Marilyn: Top of the Heap
While Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962) is probably the biggest starlet that Hollywood ever produced, her life is not very well known. Born in Los Angeles to a single mother, Monroe spent much of her childhood with a foster family. Although her birth certificate gives her name as Norma Jeane Mortenson, she was later called Norma Jeane Baker.
|Marilyn in 1940, at age 14.|
"I had this long walk to school, it was just sheer pleasure," she told Life of her high school years. "Every fellow honked his horn - the world became friendly."
|Marilyn with her half sister Berniece Baker Miracle (left), mother Gladys (right) and niece Mona Rae (bottom center).|
Marilyn was patriotic, and wound up working in a Burbank defense plant during World War II. In 1945, a fellow in charge of promoting the military and war effort sent a photographer to the plant to get some shots for publication.
The photographer chose Norma Jeane, who worked at spraying fire-retardant coatings on planes. Oh, the fellow who sent the photographer to the plant? Captain Ronald Reagan.
|Working on a radioplane. These later became known as "drones," and, yes, they had them in World War II.|
The war promo shots were the first professional shots for Marilyn. The photographer had a buddy who was just starting out and need a portfolio. He told him about Marilyn, and the shot below is one from that set. It was Marilyn's first paid gig - she got $20, which was good money in those days.
|From Marilyn's first paid modelling gig.|
Marilyn now was interested in modelling for a living. She looked for jobs, and her first was an ad for bandages. It starred her and an adorable dog.
Marilyn got herself registered at the Blue Book Modeling Agency in Hollywood and started getting noticed quickly. The way it worked - and still does - is that photographers are given a selection of girls, and they decide which to shoot. Choosing Marilyn out of a stack of model cards was a no-brainer, and that is how she became a successful model.
Marilyn took shots such as the ones above and below to promote herself - or, more accurately, for the photographer to promote himself and, as part of that process, to promote Marilyn as well. That is an iconic spot for such shots, which became even more iconic because Marilyn was there. The one above is the most iconic shot ever taken in the most iconic spot in the world for ingenues.
This November 1945 photoshoot by Andre de Dienes - their very first together - in the Hollywood Hills on US 101 north of Hollywood has become legendary. In fact, Marilyn so blew out the stops with this set that the spot has become a bit of a cliché for someone announcing that she is the new girl in town.
Andre and Marilyn remained friends and colleagues for the rest of Marilyn's life. She was very loyal. Even after she became a huge movie star, Marilyn would call Andre on a whim late at night and have him shoot her in some odd corner of town that matched her mood.
|How can you not like this girl?|
Things happened quickly for Marilyn after that. Below is a shot of Marilyn in 1946, completely transformed, already giving her autograph. She has a new hairstyle, a more professional look, but the same devastating smile.
|Marilyn is 20 years old and thrilled to be giving an autograph.|
Marilyn quickly got noticed by casting directors. After her first film, "Dangerous Years" (1947), Marilyn got a string of uncredited roles. Her first big break was playing a burlesque dancer, Peggy Martin, in "Ladies of the Chorus" (1948). That was a small film shot in ten days for Columbia Pictures with an initial limited release, though. Marilyn's biggest break in a major picture was right around the corner.
|Marilyn and Groucho in "Love Happy."|
Groucho Marx later recalled that a producer of "Love Happy" (1949), fated to be the final "Marx Brothers" film, gave him permission to select a starlet with whom he would play a scene. Since a major part of the woman's role involved her walking past him and then out a door, the producer had three actresses walk by him. Groucho recalled telling the producer immediately afterwards:
How could you possibly choose anyone but that last one?It was Marilyn, of course, and now she was on her way.
However, don't let that innocent, pert cuteness fool you. Marilyn Monroe was very down to earth about her modelling career. She took quite a few cheesecake shots early in her career. She understood the business and what the public wanted and was not fussy about what she would do.
She could turn on the sex appeal any time she wanted, whether on a dusty highway or a dingy Hollywood backlot.
|A promo shot taken on a Hollywood backlot.|
Then, she could go back to that wholesome, girl next door look.
|This was a promo shot for 20th Century Fox, which had just signed her.|
Everybody knows Marilyn's big, brassy successes, such as "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "Some Like It Hot." However, her breakthrough role as a leading lady was a little film called "Niagra."
|Make-up artist Allen 'Whitey' Snyder, Marilyn's friend, took this on the set of "Niagra."|
Marilyn has a few saucy scenes, including one where she absolutely steals the entire film just by walking down the street.
Hollywood was really starting to notice her now, but Marilyn was still just plain old Norma Jeane inside.
It was around this time that Marilyn became Marilyn. Mickey Rooney later was to claim that he gave Marilyn her stage name, but in fact it was dreamed up by the studio - and not by Mickey Rooney.
