Hand color tinted photo of Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio
Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson but baptized and raised as Norma Jeane Baker; June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962) was an American actress, singer, model and showgirl who became a major sex symbol, starring in a number of commercially successful motion pictures during the 1950s.
After spending much of her childhood in foster homes, Monroe began a career as a model, which led to a film contract in 1946. Her early film appearances were minor, but her performances in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve (both 1950) drew attention to her—by now her hair was dyed blonde. By 1953, Monroe had progressed to a leading role in Niagara (1953), a melodramatic film noir that dwelled on her seductiveness. Her “dumb blonde” persona was used to comic effect in subsequent films as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and The Seven Year Itch (1955). Limited by typecasting, Monroe studied at the Actors Studio to broaden her range. Her dramatic performance in Bus Stop (1956) was hailed by critics, and she received a Golden Globe nomination. Her production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, released The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), for which she received a BAFTA Award nomination and won a David di Donatello award. She received a Golden Globe Award for her performance in Some Like It Hot (1959). Monroe’s final completed film was The Misfits, co-starring Clark Gable with the screenplay written by her then husband, Arthur Miller.
The final years of Monroe’s life were marked by illness, personal problems, and a reputation for being unreliable and difficult to work with. The circumstances of her death, from an overdose of barbiturates, have been the subject of conjecture. Though officially classified as a “probable suicide”, the possibility of an accidental overdose, as well as the possibility of homicide, have not been ruled out. In 1999, Monroe was ranked as the sixth greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute. In the years and decades following her death, Monroe has often been cited as both a pop and a cultural icon as well as the quintessential American female sex symbol.
Family and early life
Marilyn Monroe was born on June 1, 1926 in the Los Angeles County Hospital as Norma Jeane Mortenson (soon after changed to Baker), the third child born to Gladys Pearl Baker (née Monroe) (May 27, 1902 – March 11, 1984). Monroe’s birth certificate names the father as Martin Edward Mortensen with his residence stated as “unknown”. The name Mortenson is listed as her surname on the birth certificate, although Gladys immediately had it changed to Baker, the surname of her first husband and which she still used. Martin’s surname was misspelled on the birth certificate leading to more confusion on who her actual father was. Gladys Baker had married a Martin E. Mortensen in 1924, but they had separated before Gladys’ pregnancy. Several of Monroe’s biographers suggest that Gladys Baker used his name to avoid the stigma of illegitimacy. Mortensen died at the age of 85, and Monroe’s birth certificate, together with her parents’ marriage and divorce documents, were discovered. The documents showed that Mortensen filed for divorce from Gladys on March 5, 1927, and it was finalized on October 15, 1928. Throughout her life, Marilyn Monroe denied that Mortensen was her father. She said that, when she was a child, she had been shown a photograph of a man that Gladys identified as her father, Charles Stanley Gifford. She remembered that he had a thin mustache and somewhat resembled Clark Gable, and that she had amused herself by pretending that Gable was her father.
Gladys was mentally unstable and financially unable to care for the young Norma Jeane, so she placed her with foster parents Albert and Ida Bolender of Hawthorne, California, where she lived until she was seven. One day, Gladys visited and demanded that the Bolenders return Norma Jeane to her. Ida refused, she knew Gladys was unstable and the situation would not benefit her young daughter. Gladys pulled Ida into the yard, then quickly ran back to the house and locked herself in. Several minutes later, she walked out with one of Albert Bolender’s military duffel bags. To Ida’s horror, Gladys had stuffed a screaming Norma Jeane into the bag, zipped it up, and was carrying it right out with her. Ida charged toward her, and their struggle split the bag apart, dumping out Norma Jeane, who wept loudly as Ida grabbed her and pulled her back inside the house, away from Gladys. In 1933, Gladys bought a house and brought Norma Jeane to live with her. A few months later, Gladys began a series of mental episodes that would plague her for the rest of her life. In My Story, Monroe recalls her mother “screaming and laughing” as she was forcibly removed to the State Hospital in Norwalk.
Norma Jeane was declared a ward of the state. Gladys’ best friend, Grace McKee, became her guardian. It was Grace who told Monroe that someday she would become a movie star. Grace was captivated by Jean Harlow, and would let Norma Jeane wear makeup and take her out to get her hair curled. They would go to the movies together, forming the basis for Norma Jeane’s fascination with the cinema and the stars on screen. When she was 9, McKee married Ervin Silliman “Doc” Goddard in 1935, and subsequently sent Monroe to the Los Angeles Orphans Home (later renamed Hollygrove), followed by a succession of foster homes. While at Hollygrove, several families were interested in adopting her; however, reluctance on Gladys’ part to sign adoption papers thwarted those attempts. In 1937, Monroe moved back into Grace and Doc Goddard’s house, joining Doc’s daughter from a previous marriage. Due to Doc’s frequent attempts to sexually assault Norma Jeane, this arrangement did not last long.
