Marilyn Monroe Facts: 25 Things You Don't Know About the Hollywood Icon
Lifetime's mini-series "The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe" debuts on May 30, prompting the question: What possible secrets can there still be about Marilyn Monroe?
Quite a few, apparently, from the identity of her birth father, to the nature of her fatal overdose at age 36 -- was it suicide, accident, or murder? In 2012, on the 50th anniversary of her death, Moviefone previously published "25 Things You Didn't Know About Marilyn Monroe." Turns out that list barely scratched the surface. Here, then, are 25 more.
1. Monroe's birth certificate from 1926 lists her birth name as Norma Jeane Mortenson. The last name was a misspelling of the surname of her mother's second husband, Martin Mortensen, who separated from Gladys before she became pregnant. Soon after, she reverted to her first married name, Baker, and gave that name to her daughter.
2. Gladys later told Norma Jeane that her father was Gladys' boss, Charles Gifford, who looked like Clark Gable in the snapshot that Gladys showed her. Monroe never met him and never knew for certain who her father was.
3. Gladys Baker was a film cutter at Consolidated Film Industries, a Hollywood film lab. Believing herself to be incapable of raising the child, she left Norma Jeane with various foster families. More than once, the girl lived with Gladys's friend, Grace McKee. For a time, she even lived in the Los Angeles Orphans' Home, as a ward of the state.
4. When Norma Jeane was seven, Gladys bought a house and brought the girl to live with her. But within a few months, the mother suffered a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized.
5. Gladys had a history of suicidal depression in her family. Both her brother and grandmother had killed themselves.
6. In her memoir, Monroe claimed she had been sexually abused by several different people during her years in foster care. One of the abusers, she said, was the son of a great-aunt she lived with for a while. Another, she said, was Ervin "Doc" Goddard, the man Grace McKee married during one of Monroe's stays at her home.
7. In 1942, when Monroe was 16, Doc Goddard got a job in West Virginia. He and McKee were either unwilling or unable to take the girl with her when they moved. Rather than let her become a ward of the state again, they arranged for her to marry a neighbor, James Doughterty, who was 21.
8. During World War II, while James Dougherty was serving in the Merchant Marine, his wife was working in the Radioplane factory in Van Nuys, where her duties included inspecting parachutes and coating airplane parts with fire-retardant spray.
9. The official story of Norma Jeane Dougherty's discovery, put forth by Monroe's estate, had her walking down Sunset Boulevard in the summer of 1944, when the 18-year-old was spotted by photographer Bruno Bernard, a.k.a. pin-up pioneer Bernard of Hollywood, who gave her his business card and offered to take some test shots, insisting that he'd be "strictly professional." But it's not clear that he took any pictures of her before the fateful 1947 session at the Palm Springs Racquet Club, where she was to meet talent agent Johnny Hyde. By that time, she'd already been a pin-up for a couple of years and had already signed her first movie contract.
10. We may have Ronald Reagan to thank for Monroe's entry into modeling and show business. In June 1945, the actor and future U.S. president was a captain in the Army's 1st Motion Picture Unit, doing publicity and propaganda work. He ordered photographer David Conover to visit the Radioplane factory to shoot pictures of pretty girls contributing to the war effort. He was particularly struck by the beauty of the 19-year-old Norma Jeane Dougherty. She told him of her desire to become an actress, and he offered to take portfolio shots of her. He spent two weeks showing her how to pose and how to woo the camera. He also encouraged her to sign with the Blue Book Modeling Agency, where she was advised to dye her brown hair blonde.
11. By 1946, she was calling herself Marilyn Monroe. "Marilyn" supposedly came from 1920s performer Marilyn Miller, while Monroe was Gladys Baker's maiden name. 20th Century Fox talent scout Ben Lyon, who had seen Norma Jeane Dougherty's pin-ups and signed her to the studio, is generally credited with coming up with the stage name, whose "MM" alliteration he thought would be good luck.
