Marilyn Monroe - A Picture For Every Year of Her Life
Norma Jeane Mortenson, also known as Marilyn Monroe, was born on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles, the third child of Gladys Pearl Baker. Gladys, the daughter of Midwest farmers, moved to California and married a man nearly ten years older than her, John Newton Baker. After having Robert in 1917 and Berniece in 1919, Gladys filed for divorce. Gladys’ second husband was Martin Edward Mortenson, who she also divorced. The father of Norma Jeane remains unknown and, as a young actress, she used Baker has her last name.
Monroe often says that one of her earliest memories of her mother was when she tried to smother her in her crib with a pillow. Her mother, Gladys, suffered from undiagnosed (at the time) mental illness and was prone to wild mood swings, depression, and suicidal tendencies. In fact, many members of Gladys’ family also battled mental illness. Monroe’s uncle and her great-grandmother had all committed suicide…a fate that also awaited Gladys. Mental illness haunted Monroe throughout her life, too, and was the cause of her own untimely death.
During the time that Monroe lived with the Bolender family in Hawthorne and her mother, Gladys, lived and worked in Los Angeles, Monroe only got to see her mother on weekends. Gladys would come nearly every weekend to see her daughter and take her on adventures. The mother and daughter often went to see a movie together or spent time at a park or beach. Gladys was desperate to maintain a close relationship with Monroe and was still distraught that her first two children, Robert and Berniece, had been taken away from her when she divorced her father. Monroe didn’t learn that she had a sister until she was 12 years old.
The Bolenders wanted to adopt Marilyn as they enjoyed having her around and even saw her as their own daughter, but Gladys was on the road to recovery. It was hard to be a single mother in the early 1930s, but Gladys couldn’t have another child taken away from her. She worked hard to get her life back on track so she could provide a stable, loving home for her daughter. But as much as she loved her mother, Monroe had grown accustomed to life at the Bolenders…the only home she knew.
Following her mother’s nervous breakdown, Monroe became a ward of the state of California. For the first sixteen months after her mother’s institutionalization, Monroe continued living with the Atkinsons and later stated that she was sexually abused during this time. She began to develop a stuttering problem and withdrew from others. Monroe was then placed with a series of foster parents. Gladys’ friend, Grace McKee Goddard, took responsibility of Gladys’ affairs in 1935, including Monroe. Goddard placed Monroe in the Los Angeles Orphans Home in Hollywood. Although Monroe later spoke highly of the orphanage, she remained traumatized by being left there. She once said, “It seemed that no one wanted me.”
By the summer of 1937, Monroe was living with Grace and Doc Goddard. Her stay with the Goddards was short lived, as it was discovered that Doc Goddard was molesting the young Monroe. Grace McKee Goddard moved Monroe out of the house and the child bounced around between Goddard’s friends and relatives. She stayed in houses in Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Compton, again feeling cast out and unwanted. She sought solace in movies, books, stories, and her own writing.
In junior high and high school, Monroe was a shy, reserved brunette with a slight stuttering problem. She was an unassuming school girl who didn’t wear the latest fashions. Although she had an infectious smile, her classmates had no indication that she would morph into the hottest blonde bombshell to hit Hollywood. Only Monroe herself seemed to know, deep in her heart, that she was destined for super-stardom. She may have been a school girl in 1939, but she had big dreams for the future.
Monroe did not graduate from Van Nuys High School. She dropped out of school in 1941. The United States was deep into World War II at this point and California was home to many factories that supported the war effort. Although the Goddards wanted her to take a job in one of these factories like more and more women were doing, Monroe was more interested in acting and modeling. She had her eye on Hollywood…not on an assembly line.
Monroe did not jump into marriage with all her heart. Later, she stated, “My husband and I hardly spoke to each other. This wasn’t because we were angry. We just had nothing to say.” A year into their marriage, Jim Dougherty enlisted in the Merchant Marines and was sent to Catalina Island. Monroe followed her husband there, but acknowledged, “I was dying of boredom.” When his training was complete, Monroe’s husband was stationed in the Pacific theater for two years, leaving Monroe to her own devices.
David Conover, a professional photographer on assignment from the U.S. Army Air Force, was taking morale-boosting photos of female assembly line workers at the Radioplane Munitions Factory when Monroe caught his eye. She shot a series of photos with Conover, though the military opted not to use them. Still, Monroe was bit by the modeling bug. In January of 1945, she quit her factory job. She moved out on her own and signed a modeling contract with Blue Book Model Agency. Her husband, deployed overseas, was furious but helpless to stop her. Monroe was on her way to making her dreams come true.
