Before Marilyn Monroe became one of Hollywood’s most iconic stars, she was a regular girl called Norma Jeane Mortenson. Back then, she had brown, curly hair, and her prospects looked much the same as those of many other young women of the era: get married, be a housewife and have a family. And, in fact, the future actress was barely 16 years old when she wed for the first time – although this move may have been made more out of desperation than anything else.
After all, Monroe’s early life was a very far cry from the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, marked out as it was by poverty and abuse. And while her beauty and comedic talents helped her to break away from her difficult past, fame would turn out to come at its own price.
Apparently, Monroe struggled under the spotlight and saw her real self and her on-screen persona as two totally different people. There’s a well-known anecdote about her strolling with a pal through New York, hiding from paparazzi with a scarf over her head. Turning to her friend, Monroe supposedly said, “Do you want me to be her? Watch.” Then she undid her jacket, removed the shawl and went into the iconic Marilyn Monroe strut. After that, it’s said she was accosted by fans within seconds.
And while Monroe was undeniably beautiful, she was also a talented actress. The ditzy blonde whom she portrayed in many movies was apparently not at all reflective of her true personality, either. You see, Monroe not only loved to read, but she also reportedly owned hundreds of books. According to fellow actress Shelley Winters, the sex symbol was attracted to smart men, too.
Monroe’s third husband, Arthur Miller, was certainly an intellectual. In fact, the media mocked the couple when they married in 1956, with Variety running the wry headline “Egghead Weds Hourglass.” And many found it hard to believe that the blonde bombshell and the writer could possibly make a good match. Unfortunately, they were proved more or less right.
Monroe split from Miller in 1961 at around the time that her movie The Misfits turned out to be a commercial flop. And she received some negative reviews for her performance in the flick, too. The New York Times, for instance, called the actress “blank and unfathomable” in her role as divorcée Roslyn Tabor.
That said, some of Monroe’s bad press may have been down to anxiety rather than lack of talent. “I liked Marilyn, but she was God-awful to work with,” her one time co-star Richard Widmark told The Daily Telegraph in 2002. “Impossible, really. She would hide in her dressing room and refuse to come out.”
And Monroe’s deeper personal issues couldn’t be hidden from her co-stars, either. “When she finally would show up, she was a nervous wreck,” Widmark continued. “It was all a result of fear. She was insecure about so many things and was obviously self-destructive. She was a wounded bird from the beginning.”
In fact, Monroe’s mental health apparently reached such a low at around the time of her divorce from Miller that she was treated in a psychiatric ward. It’s also claimed that the actress’ ex-husband Joe DiMaggio – to whom she had been married before Miller – was a big support for her during this period. That said, her relationship with DiMaggio has been the subject of several controversial rumors over the years.
Monroe and DiMaggio’s short-lived marriage was apparently both passionate and tumultuous. Reportedly, the baseball star had certain hang-ups about his wife’s public persona – so much so that the relationship began to turn sour. In fact, legend has it that DiMaggio wanted Monroe to be a housewife rather than an actress. But Monroe was a sex symbol, and being flirtatious was part of her job.
For instance, there’s a dark tale behind the iconic picture of Monroe in a billowing white dress. That famous snap, as you may know, comes from a scene in Billy Wilder’s movie The Seven Year Itch. And, apparently, on the day that the sequence was shot, DiMaggio came to watch. But according to some reports, he didn’t like what he saw – and some sources say that he became agitated as a result.
In the 2014 book Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love, C. David Heymann discussed the violence that Monroe may have experienced at the hands of her husband. “When [Monroe] didn’t respond the way [DiMaggio] wanted her to, he became physical,” Heymann claimed. “On one occasion, he ripped an earring from her lobe and scratched her face.”
Then when Monroe filed for divorce from DiMaggio, it was reportedly on the grounds of “mental cruelty.” Yet it’s said that the sporting legend remained preoccupied with his ex even after their split. And despite all that had supposedly occurred throughout the course of their tumultuous relationship, the actress ended up more or less going back to him.
But why would Monroe have returned to a man who is said to have treated her badly? Well, many biographers have pointed out that, sadly, much of Monroe’s short life featured abuse in some form or another. Even back when she was the beautiful but ordinary Norma Jeane Baker, she had experienced awful things in her early childhood.
