Marilyn Monroe - A Picture For Every Year of Her Life
Marilyn Monroe Was Flawless
Come with us on a journey through the life of Marilyn Monroe - In Photos. This series of pictures of the famous actress and sex symbol give us an up-close look at the life of Marilyn Monroe, formerly Norma Jeane Mortenson, in a way we haven't seen her before.
We selected one photo from each year of her life -- some iconic photos as well as amazing rare photos of her -- as we chronicle her tumultuous childhood, her rise to super-stardom, and her untimely death.
One thing is certain, timing is everything, and that was sure the case with the story of the discovery of Norma Jeane and her transition into one of Hollywood’s most glamorous leading ladies, Marilyn Monroe. She was the quintessential blonde bombshell, a sex symbol, and the very essence of the Golden Age of Hollywood. But her life wasn’t always one of fame and glitz. As the story goes, she unknowingly walked past Bruno Bernard on Sunset Boulevard during the summer of 1946. Struck by her beauty, he gave her his card and the rest is history...
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’s mother, Gladys, was both financially and emotionally unprepared to care for Marilyn when she was born. Shortly after her birth, the future Marilyn Monroe was placed in foster care. Monroe was placed with the Bolender family, Albert and Ida, evangelical Christians in the rural town of Hawthorne. Gladys lived with the Bolenders on and off while commuting to work in Los Angeles and trying to get some stability in her life. In 1927, Gladys could no longer continue commuting to work in the city. She moved back to LA, leaving her young daughter with the Bolenders full time.
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.
Monroe’s own childhood was marked by instability and financial hardships. As an adult, Monroe longed to have children of her own. She wanted to be able to give them the type of childhood she missed out on. It was not meant to be. Although Monroe twice became pregnant, both pregnancies ended in miscarriages. The public recently learned that Monroe’s friend, Frieda Hull, had snapped some color photos of Monroe’s baby bump, but those images were sold with Hull’s estate in 2016 and the whereabouts of Monroe’s baby bump pics has been lost. Hull once claimed that is was never made clear to her if Monroe lost her baby due to a miscarriage or an abortion.
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.
"When I was five I think, that's when I started wanting to be an actress. I loved to play. I didn't like the world around me because it was kind of grim, but I loved to play house..." - Monroe in an interview for Life magazine. Monroe used make-believe and acting as a way to escape her turbulent childhood. She was introduced to movies by her mother at a young age and grew to appreciate the magic and storytelling that is the cinema. She was drawn to acting. But how could a spindly, awkward, poor, foster child make it big in Hollywood? It seemed like an impossible dream so Monroe kept it to herself.
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.
1933 + 1934
By summer of 1933, Gladys felt stable enough to take back full custody of Monroe. She purchased a small house in Hollywood and Gladys and her daughter moved in, optimistically looking forward to a happy family life. To help defer the costs, Gladys shared the house with actors, George and Maude Atkinson, and their young daughter, Nellie. For a while, it seemed as though Gladys’ life was well. But a few weeks into 1934, Gladys had a severe mental breakdown and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. She tried resting at home to cure her of her mental illness but that did not work. She was confined to Metropolitan State Mental Hospital.
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.”
Grace McKee Goddard did not completely abandon Monroe when she placed her in the orphanage in 1935. She continued to stay in contact with Monroe and manage the affairs of both Gladys, in the mental hospital, and Monroe, in the orphanage. The orphanage staff felt that Monroe would be happier if she were removed from the orphanage and placed in a family setting. They believed that her self-esteem and self-worth suffered at the orphanage. Grace McKee Goddard and her husband, Erwin “Doc” Goddard became Monroe’s legal guardians in 1936, though the future starlet continued to live at the orphanage until the summer of 1937.
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 1938, Monroe began living at the home of Grace Goddard’s aunt, Ana Atchinson Lower. Lower enrolled Monroe in Emerson Junior High School and took her to weekly Christian Science meetings. Although extremely intelligent, Monroe was not a spectacular student. She was often bored and distracted in school. She did, however, catch her teachers’ attention with her outstanding writing ability. She joined the staff of the school newspaper and enjoyed seeing her articles make it into print. The accolades she received for her writing helped to bolster her sagging confidence and self-esteem. Monroe began to feel as though she did have something worthwhile to share with the world.
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’s caretaker, Ana Lower, was an elderly woman who suffered with many health issues, by 1940, her health had declined to the point that she could no longer take care of herself, let alone a teenaged foster child. The school-aged Monroe was returned to live with the Goddards in 1940. This time, Grace Goddard was determined to keep her wondering husband, Doc Goddard, from sexually molesting Monroe. The move also forced Monroe to switch schools. She enrolled in Van Huys High School.
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.
In 1942, Doc Goddard’s employer told Goddard he was transferring him to another facility in West Virginia, meaning the entire Goddard family would be moving out of state. Monroe could not join them. California’s child protection laws stated that a foster child could not move out of the state with her guardian. Monroe faced a dilemma. She may have to go back into the orphanage if another solution could not be found. The solution? Monroe, just weeks after her 16th birthday, married James “Jim” Dougherty, the 21-year old son of neighbors. She left high school to be a housewife, a position she called extremely boring.
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.
After her husband left for the Pacific in 1944, Monroe moved in with her in-laws. She was eager to earn her own money…and freedom. She took a job with the Radioplane Munitions Factory in Van Nuys, California, and joined the many women who were filling employment openings at factories that supported the war effort. In doing so, Monroe became a Rosie the Riveter … a female factory worker. Monroe didn’t take the job out of a sense of patriotism … She wanted to earn an income for herself.
