Marilyn Monroe Biography

Born: June 1, 1926
Los Angeles, California
Died: August 5, 1962
Los Angeles, California

American model and actress

Decades after Marilyn Monroe's death, the film actress and model has remained one of Hollywood's greatest sex symbols with her eye-catching style, champagne blond hair, and breathless manner of speaking.

Growing up Norma Jean

Norma Jean Baker, better known as Marilyn Monroe, experienced a disrupted, loveless childhood that included two years at an orphanage. When Norma Jean, born on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles, California, was seven years old, her mother, Gladys (Monroe) Baker Mortenson, was hospitalized after being diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, a severe mental condition. Norma was left in a series of foster homes and the Los Angeles Orphans' Home Society. The constant move from one foster home to another resulted in Norma's "sketchy" educational background.

After Norma's sixteenth birthday, her foster parents had to move from California. To avoid an orphanage or a new foster home, Norma chose to get married. On June 19, 1942, Norma married James Dougherty, but the marriage would all but end when he joined the U.S. Merchant Marines in 1943. Though her difficult childhood and early failed marriage would make Norma Jean a strong and resilient woman, these experiences would also add to her insecurities and flaws—things that would ultimately shape her into a great tragic figure of the twentieth century.

Becoming Marilyn

During World War II (1939–45; a war fought between the Axis powers: Japan, Italy, and Germany—and the Allies: England, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States), Norma Jean worked at the Radio Plane Company in Van Nuys, California, but she was soon discovered by photographers. She enrolled in a three-month modeling course, and in 1946, aware of her considerable charm and the potential it had for a career in films, Norma obtained a divorce from Dougherty. She then headed for Hollywood, where Ben Lyon, head of casting at

Marilyn Monroe. Reproduced by permission of Archive Photos, Inc.
Marilyn Monroe.
Reproduced by permission of
Archive Photos, Inc.
Twentieth Century Fox, arranged a screen test. On August 26, 1946, she signed a one hundred twenty-five dollar a week, one-year contract with the studio. Ben Lyon was the one who suggested a new name for the young actress—Marilyn Monroe.

During Monroe's first year at Fox, she did not appear in any films, and her contract was not renewed. In the spring of 1948 Columbia Pictures hired her for a small part in Ladies of the Chorus. In 1950 John Huston (1906–1987) cast her in Asphalt Jungle, a tiny part which landed her a role in All About Eve. She was now given a seven-year contract with Twentieth Century Fox and appeared in The Fireball, Let's Make It Legal, Love Nest, and As Young as You Feel.

In 1952, after an extensive publicity campaign, Monroe appeared in Don't Bother to Knock, Full House, Clash by Night, We're Not Married, Niagara, and Monkey Business. The magazine Photoplay termed her the "most promising actress," and she was earning top dollars for Twentieth Century Fox.

Popularity and personal failures

On January 14, 1954, Monroe married Yankee baseball player Joe Di Maggio (1919–1999). But the pressures created by her billing as a screen sex symbol caused the marriage to fall apart, and the couple divorced on October 27, 1954.

Continually cast as the "dumb blond," Monroe made The Seven Year Itch in 1954. Growing weary of the stereotyping (broad generalizations based on appearance), she broke her contract with Fox and moved to New York City. There she studied at the Actors Studio with Lee and Paula Strasberg. Gloria Steinem (1934–) recalls a conversation with Monroe during that time in which Monroe referred to her own opinion of her abilities compared to a group of notables at the Actors Studio. "I admire all these people so much. I'm just not good enough."

In 1955 Monroe formed her own studio, Marilyn Monroe Productions, and renegotiated a contract with Twentieth Century Fox. She appeared in Bus Stop in 1956 and married playwright Arthur Miller (1915–) on July 1, 1956. Critics described Monroe in the film The Prince and the Showgirl, produced by her own company, as "a sparkling light comedienne." Monroe won the Italian David di Donatello award for "best foreign actress of 1958," and in 1959 she appeared in Some Like It Hot. In 1961 she starred in The Misfits, for which her husband Miller wrote the screenplay.

End of a star

The couple was divorced on January 24, 1961, and later that year Monroe entered a New York psychiatric clinic. After her brief hospitalization there she returned to the Fox studio to work on a film, but her erratic (unsteady and irregular) behavior betrayed severe emotional disturbance, and the studio fired her in June 1962.

Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her Los Angeles bungalow on August 5, 1962, an empty bottle of sleeping pills by her side. The exact events surrounding her death are not totally known and have been the subject of many rumors and books over the years. Monroe's image is one of the most lasting and widely seen of any star in the twentieth century—and today. As a subject of biographies, more than twenty books have been written about her short and tragic life.

For More Information

Barris, George. Marilyn—Her Life in Her Own Words: Marilyn Monroe's Revealing Last Words and Photographs. Secausus, NJ: Carol Pub. Group, 1995.

McDonough, Yona Zeldis, ed. All the Available Light: A Marilyn Monroe Reader. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.

Slatzer, Robert F. The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe. New York: Pinnacle House, 1974.

Spoto, Donald. Marilyn Monroe: The Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.

Victor, Adam. The Marilyn Encyclopedia. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1999.

User Contributions:

Anon A. Mous
Marilyn Monroe was a truly outspoken woman. I don't believe that she committed suicide on purpose.She was just probably under the pressure of the press. Besides what she did to herself, the fact that she was an outspoken actress made me think that she is my role model, for that part, anyway. Otherwise, I think she was a little tiny, nutso when it came to her as a "sex screen symbol." (sorry Ms. Monroe^) She was a great woman and is my favorite famous person ever.

Thanks for listening.
From, Anon.
Marylin was a person who had a life every girl could ever imagine having.That fact that she committed suicide is beyond comprehension.She is my favorite actress only because my sister In law told me about her but there is no way that she could have commited suicide when she had every thing.🙀👼She is in a better place now.I wish marylin could be here to see how much she is loved in life.She prolly killed herself because she was probably stress overwhelmed or prolly felt like she wasting loved.
Norma Jean Baker was a person as we all are, people who above all want to be loved and have a purpose in life. There is no mystery to her death, it was suicide. People on the outside looking in any say, why would she kill her self , she’s beautiful talented and one of the greatest stars to ever grace the screen. Well folks, no matter if you are seen as a great star or have all the money in the world, you are the same as the person you walk by every day in the park who sleeps on a bench as he has no where to go. The point is, it doesn’t matter what you have or don’t have, referring to material possessions. All we want is love, a purpose in life and to be happy. I live close to her grave and home and sometimes I stop by for a visit and to reflect. I think, wow, with all the obstacles in your life you had the strength to pursue a career in acting and the result was beyond your wildest dreams, one if not THE greatest stars of all time. Unfortunately it did not give those things I said everyone wants.

I have a life almost parallel , not a film star but much of the same experiences. I learned a great lesson from her, I refer to the last scene from the Wizard or Oz when Dorothy says to Glinda, if I ever go looking for my hearts desire once again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard(within herself) because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with

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