Monroe entered the world in 1926 in Los Angeles, California. Her mother was Gladys Pearl Baker, who had come from an impoverished family; her father wasn’t in the picture. In fact, it’s said that Monroe was eight years old before she even saw a photograph of her dad, who is believed to be a man named Charles Stanley Gifford.
And Gladys also suffered from mental health issues that included schizophrenia, meaning she couldn’t look after her child alone. So, when Monroe was just a couple of weeks old, the newborn’s mom dropped her off with foster parents Ida and Wayne Bolender.
Monroe was subsequently brought up for the most part by the Bolenders, who were evangelical Christians. And Monroe apparently knew from a young age that she wanted to be in showbiz. “When I was five, I think, that’s when I started wanting to be an actress. I loved to play,” Monroe told Life magazine in 1962. “I didn’t like the world around me because it was kind of grim, but I loved to play house.”
But although the Bolenders provided care for Monroe and put a roof over her head, her childhood was nonetheless difficult. The family were utterly devoted to their religion, for one thing, and they seemed to expect their ward to be as well. In fact, Monroe once claimed that she wasn’t able to sing or dance in the Bolenders’ presence.
Then in 1933 Gladys apparently came to take her daughter back – even though the Bolenders had planned to officially adopt her. After that, Monroe and her mother moved into a Hollywood home that they shared with another family called the Atkinsons. But as it turned out, Gladys wasn’t well enough to look after her child. And the following year, she suffered a breakdown that led to hospitalization.
Monroe was then bounced around various foster homes and schools. And later, she told the press that at this point in her life, she was sexually abused. The star never outright named the perpetrator during her lifetime, but some biographers have since suggested that the individual responsible may have been the father of the Atkinson family.
And as Monroe’s childhood went on, she reportedly felt more and more unwanted. “Some of my foster families used to send me to the movies to get me out of the house, and there I’d sit all day and way into the night,” she revealed to Life in 1962. “Up in front there with the screen so big – a little kid all alone.”
Then, at around the age of nine, Monroe was placed into an orphanage – a place about which she would later speak harshly in interviews. For one thing, the star claimed, she had had to wash hundreds of dishes, knives and forks every day while being paid almost nothing for her work. Other sources have disputed these allegations, however.
But regardless of whether Monroe was actually exploited at the orphanage, she certainly didn’t enjoy life there. And, finally, a friend of her mother’s named Grace McKee Goddard removed her from the institution and took her in. Unfortunately, though, Monroe may have also suffered sexual abuse at this new home – allegedly at the hands of Grace’s husband, Doc.
And while Monroe tried finding alternative places to live, she eventually ended up back at the Goddard home. Then in 1942 the Goddards had to move state along with Doc’s company. Monroe couldn’t go with the couple, however, leaving her confronted with the prospect of being sent back to the orphanage.
Yet there was actually an answer to this problem: Monroe could get married. And a suitor duly came along in the form of a 21-year-old neighbor of the Goddards’ named James “Jim” Dougherty. The pair had already gone out on several dates, and Dougherty seemingly had no objections to wedding a beautiful girl like Monroe.
So, three weeks after Monroe’s 16th birthday, she and Jim married. And her gown for the occasion – a gift from one of her foster parents – was fairly simple. Made of white lace and with lengthy sleeves, it was a far cry from the bold fashion statements that Monroe would later make at her next two weddings.
Furthermore, at this first ceremony, Monroe is said to have wept. Was it because she was happy, or was it because she had realized that she didn’t want to walk down the aisle after all? Well, after Monroe was no longer his wife, Dougherty insisted that the marriage had been a harmonious one. But some of Monroe’s letters and notes, which were published in 2010, seemingly reveal her true thoughts on the relationship.
Historians who have analyzed these documents think that Monroe may have first written about Dougherty at the age of 17. “My relationship with him was basically insecure from the first night I spent alone with him,” she penned to herself. And other asides she made on the union weren’t particularly flattering, either.
In fact, Monroe’s writing about her first husband sheds light on some of her most personal musings. She was attracted to Dougherty, she said, because he was “one of the few young men [she] had no sexual repulsion for.” Monroe went on, “It gave me a false sense of security to feel that he was endowed with more [overwhelming] qualities which I did not possess.”
