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Star in the Spotlight: The Marvelous Marilyn Monroe

Rachel M. Johnson is a lover of all things pop culture. She's been writing about music and entertainment online for years.

Marilyn Monroe was an iconic figure in Hollywood, but while her life was filled with fame and fortune, it was also filled with heartache.

Marilyn Monroe was an iconic figure in Hollywood, but while her life was filled with fame and fortune, it was also filled with heartache.

Wealth, Fame, and Fortune

The twentieth century bestowed upon the world the most iconic and influential woman of the entertainment industry: Marilyn Monroe. Her life was short, filled with both blessings and heartaches. At first glance, Marilyn appeared to have it all: wealth, fame, and a timeless beauty.

Her demeanor and sultry façade helped mask the tragedies and loneliness that engulfed her life. Through photographs and films, Marilyn Monroe captured the hearts of America and left an everlasting imprint on the film industry. Despite public perception, Marilyn’s life was anything but perfect.

Marilyn Monroe Background

Norma Jeane Mortensen was born on June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles, CA. Gladys Baker was little Norma’s mother. She never met her father, so she eventually changed her name to Norma Jeane Baker after being baptized. Gladys was a film cutter at RKO studios, and had given Norma her first glimpse of the movies. Shortly after her birth, Norma was placed in the care of the Bolenders, a neighboring family, while Gladys went back to work. Psychological problems had haunted Gladys and her family for many years.

In July of 1927, Norma was nearly suffocated by her grandmother, Della Monroe, who was later admitted to the Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, LA County. In June of 1933, seven-year-old Norma was able to move back with her mother, in north Hollywood. In her memoir, the home was described as “…small and empty but beautiful, and it was painted white." They shared the home with an English couple. However, what had seemed like a positive idea spiraled into sadness.

Norma Jeane and her mother Gladys.

Norma Jeane and her mother Gladys.

One morning, Norma and the couple were sitting and having breakfast in the kitchen. Suddenly, bangs and screams were heard coming from the stairway. The police were called as well as an ambulance, and the source of the noise pointed to Gladys. She was laughing and screaming hysterically, and was soon taken to the Norwalk Mental Hospital. In the blink of an eye, Norma’s pleasant home life had vanished. At the end of 1934, Gladys was formally pronounced insane. Grace McKee, Gladys’ closest friend, had taken Norma in and supplied her with love and a place to stay. She became her legal guardian.

The seemingly promising situation quickly turned sour, when Grace met and married Erwin “Doc” Goddard. In one month’s time, Norma Jeane was placed in the Los Angeles Orphans Home Society. She was officially an orphan. Throughout this time, Norma was left with an overwhelming desire to be wanted and loved. For several years, Norma moved from foster care to foster care, enduring the hardships that came with it. She was often placed with a family who were given five dollars a week for helping her. It was at one of these homes, that Norma allegedly became the victim of sexual assault.

At the age of nine, Norma was staying with a family who rented from a man named Mr. Kimmel. It was he who had molested her in his bedroom, a fact that no one seemed to believe. When Norma attempted to tell the woman who took care of her about the incident, she replied back with “Shame on you! Complaining about people!" No one listened to what she said. Norma was once again left feeling ashamed and unwanted. This all changed, however, at the age of eleven, when Norma moved in with Ana Lower. She had once said, “There’s only one person in the world I ever loved. That was Aunt Ana."

Norma had physically matured at a much faster rate than most girls. Her body had developed quickly, and she was very curvaceous. This only added to the effects she had on those around her. Boys would constantly follow her, and it appeared as though her voluptuous shape only drew more attention.

When Ana developed health problems, Norma Jeane went back to live with Grace Goddard and her spouse. It was here where she would meet her soon-to-be-husband, Jim Dougherty. News spread that “Doc” Goddard was being transferred to the East Coast. With money low, Norma would not be able to join them. A worried Grace wanted to ensure that Norma would be taken care of, so she arranged for her to be married to Jim. She was barely sixteen, and Jim twenty-one.

The reception was held on June 19, 1942. The newly-married couple had been only on a couple dates, though they knew each other well. Grace could now leave knowing Norma was provided for and was secure. When asked about his marriage to her, Jim Dougherty had said, “She was a sweet, generous and religious girl. She liked to be cuddled." The wedded bliss that followed the young couple did not last long.

In 1944, Jim decided to enlist in the Merchant Marines. Though Norma begged him not to go, Dougherty ultimately ended up being sent to Shanghai. During their time apart, Norma got a job at an assembly line at the Radio Plane Munitions factory. David Conover, a photographer who worked with the army, went to the factory to take pictures. While photographing women helping with the war effort, he spotted Norma Jeane. In an instant, she went from feeling unwanted and misused, to desired and important. This was to be a turning point in her life.

