She is one of the world’s most recognizable faces. A sex symbol, a blonde bombshell, a fragile star; Marilyn Monroe lived a full yet ultimately tragic life. Here is the revealing story of the star, paired with some of the rare unseen photos of the eternally-loved actress.
Before there was Marilyn Monroe, there was the young, fresh-faced and red-haired girl, Norma Jean Baker. Baker had a troubled start. As a young child ferried between unfit foster homes and wed at the tender age of 16, modeling was a much-needed escape for the future starlet.
Norma Jean’s early marriage to James Dougherty would last four years, from 1942 to 1946. It seemed married life was not fit for the aspiring actress. She said in a later interview, “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.” Here, 16-year-old Norma poses for her bridal portrait.
After the dissolution of her early marriage Norma Jean become more desperate for a richer and fuller life after a childhood riddled with poverty and abandonment. Here, the beauty takes to a local lake with two friends. Jean continued to model for pin-up magazines.
A Fresh Start
By 1945, the blue-eyed young beauty was booking numerous modeling jobs. By 1946, she would make the transition into the acting world after landing a screen test for 20th Century Fox pictures. She signed a contract with the studio later that year and would soon leave her life as Norma Jean behind her.
On The Way
In 1947, Marilyn Monroe was born. Renamed by a studio executive, the starlet landed her first movie role in Dangerous Years. But the bombshell’s rise to stardom would not be without hardship.
A Difficult Start
Marilyn’s film career was off to a tumultuous start. Her contract was not renewed by the studio and she resorted to modeling odd pin-up jobs to get by. The following year would bring new vigour to her career when a lover would introduce her to an executive at Columbia Pictures. Marilyn poses as a matador for a pin-up shoot in 1947.
Blondes Have More Fun
Marilyn’s stint at Columbia Pictures would be brief and largely unsuccessful, but the studio was responsible for one transformational change: Marilyn went blonde. She now sported a luminous head of platinum blonde curls that would later become her signature look, emulated by women around the world. Here, Marilyn poses in her first set of headshots as a blonde.
Lady in Red
Marilyn soon befriended, and later bedded, acting agency head Johnny Hyde. Marilyn would be shaped by the industry heavyweight. Some speculated he paid for a silicone jaw implant and a rhinoplasty for the young star. With his encouragement, Marilyn would shoot a nude calendar in 1949. The shoot would become utterly iconic. The blonde reportedly earned $50 for the calendar images, the stills are now worth a reported $6 million.
1950 Brought with it a string of minor roles for the star. She was seen in Love Happy, A Ticket to Tomahawk, Right Cross and the crime film, The Asphalt Jungle. Despite being on film for mere minutes in the crime thriller, the role was a pivotal moment for Marilyn. She was now considered a serious actress. Hyde would negotiate a seven-year contract for the star with 20th Century Fox. Hyde would later die from a sudden heart attack in December 1950, leaving young Marilyn devastated. Marilyn seductively poses for a promotional still for The Asphalt Jungle.
The Rise of a Star
Marilyn’s professional life began to steadily flourish. Her popularity with audiences was growing, she received thousands of letters from fans each week, commonly from lovestruck soldiers serving in the Korean War. Her personal life was also busy, she dated a string of well-known men including directors Elia Kazan and Nicholas Ray and actor, Peter Lawford.
Scandal to Come
By 1952, Marilyn was a beloved Hollywood ‘it girl.’ She began a high profile romance with retired New York Yankee, Joe DiMaggio. Scandal would break later that year when news of her 1949 nude calendar shoot would reach the press. The star openly admitted her desperate financial situation, stating she needed the money. Rather than condemnation, the actress received public sympathy and her sex symbol status was further solidified.
Marilyn continued to star in comedic films that capitalized on her popularity and bankability. The actress became frustrated with being typecast as an insubstantial blonde sex object. She earned a reputation for being notoriously difficult to work with. Despite her unaffected onscreen personas, she was a deeply sensitive, insecure women with low self esteem which left her utterly desperate for public and critical validation. She struggled with stage fright and become increasingly dependent on her close friend and acting coach, Natasha Lytess. Here, Marilyn takes a break between filming on the set of her 1952 film, Clash by Night.
