“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”—Marilyn Monroe.
No matter how many try to take the mantle, Marilyn Monroe remains the ultimate classic Hollywood story, equal parts glamorous and tragic. Born Norma Jeane Mortenson in 1926, she had a heartbreaking childhood before making her way to the worlds of pin-up modeling and eventually, Hollywood. Although she was really only active in films for about a decade, many of those titles were blockbuster hits. She became famous for her “blonde bombshell” persona, but her tragic death in 1962 lent her a posthumous aura of sadness and depth that endures to this day.
Here are 46 classic facts about Marilyn Monroe, providing a glimpse into her fast and furious life, cut short far too soon.
46. A Rose by Any Other Name…
On her birth certificate, Monroe’s name is listed as Norma Jeane Mortenson. However, she was baptized Norma Jeane Baker. On top of that, she modeled under the names Jean Norman and Mona Monroe. Her initial idea for a screen name was Jean Adair. And later, when she was famous and had to hide from the press? She signed into hotels as Zelda Zonk and into a psychiatric clinic as Faye Miller.
She only legally changed her name to Marilyn Monroe in March 1956, when she was already a star. At that time, the name was so unfamiliar to her, that the first time she signed an autograph as Marilyn Monroe, she had to ask how to spell it.
45. Trials & Hardships, Pt. 1
Monroe’s mother Gladys was not really prepared to be a single mother when Monroe was born, so she placed her in foster care with an evangelical Christian family, the Bolenders. Gladys actually lived with them for a time, until her career and commute became too demanding. She eventually came back for Marilyn when she was about seven years old and they lived together in a house in Hollywood. Gladys was eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and institutionalized. She would be in and out of hospitals for the rest of Monroe’s life.
44. Trials & Hardships, Pt. 2
Monroe was placed with multiple sets of foster parents after her mother’s hospitalization. First, she stayed with a couple who had been her mother’s lodgers; while under their care, she was sexually abused. This horrific childhood trauma caused Monroe’s grades to slip and her to develop a stutter.
She was taken in by one of her mother’s friends Grace McKee Goddard multiple times, but was targeted by Goddard’s husband when she was 10 years old.
She also spent almost a year in the Los Angeles Orphans Home, an orphanage, when she was nine. She said that while she was there, she felt as if no one wanted her.
Ultimately, she lived with a relative of the Goddards, while Grace acted as her legal guardian, until the family was forced to move when Monroe was just 16. Faced with the prospect of returning to an orphanage, she decided to get married instead.
43. Overworked and Underpaid
Sadly, Marilyn Monroe was paid poorly relative to her peers. Jane Russell was paid 10 times more than Marilyn when they co-starred in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes together.
On top of that, Monroe earned only $100,000 for her unfinished role in Something’s Got to Give. Around the same time, Elizabeth Taylor was paid one million dollars for Cleopatra.
42. Death Before Riches
In 1962, Marilyn was fired by Twentieth Century-Fox from the production of Something’s Got to Give because of her chronic lateness and no-shows—she didn’t appear for the first two weeks of filming.
On August 1, she was rehired by Fox on a $1 million, two-picture deal, which would have been her highest earning contract. She died four days later.
41. Line Please, Sugar
Monroe found it almost impossible to learn lines, and took 60 takes to deliver the line “It’s me, Sugar” in Some Like It Hot, costarring Hollywood greats Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis.
Sadly, the filming of the beloved comedy coincided with a difficult time, mental health-wise, in Monroe’s life. In between crying fits, locking herself in her trailer and clinging to her acting coach, the crew and cast grew to resent the star’s presence. When it was time for a kissing scene between Monroe and actor Tony Curtis, he cruelly said that he’d “rather be kissing Hitler.” Jeez, tell me how you really feel Tony.