Marilyn never forget her roots in the defense industry. She entertained the troops in Korea in the early 1950s and always retained a bond with servicemen.
Her personal life began to get a great deal of attention, too. Her marriage to baseball legend Joe Dimaggio filled the tabloids.
|Joltin' Joe really did love her.|
Naturally, as one of the leading ingenues of the day, everyone wanted to take a shot with her.
|Groucho was verrrrrry careful with his hands. This was probably taken on the set of "Love Happy."|
Of course, they had other reasons to like being around her, too. Marilyn was just fun to be around.
|Humphrey playing along for the paparazzi at the premiere of "How To Marry A Millionaire" on November 4, 1953 in Los Angeles.|
Everyone is familiar with that famous painting showing Marilyn, Elvis, Humphrey Bogart and James Dean together in a diner (or the one of them at a pool hall, or the one of them together at a bar, or the one of them at the ....). As the pictures above show, Bogart did meet Marilyn (and was quite impressed by her). However, Marilyn never met Elvis - though she was famous enough to have met him and he probably would have liked to meet her, they just never crossed paths. Unfortunately, despite the fine attempts by the photoshop/drawing artists as reflected in the next two pictures, she never met James Dean, either. :(
|Sadly, the top picture is a composite, the bottom just a (remarkable) drawing.|
There is an enduring legend that Marilyn Monroe had an affair with President John F. Kennedy. That is all it is, a legend, there is no proof. That doesn't mean that it didn't happen - there's just no proof. However, that doesn't mean that Marilyn didn't have affairs with famous people.
|Marilyn with Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.|
In 2011, Jerry Lewis gave an interview to GQ magazine. When asked the inevitable question about whether Marilyn Monroe had had an affair with JFK, Lewis was adamant that it never happened:
I’m telling you what I know. Never! And the only reason I know is because I did. Okay?Well, sure, okay Jerry. Whatever you say. How was it?
It was … long. I was crippled for a month. And I thought Marlene Dietrich was great!Take it for what it is worth. There are lots of rumors about Jerry Lewis' love life, and apparently he took up with Stella Stevens not long afterward. But that's another story entirely.
|Marilyn telling Jerry Lewis a thing or two.|
Okay, back to reality. Marilyn was ahead of her time in all sorts of ways. She was shooting bows and arrows long before "The Hunger Games."
Marilyn gave other girls some tips on taking care of themselves.
Her spread in "Pageant" magazine is full of youthful shots of Marilyn out in nature.
Marilyn, though, was becoming one of the biggest stars in Hollywood history. Below, she still has a fresh, natural look, but notice the monogrammed blouse.
There is no question that despite her fame, Marilyn Monroe stayed a free-spirited girl all along. "The Seven Year Itch" was another tremendous hit.
Probably her biggest cinematic triumph was "Some Like It Hot," the Billy Wilder comedy with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.
Even a lot of fans don't know that Marilyn won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for "Some Like It Hot."
|On the set of "Some Like It Hot."|
Marilyn was such a big star by the time of "Some Like It Hot" in 1958 that she almost didn't take the role, considering it "just another dumb blonde role." Well, maybe it was, but she took the role anyway and rolled with it.
|With Jack Lemmon on the set of "Some Like It Hot."|
"Some Like It Hot" became a monster hit, and Marilyn was entitled to 10% of the film's profits in addition to her standard pay.
|This was in 1957, when Marilyn was doing "The Prince and the Showgirl" with Laurence Olivier.|
Marilyn had been having some difficult times on some of her projects. Working with Laurence Olivier on "The Prince and the Showgirl" was a trial; in fact, it was so bad that she fired her long-time collaborator, Milton H. Greene, who had produced the film. Marilyn took some time off after "Hot," finally going back before the cameras in 1959 for "Let's Make Love."
Marilyn was exhibiting some diva-like symptoms by this time. "Let's Make Love" was not a hit, and she was known for being late and the usual no-longer-cares kinds of attitudes that many mega-stars get.
Marilyn's last film was "The Misfits," which was filmed in Nevada in late 1960. It is considered a great film, but it was a real strain on everyone involved. Marilyn's marriage to playwright Arthur Miller ended, and co-star Clark Gable passed away just after filming wrapped.
Marilyn had a series of health problems. Ex-husband Joe Dimaggio, who she had not seen since divorcing him in 1955, came back to help her through it. During this time, Marilyn hung out with celebrities like President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, and other other top stars of the day.
|Marilyn sometimes hung out with the Rat Pack. Here they are at Peter Lawford's (back to camera) beach house. I'm not sure, but that appears to be Angie Dickinson and (Shirley MacLaine at the gathering as well.|
Marilyn began working on her next film, "Something's Got To Give," but she missed some days of filming and was fired from the film - which was never made. After doing some print work, she was found dead in her Brentwood, California home one morning, an event which remains full of mystery and debate to this day.