Grace sent Monroe to live with her great-aunt, Olive Brunings in Compton, California; this was also a brief stint ended by an assault (some reports say it was sexual)–one of Olive’s sons had attacked the now middle-school-aged girl. Biographers and psychologists have questioned whether at least some of Norma Jeane’s later behavior (i.e. hypersexuality, sleep disturbances, substance abuse, disturbed interpersonal relationships), was a manifestation of the effects of childhood sexual abuse in the context of her already problematic relationships with her psychiatrically ill mother and subsequent caregivers. In early 1938, Grace sent her to live with yet another one of her aunts, Ana Lower, who lived in Van Nuys, another city in Los Angeles County. Years later, she would reflect fondly about the time that she spent with Lower, whom she affectionately called “Aunt Ana.” She would explain that it was one of the only times in her life when she felt truly stable. As she aged, however, Lower developed serious health problems.
In 1942, Monroe moved back to Grace and Doc Goddard’s house. While attending Van Nuys High School, she met a neighbor’s son, James Dougherty (more commonly referred to as simply “Jim”), and began a relationship with him. Several months later, Grace and Doc Goddard decided to relocate to Virginia, where Doc had received a lucrative job offer. Although it was never explained why, they decided not to take Monroe with them. An offer from a neighborhood family to adopt her was proposed, but Gladys rejected the offer. With few options left, Grace approached Dougherty’s mother and suggested that Jim marry her so that she would not have to return to an orphanage or foster care, as she was two years below the California legal age. Jim was initially reluctant, but he finally relented and married her in a ceremony arranged by Ana Lower. During this period, Monroe briefly supported her family as a homemaker. In 1943, during World War II, Dougherty enlisted in the Merchant Marine. He was initially stationed on Santa Catalina Island off California’s west coast, and Monroe lived with him there in the town of Avalon for several months before he was shipped out to the Pacific. Frightened that he might not come back alive, Monroe begged him to try and get her pregnant before he left. Dougherty disagreed, feeling that she was too young to have a baby, but he promised that they would revisit the subject when he returned home. Subsequently, Monroe moved in with Dougherty’s mother.
Early work: 1945–47
While Dougherty served in the Merchant Marine, Monroe began working in the Radioplane Munitions Factory, mainly spraying airplane parts with fire retardant and inspecting parachutes. During that time, Army photographer David Conover noticed her and snapped a photograph of her for a Yank magazine article. He encouraged her to apply to The Blue Book Modeling Agency. She signed with the agency and began researching the work of Jean Harlow and Lana Turner. She was told that they were looking for models with lighter hair, so Norma Jeane bleached her brunette hair to a golden blonde.
Monroe became one of Blue Book’s most successful models; she appeared on dozens of magazine covers. Her successful modeling career brought her to the attention of Ben Lyon, a 20th Century Fox executive, who arranged a screen test for her. Lyon was impressed and commented, “It’s Jean Harlow all over again.” She was offered a standard six-month contract with a starting salary of $125 per week. Lyon did not like the name Norma Jeane and chose “Carole Lind” as a stagename, after Carole Lombard and Jenny Lind, but he soon decided it was not an appropriate choice. Monroe was invited to spend the weekend with Lyon and his wife Bebe Daniels at their home. It was there that they decided to find her a new name. Following her idol Jean Harlow, she decided to choose her mother’s maiden name of Monroe. Several variations such as Norma Jeane Monroe and Norma Monroe were tried and initially “Jeane Monroe” was chosen. Eventually, Lyon decided Jeane and variants were too common, and he decided on a more alliterative sounding name. He suggested “Marilyn”, commenting that she reminded him of Marilyn Miller. Monroe was initially hesitant because Marilyn was the contraction of the name Mary Lynn, a name she did not like. Lyon, however, felt that the name “Marilyn Monroe” was sexy, had a “nice flow”, and would be “lucky” due to the double “M” and thus Norma Jeane Baker took the name Marilyn Monroe.
Marilyn Monroe’s first movie role was an uncredited role as a telephone operator in The Shocking Miss Pilgrim in 1947. She won a brief role that same year in Dangerous Years and extra appearances in Green Grass of Wyoming and You Were Meant for Me. She also won a three scene role as Betty in Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!, but before the film’s release her part was said by the Twentieth Century-Fox publicity department to have been cut down to a brief one-line scene. Green Grass of Wyoming, You Were Meant For Me, and Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!, wouldn’t be released until 1948, which was months after Monroe’s contract had ended in late 1947. She attempted to find opportunities for film work, and while unemployed, she posed for nude photographs. She was paid $50 and signed the model release form as “Mona Monroe”. It would be the only time she would get paid for the nude photos. That year, she was also crowned the first “Miss California Artichoke Queen” at the annual artichoke festival in Castroville.
