Old Hollywood Spotlight: Marilyn Monroe

For many who dream of becoming an actress, there is no greater fairytale than Hollywood. One minute you’re living a regular life, and the next you’re magically transformed into a life full of glitz, glamour, and recognition. Even though the fairytale tends to be more fiction than reality, no hopeful starlet believed in it more than Marilyn Monroe.

On June 1, 1926, Marilyn made her debut into the world as Norma Jeane Mortensen. Shortly after her birth, she was christened Norma Jeane Baker, a name Marilyn would identify with for the rest of her life. Once, Marilyn reflected on her conflict between the two identities, saying, “I never wanted to be Marilyn — it just happened. Marilyn’s like a veil I wear over Norma Jeane.”

Marilyn’s childhood was unhappy and full of turmoil. She never knew her father, and her mother was in and out of psychiatric wards for most of Marilyn’s life. Consequently, Marilyn was sent to several foster homes, where she was often the victim of abuse and neglect. The movies were her saving grace, and she dreamed of the day when she could become like her idol, Jean Harlow. For Marilyn, Hollywood provided the answer to all of her problems.

Before she was an actress, Marilyn modeled under her real name, Norma Jeane.

In 1942, at the age of 16, Marilyn married her boyfriend, Jimmy Dougherty. The marriage was one of convenience since it prevented her from being shuttled off to the orphanage again due to her foster family moving. When Dougherty was sent to fight in World War II, Marilyn started working in a “munitions factory in Burbank, California.” It was there that she caught the eye of a photographer, who hired her to be his model. Dougherty returned home from the war in 1946, and in that same year she divorced him, signed her first movie contract, adopted the name Marilyn Monroe, and dyed her hair platinum blonde. The Marilyn Monroe transformation had begun.

The road to fame was a slow start for Marilyn. For the first few years, the roles she booked were small and mostly uncredited. Marilyn’s big break came in 1950 when she landed the part of Angela Phinlay in The Asphalt Jungle. While the part was small, her performance made Hollywood execs take notice. From there, her stardom rose as she landed parts in films such as All About Eve (1950), Monkey Business (1952), Niagara (1953), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). But it was her part in The Seven Year Itch (1955) that cemented Marilyn’s star status and made her a household name.

At first, Marilyn’s success in Hollywood helped to hide her childhood scars. She was once quoted as saying, “I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful, but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.”

As the years went on, though, the illusion of Hollywood started to wear off for Marilyn. Meanwhile, the illusion of Marilyn Monroe seemed to become permanently etched in the public’s mind. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t escape the persona that had helped her escape her past.

Marilyn in Niagara (1953)

After her success in The Seven Year Itch (1955), Marilyn moved to New York City to study acting at the famed Actor’s Studio. She wanted to improve her craft and hone her talents; but, more importantly, she wanted to show the world that she was more than a dumb blonde. Through the study of method acting — a type of acting where the actor channels his past memories and emotions in order to create a character that is real and multifaceted — Marilyn developed her skills as a dramatic actress. A year later she returned to Hollywood to make the drama Bus Stop (1956), and critics hailed her performance.

But as Marilyn rose as a star, she began to experience the drawbacks of fame. In an interview, she once said, “Fame is fickle and I know it. It has its compensations, but it also has its drawbacks and I’ve experienced them both.”

Marilyn tried to find true happiness with baseball player Joe DiMaggio in 1954, but that marriage ended in divorce in 1955. In 1956, she married playwright Arthur Miller, but that marriage ended almost five years later in 1961. All Marilyn wanted in life was to be happy, but neither fame nor her marriages provided that. Desperate, she started to rely more and more on alcohol and barbiturates to heal her loneliness, but all they did was prove to be her downfall.

On August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her home at the age of thirty-six. The coroner ruled it a drug overdose, but rumors still abound over Marilyn’s mysterious death. However, even though her personal life was tragically heartbreaking, her star continues to shine brightly today for her millions of fans around the world.

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