Probably the most celebrated of all actresses, Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jean Mortenson on June 1st, 1926, in Los Angeles. Marilyn grew up not knowing who her father really was and her mother, Gladys, had several relationships, further confusing her daughter as to who was the father figure in her life. Afterward, Gladys gave her the name of Baker, a boyfriend she had before Mortenson. Gladys was also extremely attractive and worked for RKO Studios as a film cutter, suffered from mental illness and was in and out of mental institutions for the rest of her life.
Norma Jean spent much of her childhood in foster homes, when she was nine she was placed in an orphanage where she was to stay for the next two years. Upon being released from the orphanage, she went to yet another foster home. Escaping this cycle, she wed her boyfriend Jimmy Dougherty on June 19, 1942. A merchant marine, Dougherty was later sent to the South Pacific and Monroe went to work in a munitions factory in Burbank where she was discovered by a photographer. By the time Dougherty returned in 1946, Monroe had a successful career as a model.
The couple divorced in 1946 - the same year she signed her first movie contract, with the movie contract she reinvented herself as Marilyn Monroe and dyed her hair blonde. But her acting career didn't really take off until the 1950s, her small part in John Huston's crime drama The Asphalt Jungle (1950) put her in the public eye. That same year she impressed audiences and critics alike as Claudia Caswell in All About Eve,
Monroe achieved celebrity status with starring roles in three 1953 features - Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How To Marry a Millionaire. During the same period a series of nude calendar photos, taken in 1948, appeared in the December 1953 debut issue of Playboy-magazine.
Monroe added a sense of innocence and naturalism to the dumb blonde stereotype although Monroe's characters were often humiliated at the expense of a voyeuristic pleasure. Whether being lassoed like a cow in Bus Stop in 1956 or exposing herself unknowingly in 1959’s Some Like It Hot.
Her personal problems, with failed marriages to baseball star Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller led to an increasing reliance on drugs to combat depression and physical ailments. Her demons, and precarious involvement with people in high places, eventually overwhelmed her. On August 5, 1962, she was found dead of an overdose of sleeping pills. Surely one the most tragic cases of public self destruction in recent times, and her unmistakable image and character have continued to make her an icon for generations after her passing.
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