In 1948, Monroe signed a six-month contract with Columbia Pictures and was introduced to the studio’s head drama coach Natasha Lytess, who became her acting coach for several years. She starred in the low-budget musical Ladies of the Chorus (1948). Monroe was capitalized as one of the film’s bright spots, but the movie didn’t bring any success for Monroe nor Columbia. During her short stint at Columbia, studio head Harry Cohn softened her appearance somewhat by correcting a slight overbite she had.
She had a small role in the Marx Brothers film Love Happy (1949). Monroe impressed the producers, who sent her to New York to feature in the film’s promotional campaign. Love Happy brought Monroe to the attention of the talent agent, Johnny Hyde, who agreed to represent her. He arranged for her to audition for John Huston, who cast her in the drama The Asphalt Jungle as the young mistress of an aging criminal. Her performance brought strong reviews, and was seen by the writer and director, Joseph Mankiewicz. He accepted Hyde’s suggestion to cast Monroe in a small comedic role in All About Eve as Miss Caswell, an aspiring actress, described by another character as a student of “The Copacabana School of Dramatic Art”. Mankiewicz later commented that he had seen an innocence in her that he found appealing, and that this had confirmed his belief in her suitability for the role. Following Monroe’s success in these roles, Hyde negotiated a seven-year contract for her with 20th Century Fox, shortly before his death in December 1950. It was at some time during this 1949–50 period that Hyde arranged for her to have a slight bump of cartilage removed from her somewhat bulbous nose which further softened her appearance and accounts for the slight variation in look she had in films after 1950.
In 1951, Monroe enrolled at University of California, Los Angeles, where she studied literature and art appreciation, and appeared in several minor films playing opposite such long-established performers as Mickey Rooney, Constance Bennett, June Allyson, Dick Powell and Claudette Colbert. In March 1951, she appeared as a presenter at the 23rd Academy Awards ceremony. In 1952, Monroe appeared on the cover of Look magazine wearing a Georgia Tech sweater as part of an article celebrating female enrollment to the school’s main campus. In the early 1950s, Monroe unsuccessfully auditioned for the role of Daisy Mae in a proposed Li’l Abner television series based on the Al Capp comic strip, but the effort never materialized.
Leading films: 1952–55
In March 1952, Monroe faced a possible scandal when one of her nude photos from a 1949 session with photographer Tom Kelley was featured in a calendar. The press speculated about the identity of the anonymous model and commented that she closely resembled Monroe. As the studio discussed how to deal with the problem, Monroe suggested that she should simply admit that she had posed for the photograph but emphasize that she had done so only because she had no money to pay her rent. She gave an interview in which she discussed the circumstances that led to her posing for the photographs, and the resulting publicity elicited a degree of sympathy for her plight as a struggling actress.
She made her first appearance on the cover of Life magazine in April 1952, where she was described as “The Talk of Hollywood”. Stories of her childhood and upbringing portrayed her in a sympathetic light: a cover story for the May 1952 edition of True Experiences magazine showed a smiling and wholesome Monroe beside a caption that read, “Do I look happy? I should — for I was a child nobody wanted. A lonely girl with a dream — who awakened to find that dream come true. I am Marilyn Monroe. Read my Cinderella story.” It was also during this time that she began dating baseball player Joe DiMaggio. A photograph of DiMaggio visiting Monroe at the 20th Century Fox studio was printed in newspapers throughout the United States, and reports of a developing romance between them generated further interest in Monroe.
Four films in which Monroe featured were released beginning in 1952. She had been lent to RKO Studios to appear in a supporting role in Clash by Night, a Barbara Stanwyck drama, directed by Fritz Lang. Released in June 1952, the film was popular with audiences, with much of its success credited to curiosity about Monroe, who received generally favorable reviews from critics.
This was followed by two films released in July, the comedy We’re Not Married!, and the drama Don’t Bother to Knock. We’re Not Married! featured Monroe as a beauty pageant contestant. Variety described the film as “lightweight”. Its reviewer commented that Monroe was featured to full advantage in a bathing suit, and that some of her scenes suggested a degree of exploitation. In Don’t Bother to Knock she played the starring role of a babysitter who threatens to attack the child in her care. The downbeat melodrama was poorly reviewed, although Monroe commented that it contained some of her strongest dramatic acting. Monkey Business, a successful comedy directed by Howard Hawks starring Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers, was released in September and was the first movie in which Monroe appeared with platinum blonde hair. In O. Henry’s Full House for 20th Century Fox, released in August 1952, Monroe had a single one-minute scene with Charles Laughton, yet she received top billing alongside him and the film’s other stars, including Anne Baxter, Farley Granger, Jean Peters and Richard Widmark.