12. Paradoxically, the actress' legal name became Marilyn Miller once she wed playwright Arthur Miller. She used that legal name as an alias when she visited doctors.
13. Monroe filed for divorce from her first husband in 1946, while he was still overseas. He claimed her reason for the divorce was that Fox wouldn't sign her unless she was single. ("They didn't want a pregnant starlet," she explained.)
14. A decade later, at the height of her stardom, Dougherty would anger his ex-wife by claiming in a magazine interview that she once threatened to kill herself by jumping off the Santa Monica Pier if he left her. Her version of the story was that she'd threatened suicide out of boredom.
15. People were surprised when Monroe, who had been married for nine months to Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio, married the intellectual Miller in 1956, but she was well-read. She had studied literature at UCLA and had a library of 400 books in her home, many of them first editions.
16. "Bus Stop" director Joshua Logan was impressed enough with Monroe to recall later that working with her was "the first time I learned that intelligence and, yes, brilliance, have nothing to do with education."17. "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" co-star and fellow bombshell Jane Russell tried to proselytize Monroe. The actress later joked, "Jane tried to convert me, and I tried to introduce her to Freud."
18. Monroe's billowing white dress from "The Seven Year Itch" was not her only famous movie costume. Tommy Hilfiger bought her jeans from "River of No Return" at an auction for $37,000. He gave them as a gift to Britney Spears.
19. The glittering Jean Louis gown she wore during her rendition of "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" at John F. Kennedy's birthday in 1962 was so skin-tight that she had to be sewn into it. In 1999, it was sold at auction for $1.3 million.
20. Monroe was infamous in Hollywood for being chronically late to movie sets and struggling with her lines. These problems apparently stemmed from her crippling insecurity that no one would take her seriously as an actress. Billy Wilder, who directed her twice (in "The Seven Year Itch" and "Some Like It Hot"), insisted that all the trouble she caused was worth it, given the results. "I have an Aunt Minnie who's very punctual," Wilder said, "but who would pay to see Aunt Minnie?"
21. "Some Like It Hot" co-star Jack Lemmon recalled decades later that nothing seemed to help Monroe remember her lines. Cue cards would be placed all over the set, outside camera range, even inside a drawer Monroe had to open in one scene. Yet it still look Wilder dozens of takes to get Monroe to deliver the lines as written. But when the daily rushes were screened, Lemmon recalled, something magical would happen. No matter what she was saying, the camera would capture a sparkling performance that the human eye had missed. She knew better than anyone how to act for the camera.
22. When Monroe's "The Misfits" co-star Clark Gable suffered a fatal heart attack at age 59 shortly after the shoot ended, Monroe blamed herself. She cited the stress she caused through her delay-generating behavior throughout the shoot. (Then again, Gable's insistence on doing his own stunts and his crash diet during the shoot may have been contributing factors.) Between the loss of Gable and the dissolution of her marriage to Miller, Monroe became so despondent that she nearly jumped out the 13th-story window of her Manhattan apartment in early 1961.
23. Alarmed by her depression, her psychiatrist committed her to the Payne Whitney clinic at Cornell University-New York Hospital. To her horror, Monroe had found herself institutionalized -- just like her mother. She managed to track down ex-husband DiMaggio, called him from the psychiatric ward and begged him to come spring her -- which he did. The two reportedly rekindled their relationship, and she was even supposedly planning to remarry him until her fatal overdose, which happened a few days before the August 1962 wedding date.
24. Marilyn Monroe's Facebook page has 13 million "likes." But her Twitter feed has just 228,000 followers.
25. Monroe's estate continues to use her image to work marketing magic. There's a line of Marilyn Monroe fashions at Macy's, a string of Marilyn Monroe beauty spas in various cities, Burton snowboards bearing her likeness, and a Marilyn Moments app for iPhones that lets users create their own Monroe-themed memes using portraits and quotations from the actress.