Marilyn Monroe Undressed
Norma Jeane Mortenson (June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962), better known as Marilyn Monroe, was an American Golden Globe Award winning actress, singer, model and pop icon. She became known for her comedic skills and screen presence, going on to become one of the most popular movie stars of the 1950s. Later in her career, she worked towards serious roles with a measure of success. However, long-standing problems were exacerbated by disappointments in both her career and personal life during her later years. Her death has been subject to speculation and conspiracy theories.
Marilyn Monroe was born under the name of Norma Jeane Mortenson in the charity ward of the Los Angeles County Hospital. According to biographer Fred Lawrence Guiles, her grandmother, Della Monroe Grainger, had her baptized Norma Jeane Baker by Aimee Semple McPherson. She obtained an order from the City Court of the State of New York and legally changed her name to Marilyn Monroe on February 23, 1956.
Her Mexican-born mother, Gladys Pearl Monroe (born in Piedras Negras, Mexico), had returned from Kentucky. Many biographers believe Norma Jeane's biological father was Charles Stanley Gifford, a salesman for the RKO studios where Gladys worked as a film-cutter. Monroe's birth certificate lists Gladys's second husband, Norwegian immigrant Martin Edward Mortenson, as the father. While Mortenson left Gladys before Norma Jeane's birth, some biographers think he may have been the father. In an interview with Lifetime, James Dougherty, her first husband, said Norma Jeane believed that Gifford was her father. Whoever the father was, he played no part in Monroe's life.
Unable to persuade Della to take 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, Monroe states she thought Albert was a girl. However, some do not consider My Story trustworthy, as the book was a collaboration between Monroe and ghost-writer Ben Hecht and it was assumed Monroe was keen on dramatizing and coloring her past in order to make her public image more vulnerable. Hecht divulged to his agent: "It is easy to know when she is telling the truth. The moment a true thing comes out of her mouth, her eyes shed tears. She's like her own lie detector." In 2001, the book was reissued and Hecht was given credit.
Gladys visited Norma Jeane every Saturday. One day, she announced that she had bought a house. A few months after they had moved 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. Gladys's father, Otis, died in an asylum near San Bernardino from syphilis. According to My Sister Marilyn, Gladys's brother, Marion, hanged himself upon his release from an asylum, and Della's father did the same in a fit of depression.
Norma Jeane was declared a ward of state, and Gladys's best friend, Grace McKee (later Goddard) became her guardian. After McKee married in 1935, Norma Jeane was sent to the Los Angeles Orphans Home (later renamed Hollygrove), and then to a succession of foster homes.
The Goddards were about to move to the east coast and could not take her. Grace approached the mother of James Dougherty about the possibility of her son marrying the girl. They married two weeks after she turned 16, so that Norma Jeane would not have to return to an orphanage or foster care.
While her husband was in the Merchant Marine during World War II, Norma Jeane Dougherty moved in with her mother-in-law, and started to work in the Radioplane Company factory (owned by Hollywood actor Reginald Denny), spraying airplane parts with fire retardant and inspecting parachutes. Army photographer David Conover was scouting local factories, taking photos for a YANK magazine article about women contributing to the war effort. He saw her potential as a model and she was soon signed by The Blue Book modelling agency. In his book Finding Marilyn, Conover claimed the two had an affair that lasted years. Shortly after signing with the agency, Monroe had her hair cut, straightened and lightened to golden blonde.
She became one of Blue Book's most successful models, appearing on dozens of magazine covers. In 1946, she came to the attention of talent scout Ben Lyon. He arranged a screen test for her with 20th Century Fox. She was offered a standard six-month contract with a starting salary of $125 per week.
Lyon suggested she adopt Marilyn (after Marilyn Miller) as her stage name, since Norma Jeane wasn't considered commercial enough. For her last name, she took her mother's maiden name. Thus, the twenty-year-old Norma Jeane Baker became Marilyn Monroe. During her first half year at Fox, Monroe was given no work, but Fox renewed her contract and she was given minor appearances in Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! and Dangerous Years, both released in 1947. In Scudda Hoo!, her part was edited out of the film except for a quick glimpse of her face when she speaks two words. Fox decided not to renew her contract again. Monroe returned to modelling and began to network and make contacts in Hollywood.
In 1948, a six-month stint at Columbia Pictures saw her star in Ladies of the Chorus, but the low-budget musical was not a success and Monroe was dropped yet again. She then met one of Hollywood's top agents, Johnny Hyde, who had Fox re-sign her after MGM turned her down. Fox Vice-President Darryl F. Zanuck was not convinced of Monroe's potential, but due to Hyde's persistence, she gained supporting parts in Fox's All About Eve and MGM's The Asphalt Jungle. Even though the roles were small, movie-goers as well as critics took notice. Hyde also arranged for her to have minor plastic surgery on her nose and chin, adding that to earlier dental surgery.
