Sunday, June 6, 2010

Monthly Muse: Marilyn Monroe

Hello dear readers
This is a new section that I'm hoping to make a regular one on the blog. Each month I will bring you a piece on the women that inspire me. This month its the ultimate blond bombshell Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn was born on 1st June 1926 in Los Angeles to Gladys Baker, her father was unknown. She was named Norma Jeane Mortenson she was later baptised Norma Jeane Baker. Marilyn's mother had psychological problems that saw her committed to a mental institution and as a result of this Norma Jeane spent much of her childhood in foster homes but in 1937 she moved in with a 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. The marriage was a happy one but in 1944 Jimmy joined the merchant marines and was sent to the south pacific. While Jimmy was in the marines Norma Jean took work at a munitions factory. It was while she was working there that Army photographer David Conover snapped a photograph of her for a Yank magazine article. He encouraged Norma to apply to a modeling agency. She signed with the agency and began researching the work of Jean Harlow and Lana Turner. She was told that they were looking for models with lighter hair, so Norma Jeane bleached her brunette hair to a golden blond.

Norma Jeane became one of the agencies most popular models but when her husband found out about her new job he was not happy about it and wanted her to stop modeling when he returned home. This put strain on the marriage and Norma who now saw modelling and acing as a good career decided to divorce Jimmy. They divorced in 1946 when he returned from overseas and in the same year got signed to 20th century fox.

Norma Jeane then changed her name to Marilyn Monroe adopting the Monroe from her maternal grandmother and the Marilyn from 1920's actress Marilyn Miller. She made her first appearance in Dangerous Years followed four months later by Scudda-Hoo! Scudda-Hey! but her 6 month contract was not renewed and she returned to modelling work.

In 1948, Monroe signed a six-month contract with Columbia Pictures and starred in the low-budget musical Ladies of the Chorus, but the film was not a success, and her contract was not renewed.

She was given a small role in the Marx brothers film Love Happy by Groucho Marx who cast her because he needed 'a young lady who can walk by me in such a manner as to arouse my elderly libido and cause smoke to issue from my ears'. Love Happy brought Monroe to the attention of talent agent Johnny Hyde who agreed to represent her . He got her parts in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve and negotiated a 7 year contract for her with 20th Century Fox.

By April 1952 Life Magazine declared she was the girl all Hollywood was talking about and in 1953 she outshone Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The film included her rendition of 'Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend', which became something of a theme tune.

It was around this time that she met and eventually married baseball star Joe DiMaggio but even on her honeymoon she performed to troops stationed in Korea. Joe DiMaggio found the attention that Marilyn received a bit to hard to take and it was this that ultimately ended their marriage. At 30 and newly single Marilyn turned her attention to losing her 'dumb blonde' tag and becoming a serious actor. She enrolled in Actors Studio to study method acting under Lee Strassburg. It was through Strassburg that Marilyn met her third husband the playwright Arthur Miller. They married in 1956. One the surface the married seemed a good one. Marilyn set up a production company and stared in Bus Stop and The Prince and The Showgirl but behind the scenes there were affair, miscarriages and abortions. Marilyn also started hitting the bottle to help her cope. Yet despite all her heartache she won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Sugar Kane Kowalczyk in Some Like it Hot.

Her next movie was The Missfits written by husband Arthur Miller. Her marriage to Miller was over shortly after in February 1961 and Marilyn was admitted to a psychiatric clinic. Four days later DiMaggio who had remained a close friend, got her out. A few months later in May 1962 Marilyn delivered one of her sexiest (and last) performances singing Happy Birthday to JFK. This was rumoured to be near the end of their affair but things were hotting up between her and Bobby Kennedy.

On 5th August 1962 Marilyn was found dead apparently of an overdose of sleeping pills but conspiracy theories abounded. Joe DiMaggio insisted on a small media free cremation. He continued to send roses to the cemetery for the rest of his life. He like the rest of the world never got over the death of Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn is a great example of a rags to riches story, a woman who followed her dreams and changed her own destiny. She went on to inspire others such as Andy Warhol whose screen print of her led to Versace's Marilyn print dress. She also inspired Elton John's hit 'Candle in the Wind'. Marilyn's blonde locks continue to inspire today. We can see this in Madonnas homage to Marilyn in her video for Material Girl.

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