Marilyn Monroe's career as an actress spanned 16 years. She made 29 films, 24 in the first 8 years of her career.
Born as Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles General Hospital, her mother, Gladys, listed the fathers address as unknown. Marilyn would never know the true identity of her father.
Due to her mother's mental instability and the fact that she was unmarried at the time, Norma Jeane was placed in the foster home of Albert and Ida Bolender. It was here she lived the first 7 years of her life.
"They were terribly strict...they didn't mean any harm...it was their religion. They brought me up harshly."
In 1933, Norma Jeane lived briefly with her mother. Gladys begin to show signs of mental depression and in 1934 was admitted to a rest home in Santa Monica. Grace McKee, a close friend of her mother took over the care of Norma Jeane. "Grace loved and adored her", recalled one of her co-workers. Grace, telling her..."Don't worry, Norma Jeane. You're going to be a beautiful girl when you get big...an important woman, a movie star." Grace was captivated by Jean Harlow, a superstar of the twenties, and Marilyn would later say..."and so Jean Harlow was my idol."
Grace was to marry in 1935 and due to financial difficulties, Norma Jeane was placed in an orphanage from September 1935 to June 1937. Grace frequently visited her, taking her to the movies, buying clothes and teaching her how to apply makeup at her young age. Norma Jeane was to later live with several of Grace's relatives.
"The world around me then was kind of grim. I had to learn to pretend in order to...I don't know...block the grimness. The whole world seemed sort of closed to me...(I felt) on the outside of everything, and all I could do was to dream up any kind of pretend-game."
In September 1941 Norma Jeane was again living with Grace when she met Jim Dougherty, 5 years her senior. Grace encouraged the relationship and on learning that she and her husband would be moving to the East Coast, set in motion plans for Norma Jeane to marry Dougherty on June 19, 1942.
"Grace McKee arranged the marriage for me, I never had a choice. There's not much to say about it. They couldn't support me, and they had to work out something. And so I got married."
Dougherty joined the Merchant Marines in 1943 and in 1944 was sent overseas. Norma Jeane, while working in a factory inspecting parachutes in 1944, was photographed by the Army as a promotion to show women on the assembly line contributing to the war effort. One of the photographers, David Conover, asked to take further pictures of her. By spring of 1945, she was quickly becoming known as a "photographers dream" and had appeared on 33 covers of national magazines.
In the fall of 1946 she was granted a divorce...later saying, "My marriage didn't make me sad, but it didn't make me happy either. My husband and I hardly spoke to each other. This wasn't because we were angry. We had nothing to say. I was dying of boredom."
On July 23, 1946 she signed a contract with Twentieth Century-Fox Studios. She selected her mother's family name of Monroe. From this point on she would be known as Marilyn Monroe to all her fans. She had a minor part in the movie "Scudda-Hoo! Scudda-Hay! and was dismissed as a contract player in August. Rehired in 1948, Marilyn sang here first song in the movie "Ladies of the Chorus".
Johnny Hyde, of the William Morris Agency, became her mentor and lover in 1949. Also, in 1949, Marilyn agreed to pose nude for a calendar. A fact that was to stir controversy later in her career as a superstar.
"Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul"
Her first serious acting job came in 1950 when she had a small but crucial role in "The Asphalt Jungle" and received favorable reviews. "Clash By Night" in 1952 earned her several favorable notices...Alton Cook of the New York World-Telegram and Sun wrote..."a forceful actress, a gifted new star, worthy of all that fantastic press agentry. Her role here is not very big, but she makes it dominant." Monroe's first leading part in a serious feature was to be in "Don't Bother to Knock", also filmed in 1952.
Marilyn met Joe DiMaggio in early 1952, she was 25 and he was 37. DiMaggio, recently retired from baseball, had expressed a desire to meet this famous star. By February the romance was in full bloom.
"I was surprized to be so crazy about Joe. I expected a flashy New York sports type, and instead I met this reserved guy who didn't make a pass at me right away! He treated me like something special. Joe is a very decent man, and he makes other people feel decent, too!"
In 1952 Marilyn began filming "Niagara" with Joseph Cotten...a film that was to establish her stardom. After her next big film, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", she and Jane Russell signed their names and placed their hands and feet in the wet cement in front of the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard...the same place she had visited with Gladys and Grace years earlier as a child.
"I want to be a big star more than anything. It's something precious"
Fox suspended Marilyn in 1954 for failure to appear on the set of "Pink Tights". The studio had refused to let her look at the script prior to accepting the part. She felt that due to her star status, she should have the right to script approval.
On January 14 Joe and Marilyn were married. The wedding captured the headlines worldwide. Joe was an extremely jealous type of guy and resented her popularity among other men. He desired a housewife, not a star of such magnitude...the marriage was in trouble from the beginning.
"I didn't want to give up my career, and that's what Joe wanted me to do most of all."
She was asked to go on a USO tour of Korea in February to entertain the troops, beginning on the 16th for four days. She entertained over 60,000 soldiers, many who had never seen a Monroe film...having been in the service during her rise to stardom... most had seen still photos of her in many magazines and newspapers. She was a huge success. Joe did not accompany her on this trip...explaining, "Joe hates crowds and glamour."
"...standing in the snowfall facing these yelling soldiers, I felt for the first time in my life no fear of anything, I felt only happy."
On May 29, Marilyn began filming "There's No Business Like Show Business". Throughout the summer she was ill with bronchitis and anemia. For the first time, Marilyn began showing serious side-effects of the many sleeping pills she had been taking for the last few years...often groggy, lethargic and crying on the set.
The famous "skirt blowing" scene from the "Seven Year Itch" , filmed in 1954 was to be a hit with both amateur and professional photographers. Several hundred, along with 2000 spectators gathered outside the Trans-Lux Theater in New York City in the early morning hours of September 15th to see and record her as she posed for over two hours for her adoring fans.
In the fall of 1954 Marilyn and Joe separated...later to divorce. On October 6, Jerry Giesler made a press announcement and stated "...as her attorney, I am speaking for her and can only say that the conflict of careers has brought about this regrettable necessity." With the press hounding her, Marilyn answered in a choked voice, "I can't say anything today. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
"When I married him (Joe), I wasn't sure of why I married him, I have too many fantasies to be a housewife."