Andy Warhol made print after print of a single image of her. Playwright Arthur Miller wrote a scathing, thinly disguised portrait of their marriage, "After the Fall." Madonna and Lady Gaga crafted onstage identities in imitation of her sexy platinum-blonde persona. Joe DiMaggio refused to let Hollywood film-industry moguls attend her funeral. She was, and remains more than a half-century after her death, one of the most recognizable figures in the world. Marilyn Monroe captured the white-hot attention of the public and the paparazzi -- and there still are muddled facts and unanswered questions about her life.
What's in a Name
Marilyn Monroe was the successful stage name in a long line of monikers attached to the actress from birth onward. She was born to a mentally unstable California film-industry worker who never divulged the name of Monroe's father, and may not have known it. Her birth certificate reads Norma Jeane Mortenson, her mother's last name at the time and possibly a misspelling, but her baptismal certificate says Norma Jeane Baker. After her first marriage, she became Norma Jeane Dougherty and took Joe DiMaggio's and Arthur Miller's last names when she married them. Her identity always was an issue. Monroe spent her entire childhood in and out of foster homes. She had a high I.Q. but made her fortune as a stereotypical "dumb blonde"; she was a talented dramatic and comedic actress but primarily relegated to comedic sexpot roles.
She won a Golden Globe but Marilyn Monroe was never nominated for an Oscar. During her early years in Hollywood, several studios hired and fired her, and she modeled between gigs to support herself. Ultimately, she became box-office gold and made a total of 30 films, although that figure is disputed by claims the number was anywhere from 29 to 33. Her most famous films included "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," "The Seven Year Itch," "Bus Stop" and "The Misfits." She attracted a lot of attention for smaller roles in "All About Eve" and "The Asphalt Jungle." The films have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars but Monroe was paid far less for many of them than her costars. She was Truman Capote's first choice for the role of Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," a part that eventually went to Audrey Hepburn.
Marilyn's bodycon dress, worn during her breathy rendition of "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" at JFK's 1962 birthday celebration, went for $1,267,500 in a 1999 auction, according to Fox News. But that price tag looked like small change a dozen years later when the white dress she wore in the famous subway-grate shot in "The Seven Year Itch" sold for $5.6 million. Monroe was romantically linked throughout her career with Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Yves Montand and director Elia Kazan; this was in addition to the notoriety of her two celebrity marriages -- to Yankee's slugger DiMaggio and playwright Miller -- and her teenage marriage to boyfriend Jimmy Dougherty. But it was her rumored relationships with two Kennedy brothers, JFK and Robert, that turned into explosive and enduring tabloid fodder, undoubtedly boosting the perceived value of the glittery "Happy Birthday" dress.
Tough Road to a Classic Tragedy
Monroe battled poverty, abandonment, abuse, an exploitative Hollywood film industry and her own demons to rise to the top of a brutal profession. In her early days, her agent paid for plastic surgery on her nose and for a chin implant. Studio coaching helped her to manage a lifelong stuttering problem -- one reason for the breathy, little-girl voice. But she became a shrewd manager of her own public image and was brilliant in front of a camera. It was only the descent into alcoholism and addiction that loosened her grip on a powerful career and undermined her hard-won success with fatal emotional fragility. Monroe died alone at home on August 5, 1962, at age 36. The death was ruled a drug overdose and probable suicide but rumors and questions about murder and a possible Kennedy or mafia connection to her death have never been laid to rest. Her second husband, Joe DiMaggio, sent red roses to her crypt every week for 20 years.
- Biography: Marilyn Monroe Biography
- Fox News: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Marilyn Monroe
- PBS: Joe Directs Marilyn’s Funeral
- The New York Times: Marilyn as Metaphor
- The Telegraph: 50 Things You Didn’t Know About Marilyn
- New York Daily News: Marilyn Monroe Plastic Surgery Records, X-rays Head to Auction Block
- Photo Credit Kris Connor/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images