Of her marriage to Dougherty, then, Monroe wrote, “On paper it all begins to sound terribly logical.” That said, the same message sees her describe herself as “a young, rather shy girl” and make note of her “desire to belong and [develop].” Indeed, it seems from these letters as though the future star was prone to self-introspection. “I had always felt a need to live up to that expectation of my elders,” she wrote.
But Monroe’s first marriage isn’t the only turning point in her life to be documented in these letters. For instance, she also made extensive notes about her stay in the psychiatric hospital following her divorce from Miller, and these in turn make for sobering reading. “I felt I was in some kind of prison for a crime I hadn’t committed. The inhumanity there I found archaic,” she wrote.
And in a letter to her therapist Dr. Greenson – a man who some biographers think was far too attached to her to be useful to her mental health – Monroe described some of her specific experiences at the hospital. “I said to [the doctors], ‘If you are going to treat me like a nut, I’ll act like a nut,’” she wrote.
Some of the notes that Monroe sent also mentioned how bad her mental health had become. “I wish I knew why I am so anguished,” she wrote to her friend Paula Strasberg in an undated letter. “I think maybe I’m crazy like all the other members of my family were. When I was sick, I was sure I was.”
And it may have been these demons that eventually contributed to Monroe’s death in August 1962. While rumors and conspiracy theories have circulated about what – or who – killed the actress, Los Angeles County coroners claimed that she may have committed suicide. There were a lot of drugs in her system, you see, and they seemed to have all been taken in one go.
Then when three psychiatrists were assigned to investigate Monroe’s mental state at the time of her death, their findings spoke of the actress having gone through extreme distress. “Miss Monroe had suffered from psychiatric disturbance for a long time,” read the report. “She experienced severe fears and frequent depressions. Mood changes were abrupt and unpredictable.”
Inevitably, the reactions of Monroe’s lovers were scrutinized following her death. It was noted, for instance, that DiMaggio planned the funeral with Monroe’s business manager and invited only a handful of people to the event; those who turned up unsolicited were kept away by police. And the baseball star would send roses to Monroe’s grave thrice-weekly for some 20 years.
Miller, meanwhile, didn’t go to the funeral, which led some Monroe fans to cast him as a cold-hearted ex who never truly cared for the actress. But in 2018 an unpublished essay written by Miller was released. And in it, he gave his real reason for not attending that day. “I decided to stay home and let the public mourners finish the mockery… Most of them there destroyed her,” he wrote.
As for Dougherty, when he spoke of his ex-wife’s passing to the Associated Press in 2002, he too seemed to place some of the blame on Monroe’s celebrity. “I had almost been expecting it,” said Dougherty, who had gone on to become a police detective. “Fame was injurious to her. She was too gentle to be an actress.”
Dougherty died in 2005 of leukemia-related complications at the age of 84. And while his whole life he had fielded questions about Monroe, the words he spoke to United Press International in 1990 are truly poignant. “I never knew Marilyn Monroe, and I don’t claim to have any insights to her to this day,” he said. “I knew and loved Norma Jeane.”
And while very few ever truly knew Norma Jeane, Marilyn Monroe was adored and loved by millions. Yet in the end, nobody could save her. In one of the letters that the star wrote while she was married to Miller, she admitted, “I have always been deeply terrified to really be someone’s wife, since I know from life one cannot love another, ever, really.”
Plenty of people still love Monroe, of course, and that’s clear from the legions of fans she has today. But back at the time of her passing, not everyone was so complimentary about the actress. And one obit in particular was surprisingly scathing about Monroe, her life and work.
When Marilyn Monroe died aged just 36, she was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. You’d think, then, that her obituaries would reflect her beloved celebrity status. But whereas some of America’s biggest publications wrote heartbreaking eulogies that celebrated the icon, others released statements that were, shall we say, less than flattering. In fact, some were just downright rude – and the Los Angeles Times went further than most.
Monroe – an award-winning actress, model and somewhat controversial figure – died in August 1962. She was found in her Los Angeles home by her housekeeper, and the screen star seemed to be the victim of an apparent suicide. Understandably, her sudden and unexpected passing sent shockwaves throughout the world. And the salacious details surrounding her demise only fueled the media storm that followed.
