Born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles, California, to Gladys Baker, identity of her father unknown, she was later baptized Norma Jeane Baker. Gladys had been a film cutter, but psychological problems prevented her from keeping the job and she was eventually committed to a mental institution.
Norma Jeane spent most of her childhood in foster homes and orphanages until 1937, when she moved in with family friend Grace McKee Goddard. Unfortunately, when Grace's husband was transferred to the East Coast in 1942, the couple couldn't afford to take 16-year-old Norma Jeane with them. Norma Jeane had two options: return to the orphanage or get married.
On June 19, 1942 she wed her 21-year-old neighbor Jimmy Dougherty, whom she had been dating for six months. "She was a sweet, generous and religious girl," Jimmy said. "She liked to be cuddled." By all accounts Norma Jeane loved Jimmy, and they were happy together until he joined the Merchant Marines and was sent to the South Pacific in 1944.
After Jimmy left, Norma Jeane took a job on the assembly line at the Radio Plane Munitions factory in Burbank, California. Several months later, photographer David Conover saw her while taking pictures of women contributing to the war effort for Yank magazine. He couldn't believe his luck. She was a "photographer's dream." Conover used her for the shoot and then began sending modeling jobs her way. The camera loved Norma Jeane, and within two years she was a reputable model with many popular magazine covers to her credit. She began studying the work of legendary actresses Jean Harlow and Lana Turner, and enrolled in drama classes with dreams of stardom. However, Jimmy's return in 1946 meant Norma Jeane had to make another choice- this time between her marriage and her career.
Norma Jeane divorced Jimmy in June of 1946, and signed her first studio contract with Twentieth Century Fox on August 26, 1946. She earned $125 a week. Soon after, Norma Jeane dyed her hair blonde and changed her name to Marilyn Monroe (borrowing her grandmother's last name).
Photoplay magazine voted Marilyn the Best New Actress of 1953, and at 27 years old she was undeniably the best-loved blonde bombshell in Hollywood.
On January 14, 1954, Marilyn married baseball superstar Joe DiMaggio at San Francisco's City Hall. They had been a couple for two years, after Joe asked his agent to arrange a dinner date. "I don't know if I'm in love with him yet," Marilyn said when the press got word of their relationship, "but I know I like him more than any man I've ever met." During their Tokyo honeymoon, Marilyn took time to perform for the service men stationed in Korea. Her presence caused a near-riot among the troops, and Joe was clearly uncomfortable with thousands of men ogling his new bride.
Unfortunately, Marilyn's fame and sexual image became a theme that haunted their marriage. Nine months later on October 27, 1954, Marilyn and Joe divorced. They attributed the split to a "conflict of careers," and remained close friends.
Marilyn was ready to shed her "shallow blonde" image by 1955. It had gotten her into the spotlight, but now that she had the opportunity and experience, Marilyn wanted to pursue serious acting. She took a hiatus from Hollywood and moved to New York City to study under Lee Strasberg at his Actors' Studio. In 1956, Marilyn started her own motion picture company, Marilyn Monroe Productions. The company produced Bus Stop and The Prince and the Showgirl (co-starring Sir Laurence Olivier). These two films allowed her to demonstrate her talent and versatility as an actress. Marilyn received further recognition for 1959's Some Like It Hot, winning a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy.
On June 29, 1956, Marilyn wed playwright Arthur Miller. The couple met through Lee Strasberg, and friends reported she made him "giddy." While they were married, Arthur wrote the part of Roslyn Taber in 1961's The Misfits especially for Marilyn. The movie co-starred Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift. Sadly, the marriage between Marilyn and Arthur ended on January 20, 1961, and The Misfits was to be Marilyn's (and Gable's) last completed film.
At the 1962 Golden Globes, Marilyn was named female World Film Favorite, once again demonstrating her widespread appeal.
On the evening of August 4, 1962, after a visit by her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph R. Greenson, Marilyn would retreat to her chamber around 8:00 pm carrying her hallway telephone extension and perhaps a bottle of pills. Remember that back then there were no wireless phones so Marilyn had to drag the phone with its long extension cord down the hallway and into her bedroom.