40. Love of Children
The paradox in Marilyn’s life was that although she never had a child of her own, she absolutely adored children and always yearned for a baby. She had close relationships with her stepchildren from her marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. Though Marilyn was pregnant several times, she miscarried because she suffered from endometriosis and ectopic pregnancies.
39. The Creepy Allure of Marilyn’s Grave
Several of the burial vaults near to Marilyn’s have been put on sale. Elsie Poncher, the widow of the man in the vault above Marilyn’s, sold her husband’s spot for $4.5 million.
38. What a Bargain
Hugh Hefner owns the burial vault next to Marilyn. He bought it in 1992 for £50,000. Well, compared to whoever bought Mr. Poncher’s spot, he got a quite a deal!
Hefner’s somewhat-creepy attachment to Monroe is kind of understandable—after all, she helped make Playboy what it is! She was the cover and centerfold model for the first issue in 1953. The photo set even included a racy nude photo from Monroe’s infamous 1949 nude shoot.
37. Brains and Beauty
When she was a rising star, Monroe and the studios played upon her looks and created a “blonde bombshell” persona. Sadly, “blonde bombshell” is apparently next door to “dumb blonde,” and she began being typecast as just that, which she hated. Probably because in reality, she was actually extremely intelligent. She had an IQ of 168.
36. Weight Woes
Her weight went up and down so dramatically during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl that the costume designer, Beatrice Dawson, had to create facsimile dresses in different sizes. “I have two ulcers from this film,” Dawson said, “and they’re both monogrammed MM.”
35. Teacher’s Pet
Her first acting coach, Natasha Lytess, worked with her for six years and 22 films. Marilyn paid her a generous wage and settled her £11,000 debt at the dentist.
Later, Paula Strasberg took on the acting coach role. To coach Marilyn in The Prince and the Showgirl, she was paid $25,000—as much as some of the featured actors were getting.
34. In Solemn Memory
For 20 years after Marilyn’s death, Joe DiMaggio sent roses to her crypt three times a week. He outlived her by 36 years but never married again, and his last words were apparently, “I’ll finally get to see Marilyn.”
While Joe DiMaggio’s undying devotion to Marilyn Monroe looks like the stuff of Hollywood romance, it shouldn’t eclipse how their union also echoed the Hollywood violent thriller. When they divorced, DiMaggio had Monroe’s phones tapped and would show up to her house at random intervals, just to see if she was with other men. Not cool.
33. The Grand White Piano
At the 1999 auction of Marilyn’s effects, her white baby grand piano was bought by Mariah Carey for $662,500. The piano had originally been bought by Marilyn’s mother when she was young, and sold after she had her breakdown, but Marilyn eventually found it and bought it back, keeping it with her until her death.
32. The Casket
There was an open casket at Monroe’s 1962 funeral. She wore an apple green dress made of nylon jersey and a platinum wig, because her head had been partially shaved during the autopsy.
31. The Wedding That Never Came
She was thought to have been planning to remarry Joe DiMaggio at the time of her death. After the failure of their first marriage, DiMaggio had undergone therapy, stopped drinking alcohol, and expanded his interests beyond baseball. He and Marilyn read poetry together in her final years.
30. Happy Birthday, Mr. President
The beaded gown Marilyn wore when she sang Happy Birthday to President Kennedy sold in 1999 for £820,000. At the time, it was the record price for a single item of clothing.
She broke her own record when her billowing white Seven Year Itch dress was put up for sale in 2011, where it made £2.8 million.
29. Eyes Off the Merchandise, James
Before her marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, Marilyn married James Dougherty when she was only 16 years old so that she wouldn’t have to go back to an orphanage after her foster family left the state. They divorced when her modeling career took off. Dougherty, who later became a detective in the LAPD, was forbidden by his second wife from going to see any of Monroe’s films.
28. The Golden Fuzz
Marilyn whitened her skin with hormone cream. One side effect was that the treatment encouraged the growth of blonde down on her face. Marilyn refused to remove this peach fuzz because she believed it gave her face a soft glow on camera.