Conover was wowed by Norma, and told her she should apply for a modeling position at the Blue Book Modeling Agency. On August 2, 1945, the nineteen-year-old stood before the agency, the future before her unclear. One thing that was for sure, there was something special about Miss Norma Jeane.

The photos that Norma appeared in by Conover, were distributed in hundreds of U.S Army camp publications, and were the first pictures to be printed of her. Conover had also been the person to introduce her to Emmeline Snively, who was head of the Blue Book Talent Agency. At the time, it was the largest modeling agency in Los Angeles. In the summer of 1945, Norma signed her very first agency contract. Emmeline also was the one to convince Norma to bleach her hair blonde. She had said, “If you ever want to go places, you’ve got to be a blonde."

When Norma decided to model swimsuits, her career skyrocketed. She appeared in a vast amount of magazines, including Laff, Peak, and See, and was posing for top photographers. Norma also did many ‘cheesecake’ shots, which were used for publicity purposes. When Jim returned for a stay from overseas, he was upset with the business his wife was in. He didn’t want her to become a model, yet she was determined to follow her dreams. This disapproval led Norma to file for divorce, which was finalized on September 13, 1946. Norma Jeane was about to enter a new stage in her life.

Norma was introduced to the National Concert Artist Corporation, which soon became her agency. It wasn’t long before they arranged her very first screen test with Twentieth Century Fox in July of 1946. She was offered a standard six-month contract by Fox, with an overall salary of $75 per week. Norma also had the choice to renew the contract after the six months were up. It was Ben Lyon, the head talent at the studio, who told Norma she should change her name. At first, Norma wished to keep the name Jean (leaving out the e).

She had decided upon the last name Monroe, taking it from her grandmother’s surname. Lyon thought her name should stand out even more, and recommended the name Marilyn, after the actress Marilyn Miller. Norma eventually accepted this idea, and the girl once known as Norma Jeane Baker was introduced to the world as Marilyn Monroe. Norma Jeane was no more.

Though her hopes and dreams were big, Marilyn did not face an easy road ahead of her. During her first year under contract, the young actress only had small roles in B-movies. Scudda Hoo, Scudda Hay was Marilyn’s primary film. Although, most of her scenes were cut. Dangerous Years was her first speaking role. At the end of her six months, Fox did not wish to renew Marilyn’s contract. Just like that, Marilyn Monroe was out of work.These times were hard, and Marilyn could barely afford to eat. She would pose for photographers in hopes of receiving a few dollars for food and rent.

On one occasion, Tom Kelley, a photographer Marilyn had worked with previously, had called her. He had a job that would pay fifty dollars. The job was to appear nude in a calendar. In a desperate need for money, Marilyn agreed. In her memoir, she had said “People have curious attitudes about nudity, just as they have about sex. Nudity and sex are the most commonplace things in the world." The up-and-coming starlet had no idea just how much that calendar would help launch her career.

While attending yet another Hollywood party, Marilyn was introduced to Joe Schenck, co-founder of Fox. It was he who persuaded Columbia Studios to hire her under a six-month contract in March of 1948. Only a week after signing her new contract, tragedy struck Marilyn. Her ‘aunt’ Ana Lower, had died. A short while after the burial, Marilyn would return back to work at the studios. While working with Columbia, she met Natasha Lytess, a drama teacher. Soon, Natasha would become Marilyn’s close friend and acting coach.

Marilyn landed her first major acting role in the film Ladies of the Chorus. She would play Peggy Martin, a burlesque queen, and was seen as the breakout star of the movie. It was also her first chance she had to sing. The film was produced in only 11 days. Though the movie received good reviews, Marilyn’s contract was once again not renewed. For the second time, she was out of work.

Facing both sadness and depression, Marilyn was soon in for a bit of good luck. While at a New Year’s Eve party, she met Johnny Hyde, a highly influential agent. Immediately Hyde was taken with Marilyn, and saw something special within the blonde bombshell. Soon after, Johnny Hyde became Marilyn’s agent. It was at this point when her career began to take a turn for the better. With his help, Marilyn scored a minor but significant role in the Marx Brothers’ film Love Happy. She also landed a role as a chorus girl in A Ticket to Tomahawk. Johnny and Marilyn had become very close, and by the summer of 1949, he was her full-time agent.

The Asphalt Jungle, directed by John Huston, was Marilyn’s next film. MGM had given her a contract, and she played a small but important character in the movie. Marilyn’s role in the film pushed her into the limelight, and set her up for her next project that would make her a hit: All About Eve.