You see, it was initially reported that Monroe had passed away as a result of an overdose from barbiturates, as drugs were found at the scene. And the authorities later confirmed the cause of her death: the star, it appeared, had committed suicide. Toxicology results – alongside empty pill containers by her bedside – appeared to back up that declaration, too. With no suspicions of foul play, then, Monroe’s final journey could be made.
Yes, four days after Monroe’s death, she was interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery’s Corridor of Memories. And while the funeral itself was private, hundreds of fans packed the surrounding streets to say goodbye to the star. But the press weren’t done with Monroe just yet, it seems, as through their obituaries they had one last opportunity to tell the world how they really felt about her.
Yet when Monroe first came into the world, it’s highly unlikely that those around her would have predicted the stardom that she would one day enjoy. In fact, even her name had been different; after her birth on June 1, 1926, she was given the decidedly less glamorous moniker of Norma Jeane Mortenson. Monroe’s mom, Gladys, wasn’t aware who her little girl’s father was, either, so the future actress never knew him. But tragically, her history of family heartbreak didn’t end there.
For the first few years of Monroe’s life, you see, she lived with foster parents. And as Gladys had to work, she stayed in the city and only went to see her daughter at the weekends. Happily, though, when Monroe was seven, the pair moved into a house in Hollywood and resided there – along with some lodgers. But that situation wouldn’t last a year.
At the beginning of 1934, a breakdown led Gladys to discover that she had paranoid schizophrenia, and she was consequently admitted to a local mental health facility. At this point, with no parent to care for her, Monroe continued to live at her mother’s house with the lodgers. And during this period, the future star was reportedly sexually assaulted.
From there, Monroe went to an LA orphanage before finally moving in with Grace Goddard – a friend of her mother’s. After more accusations of sexual abuse, however, she was sent to Sawtelle to live with a relative of Goddard’s. Then, a few years later, Monroe was forced back to the Goddard household – although not for long. Soon, the family decided to up sticks, leaving the future star to make a stark choice.
As Monroe was a teenager at the time, her foster family could not take her out of California. As a result, then, she would have to go back to the orphanage – unless she opted for a different path, that is. Yet while Monroe couldn’t legally live on her own, she could, it seems, marry a legal adult. So, she tied the knot with 21-year-old James Dougherty. The marriage, however, didn’t last.
It would be Monroe’s short-lived union with Dougherty, though, that set her on a path to stardom. After Dougherty enlisted in the Merchant Marines, you see, his young wife took work in a local munitions plant. There, a chance encounter with an Army photographer led to her signing with the Blue Book Agency in 1945 as a model. So, within just a year, Monroe managed to grace the covers of some 33 magazines. And from there, the bright lights of Hollywood beckoned.
In 1946 Monroe signed with 20th Century Fox, chose her now-famous stage name and divorced her husband. The upcoming star then made her movie debut in 1947’s Dangerous Years, yet her contract with the studio soon ended. A brief stint at Columbia Pictures followed, but in time she was once again on her own. Off the back of the actress’ successful supporting roles in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve, though, she found herself in demand, and a seven-year deal with Fox was quickly brokered.
Yet despite Monroe’s multi-year contract, she didn’t become a global star overnight. She initially honed her craft in small-budget fare such as 1951’s Home Town Story. That same year, Monroe also appeared in As Young as You Feel and Let’s Make It Legal. And in 1952 she was being heralded as the year’s “it girl.”
That same year, Monroe gave three of her most iconic performances. The first was as Rose Loomis in Niagara, which ultimately cemented her reputation as the blonde bombshell. And while women’s groups in America protested the movie’s allegedly overtly sexual tone, audiences lapped it up. They adored Monroe, too, prompting one critic from The New York Times to note, “She can be seductive – even when she walks.”
Monroe’s next big movie was Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which added the next familiar layer to her persona: the “dumb blonde.” The star played a gorgeous showgirl looking for a rich husband in the classic film, which turned out to be a smash hit. And as well as displaying Monroe’s bombshell looks, the picture also showcased her vocal and physical talents – a combination that viewers couldn’t resist.