It was around this period that Marilyn turned to prescription drugs to alleviate her anxiety and insomnia. She began to use barbiturates, amphetamines and alcohol to self medicate her depression. Her tense relationship with her many directors continued, despite continuing to land major roles. Marilyn is shot working out for a 1952 spread in LIFE magazine.
In 1953, Niagara was released. Monroe’s role as the leading femme fatale caused controversy, with many women’s groups claiming the role was overly sexualized and immoral. Despite the raised eyebrows, the movie was a box office hit. The role solidified Marilyn’s signature ‘look,’ she became synonymous with her blonde hair, arched eyebrows, red lips, swaying hips and beauty mark. Marilyn poses in a promotional shot at Niagara Falls.
In Bed with Marilyn
Marilyn’s next role in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes proved to be one of her most commercially successful parts, with the movie earning $8 million. Marilyn was a ubiquitous star, the world became obsessed with her beauty, her sensuality and her inner air of fragility. In December of 1953, Hugh Hefner would choose the actress to act as the cover star for the very first issue of Playboy magazine.
In 1954, Monroe’s romance with DiMaggio became official when they wed in San Francisco in an intimate ceremony at city hall. After her Japanese honeymoon, Monroe traveled alone to Korea to perform for over 60,000 doting marines during a four-day tour. Joe had refused to join her on the trip, weary of her popularity with the male crowds, cracks in the marriage already began to appear.
An Iconic Image
In late 1954, Monroe had recently concluded the film The Seven Year Itch. While shooting promotional stills for the movie, Marilyn was photographed standing over a grate in the streets of downtown Manhattan wearing a white halter-neck dress. The scene drew 2,000 spectators and would become one of the most recognizable images in pop culture history. Sadly, the moment also marked the end of the star’s marriage to DiMaggio. The baseball star was furious over the stunt, images of the bombshell’s billowing skirt was plastered over the front pages of the world’s newspapers.
In October 1954, Marilyn would file for divorce from DiMaggio. Rumors were rife that the relationship had been wrought with emotional and physical abuse for the star. The period was marked by trauma for Marilyn. The Seven Year Itch was released to worldwide success, but the actress spiralled further into feelings of depression and desperate self criticism.
Amidst divorce proceedings, Monroe took on another high profile conflict with her studio. She demanded more serious roles that revealed the range of her talents but the studio refused her control over her career. Monroe stated that she was “tired of the same old sex roles. I want to do better things. People have scope, you know.” The public press brutally mocked her for her aspirations with slander and caricatures.
Monroe delved into her craft as an escape. She trained extensively and developed a close relationship with Lee Strasberg, a renowned director and acting coach. Motivated by Strasberg, Marilyn underwent psychoanalysis in an attempt to unearth her deep-seated childhood traumas. She began an affair with Arthur Miller, a controversial and talented playwright. Miller was under investigation by the FBI over alleged communist ties. Studio execs begged the actress to end the affair but Marilyn refused, reportedly labelling them “born cowards.”
An Unlikely Pair
After a lengthy battle with 20th Century Fox, Monroe triumphed with a new contract that allowed her creative control over her film options and a hefty signing bonus. In October 1956, the star wed Arthur Miller. The union of the intellectual and the sex symbol was viewed as comically mismatched by the public press. A now famous headline read, “Egghead Weds Hourglass.” Here, Arthur and Monroe share a piece of cake on their wedding day.
She Can Act!
Bus Stop was Monroe’s first film under her re-established contract. The drama conveyed Monroe in a new and spectacular light, delighting critics. A review proclaimed: “Hold on to your chairs, everybody, and get set for a rattling surprise. Marilyn Monroe has finally proved herself an actress.” She received a Golden Globe for Best Actress nomination for her performance in the high-grossing film. The actress is photographed taking a break during a press conference promoting the film.
A Devastating Loss
Marilyn soon began filming The Prince and The Showgirl under the guidance of actor and director, Laurence Olivier. But the pair would brutally clash. In response to Olivier’s condescending and belittling attitude, Marilyn arrived late and unprepared and refused to work without her acting coach present. Her drug and alcohol use escalated. She stated, “If you don’t respect your artists, they can’t work well.” The star allegedly fell pregnant and subsequently miscarried during production. Despite the obstacles, the film was completed and released to mixed reviews.