Darryl F. Zanuck considered that Monroe’s film potential was worth developing and cast her in Niagara, as a femme fatale scheming to murder her husband, played by Joseph Cotten. During filming, Monroe’s make-up artist Whitey Snyder noticed her stage fright (that would ultimately mark her behavior on film sets throughout her career); the director assigned him to spend hours gently coaxing and comforting Monroe as she prepared to film her scenes. Reviews of the film dwelled on her sexuality, while noting that her acting was imperfect.
Much of the critical commentary following the release of the film focused on Monroe’s overtly sexual performance, and a scene which shows Monroe (from the back) making a long walk toward Niagara Falls received frequent note in reviews. After seeing the film, Constance Bennett reportedly quipped, “There’s a broad with her future behind her.” Whitey Snyder also commented that it was during preparation for this film, after much experimentation, that Monroe achieved “the look, and we used that look for several pictures in a row … the look was established.” While the film was a success, and Monroe’s performance had positive reviews, her conduct at promotional events sometimes drew negative comments. Her appearance at the Photoplay awards dinner in a skin-tight gold lamé dress was criticized. Louella Parsons’ newspaper column quoted Joan Crawford discussing Monroe’s “vulgarity” and describing her behavior as “unbecoming an actress and a lady”. Monroe had previously received criticism for wearing a dress with a neckline cut almost to her navel when she acted as Grand Marshall at the Miss America Parade in September 1952. A photograph from this event was used on the cover of the first issue of Playboy in December 1953, with a nude photograph of Monroe, taken in 1949, inside the magazine.
Her next film was Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) co-starring Jane Russell and directed by Howard Hawks. Her role as Lorelei Lee, a gold-digging showgirl, required her to act, sing, and dance. The two stars became friends, with Russell describing Monroe as “very shy and very sweet and far more intelligent than people gave her credit for”. She later recalled that Monroe showed her dedication by rehearsing her dance routines each evening after most of the crew had left, but she arrived habitually late on set for filming. Realizing that Monroe remained in her dressing room due to stage fright, and that Hawks was growing impatient with her tardiness, Russell started escorting her to the set.
At the Los Angeles premiere of the film, Monroe and Russell pressed their hand- and footprints in the cement in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Monroe received positive reviews and the film grossed more than double its production costs. Her rendition of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” became associated with her. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes also marked one of the earliest films in which William Travilla dressed Monroe. Travilla dressed Monroe in eight of her films including Bus Stop, Don’t Bother to Knock, How to Marry a Millionaire, River of No Return, There’s No Business Like Show Business, Monkey Business, and The Seven Year Itch. How to Marry a Millionaire was a comedy about three models scheming to attract wealthy husbands. The film teamed Monroe with Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall, and was directed by Jean Negulesco. The producer and scriptwriter, Nunnally Johnson, said that it was the first film in which audiences “liked Marilyn for herself and that she diagnosed the reason very shrewdly. She said that it was the only picture she’d been in, in which she had a measure of modesty… about her own attractiveness.”
Monroe’s films of this period established her “dumb blonde” persona and contributed to her popularity. In 1953 and 1954, she was listed in the annual “Quigley Poll of the Top Ten Money Making Stars”, which was compiled from the votes of movie exhibitors throughout the United States for the stars that had generated the most revenue in their theaters over the previous year. “I want to grow and develop and play serious dramatic parts. My dramatic coach, Natasha Lytess, tells everybody that I have a great soul, but so far nobody’s interested in it.” Monroe told the New York Times. She saw a possibility in 20th Century Fox’s upcoming film, The Egyptian, but was rebuffed by Darryl F. Zanuck who refused to screen test her.
Instead, she was assigned to the western River of No Return, opposite Robert Mitchum. Director Otto Preminger resented Monroe’s reliance on Natasha Lytess, who coached Monroe and announced her verdict at the end of each scene. Eventually Monroe refused to speak to Preminger, and Mitchum had to mediate. Of the finished product, she commented, “I think I deserve a better deal than a grade Z cowboy movie in which the acting finished second to the scenery and the CinemaScope process.” In late 1953 Monroe was scheduled to begin filming The Girl in Pink Tights with Frank Sinatra. When she failed to appear for work, 20th Century Fox suspended her.
International success: 1954–57
Monroe and Joe DiMaggio were married in San Francisco on January 14, 1954. They traveled to Japan soon after, combining a honeymoon with a business trip previously arranged by DiMaggio. For two weeks she took a secondary role to DiMaggio as he conducted his business, having told a reporter, “Marriage is my main career from now on.” Monroe then traveled alone to Korea where she performed for 13,000 American Marines over a three-day period. She later commented that the experience had helped her overcome a fear of performing in front of large crowds. Edward H. Comins (1932–2011) of Las Vegas, Nevada, the winner of a Bronze Star medal in the Korean War, reported having cooked for Monroe during one of her engagements abroad.