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.
1946 saw the biggest transformations in Monroe’s life. A producer at her modeling agency strongly suggested Monroe consider dying her naturally brown hair, and at first, Monroe resisted. But then he explained to her that platinum blonde hair would increase her appeal. So Monroe went blonde for the first time...she never looked back! Also, 1946 was the year that the model and actress said goodbye to Norma Jean Baker and adopted the stage name, Marilyn Monroe. The name was suggested by 2oth Century Fox executive, Ben Lyons, According to legend, Lyons selected the first name and Monroe picked her new last name.
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.
Monroe’s determination showed. She was a master at self-promotion and often visited the offices of movie executives. She hobnobbed with influential men in the film industry and even befriended a gossip columnist. She became friendly with Joseph M. Schenck, a Fox executive, with whom she had a sexual affair. It was Schenck that talked his friend, Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures, into offering Monroe a contract with his studio in March of 1948. Columbia executives lightened Monroe’s hair even more, straightened her curls, and raised her hairline. They also assigned her to work with Columbia’s head acting coach, Natasha Lytess, starting a friendship and working relationship that would last for several years.
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 breakout success started in 1950. Although she appeared in minor roles in several films, including “A Ticket to Tomahawk,” “Right Cross” and “The Fireball”, she was also featured in supporting roles in two highly-acclaimed movies, John Huston’s “The Asphalt Jungle” and Joseph Mankiewicz’s “All About Eve.” In these roles, Monroe proved that she could be a serious actress, not just a pretty face. As 1950 was drawing to a close, Hyde worked on her behalf to negotiate a seven-year contract with 20th Century Fox. Just days after she signed the contract, Hyde passed away from a heart attack. Monroe was crushed.
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 was growing frustrated with roles that only showed off her sex appeal. She longed to stretch her acting range with more difficult roles. But she was starting to get a reputation for being difficult on the set. She was late or absent, or unprepared. Often, she demanded more takes until she was satisfied with her performance. Her supporters brushed away her behavior as perfectionism, but Monroe was experiencing self-doubt and low self-esteem. She was bullied and sexually harassed by directors and coworkers. To help with her anxiety, she found an escape from her stress by using amphetamines, barbiturates, and alcohol.
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”.
By 1954, Monroe was fed up with 20th Century Fox. Her contract had remained unchanged since she signed it in 1950, meaning she was getting paid far less than her co-stars despite being one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. She was also frustrated with the roles she was getting. She longed to break out of the comic musical genre, so she refused to shoot her next film. The studio suspended her…and every newspaper in the country ran it as front page news. Partially as a means of damage control, Monroe married her long-time boyfriend, baseball player Joe DiMaggio. After their Honeymoon in Japan, Monroe travelled alone to Korea to entertain the U.S. troops.
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.
Even before Monroe’s divorce from Joe DiMaggio was final, she had begun a romance with playwright, Arthur Miller. Although the press had fun mocking the unlikely match-up, Monroe and Miller were wed…twice!...in 1956. The first wedding was a simple civil ceremony and, two days later, the two were wed again in a Jewish ceremony. Monroe converted to Judaism for Miller, causing the entire nation of Egypt to ban all her films. Monroe’s next film, “Bus Stop”, was a change of pace for the sex symbol. She toned down her glamour to play a simple country saloon singer, dreaming of stardom.
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.
While she rested and recovered on the East Coast, Monroe was staying abreast of the management of her production company, MMP. In 1958, she dismissed Milton Greene because she suspected he was embezzling money from the company. She returned to Hollywood and accepted a role in Billy Wilder’s “Some Like it Hot,” alongside Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Although she was reluctant to take on another dumb blonde role, Miller encouraged her and the studio offered her ten percent of the profits. He reputation for being difficult and demanding continued, but in the end, Wilder was pleased with Monroe and the film was a commercial and critical success.
“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.
In 1960, Monroe and Miller's marriage was over. While filming “Let’s Make Love,” Monroe had a widely-publicized affair with her co-star, Yves Montand. Her next film, “The Misfits”, was written for her by Miller as a way to give her a more dramatic character to play. She starred alongside Montgomery Cliff, Clark Gable, and Eli Wallach. Monroe resented many of Miller’s scenes and re-wrote them herself. She suffered a health issue during the filming of the movie and was hospitalized with gallstones. Her drug used had gotten so bad that she spent a week detoxing in the hospital. “The Misfits” was the last film that Monroe completed.
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.
1962 seemed off to a promising start for Monroe. She was to begin filming “Something’s Got to Give” and agreed to a pre-filming publicity photo shoot in which she swam nude in a swimming pool. When filming was to start, Monroe came down with sinusitis and missed work. The studio fired her. Soon after, she famously sang “Happy Birthday” to President John Kennedy at Madison Square Garden. In the early morning hours of August 5, 1962, Monroe’s housekeeper, Eunice Murray, found the actress dead in her bedroom. The coroner’s report concluded that she died of acute barbiturate poisoning. Monroe’s doctor acknowledged her battle with depression and stated that she was “prone to severe fears and abrupt and unpredictable mood changes.” The coroner classified her death as a probable suicide. Despite her stardom, Monroe had lost her battle with mental illness and the world lost an icon.