Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her home in Los Angeles on August 5, 1962, and thus a legend began.
She was discovered lying face down and nude on her bed. There was a telephone in her hand, and empty prescription pill bottles were all around the room. Dr. Thomas Noguchi conducted a preliminary autopsy, the results were analyzed, and Coroner Theodore Curphey determined that Marilyn died from an overdose of barbiturates. The Los Angeles police Department concluded that her death was "caused by a self-administered overdose of sedative drugs and that the mode of death is probable suicide."
Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jean Mortenson in Los Angeles on June 1, 1926. Her mother suffered from emotional problems, so a string of foster parents and in an orphanage brought up Norma Jean. At the age of 16 she married James Dougherty (1921–2005), an aircraft factory worker. He went to sea in the merchant marine, and she began work at the Radioplane Company. Asked to model for an article in Yank magazine, she soon quit her job to become a full-time model.
In 1946 she divorced Dougherty and went to Hollywood. She signed a short-term contract with 20th Century Fox, taking as her screen name Marilyn Monroe. She had a few bit parts and then returned to modeling, posing nude for a now-famous calendar in 1949.
Marilyn began to attract more attention in 1950 after her minor role appearances in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve. Audiences took note of the voluptuous blonde, and she soon won a new contract from Fox. Her acting career escalated in the early ‘50s with performances in Love Nest (1951), Monkey Business (1952), and Niagra (1953). She won international fame for her sex-symbol roles in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), and There's No Business Like Show Business (1954).
She attracted further publicity when she married baseball legend Joe DiMaggio in 1954, but they divorced within a year. It is said, though, that DiMaggio was the great love in her life.
The Seven-Year Itch (1955), in which she starred with Tom Ewell, demonstrated her talents for comedy roles, and featured the classic scene where she stands over a subway grating while her white skirt billowed up by the wind from a passing train. Directed by Billy Wilder, moviegoers loved it. She studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York in 1955, resulting in a well-reviewed performance in Bus Stop (1956). Marilyn's third marriage was to playwright Arthur Miller in 1956. She made The Prince and the Showgirl in 1957 with Laurence Olivier, which was not a commercial success.
She rebounded in 1959 and gave an acclaimed performance in the hit comedy Some Like It Hot, starring with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, and directed by Billy Wilder. Filmed in black & white, it has been acclaimed worldwide as one of the greatest movie comedies ever made, ranking first on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest comedies, as well as #14 on their list of the 100 best American films. The film won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy. Marilyn Monroe won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in Musical or Comedy, and Jack Lemmon won for Best Actor in Musical or Comedy.
This is the original movie trailer for Some Like It Hot:
Let's Make Love (1960) had Marilyn paired with Yves Montand. The final movie that she completed was The Misfits (1961), in which she shared star billing with Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach. It was directed by John Huston and written by Arthur Miller, whom she divorced just one week before the film's opening.
There was speculation that Marilyn was considering reconciliation with Joe DiMaggio. After being on a plane flight that experienced trouble, she sent DiMaggio a telegram on September 22, 1961 that stated, "When the plane was in trouble I thought about two things, you and changing my will. Love you, I think, more than ever."
Marilyn's first nude movie scene was filmed for Something's Got to Give, but her chronic absence from the set caused her to be fired a week after her 30th birthday on June 8, 1962. She was eventually re-hired, but the film was never completed. Video clips of her nude pool scene exist.
Acclaimed photographer Bert Stern had three sessions with Marilyn Monroe for Vogue magazine in late June 1962, just six weeks before her death. These sessions produced some beautiful and unique images of Marilyn, and they were later published in a book, Marilyn Monroe: The Complete Last Sitting. There is an excellent YouTube video of some of these images set to the tune from the Norma Jean & Marilyn movie.
Monroe was suffering from depression, and was under regular psychiatric care by 1961. During the last months of her life, she lived as a virtual recluse in her bungalow in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles. Her housekeeper, Eunice Murray, noticed Marilyn's bedroom light on after midnight on August 5, 1962. The door was locked and Marilyn didn’t respond to the housekeeper’s calls, so she called Marilyn’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson. He responded and accessed the room by breaking a window. He found Marilyn dead when he entered the room and the police were called. The subsequent autopsy found a fatal amount of sedatives in her system, and her death was ruled probable suicide.
Over the years there have been a number of conspiracy theories about her death, and most of this focus is around love affairs she was alleged to have with both John and Robert Kennedy. The theorists claim that the Kennedy family had something to do with her death because they feared she would make their love affairs public, along with other "government secrets" she was gathering. Robert Kennedy, then Attorney General in his older brother John’s cabinet, was in Los Angeles on August 4, 1962, and the Attorney General was alleged to have visited Marilyn on the night of her death. The conspiracy theorists claim that he quarreled with her, but the credibility of these and other claims is questionable.
So besides numerous retrospectives, photos, conspiracies, FBI files and speculation, what are we left with? That can be debated from a number of points, but the some of the lyrics from a song Marilyn sung in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, "Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend" may give us the answer.
Time rolls on and youth is gone
and you can't straighten up when you bend
but stiff back or stiff knees
you stand straight at Tiffany's
but Diamonds, Are A Girl's Best Friends
According to Advertising Age, the #1 advertising slogan of the century is "Diamonds are forever", which has been used by DeBeers since 1948. If that’s true, then Marilyn Monroe has left us with diamonds with all the films, music and books that survive her.
Forty-four years after her death, Marilyn Monroe still remains a major cultural symbol. The unknown details of her final performance only add to her mystique.
Giving-Credit-Where-It’s-Due Department: This piece was actually inspired in a roundabout way by an article written by my friend Amit Agarwal in Digital Inspiration, entitled No Diamonds please, Girls prefer Plasma TV, to which I responded with suitable comments.
YouTube: Candle In the Wind by Elton John
YouTube: Beautiful - a tribute to Marilyn Monroe
Amazon.com: Marilyn Monroe DVDs
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