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Marilyn Monroe: Legend and Myth

Nurse with lifetime passion for true crime. Have read numerous books and written at least 100 articles on Hollywood and historical crimes

Sixty years after her death, Marilyn Monroe remains a beautiful enigma.

Sixty years after her death, Marilyn Monroe remains a beautiful enigma.

Who Is Marilyn Monroe?

Marilyn is both legend and myth. Arthur Miller, one of America's leading playwrights and one of Marilyn Monroe's husbands, wrote a play about his marriage to her called After The Fall in which he portrayed her as a self-absorbed and self-destructive woman who needed the adulation of all men she encountered.

While many Marilyn fans were upset with Miller for hurting the Marilyn Monroe image, others appreciated seeing Marilyn as human and seeing the turmoil that they knew she must have suffered based on the known facts of her life. She was indeed self-absorbed as only one who achieves superstardom can be

The life of Marilyn Monroe has also been the subject of numerous books, movies, and television shows, most of which are geared to support the fantasy rather than the facts. But, one thing that everyone agrees on is that Marilyn Monroe will forever be remembered as one of Hollywood's most tragic beauty queens.

Mythic Beauty and Tragic Vulnerability

Marilyn Monroe's softness and vulnerability made her irresistible to men in the pre-women's liberation era and her image has become almost mythic due to the fact that she died young. Monroe had talent for playing a dumb blonde, similar to Jean Harlow, but she lacked Harlow's sarcasm. Harlow's characters were in charge, and only played dumb. Monroe's characters also lacked Mae West's confidence and intelligence, yet women by far admire Marilyn over the stronger types.

For Marilyn it was all about having a baby voice and innocent expression. It worked! When watching her in movies, she's neither controversial nor intimidating, which for many women is the key to being well liked.

Marilyn's Characters Embodied Innocence

Her characters were not calculating just innocent and straightforward. These are the qualities that made her so attractive to a point of where she outshone Ava Gardner, Gene Tierney, Kim Novak, and numerous other stars who had more natural beauty than Marilyn and were more well-rounded in talent.

17-year-old Marilyn Monroe with her first husband, James Dougherty, in 1943–44.

17-year-old Marilyn Monroe with her first husband, James Dougherty, in 1943–44.

Norma Jeane Baker

Marilyn was born Norma Jeane Mortenson in Los Angeles in 1926, though she later went by Norma Jeane Baker. Her troubles started early, due to her birth being illegitimate. Her mother knew that life as an only child to a single woman of little means would not lead to a well-rounded childhood, so young Norma Jeane was sent to orphanages and foster homes.

Because her mother spent most of her life in and out of mental hospitals, her daughter was lonely and insecure. Norma Jeane wanted an escape, which for a girl in the 1940s meant finding a husband.

Marriage to James Dougherty

She married her neighbor, James Dougherty, shortly after her 16th birthday, but the marriage didn't last long. She then started working in a factory as part of the World War Two effort.

She was not especially beautiful by Hollywood standards. She had a nice figure, but her facial features were average. Norma Jeane knew that to achieve the stardom she craved, she would have to become a Hollywood knockout.

Obsessed With Perfect Face

Marilyn studied her face and her looks obsessively to the point that she knew every curve of her bone structure. She was well aware which side of her face photographed best and where she needed help.

Monroe began modeling and taking bit parts in movies so she could save money for perfect face. She had plastic surgery in her early 20s, and the results were spectacular.

Marilyn Monroe as Norma Jeane Dougherty in the June 26, 1945, edition of Yank, the Army Weekly.

Marilyn Monroe as Norma Jeane Dougherty in the June 26, 1945, edition of Yank, the Army Weekly.

Norma Jean Becomes Marilyn Monroe

She spent her childhood in foster homes but was determined to achieve the dreams she held onto during the times that she was feeling pushed aside in her childhood. Marilyn could escape into a fantasy land by watching glamorous movies stars in the local movie theaters and by getting hold of movie magazines.

As far back as she could remember Marilyn dreamed of achieving superstardom, of being admired by all women and pursued by all men. It was the lack of love that comes from a stable family life that led to her deep desire of finding admiration of numerous strangers.

Modeling For the War Effort

As a teenager Marilyn dated and pursued marriage as quickly as possible. Her lucky break first came when in 1944 a photographer began taking photos of pretty girls doing masculine jobs as part of the war effort. She was a factory worker at the time and desperate to do anything even remotely glamorous.

In the photos Marilyn looks like a barely cute redhead with a double chin and big smile. Although she is seldom credited as being an entrepreneur or business woman, these traits are the foundation of who Marilyn Monroe really was. She was fighting against all odds.

She was not very pretty in a time that plastic surgery was not rampant as it is today, yet she planned on fixing her least desirable features medically. Marilyn knew that beauty was just a tweak and turn away, by the right plastic surgeon of course.