The next two years were filled with inconsequential roles in standard fare such as We're Not Married! and Love Nest. However, RKO executives used her to boost box office potential of the Fritz Lang production Clash by Night. After the film performed well, Fox employed a similar tactic and she was cast as the ditzy receptionist in the Cary Grant/Ginger Rogers comedy Monkey Business. Critics no longer ignored her, and both films' success at the box office was partly attributed to Monroe's growing popularity.
Fox finally gave her a starring role in 1952 with Don't Bother to Knock, in which she portrayed a deranged babysitter who attacks the little girl in her care. It was a cheaply made B-movie, and although the reviews were mixed, many claimed that it demonstrated Monroe's ability and confirmed that she was ready for more leading roles. Her performance in the film has since been noted as one of the finest of her career by many critics.
Monroe proved she could carry a big-budget film when she starred in Niagara in 1953. Movie critics focused on Monroe's connection with the camera as much as on the sinister plot. She played an unbalanced woman planning to murder her husband.
Around this time, nude photos of Monroe began to surface, taken by photographer Tom Kelley when she had been struggling for work. Prints were bought by Hugh Hefner and, in December 1953, appeared in the first edition of Playboy. To the dismay of Fox, Monroe decided to publicly admit it was indeed her in the pictures. When a journalist asked her what she wore in bed she replied, "Chanel no.5". When asked what she had on during the photo shoot, she replied, "The radio".
Over the following months, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire cemented Monroe's status as an A-list actress and she became one of the world's biggest movie stars. The lavish Technicolor comedy films established Monroe's "dumb blonde" on-screen persona.
In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Monroe's turn as gold-digging showgirl Lorelei Lee won her rave reviews, and the scene where she sang "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" has inspired the likes of Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Geri Halliwell. In the Los Angeles premiere of the film, Monroe and co-star Jane Russell pressed their foot- and handprints in the cement in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
In How to Marry a Millionaire, Monroe was teamed up with Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable. She played a short-sighted dumb blonde, and even though the role was stereotypical, critics took note of her comedic timing.
Her next two films, the western River of No Return and the musical There's No Business Like Show Business, were not successful. Monroe got tired of the roles that Zanuck assigned her. After completing work on The Seven Year Itch in early 1955, she broke her contract and fled Hollywood to study acting at The Actors Studio in New York. Fox would not accede to her contract demands and insisted she return to work on productions she considered inappropriate, such as The Girl in Pink Tights (which was never filmed), The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, and How to Be Very, Very Popular.
Monroe stayed in New York. As The Seven Year Itch raced to the top of the box office in the summer of 1955, and with Fox starlets Jayne Mansfield and Sheree North failing to click with audiences, Zanuck admitted defeat and Monroe returned to Hollywood. A new contract was drawn up, giving Monroe approval of the director as well as the option to act in other studios' projects.
The first film to be made under the contract was Bus Stop, directed by Joshua Logan. She played Chérie, a saloon bar singer who falls in love with a cowboy. Monroe deliberately appeared badly made-up and unglamorous.
She was nominated for a Golden Globe for the performance and was praised by critics. 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 Joshua 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."
Monroe formed her own production company with friend and photographer Milton H. Greene. Marilyn Monroe Productions released its first and only film The Prince and the Showgirl in 1957 to mixed reviews. Along with executive-producing the film, she starred opposite the acclaimed British actor Laurence Olivier, who also directed it.
Olivier became furious at her habit of being late to the set, as well as her dependency on her drama coach, Paula Strasberg. Monroe's performance was hailed by critics, especially in Europe, where she was handed the David di Donatello, the Italian equivalent of the Academy Award, as well as the French Crystal Star Award. She was also nominated for the British BAFTA award.
Monroe's last home was in Brentwood, California, at 12305 5th Helena Drive. She was found dead by her housekeeper, Eunice Murray, on August 5, 1962. Monroe was 36 years old. Her death was ruled as an overdose of the sleeping pill Nembutal. To this day, questions remain about the circumstances and timeline of Mrs. Murray's discovery of Monroe's body. Also, several conspiracy theories have surfaced in the decades after her death, some involving President John F. Kennedy and/or Robert Kennedy. There is also much speculation that her death was accidental, but the official cause of death was "probable suicide" by acute barbiturate poisoning.
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.