Monroe spent the first several months of her contract just learning the craft…taking singing, dancing, and acting lessons. She observed movie filming to help her understand the process. When her contract was renewed in February or 1947, she was cast in her first two acting roles. She appeared in “Dangerous Years” and “Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!”, in small parts, but the experience gave Monroe her first taste of the entertainment business. The studio did not renew Monroe’s contract for a second time in August, 1947. Determined to make it big in Hollywood, Monroe returned to modeling.
When her Columbia contract was not renewed, Monroe worked with the vice president of the William Morris Agency, Johnny Hyde. Although she started out as his protégé, she soon became his sex partner. He even proposed to her, an offer the young starlet declined. Hyde paid for plastic surgery on Monroe. She had a silicone prosthesis implanted in her jaw and, rumor had it, a nose job. Monroe celebrated her new look by posing nude for photographer Tom Kelley. Hyde cast Monroe in a bit role in “Love Happy”, a Marx Brothers flick. Even though her role in the film was small, Hyde allowed her to join the film’s promotional tour and the young actress packed her bags for New York City.
Monroe’s new contract with 20th Century Fox afforded her more exposure and publicity. She was a presenter of the 1951 Academy Awards. That year, she appeared in four movies, “Home Town Story,” “As Young as You Feel,” “Love Nest”, and “Let’s Make It Legal”. All four roles cast Monroe as the sex symbol. The public was taking notice of the glamorous blonde. The studio received thousands of fan letters addressed to her each week and she was also named Miss Cheesecake of 1951 by Stars and Stripes army newspaper. She was popular in her personal life as well. She had flings with actors Peter Lawford and Yul Brynner, and directors, Nicholas Ray and Elia Kazan.
Monroe’s appearance in the 1953 film, “Niagara,” cemented her status as America’s hottest sex symbol, but it also helped to define her “look”. The noir film was Monroe’s raciest role, and critics both loved and hated her shockingly sexualized character. Her next film, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” cast Monroe in a dumb blonde role, even though she garnered praise for her comedic performance. For her third picture of the year, Monroe teamed up with Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall for another comic role, “How to Marry a Millionaire”.
Monroe’s next film, “The Seven Year Itch”, was a box office sensation. For this role, she had negotiated a return to 20th Century Fox and was to earn a $100,000 bonus for the film. One of Monroe’s most iconic film moments took place in this film. Wearing a billowing white dress, Monroe stood on a subway grate as the air blew her dress up. The photos taken while she filmed this scene are still ones that the public associates with Monroe. Not everyone was happy with the scene and the publicity it generated. Monroe’s husband, Joe DiMaggio, was so upset that he filed for divorce. Adding to Monroe’s woes, the studio reneged on their promise to pay her a bonus for the film. She cut ties with the studio.
Monroe had established her own studio, Marilyn Monroe Productions, or MMP, after leaving Fox. While she enjoyed having more creative control over her roles, she butted heads with her “The Prince and the Showgirl” co-star, Laurence Olivier. The stress on set, and a miscarriage she suffered during filming, escalated her drug use. She took a hiatus from show business to focus on her marriage to Arthur Miller, and divided her time between a Manhattan apartment and a Connecticut farmhouse. In 1957, she again got pregnant, but the pregnancy was doomed. An ectopic pregnancy, it had to be terminated. She continued to suffer from gynecological problems and drug addiction.
“Some Like it Hot” was released in 1959 and earned Monroe a Golden Globe for Best Actress. It continues to rank among the best films ever made. After filming on the movie wrapped up, Monroe took another short hiatus from acting. When she returned in late 1959, it was to star in “Let’s Make Love”, a musical comedy. Directed by George Cukor, Monroe asked her husband, Arthur Miller, to re-write portions of the script to suit her taste. When filming started, Monroe was often absent or late, pushing back the production schedule.
For much of 1961, Monroe stayed out of the public eye and concentrated on her health. She spent four weeks in the hospital when she had her gallbladder removed and underwent surgery for endometriosis. She also spent time in a mental hospital for treatment of her depression. Throughout her illnesses, her ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, was by her side. The two had reached an unlikely friendship that lasted even after Monroe recovered enough to move back to Hollywood and date Frank Sinatra.