Returning to Hollywood in March 1954, Monroe settled her disagreement with 20th Century Fox and appeared in the musical There’s No Business Like Show Business. The film failed to recover its production costs and was poorly received. Ed Sullivan described Monroe’s performance of the song “Heat Wave” as “one of the most flagrant violations of good taste” he had witnessed. Time magazine compared her unfavorably to co-star Ethel Merman, while Bosley Crowther for The New York Times said that Mitzi Gaynor had surpassed Monroe’s “embarrassing to behold” performance. The reviews echoed Monroe’s opinion of the film. She had made it reluctantly, on the assurance that she would be given the starring role in the film adaptation of the Broadway hit The Seven Year Itch.
One of Monroe’s most notable film roles was shot in September 1954, a skirt-blowing key scene for The Seven Year Itch on Lexington Avenue at 53rd Street in New York City. In it, she stands with her co-star, Tom Ewell, while the air from a subway grating blows her skirt up. A large crowd watched as director Billy Wilder ordered the scene to be refilmed many times. Joe DiMaggio was reported to have been present and infuriated by the spectacle. After a quarrel, witnessed by journalist Walter Winchell, the couple returned to California where they avoided the press for two weeks, until Monroe announced that they had separated. Their divorce was granted in November 1954. The filming was completed in early 1955, and after refusing what she considered to be inferior parts in The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing and How to Be Very, Very Popular, Monroe decided to leave Hollywood on the advice of Milton Greene. The role of Curly Flagg in How to Be Very, Very Popular went to Sheree North, and Girl in the Red Velvet Swing went to Joan Collins. The Seven Year Itch was released and became a success, earning an estimated $8 million. Monroe received positive reviews for her performance and was in a strong position to negotiate with 20th Century Fox. On New Year’s Eve 1955, they signed a new contract which required Monroe to make four films over a seven-year period. The newly formed Marilyn Monroe Productions would be paid $100,000 plus a share of profits for each film. In addition to being able to work for other studios, Monroe had the right to reject any script, director or cinematographer she did not approve of.
Milton Greene had first met Monroe in 1953 when he was assigned to photograph her for Look magazine. While many photographers tried to emphasize her sexy image, Greene presented her in more modest poses, and she was pleased with his work. As a friendship developed between them, she confided to him her frustration with her 20th Century Fox contract and the roles she was offered. Her salary for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes amounted to $18,000, while freelancer Jane Russell was paid more than $100,000. Greene agreed that she could earn more by breaking away from 20th Century Fox. He gave up his job in 1954, mortgaged his home to finance Monroe, and allowed her to live with his family as they determined the future course of her career.
On April 8, 1955, veteran journalist Edward R. Murrow interviewed Greene and his wife Amy, as well as Monroe, at the Greenes’ home in Connecticut on a live telecast of the CBS program Person to Person. The kinescope of the telecast has been released on home video.
Truman Capote introduced Monroe to Constance Collier, who gave her acting lessons. She felt that Monroe was not suited to stage acting, but possessed a “lovely talent” that was “so fragile and subtle, it can only be caught by the camera”. After only a few weeks of lessons, Collier died. Monroe had met Paula Strasberg and her daughter Susan on the set of There’s No Business Like Show Business, and had previously said that she would like to study with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. In March 1955, Monroe met with Cheryl Crawford, one of the founders of the Actors Studio, and convinced her to introduce her to Lee Strasberg, who interviewed her the following day and agreed to accept her as a student.
In May 1955, Monroe started dating playwright Arthur Miller; they had met in Hollywood in 1950 and when Miller discovered she was in New York, he arranged for a mutual friend to reintroduce them. On June 1, 1955, Monroe’s birthday, Joe DiMaggio accompanied Monroe to the premiere of The Seven Year Itch in New York City. He later hosted a birthday party for her, but the evening ended with a public quarrel, and Monroe left the party without him. A lengthy period of estrangement followed. Throughout that year, Monroe studied with the Actors Studio, and found that one of her biggest obstacles was her severe stage fright. She was befriended by the actors Kevin McCarthy and Eli Wallach who each recalled her as studious and sincere in her approach to her studies, and noted that she tried to avoid attention by sitting quietly in the back of the class. When Strasberg felt Monroe was ready to give a performance in front of her peers, Monroe and Maureen Stapleton chose the opening scene from Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, and although she had faltered during each rehearsal, she was able to complete the performance without forgetting her lines. Kim Stanley later recalled that students were discouraged from applauding, but that Monroe’s performance had resulted in spontaneous applause from the audience. While Monroe was a student, Lee Strasberg commented, “I have worked with hundreds and hundreds of actors and actresses, and there are only two that stand out way above the rest. Number one is Marlon Brando, and the second is Marilyn Monroe.”
