Actress. Born Norma Jean Mortenson, on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles. For most of her childhood and teen years she was in foster homes or an orphanage because her father abandoned her, while her mother, Gladys Monroe Baker, had to work and then was in a mental hospital. (Norma Jean grew up using her mother's last name, Baker, and at age 16 discovered that her father was probably not Mortenson.) In 1942 she married James Dougherty, an aircraft factory worker, and when he went to sea in the merchant marine she took a job in a target airplane factory. Asked to model to illustrate an article in Yank magazine, she soon quit her job to become a full-time model and in 1946, after divorcing Dougherty, she went to Hollywood to try to become an actress.
Signed by Twentieth-Century Fox, she changed her name to Marilyn Monroe, but for the next few years she had only minor roles in several movies; during one period of unemployment she posed nude for a pin-up calendar that would later become a collector's item. Not until her small roles in two 1950 movies--The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve--did her career take off, and, promoted as a slightly ditzy blonde exuding a breathless sexuality, she became a star and celebrity. Monroe was married to former baseball star Joe DiMaggio for about nine months during 1954. Determined to shed her image as a sex symbol, she began to study at Lee and Paula Strasberg's Actors Studio in New York City.
She gave two of her more sophisticated performances--in Bus Stop (1956) and Some Like It Hot (1959)--and in 1956 she married the playwright Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman) and starred in a movie he wrote for her, The Misfits (1961). They divorced in 1961, and Monroe's life continued in its roller coaster fashion: she was briefly hospitalized in a mental clinic, she was dropped from a movie for failure to show up on time, and she was taking drugs for her various problems.
On August 5, 1962, Monroe was found dead of an overdose of barbiturates in her home in Los Angeles. She had been working on her last film, Something's Got to Give. After several years in which she was discussed almost entirely in terms of a sex goddess, she came to be perceived as a symbol of the exploitation of women by Hollywood and men in general. More recently, Monroe has been recognized by many as one of the 20th century's top entertainers.
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