27. Nip and Tuck
In 1950, Johnny Hyde, her agent, paid for her to have two plastic surgeries: a tip rhinoplasty (reshaping the soft cartilage at the end of her nose) and a chin implant.
26. Woof, Woof
Marilyn owned many dogs throughout her lifetime. Her final four-legged companion was a Maltese terrier given to her by Frank Sinatra, which she named Maf, short for Mafia Honey. Subtle.
In 1999, two Polaroids of Maf sold for £220,000.
25. The Estate
When she died in 1962 at age 36, she left an estate valued at $1.6 million. In her will, Monroe bequeathed 75% of that estate to Lee Strasberg, her acting coach, and 25% to Dr. Marianne Kris, her psychoanalyst. She also left a trust fund for her mother worth $5,000 a year.
Monroe was actually an early devotee of yoga! Marilyn was taught by Indra Devi, a Swedish-Russian Bollywood film star who also taught Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson.
23. Standing up for what’s right.
In the 1950s, American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald was barred from performing at Los Angeles nightclubs because segregation laws were still in force. Marilyn went out of her way to land Ella a gig—she convinced the management to let Fitzgerald play by promising to sit in the front row for a week.
22. Papa Clark
Marilyn had a fixation on Clark Gable, her co-star in The Misfits. Monroe never knew who her father was, and as a young girl, she had dreamed that Gable was her father. When he died, she said that she cried for two days.
21. In the Nude
Among female studio employees–wardrobe mistresses, hairdressers, make-up artists–she often preferred to walk around naked. She also gave interviews in the nude and often went out wearing nothing under the black mink that Joe DiMaggio had given her. After all, one of the early scandals in her career centered around nude photos that she’d posed for in 1949. To avoid too much damage, Monroe and the studio admitted to the existence of the photos, and claimed that she’d been broke when they’d been taken. Their gambit worked, and her popularity never wavered.
20. Honest Abe
Marilyn’s hero was Abraham Lincoln: “I used to read everything I could find about him,” she wrote in her (ghosted) autobiography, My Story. “He was the only famous American who seemed most like me, at least in his childhood.”
19. Untimely Reading
At the time of her death, she was reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Captain Newman MD, a novel by Leo Rosten based on the life of Monroe’s psychiatrist, Ralph Greenson.
18. Claims of Paternity
Two men claimed paternity of Marilyn on their deathbeds: C. Stanley Gifford, the man who both Marilyn and her mother believed was her father, although he refused to meet Marilyn when she was alive; and Martin Edward Mortensen, the man who was married to her mother at the time of her birth. Edward’s name appears on Marilyn’s birth certificate.
17. Athletic Prowess
Monroe’s first husband was stationed on Catalina Island after he joined the Merchant Marines. As a young married woman on the island in the early ’40s, she studied weightlifting with a former Olympic champion named Howard Corrington. She also later went tandem surfing with a boyfriend, Tommy Zahn, balancing on his shoulders as they cut through the waves.
16. The Cost of Tardiness
During the filming of Let’s Make Love, Marilyn’s no-shows added 28 days to the shooting time and $1 million to the budget.
15. Humble Beginnings
Her career in front of the camera began when she was discovered working on the assembly line at Radioplane, a munitions factory, by a photographer called David Conover.
14. Arthur’s Marilyn?
Arthur Miller’s play After the Fall is thought to be a thinly veiled portrayal of his marriage to Marilyn. The writer James Baldwin walked out of the play because he thought that “Maggie,” the Monroe character, was written so cruelly.
13. Dream Home
She only owned one home: the house she died in, at 12305 Fifth Helena Drive, in Brentwood, California.
12. The Birth of the Name
In her autobiography My Story, she recounted that one of her guardians told her that she was a direct descendant of James Monroe. Her mother’s maiden name was Monroe—hence her stage name—but there is no evidence she was a descendant of the US President.