The first film to be made under the contract and production company was Bus Stop directed by Joshua Logan. Logan had studied under Constantin Stanislavski, approved of method acting, and was supportive of Monroe. Monroe severed contact with her drama coach, Natasha Lytess, replacing her with Paula Strasberg, who became a constant presence during the filming of Monroe’s subsequent films.
In Bus Stop, Monroe played Chérie, a saloon singer with little talent who falls in love with a cowboy, Beauregard “Bo” Decker, played by Don Murray. Her costumes, make-up and hair reflected a character who lacked sophistication, and Monroe provided deliberately mediocre singing and dancing. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times proclaimed: “Hold on to your chairs, everybody, and get set for a rattling surprise. Marilyn Monroe has finally proved herself an actress.” In his autobiography, Movie Stars, Real People and Me, director Logan wrote: “I found Marilyn to be one of the great talents of all time… she struck me as being a much brighter person than I had ever imagined, and I think that was the first time I learned that intelligence and, yes, brilliance have nothing to do with education.” Logan championed Monroe for an Academy Award nomination and complimented her professionalism until the end of his life. Though not nominated for an Academy Award, she received a Golden Globe nomination.
Bus Stop was followed by The Prince and the Showgirl directed by Laurence Olivier, who also co-starred. Prior to filming, Olivier praised Monroe as “a brilliant comedienne, which to me means she is also an extremely skilled actress”. During filming in England he resented Monroe’s dependence on her drama coach, Paula Strasberg, regarding Strasberg as a fraud whose only talent was the ability to “butter Marilyn up”. He recalled his attempts at explaining a scene to Monroe, only to hear Strasberg interject, “Honey — just think of Coca-Cola and Frank Sinatra.” Olivier later commented that in the film “Marilyn was quite wonderful, the best of all.” Monroe’s performance was hailed by critics, especially in Europe, where she won the David di Donatello, the Italian equivalent of an Academy Award, as well as the French Crystal Star Award. She was also nominated for a BAFTA. It was more than a year before Monroe began her next film. During her hiatus, she summered with Miller in Amagansett, New York. She suffered a miscarriage on August 1, 1957.
Last films: 1958–62
With Miller’s encouragement she returned to Hollywood in August 1958 to star in Some Like It Hot. The film was directed by Billy Wilder and co-starred Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Wilder had experienced Monroe’s tardiness, stage fright, and inability to remember lines during production of The Seven Year Itch. However her behavior was now more hostile, and was marked by refusals to participate in filming and occasional outbursts of profanity. Monroe consistently refused to take direction from Wilder, or insisted on numerous retakes of simple scenes until she was satisfied. She developed a rapport with Lemmon, but she disliked Curtis after hearing that he had described their love scenes as “like kissing Hitler”. Curtis later stated that the comment was intended as a joke. During filming, Monroe discovered that she was pregnant. She suffered another miscarriage in December 1958, as filming was completed.
Some Like it Hot became a resounding success, and was nominated for six Academy Awards. Monroe was acclaimed for her performance and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. Wilder commented that the film was the biggest success he had ever been associated with. He discussed the problems he encountered during filming, saying “Marilyn was so difficult because she was totally unpredictable. I never knew what kind of day we were going to have… would she be cooperative or obstructive?” He had little patience with her method-acting technique and said that instead of going to the Actors Studio “she should have gone to a train-engineer’s school … to learn something about arriving on schedule.” Wilder had become ill during filming, and explained, “We were in mid-flight – and there was a nut on the plane.” In hindsight, he discussed Monroe’s “certain indefinable magic” and “absolute genius as a comic actress.”
By this time, Monroe had only completed one film, Bus Stop, under her four-picture contract with 20th Century Fox. She agreed to appear in Let’s Make Love, which was to be directed by George Cukor, but she was not satisfied with the script, and Arthur Miller rewrote it. Gregory Peck was originally cast in the male lead role, but he refused the role after Miller’s rewrite; Cary Grant, Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and Rock Hudson also refused the role before it was offered to Yves Montand. Monroe and Miller befriended Montand and his wife, actress Simone Signoret, and filming progressed well until Miller was required to travel to Europe on business. Monroe began to leave the film set early and on several occasions failed to attend, but her attitude improved after Montand confronted her. Signoret returned to Europe to make a film, and Monroe and Montand began a brief affair that ended when Montand refused to leave Signoret. The film was not a critical or commercial success.