Plastic Surgery Led to Bigger Roles

After being photographed to the point of being comfortable in front of the camera, Marilyn headed for Twentieth Century Fox for her early minor appearances. During these years she jumped at every opportunity that came her way, and as soon as she could afford it Marilyn had plastic surgery.

Remember, this was a time when surgery was far from the norm in Hollywood. In the 1940s and '50s, plastic surgery was something of an obscure subject. Stars did not typically change their features. Cosmetic changes were reserved for the disfigured or the aging movie stars, but Marilyn had her nose and jaw remolded.

In 1954, while shooting the famous skirt scene in "The Seven Year Itch," Marilyn Monroe stopped to pose for press photographers.

In 1954, while shooting the famous skirt scene in "The Seven Year Itch," Marilyn Monroe stopped to pose for press photographers.

Marilyn the Sex Symbol

The result was a much more refined and sophisticated look. She then landed good roles such as in All About Eve (1950) and Don't Bother to Knock (1952). Monroe was soon riding on the upswing of fame when she found herself cast in the 1953 film, Niagara. Many say it was her best part. It was certainly Monroe at her most attractive. It was this look that led Marilyn Monroe to become the most popular sex symbol in the world.

One of the modern myths about Marilyn is that she was a large-sized woman, she was 5' 5" or 5' 6" at the very most and wore a modern dress size of 2-4. She was measured numerous times for her fittings. Her measurements were usually at 36-24-35. She was not large or fat as many Marilyn look-a-likes and impersonators are these days, but she kept her figure looking curvy by lifting weights. Again, she was smart, savvy and willing to think outside the box when it came to creating a look.

Outdated By End of the '50s

During the 1950s she married the men of her choice and got all the best parts in movies. When riding high in Hollywood, for any star, it is hard to believe that the wave of success and good fortune will ever end, but gradually as the 1950s were coming to a close and the shapely Marilyn look lost favor to boxy suits, the mod look, and a new, younger generation of starlets emerged, Marilyn was looking old and outdated and she felt it deeply.

Monroe began looking for a new identity as she approached her mid 30s. Marilyn had always wanted children but when her career was in full swing she was willing to put off motherhood until the time was right. It has been reported that Monroe had numerous abortions in her youth and when she finally did reach her mid 30s she could no longer get pregnant.

12-year-old Norma Jeane Baker with her beloved foster mother, "Aunt" Ana Lower.

12-year-old Norma Jeane Baker with her beloved foster mother, "Aunt" Ana Lower.

Longed To Be Mother

Marilyn was bothered by the fact that she had no children of her own and longed to become a wife and mother as so many other famous glamor girls had done when their looks and youth had deserted them.

Monroe was a true entrepreneur at heart and in the same way that she had conquered not being pretty enough fifteen years earlier she wanted to now get pregnant and retire from the Hollywood glamor spotlight into a life of family and dignity.

In the early 1960s Marilyn began an affair with John F Kennedy. She took the relationship very seriously, while he was just taking advantage of his position just as Bill Clinton had done in the 1990s.

Marilyn and the Kennedys

There was obvious tension between Marilyn and JFK as she battled to become the new first lady of the United States, and with a little luck, could also become a mother. But JFK treated Marilyn the same way that he treated all the other women he had affairs with. He had her and was now finished with her. Period.

Monroe was so devastated by her advancing age, her declining looks, and her inability to have children that her depression was mounting. She simply could not be dumped by men at this point and she sought to replace JFK with RFK.

Robert Kennedy was just as willing as his brother to enjoy MM on the side, but he did not treat Marilyn any better than his brother. In fact, there is some evidence that Marilyn either told Robert that he got her pregnant, or that she had gotten pregnant and was ordered by powerful men within the Democratic Party to have an abortion.

The Death of Marilyn Monroe

On August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead from an overdose of sleeping pills. She was 36 years old. The exact facts are shady, but all who knew Marilyn knew that she had plenty to be depressed about.

Life was just not going her way, but others believe that the Democratic Party was threatened by her and snuffed her out before she could do real damage to the Kennedys.

Marilyn Monroe's gravestone at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.

Marilyn Monroe's gravestone at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.


George Vreeland on July 18, 2015:

Great article and photos.

George Vreeland Hill

Gunny Cracker from Elkhorn, WI on July 03, 2015:

I don't believe Bill Clinton confined his philandering to the '90s. It is obvious to me BOTH major political parties in the U.S. are reading from the exact same script for a New World Order.

An elderly gentleman from Texas, whose mother was from Mexico, told me why he votes Democrat. Throughout his childhood on every Election Day a stationwagon from the Democratic Party would pickup his mother before sun-up. She would spend the day voting in many different precincts and return home with a sack of potatoes to feed the family long after dark. One time the stationwagon dropped off a sack of turnips and Roberto said "I'll never forget my brother and I eating those turnips. We had no choice since Dad left years before." Out of reverence to his mother Roberto, now 84, always votes Democrat.