On the first of June 1926, a star was born. Her name? Norma Jeane Mortenson – who went on to find international fame as glamorous actress and sex symbol Marilyn Monroe.
Born in Los Angeles, California, she grew up going from foster family to foster family after her mother was admitted to a mental institution. When Norma Jeane was just 16 she got married to her neighbour, James Dougherty.
In 1944, James was sent away with the military. Norma Jeane was working in a munitions factory as part of the war effort. It was here that a photographer, David Conover, spotted her. He was taking photographs of female workers to boost morale. Norma Jeane quickly quit her job at the factory and signed a contract with a modelling agency in 1945.
The Big Screen
After spending a couple of years modelling Norma Jeane soon began turning heads. In 1946 she signed her first movie contract with 20th Century Fox, one of the big five studios that operated during the golden era of Hollywood.
At the outset of her acting career, Norma Jeane dyed her brown hair blonde and changed her name again, calling herself Marilyn Monroe (Monroe was her grandmother’s last name). After a bit part in 1947’s The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, she had a string of forgettable roles before landing a spot in John Huston’s thriller The Asphalt Jungle (1950). That same year, she also drew attention for her work in All About Eve, starring Bette Davis. Her true breakout performance, however, came in Niagara (1953), a thriller in which Monroe played an adulterous young wife who plots with her lover to kill her husband.
Marilyn soon hit the A-list after starring in the massively successful movies, Gentleman Prefer Blondes, How to Marry A Millionaire and The Seven Year Itch. During the studio system, actors and actresses signed often long term contracts which stated they could only work with that particular studio. They often had no creative control or decisions.
Marilyn began to fight her contract in these successful years because she wanted more control over her roles and directors. 20th Century Fox realised Marilyn was their biggest asset and generated huge amounts of box office sales so they agreed for her to have more freedom. In addition, she received a significant pay rise.
It was in 1955 that she signed her fourth and final contract with 20th Century Fox. Her right to director and cinematographer approval set a precedent for other stars to follow.
Marilyn Monroe – Personal Life
As previously mentioned Marilyn first married at the young age of 16. The marriage didn’t last for long and she and Dougherty soon divorced. From there on she had many love affairs and then married for a second time in 1954 to Baseball player, Joe DiMaggio. Joe disapproved of Marilyn’s public image. He objected to the iconic images depicting Marilyn Monroe standing over a grate with the air blowing up her white dress. After just nine months of marriage, Monroe and DiMaggio divorced. In June 1956, she married playwright Arthur Miller, after a brief relationship with fellow actor Marlon Brando.
Marilyn Monroe faced many troubles as the years went by. She struggle with drug addiction, as well as a string of health problems. As time went by, directors began to see her as unreliable, complaining that she acted unprofessionally on movie sets. Fox ultimately dismissed Marilyn Monroe in 1962, although they later regretted this decision and tried to negotiate a new contract.
Sadly, later that year, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her apartment in Brentwood, California, after taking a deadly dose of barbiturates. She was just 36 years old.
The Death of an Icon
Marilyn Monroe became such an iconic star during her lifetime and is still celebrated as an icon today. Her beauty, unique personality, and acting style have made her beloved around the world. Even decades later, she remains a style icon and the absolute essence of Hollywood glamour.