Monroe’s health deteriorated during this period, and she began to see a Los Angeles psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson. He later recalled that during this time she frequently complained of insomnia, and told Greenson that she visited several medical doctors to obtain what Greenson considered an excessive variety of drugs. He concluded that she was progressing to the point of addiction, but also noted that she could give up the drugs for extended periods without suffering any withdrawal symptoms. According to Greenson, the marriage between Miller and Monroe was strained; he said that Miller appeared to genuinely care for Monroe and was willing to help her, but that Monroe rebuffed while also expressing resentment towards him for not doing more to help her. Greenson stated that his main objective at the time was to enforce a drastic reduction in Monroe’s drug intake.
In 1956, Arthur Miller had briefly resided in Nevada and wrote a short story about some of the local people he had become acquainted with, a divorced woman and some aging cowboys. By 1960 he had developed the short story into a screenplay, and envisaged it as containing a suitable role for Monroe. It became her last completed film. The Misfits, directed by John Huston and starring Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter. Shooting commenced in July 1960, with most taking place in the hot Northern Nevada desert. Monroe was frequently ill and unable to perform, and away from the influence of Dr. Greenson, she had resumed her consumption of sleeping pills and alcohol. A visitor to the set, Susan Strasberg, later described Monroe as “mortally injured in some way,” and in August, Monroe was rushed to Los Angeles where she was hospitalized for ten days. Newspapers reported that she had been near death, although the nature of her illness was not disclosed. Louella Parsons wrote in her newspaper column that Monroe was “a very sick girl, much sicker than at first believed”, and disclosed that she was being treated by a psychiatrist. Monroe returned to Nevada and completed the film, but she became hostile towards Arthur Miller, and public arguments were reported by the press. Making the film had proved to be an arduous experience for the actors; in addition to Monroe’s distress, Montgomery Clift had frequently been unable to perform due to illness, and by the final day of shooting, Thelma Ritter was in hospital suffering from exhaustion. Gable, commenting that he felt unwell, left the set without attending the wrap party. Monroe and Miller returned to New York on separate flights.
Within ten days Monroe had announced her separation from Miller, and Gable had died from a heart attack. Gable’s widow, Kay, commented to Louella Parsons that it had been the “eternal waiting” on the set of The Misfits that had contributed to his death, though she did not name Monroe. When reporters asked Monroe if she felt guilty about Gable’s death, she refused to answer, but the journalist Sidney Skolsky recalled that privately she expressed regret for her poor treatment of Gable during filming and described her as being in “a dark pit of despair”. Monroe later attended the christening of the Gables’ son, at the invitation of Kay Gable. The Misfits received mixed reviews, and was not a commercial success, though some praised the performances of Monroe and Gable. Despite on-set difficulties, Gable, Monroe, and Clift delivered performances that modern movie critics consider superb. Many critics regard Gable’s performance to be his finest, and Gable, after seeing the rough cuts, agreed. Monroe received the 1961 Golden Globe Award as “World Film Favorite” in March, 1962, five months before her death. Directors Guild of America nominated Huston as best director. The film is now regarded as a classic. Huston later commented that Monroe’s performance was not acting in the true sense, and that she had drawn from her own experiences to show herself, rather than a character. “She had no techniques. It was all the truth. It was only Marilyn.”
During the following months, Monroe’s dependence on alcohol and prescription medications began to take a toll on her health, and friends such as Susan Strasberg later spoke of her illness. Her divorce from Arthur Miller was finalized in January 1961, with Monroe citing “incompatibility of character”, and in February she voluntarily entered the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic. Monroe later described the experience as a “nightmare”. She was able to phone Joe DiMaggio from the clinic, and he immediately traveled from Florida to New York to facilitate her transfer to the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. She remained there for three weeks. Illness prevented her from working for the remainder of the year; she underwent surgery to correct a blockage in her Fallopian tubes in May, and the following month underwent gallbladder surgery. She returned to California and lived in a rented apartment as she convalesced.
In 1962, Monroe began filming Something’s Got to Give, which was to be the third film of her four-film contract with 20th Century Fox. It was to be directed by George Cukor, and co-starred Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse. She was ill with a virus as filming commenced, and suffered from high temperatures and recurrent sinusitis. On one occasion she refused to perform with Martin as he had a cold, and the producer Henry Weinstein recalled seeing her on several occasions being physically ill as she prepared to film her scenes, and attributed it to her dread of performing. He commented, “Very few people experience terror. We all experience anxiety, unhappiness, heartbreaks, but that was sheer primal terror.”