Hot on the heels of that success came How to Marry a Millionaire. Monroe once again played a gorgeous woman out to find a wealthy husband, and the film became the star’s biggest commercial success so far. That same year, she appeared on the cover of Playboy magazine’s first-ever issue. As such, Monroe’s reputation as a sex symbol was assured.
Then, the following year, Monroe married a sporting legend. Yes, she tied the knot with baseball hero Joe DiMaggio in January 1954. The pair split just nine months later, however. And after the actress starred in 1955’s The Seven Year Itch, she declared herself bored with what she saw as repetitive roles. So, she started her own production company called MMP.
And Monroe’s next project – 1956’s Bus Stop – earned her a Golden Globe nomination. While portraying a saloon entertainer with big dreams, Monroe prompted one critic to note that the movie “effectively dispels once and for all the notion that she is a mere glamour presence.” As if to underline that point, the star married playwright Arthur Miller that year, converting to Judaism for the wedding.
But although life might have seemed rosy for Monroe from an outsider’s perspective, the reality was about to be very different. You see, while the star was filming her next picture, The Prince And The Showgirl, in 1956, she experienced some professional problems; apparently, she and her co-star Laurence Olivier didn’t see eye to eye at all. More tragically, Monroe supposedly suffered a miscarriage during the shoot. Nor did her personal issues end there.
The next year, Monroe spent a brief time in hospital after overdosing on barbiturates, after which she chose to take some time off from Hollywood. When she returned in 1958, though, it was to make yet another iconic movie: Some Like It Hot. And the picture – which was a smash hit upon its release in 1959 – ultimately earned Monroe a Golden Globe, too. But, sadly, this success wasn’t to last.
During the shoot for Monroe’s next picture – 1960’s Let’s Make Love – she often didn’t show up for work, causing production delays. To make matters worse, the star effectively ended her marriage to Miller by having an affair with co-star Yves Montand. And to top it all off, the movie bombed.
That same year, meanwhile, Monroe made what would ultimately be her final movie. But The Misfits – which had been written by her estranged husband – proved to be even more difficult to shoot than Let’s Make Love had been. There was the strain of working with Miller, for one, and it certainly didn’t help that the star was addicted to barbiturates during this time. Monroe’s substance abuse was so persistent, in fact, that her make-up often had to be applied while she was asleep. And as if that wasn’t enough, she also suffered from gallstones during the production.
Monroe and Miller ultimately divorced in January 1961, following which the star spent the next six months dealing with health issues. Her gallbladder was removed during this period, for instance; she also underwent an operation for endometriosis and spent a month in the hospital with depression. But by the beginning of the next year, Monroe had moved into her own home in LA – and she was even dating DiMaggio again.
Then, not long after moving house, Monroe went back to work. But while starring in Something’s Gotta Give, she was once again plagued by ill-health – this time with sinusitis. Against medical opinion, Monroe continued the shoot, only ultimately taking time off when the condition worsened. And there was further bad luck to come. Even though Monroe had invited the press to snap pictures of her during a nude scene, her studio decided to drop her.
Yet while Fox soon realized its mistake and later negotiated reinstating Monroe, those plans never came to fruition. On August 5, 1962, the star was found dead in her home from what we now know to have been a barbiturate overdose. She had passed away the day before at just 36 years of age. And once word spread of her untimely passing, the media went into a frenzy.
Many well-respected publications ran obituaries for Monroe – but a number of them weren’t the kind that served as glowing reports of her achievements. Some, in fact – such as the piece that ran in Time magazine – chose to focus on the negatives. More specifically, the publication commented on the star’s perceived lack of professionalism. “She was always late for everything,” the obituary reads. “Her tardiness was measured in weeks instead of hours.”
But Time magazine’s strong opinions didn’t end there. For instance, despite Monroe’s success, the obituary decries her offering “a photographer exclusive rights to nearly nude shots of her.” Then, just to reiterate the point, it says, “Last week, she negotiated still another sale of a nude photograph to a picture magazine.” And Time was far from the only news outlet to criticize the late star.