11. Marilyn’s Health
Monroe suffered from endometriosis, a painful condition in which tissue from the uterine lining (endometrium) leave the uterus, attach themselves to other areas of the body, and grow, causing severe pain, irregular bleeding, and, in severe cases, infertility.
10. Candle in the Wind
In 1973, Elton John released a single in tribute to her entitled “Candle in the Wind.” In 1997, it was re-recorded with updated lyrics in memory of Princess Diana, becoming the UK’s best-selling single of all time.
9. Sewn In
The dress that Monroe wore to serenade President John F. Kennedy, on May 19, 1962, at his birthday celebration was so tight that it had to be sewn onto her. How’d she go to the bathroom?!
Marilyn’s death was ruled a “probable suicide,” but toxicology tests were only carried out on her liver. When the deputy coroner tried to obtain her other organs for testing, he was told they’d been destroyed. Details like this have become part of the myriad conspiracy theories surrounding the star’s death.
7. Conspiracy Abounds
Marilyn’s death remains controversial and many sources believe she was murdered because she threatened to reveal details about her love affairs with John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. Several journalists have published unverified claims that Bobby Kennedy, Dr. Ralph Greenson (her psychiatrist), and the CIA conspired to murder her with a fatal dose of pentobarbital and an enema filled with broken-down Nembutals.
As of 2016, these remain conspiracies: not proven statements.
6. Suspicious Circumstances
She was discovered dead at her home on Fifth Helena Drive in Brentwood on August 5, 1962. She had a phone in one of her hands and her body was completely nude and face down on her bed. There was no odor of drugs on her mouth, as would be consistent with suicidal pill ingestion. There was also no report of alcohol or water near the bed where she was found, as would also be typical. The coroner’s report noted no traces of pills in her stomach. Deputy coroner Thomas Noguchi suggested the lack of pills was the result of Monroe’s long history of substance abuse, which allowed her to digest the capsules faster than a non-addict.
Life Magazine photojournalist Leigh Wiener bribed the county morgue staff with a bottle of whiskey to get inside and photograph Monroe hours after her death. Her body showed cyanosis, blue or purple coloration of the skin, which is consistent with needle injection.
5. They’re Listening
Veronica Hamel, an actress, bought Marilyn’s house in 1972. She claimed that when she was renovating the house she discovered an extensive system of wire-taps. PI Fred Otash later confirmed that the FBI and the CIA had bugged Marilyn’s home.
4. A Friend’s Intuition
Marlon Brando studied people. As an actor, it was his work, and it was his innate ability to mimic others, coupled with his imagination and empathy, that made him so great, and he knew it too.
This is why he believed that his friend Marilyn Monroe didn’t commit suicide, but rather was murdered.
He believed that he could read people at an incredibly high level and that no matter how smart a person was, they could not completely conceal depression. Thus, in his eyes, Monroe couldn’t have committed suicide, because he would have been able to sense her depression prior to her death.
3. Case Closed?
Due to the prevalence of murder conspiracy theories in the media, the office of the Los Angeles County District Attorney reviewed the Monroe case in 1982. They found no evidence to support murder and did not disagree with the findings of the original investigation.
2. Something Stupid
Sinatra and baseball star Joe Dimaggio once tried to raid their mutual ex-lover Marilyn Monroe’s apartment to catch her with another man, but accidentally raided the wrong place and invaded the home of a 50-year old secretary named Florence Kotz. They had to pay $7,500 to make up for the fact that they’d broken down her door and scared the bejeesus out of her. Whoops!
1. Goodbye, Norma Jean
Warren Beatty was one of the last people to see Marilyn Monroe alive. A twenty-five-year-old Beatty met her at a producer’s home during a party. According to a 2016 interview with Beatty, the two of them spent the evening together, which involved Beatty playing piano for her and a moonlit walk along the shore which he described as more soulful than romantic. Monroe died the next day.
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