On May 19, 1962, she attended the early birthday celebration of President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, at the suggestion of Kennedy’s brother-in-law, actor Peter Lawford. Monroe performed “Happy Birthday” along with a specially written verse based on Bob Hope’s “Thanks for the Memory”. Kennedy responded to her performance with the remark, “Thank you. I can now retire from politics after having had ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.” (also see entry Happy Birthday, Mr. President)
Monroe returned to the set of Something’s Got to Give and filmed a sequence in which she appeared nude in a swimming pool. Commenting that she wanted to “push Liz Taylor off the magazine covers”, she gave permission for several partially nude photographs to be published by Life. Having only reported for work on twelve occasions out of a total of 35 days of production, Monroe was dismissed. The studio 20th Century Fox filed a lawsuit against her for half a million dollars, and the studio’s vice president, Peter Levathes, issued a statement saying “The star system has gotten way out of hand. We’ve let the inmates run the asylum, and they’ve practically destroyed it.” Monroe was replaced by Lee Remick, and when Dean Martin refused to work with any other actress, he was also threatened with a lawsuit. Following her dismissal, Monroe engaged in several high-profile publicity ventures. She gave an interview to Cosmopolitan and was photographed at Peter Lawford’s beach house sipping champagne and walking on the beach. She next posed for Bert Stern for Vogue in a series of photographs that included several nudes. Published after her death, they became known as ‘The Last Sitting’. Richard Meryman interviewed her for Life, in which Monroe reflected upon her relationship with her fans and her uncertainties in identifying herself as a “star” and a “sex symbol”. She referred to the events surrounding Arthur Miller’s appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1956, and her studio’s warning that she would be “finished” if she showed public support for him, and commented, “You have to start all over again. But I believe you’re always as good as your potential. I now live in my work and in a few relationships with the few people I can really count on. Fame will go by, and, so long, I’ve had you fame. If it goes by, I’ve always known it was fickle. So at least it’s something I experienced, but that’s not where I live.”
In the final weeks of her life, Monroe engaged in discussions about future film projects, and firm arrangements were made to continue negotiations on Something’s Got to Give. Among the projects was a biography of Jean Harlow filmed two years later unsuccessfully with Carroll Baker. Starring roles in Billy Wilder’s Irma la Douce and What a Way to Go! were also discussed; Shirley MacLaine eventually played the roles in both films. Kim Novak replaced her in Kiss Me, Stupid, a comedy in which she was to star opposite Dean Martin. A film version of the Broadway musical, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, and an unnamed World War I–themed musical co-starring Gene Kelly were also discussed, but the projects never materialized due to her death. Her dispute with 20th Century Fox was resolved, and her contract renewed into a $1 million two-picture deal, and filming of Something’s Got to Give was scheduled to resume in early fall 1962. Marilyn, having fired her own agent and MCA in 1961 managed her own negoiations as President of Marilyn Monroe Productions. Also on the table was an Italian four film deal worth 10 million giving her script, director, and co-star approval. Allan “Whitey” Snyder who saw her during the last week of her life, said Monroe was pleased by the opportunities available to her, and that she “never looked better and was in great spirits”.
Death and aftermath
On August 5, 1962, LAPD police sergeant Jack Clemmons received a call at 4:25 am from Dr. Ralph Greenson, Monroe’s psychiatrist, proclaiming that Monroe was found dead at her home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California. She was 36 years old. At the subsequent autopsy, eight milligram per cent of Chloral hydrate and 4.5 milligram percent of Nembutal were found in her system, and Dr. Thomas Noguchi of the Los Angeles County Coroners office recorded cause of death as “acute barbiturate poisoning,” resulting from a “probable suicide.” Many theories, including murder, circulated about the circumstances of her death and the timeline after the body was found. Some conspiracy theories involved John and Robert Kennedy, while other theories suggested CIA or Mafia complicity. It was reported that the last person Monroe called was the President.
On August 8, 1962, Monroe was interred in a crypt at Corridor of Memories #24, at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. Lee Strasberg delivered the eulogy. Joe DiMaggio took control of the funeral arrangements which consisted of only 31 close family and friends. Police were also present to keep the press away. Her casket was solid bronze and was lined with champagne colored silk. Allan “Whitey” Snyder did her make-up which was supposedly a promise made in earlier years if she were to die before him. She was wearing her favorite green Emilio Pucci dress. In her hands was a small bouquet of pink teacup roses. For the next 20 years, red roses were placed in a vase attached to the crypt, courtesy of DiMaggio.
In August 2009, the crypt space directly above that of Monroe was placed for auction on eBay. Elsie Poncher plans to exhume her husband and move him to an adjacent plot. She advertised the crypt, hoping “to make enough money to pay off the $1.6 million mortgage” on her Beverly Hills mansion. The winning bid was placed by an anonymous Japanese man for $4.6 million, but the winning bidder later backed out “because of the paying problem”. In 1992, Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner, who never met Monroe, bought the crypt immediately to the left of hers at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. He affirmed that the initial success of his magazine directly correlated with Monroe.