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- January 03, 1953
- June 01, 1926
- Los Angeles CA United States
- 5' 5"
- 118 lbs
Marilyn Monroe will always be something of an enigma. Born Norma Jeane Mortenson in Los Angeles, California, she’s heroine of Hollywood’s best-known rags-to-riches story – after a difficult childhood spent in foster care, she went on to become America’s original sweetheart. A model, celebrated actress and Playboy’s inaugural Playmate, she paved the way for all would-be blonde bombshells. “I’m trying to become an artist, and to be true,” she was once quoted as saying. “Sometimes I feel I’m on the verge of craziness. I’m just trying to get the truest part of myself out, and it’s very hard.”
After an unsuccessful marriage to a Merchant Marine, Norma leveraged her budding modeling career into a shot at the silver screen – she bleached her hair and tested for 20th Century Fox, where an executive said, “It’s Jean Harlow all over again.” Before she knew it, Norma Jeane was contract actress Marilyn Monroe. After short stints with 20th Century Fox and Columbia, Marilyn made a critical move in 1949 when she posed nude on a piece of red velvet for photographer Tom Kelley. One of these now-iconic shots, with one arm raised and her legs folded under her bottom, would one day serve as the Centerfold for Playboy’s inaugural issue.
Soon after, Monroe was offered roles in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve, and then leads in the steamy drama Niagara and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but despite her best efforts, she wasn’t yet the sexy, box-office darling she’s remembered as today. Around this time, a young Chicago publisher, Hugh Hefner, was putting together the first issue of Playboy magazine in his Hyde Park apartment. Selecting Monroe’s photo as the “sexiest” among many submissions, he put it to print, christening her Playboy’s first-ever Playmate of the Month. (Fun fact: Although Hef never met Marilyn, he owns the plot next to hers at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, to say the least a testament to her timeless charm and beauty.) Though her publicists recommended she distance herself from the photos, Marilyn was now Marilyn! Her Playmate appearance effectively launched her career.
In the post-war 1950’s, ‘sexy’ in America meant lewd, women were housewives, and dresses shorter than calf-length were rare – so the voluptuous blonde Marilyn, with all her womanly, barely-contained curves, was nothing short of a revelation. There isn’t a man alive who hasn’t lusted over a photo of Miss Monroe, and for women all over the world, she remains the standard; the feminine ideal. “The trouble with censors,” said Marilyn, “is they worry if a girl has cleavage. They ought to worry if she hasn’t any!” She herself had nothing to worry about, and neither did her bosses at the studios – now a leading lady, blonde-haired Marilyn starred in such films as The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop and Some Like it Hot to great critical acclaim. Her acting teacher and friend, Lee Strasberg, famously said that Monroe stood out “way above the rest”, and she herself summed it up with one tidy remark: “It takes a smart brunette to play a dumb blonde.”
Marilyn Monroe was married three times – first to her Marine, Jimmy Dougherty, and then, at the heights of her stardom, to ball player Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller. One headline, announcing her marriage to Miller, summarily dismissed the union as “Egghead Weds Hourglass”. She was alleged to have had flings with everyone from Marlon Brando to JFK, the latter while he was President of the United States, but in true celebrity fashion, she left no paper trail, so it’s all speculation. Through it all, she maintained herself as demure and somewhat vulnerable, saying only that she wanted to be loved – both for herself and for her talent.
Monroe’s life was cut tragically short on August 5, 1962, when she suffered a fatal overdose of barbiturates at her home in Brentwood, California. As in life, Monroe was worshipped in her death – the LAPD were present at her funeral to deter the press, and her former husband, Joe DiMaggio, arranged for a vase of red roses to be placed at her gravesite every few days for the next 20 years. In the years since her passing, Monroe has been memorialized in print and in film – she’s the subject of countless books and has been portrayed by many actresses, most recently Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn. “The truth is I’ve never fooled anyone,” she was quoted as saying in On Being Blonde. “I’ve let people fool themselves. They didn’t bother to find out who and what I was.” Sadly, the world may never know more, but one thing is for certain – there’ll never be another quite like Marilyn Monroe, and she’ll continue to fascinate us for years to come.