed other projects
with her, including Irma La Douce which he later filmed with Shirley
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 envisioned it as a suitable role for Monroe. It became her
last completed film, The Misfits, directed by John Huston and
co-starring Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and Thelma Ritter. Filming
commenced in July 1960, with most of it 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, 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 psychiatrist.
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
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, and he immediately
travelled 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
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 9, 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
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
Among the projects was a biography of [Jean Harlow] later filmed
unsuccessfully with Caroll Baker. Starring roles in Billy Wilder's Irma
La Douce and What a Way to Go! were also discussed; Shirley
MacLaine eventually played her role 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 eventuate.
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."
Death and aftermath
On August 5, 1962, LAPD police sergeant Jack Clemmons received a call at
4:25 AM from Dr. Ralph Greenson, her psychiatrist, proclaiming that Monroe
was dead at her home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California. Sergeant
Clemmons was the first police officer to arrive at the death scene.
Many questions remain unanswered about the circumstances of her death and
the timeline after Monroe's body was found.
The official cause of Monroe's death was classified by Dr. Thomas Noguchi
of the Los Angeles County Coroners office as "acute barbiturate poisoning,"
which he recorded as an accidental overdose.
Eight milligram percent of chloral hydrate and 4.5 milligram percent of
Nembutal were found in her system after the autopsy.
Her death was rumoured to be a "probable suicide," but because of a lack of
evidence, investigators could not classify her death as suicide or homicide.
Also, some conspiracy theories involve John and Robert Kennedy with her
death, while other theories suggest 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 Los
Angeles, California. Lee Strasberg delivered the eulogy.
Monroe married James 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
modelling, 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 Monroe's funeral.
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
DiMaggio biographer 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 theatre lobby.
She filed for divorce on grounds of mental cruelty 274 days after the
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. Unlike her other two husbands or those who claimed to have
known her, he never talked about her publicly or otherwise exploited their
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
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 pregnant.
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 19, 1962, Monroe made her last significant public appearance,
singing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" at a televised 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 John or
Robert Kennedy, or both.
While reports of an affair with President Kennedy were covered up until the
1970s, a pamphlet published after Monroe's death in 1964 entitled The
Strange Death of Marilyn Monroe, by investigator Frank Cappell, alleged
a relationship between Monroe and Robert Kennedy.
JFK's mistress Judith Exner also wrote about an affair that she says the
president and Monroe had in her 1977 autobiography.
Administration of estate
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.
After successfully suing Los Angeles-based Odyssey Auctions in 1994 to
prevent the sale of items taken by Monroe's former business manager, Inez
Melson, 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 as to whether Monroe was a
resident of California, where she died, or New York, where her will was
probated, was worth millions.
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, which was supported by Strasberg and the Screen Actors
Guild, 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 death.
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 such, and that a
1966 sworn affidavit by her housekeeper quoted Monroe as saying that she
considered New York City to be her primary residence.
The decision was reaffirmed by the United States District Court of New York
in September 2008.
||The Shocking Miss Pilgrim
||Telephone Operator (uncredited)
||You Were Meant for Me
||Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!
||Green Grass of Wyoming
||Square Dancer (uncredited)
||Ladies of the Chorus
||Grunion's Client (uncredited)
||A Ticket to Tomahawk
||Dusky Ledoux (uncredited)
||The Asphalt Jungle
||All About Eve
||Miss Claudia Caswell
||Joseph L. Mankiewicz
||Joseph M. Newman
||Let's Make It Legal
||Home Town Story
||As Young as You Feel
||O. Henry's Full House
||Clash by Night
||We're Not Married!
||Don't Bother to Knock
||Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
||How to Marry a Millionaire
||River of No Return
||There's No Business Like Show Business
||The Seven Year Itch
||The Prince and the Showgirl
||Some Like It Hot
||Sugar Kane Kowalczyk
||Let's Make Love
||Something's Got to Give (Unfinished)
||Ellen Wagstaff Arden
- Ladies Of The Chorus (film) : "Every Baby Needs A Da Da
Daddy," "Anyone Can See I Love You," "Ladies Of The Chorus"
- Niagara: "Kiss"
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: "Two Little Girls From Little
Rock," "When Love Goes Wrong," "Bye Bye Baby," "Diamonds Are a Girl's
- River of No Return: "I'm Gonna File My Claim," "One Silver
Dollar," "Down In The Meadow," "River Of No Return"
- There's No Business Like Show Business: "Heatwave," "Lazy,"
"After You Get What You Want," "A Man Chases a Girl"
- Bus Stop: "That Old Black Magic"
- Some Like It Hot: "Some Like It Hot," "Runnin' Wild," "I
Wanna Be Loved By You," "I'm Through With Love"
- Let's Make Love: "My Heart Belongs To Daddy,"
"Specialization," "Let's Make Love"
Awards and nominations
- 1952 Photoplay Award: Special Award
- 1953 Golden Globe Henrietta Award: World Film Favorite Female.
- 1953 Photoplay Award: Most Popular Female Star
- 1956 BAFTA Film Award nomination: Best Foreign Actress for The
Seven Year Itch
- 1956 Golden Globe nomination: Best Motion Picture Actress in Comedy
or Musical for Bus Stop
- 1958 BAFTA Film Award nomination: Best Foreign Actress for The
Prince and the Showgirl
- 1958 David di Donatello Award (Italian): Best Foreign Actress for
The Prince and the Showgirl
- 1959 Crystal Star Award (French): Best Foreign Actress for The
Prince and the Showgirl
- 1960 Golden Globe, Best Motion Picture Actress in Comedy or Musical
for Some Like It Hot
- 1962 Golden Globe, World Film Favorite: Female
- Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame 6104 Hollywood Blvd.
- 1999 she was ranked as the sixth greatest female star of all time by
the American Film Institute in their list AFI's 100 Years... 100 Stars.
- Sweetheart of The Month 1953 (Playboy)
Awards and achievements
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or
for Some Like It Hot