Away from the Lens
`Monroe took an 18 month-long hiatus from acting to concentrate on her marriage to Miller. The actress suffered during her time in relative isolation. She endured two miscarriages and was hospitalized after a barbiturate overdose. Unearthed diary excerpts reveal the depth of her depression. “Why do I feel this torture,” Monroe wrote in a 1955 diary entry. “Or why is that I feel less human than the others… why in other words, I am the worst, why?” Miller was a continued support in the actress’s dark times.
Monroe returned to Hollywood to film the 1958 production, Some Like it Hot. The behind-the-scenes drama on the set has since become legendary. Monroe would demand dozens of re-takes, and struggled to remember her lines or act as directed. Her lead co-star, Tony Curtis famously stated that kissing her was “like kissing Hitler” due to the number of re-takes. But the star failed to disappoint. The movie went on to become a box office hit and earned Marilyn a Golden Globe for Best Actress. In this rare image, Marilyn is fitted for one of the film’s many costumes.
Approaching the End
The start of the new decade was not kind to Marilyn. Her 1960 film Let’s Make Love, underwhelmed both critics and the public. Her subsequent film Misfits began shooting in July. The film was written by Arthur Miller and the couple’s joint project proved to be the relationship’s kiss of death. Marilyn’s drug use during production became so severe that her make-up had to be applied while she was still asleep under the influence of barbiturates. Production was halted in August when the star would spend a week detoxing in a local hospital.
Monroe and Miller separated after filming wrapped and filed for an immediate divorce. Misfits failed miserably at the box office but 21st Century critics recall Marilyn’s role in the film as one of her finest. Monroe’s career was halted due to her failing health. Monroe underwent surgery for her endometriosis, had a cholecystectomy, and spent four weeks in hospital care – including a brief stint in a mental ward – for her depression.
Monroe returned to the public eye in 1962. After a brief relationship with Frank Sinatra, the actress went on to begin filming the movie Something’s Got to Give. Production was soon halted after Marilyn suffered a bout of sinusitis. The studio was unrelenting with the star, publicly stating they believed she was faking illness. In May, the bombshell appeared on stage at Madison Square Garden to sing a sultry rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ to President Kennedy. Marilyn wore a beige, skin-tight dress that made her appear nude. The moment has since been immortalized in pop culture. The dress Marilyn wore during the iconic performance was recently auctioned for $4.8 million.
In promotional images for Something’s Got to Give, the press were invited to photograph Marilyn during a scene in which she swam in a pool, nude. The photographs were published before the release of the film, causing a world wide stir. Amidst the public excitement, the film would never be completed.
The film’s budget was beyond control and Marilyn’s absence was a continued issue. The studio fired Marilyn, blamed her for the film’s demise and sued her for $750, 000 in damages. In an attempt to thwart the negative publicity, Monroe did a string of high profile photoshoots with LIFE, Cosmopolitan and Vogue magazine. Here, Monroe poses nude in her Vogue spread.
The Fateful Night
On the evening of August 5, 1962, Eunice Murray, Marilyn’s housekeeper was staying overnight at the home of the star. She awoke at 3AM, sensing something was amiss. Despite the light being on in Marilyn’s room, Murray heard no response when she knocked on the door. She called the star’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, who arrived at the house shortly after and broke into the bedroom.
Marilyn was found lifeless and naked in her bed. She was pronounced dead later that morning. The toxicology report revealed that the cause of death was acute barbiturate poisoning. The actress had a concoction of drugs within her blood, several times over the lethal dose. With no suspicion of foul play, and the star’s history of severe depression, the death was ruled a suicide.
Forever in Love
The world mourned the loss of an icon. Marilyn’s legacy is not only felt in her films, but in the revelation 0f the unknown tragedy of her life, the fragility and desperation that lay beneath her dazzling smile. She lived a life of contradiction, joy and heartbreak, fame and insecurity, public love and public condemnation. Still revered as an earth-bound goddess, the world will forever be in love with Marilyn.