She would make several phone calls that evening, one of which was supposedly to Peter Lawford, who was married to a Kennedy and who had introduced her to the Kennedys. Peter Lawford became somewhat distressed by the call because he was a bit uncomfortable with what sounded like to him a final goodbye. But rather than pay a personal visit, Lawford claims that he contacted Monroe's agent who eventually called Marilyn's house. Answering that call, at around 9:30 pm. was Marilyn's housekeeper, Eunice, who saw the phone cord trailing into Marilyn's room and hastily surmised that she must be OK. No one knows exactly how many calls Marilyn made that night and to whom she would have placed these calls because telephone records for that address on that evening mysteriously disappeared, having been confiscated by the phone company.
In the wee hours of the morning of August 5, 1962, green police sergeant, Jack Clemmons, would receive a phone call from Dr. Hyman Engelberg that Marilyn Monroe had died from an overdose of pills. After personally driving out to the modest home in Brentwood, Sgt, Clemmons would find Dr. Engleberg accompanied by Eunice and at least one other individual who all led him to Marilyn's bedroom. He saw Marilyn's nude body sprawled face down and positioned diagonally across her bed, her left hand touching the telephone on the nightstand. Next to the telephone were several (some reports say as many as 10-14) empty prescription pill bottles including one that contained several capsules of Nembutal and chloral hydrate (remember this for later.) A more thorough examination failed to turn up a glass that might have been used for water to help down the pills. Upon inquiring about the bathroom, Eunice informed Sgt, Clemmons it was out of order and had no running water. Another curious observation was made by Sgt. Clemmons when he noticed that Eunice had been doing laundry and general tidying up around the house. When questioned, Eunice said that she knew the coroner would eventually come and rope off the house for crime scene investigation, so she wanted the place to look nice.
Sgt. Clemmons noticed that Marilyn's body was in an advanced state of rigor mortis which meant it had been dead for several hours. Upon further questioning, it was revealed by Eunice that she noticed Marilyn's locked door sometime after midnight. Upon receiving no answer after several knocks, Eunice would become concerned and call Dr. Engleberg who was subsequently unable to arouse Marilyn by knocking on the door. The pair would then go around outside and peek in through her window. Only after breaking the window with a fireplace poker were they able to gain entry into Marilyn's bedroom. But it was too late. The 36 year-old actress was already dead. Four hours had passed before Eunice contacted the authorities.
Marilyn's body was taken to Westwood Village Mortuary and the house was sealed and placed under guard for further investigation. Later, Marilyn's corpse would be transferred to the county morgue, where LA County Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Noguchi (who would later perform an autopsy on actress Natalie Wood, another victim of suspicious circumstances) would perform the autopsy. Noguchi's official investigation attributed Marilyn's death to a lethal overdose of Nembutal and chloral hydrate. Probably suicide. Dr. Noguchi would change his case several times, however, attributing the discrepancies to his youth and inexperience, and at one time claimed to have been pressured by his superiors into signing his original autopsy report.
Among some of the oddities surrounding Marilyn's death are some facts about the drugs she supposedly took and the reaction those drugs have inside the body. Head coroner Dr. Theodore Curphey would corroborate Noguchi's story that Marilyn died from a drug overdose of Nembutal and chloral hydrate. He estimated that Marilyn had taken at least 50 pills at once, in spite of the fact that there was no water around! Another curiosity was with the type of drugs Marilyn had supposedly ingested. Nembutal capsules, when digested, leave a yellow discoloration on the lining of the intestine. But there was no such discoloration noted in Marilyn's autopsy. In fact, no partially digested capsules even existed in her digestive tract. Seems like on top of everything else, the autopsy was botched! Also, the "official" death certificate listed the cause of death as "probable suicide" with the word "probable" inscribed in pencil.
It might also be worthy of mention that Eunice Murray, Marilyn's housekeeper had been fired earlier in the day of Marilyn's death.
Joe DiMaggio, who had continued to stay in touch with Marilyn even after their divorce would fly down from San Francisco to oversee the funeral arrangements. Lee Strasberg would deliver Marilyn Monroe's eulogy before her burial at Westwood Village Memorial Park where, for the next 20 years, red roses were placed in a vase attached to the crypt, courtesy of Joe DiMaggio.