The New York Times chose, for instance, to focus on Monroe’s personal possessions – or lack thereof. The obituary in the newspaper of record points out that her bedroom “was neat but sparsely furnished.” And just to labor the point, the article adds, “Her one-story stucco house… was far different from the lavish Beverly Hills Hotel suites more typical of her.” But the American media weren’t the only ones to castigate Monroe in their tributes.
British newspaper The Guardian also took several swings at the late Hollywood star. In its obituary, she is described as a “pretty woman whose beauty crumbled overnight.” Monroe was also apparently “charming, shrewd and pathetic,” as well as someone who, “in the end, sought ultimate oblivion.” But perhaps the most damning critique of the actress came from her hometown paper.
The Los Angeles Times – or LA Times – had seemingly taken a dislike to Monroe. Whether it was because of the culture of the time, Monroe’s part in a changing of attitudes or something completely different, the paper was brutal towards her. And lazily describing the star’s death as “due to an overdose of some drug” was just the start of it.
From such cold beginnings, the obituary goes on to decry the physical state of Monroe’s dead body. It reads, “She was unkempt and in need of a manicure and pedicure.” This supposed nail-care situation, the publication says, indicated “listlessness and a lack of interest in maintaining her usually glamorous appearance.”
The LA Times obituary also describes Monroe as “a troubled beauty who failed to find happiness as Hollywood’s brightest star.” And as was the case with many other reports, the paper made note of the fact that the star had been nude when she died. The piece adds that Monroe had passed away while “lying face down on her bed and clutching a telephone receiver in her hand.”
And in an echo of The New York Times’ obituary, the LA Times then describes the late star’s possessions – specifically the linen on her bed. The unflattering tribute reveals that Monroe had been lying “under a sheet and champagne-colored blanket” that had been “tucked up around her shoulders.”
The piece then goes on to very matter-of-factly describe the moment when Monroe’s doctor Ralph Greenson and her housekeeper Eunice Murray had discovered her body, stating, “Dr. Greenson took the receiver from her hand and told Mrs. Murray, ‘She appears to be dead.’” And as if all that wasn’t insulting enough, the news outlet then gave a scathing critique of the actress’ working life.
The paper cites Monroe’s career as being “on the skids after two straight movie flops.” This, it posits, had been the cause of her depression. The obituary also takes time to point out that the drugs that had been responsible for her death were in “12 to 15 medicine bottles on Miss Monroe’s bedside stand.”
In addition, the LA Times alleged that Monroe’s 50-pill Nembutal prescription had been “issued only two or three days” before her death. Given that the bottle was now empty, then, the paper seemingly implied that the star had ingested far more than the recommended daily dose. And from there, the piece goes on to describe in detail the final time that Monroe had left her house.
“Miss Monroe’s body was wrapped in a pale blue blanket,” the obituary reads, “and strapped to a stretcher as it was removed from the home.” The article then recounts the authorities’ next steps, saying, “Miss Monroe’s body was loaded into the back of a station wagon and transported to the Westwood Village Mortuary.” But the grim, unfeeling coverage didn’t end there.
Yes, the obituary even goes on to describe what happened to Monroe’s remains in rather disturbing detail. “The body was later transferred to the county morgue, where the nation’s number one glamour girl became Coroner’s Case number 81128 and the body was placed in Crypt 33,” the piece reads.
Yet despite the slew of negative press coverage, many of Monroe’s friends refuted the idea that she’d deliberately ended her life. “This must have been an accident,” Pat Newcomb, the star’s press agent, told the LA Times. “Marilyn was in perfect physical condition and was feeling great. We had made plans for today.”
Monroe’s colleagues raced to defend the star, too. Joshua Logan, director of Bus Stop, described the star as “one of the most unappreciated people in the world.” And even Laurence Olivier – with whom the late star had apparently clashed during the making of The Prince and The Showgirl – was angry on her behalf. He reportedly thought her “the complete victim of ballyhoo and sensation.”
Now we’re in the 21st century, though, we’re generally far more aware of the pressures that global fame can exert on stars. As such, obituaries for celebrities tend to be far more sympathetic than the ones that were published following Monroe’s death. But despite the crass way in which the icon was depicted by the press, she continues to have millions of fans to this day – many of whom no doubt remember her in a much more flattering light.