Born to a troubled, single mum, she went on to become the most desired woman in the world. But her life was to prove a mixture of public glamour and private tragedy...


She may have been gone for 60 years, but the worldwide fascinatio­n with Marilyn Monroe is as powerful as ever – and set to become more intense – with a major new biopic Blonde, produced by Brad Pitt and starring Bond bombshell Ana de Armas out this autumn.

It was back in 1962, on 4 August when Marilyn died in her bed, at home in Brentwood, California, at the tragic age of 36. In her hand, a phone that was off the hook, the bed was strewn with empty pill packets.

‘I’m just a pretty girl who’s soon forgotten’, she had said, after New York was brought to a standstill by the famous skirt-billowing incident whilst filming The Seven Year Itch. But how wrong she was. In fact, her short life has gone on to become the stuff of legend and fascinatio­n.

‘Marilyn was the end of old Hollywood. She died at the start of the age of mass media . The world saw Marilyn’s unique combinatio­n of talent, beauty and sexiness at the same time as it was fed gossip titbits, up to the point where she was found dead in the nude. These things passed into legend and now they have, that won’t change,’ says author Adrian Hodges, who wrote the film My Week with Marilyn.

Bborn Norma Jeane Baker in 1926 in California, her dad wasn’t on the scene and her mother Gladys was afflicted by schizophre­nia. Unable to cope, she passed her daughter on to 11 foster homes, an orphanage and a guardian. Marilyn would later claim she was sexually abused during her childhood. ‘I was brought up a waif’, Marilyn herself used to say.

Alone in the world when James Dougherty, her neighbour, proposed to her at just 16, she said yes. And it was in 1945 that an army photograph­er arrived at the California factory where Norma Jeane, then 19, was assembling remote controlled aircraft.

He was looking for a picture of a pretty girl on a military production line

– he wasn’t to know he had discovered a phenomenon. The shots led to a modelling career, which in turn led to a contract with film studio Fox.

A natural beauty with an extraordin­ary figure (her measuremen­ts were 37- 23

36) she exuded a combinatio­n of innocence and sexuality that proved a powerful combinatio­n.

A few roles in early comedies also revealed a magical quality on celluloid – quite simply, the camera loved the young actress – who by now had changed her name to Marilyn Monroe and bleached her hair a platinum blonde similar to that of her heroine Jean Harlow. By 1953, she was a bona fide movie star with roles in Niagara and the comedies Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionair­e.

In 1955, she made The Seven Year Itch – one of the biggest box office hits of her career, and in 1959 she won a Golden Globe for her turn as Sugar Kane in Some Like it Hot, the classic comedy co-starring Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Her last completed drama was The Misfits

and her final picture Something’s Got to Give

was uncomplete­d. Although now she is generally regarded as a fine comic actress with a great sense of timing, some were dismissive of her acting abilities.

But while she became famous as the ultimate ‘dumb blonde’ in fact she was highly intelligen­t, with a keen interest in literature and politics. When she wasn’t ‘being Marilyn’ she loved animals, gardening, cooking, long walks in the woods and the company of children. One great source of sadness for her was that, due to health problems, she never became a mother.

And, as her problems with mental health and addiction became more pronounced, there were difficulti­es on set, with Marilyn frequently turning up late, underprepa­red or not turning up at all. At the time of her death, she was having near daily sessions with her psychiatri­st as her mental health deteriorat­ed further.

But although she was known to be troubled, the world went into shock when her death, which was ruled a ‘probable suicide’, was reported. Her funeral, held at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery on 8 August, was private and attended by only her closest associates, although thousands of well-wishers and onlookers thronged the streets outside the cemetery.

Decades on, she is still an enigma. Journalist Anthony Summers who made Netflix documentar­y, The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe the Unheard Tapes, said: ‘Marilyn flickers though history in a way other people don’t. She remained that deprived little girl breaking into a plastic place called Hollywood, and yet unable to sail her boat on the sea of life in a way that didn’t lead to disaster.

‘We know so much about her, yet, she eludes us. We accept we won’t ever find her and that makes her live on as people are fascinated by mysteries and spectres. Marilyn is a spectre, she shimmers, even at 60 years distant, drawing us in.’

Marilyn – a person who needs no second name for us to recognise her – has long been the subject of documentar­ies and films. Our fascinatio­n with this ‘candle in the wind’, as Elton John named her, remains undimmed by time, and the latest film to try to capture the icon on screen is Blonde…

Based on an adaptation of the 2000 book of the same name, written by Joyce Carol Oates, Blonde is a fictionali­sed account of Marilyn’s relationsh­ips from childhood, including the relationsh­ip with her complex and mentally fragile mother, Gladys, and ends with her alleged assassinat­ion at the hands of her Kennedy lover.

Just as in Oates’ book, all the main characters are identified by nicknames only – ‘The ExAthlete’ Joe DiMaggio, ‘The

Playwright’ Arthur Miller, and ‘The President’ John F Kennedy.

Critical and probing, it asks if the Hollywood system simply swallowed up Norma Jeane Baker, and spat her out again.

Early experience­s often shape our belief about ourselves, and the world, so Marilyn’s relationsh­ip with her schizophre­nic mother and her dysfunctio­nal childhood, may well have impacted her mental fragility.

Monroe was the third child born to Gladys Pearl Baker who worked as a film cutter at a Hollywood editing studio. Baker’s other two children, Berniece and Robert, were taken by her abusive ex-husband John Newton Baker, who she married when she was 15 and he was 24.

Single mum Gladys was struggling mentally by the time she gave birth to the future star – and their relationsh­ip remained strained until Marilyn’s death – so much so that the future icon, when she first hit the Hollywood spotlight, claimed that she never knew her mum.

Fabricatin­g a half-truth where she spoke about time in an orphanage and bouncing between different foster homes, the real story was finally unearthed by a journalist in 1952. Marilyn’s troubled mother was actually very much alive, and working at a nursing home not far from LA.

Despite being placed with a foster family, it’s believed Gladys tried to visit her daughter as much as she could. According to author J Randy Taraborrel­li in The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, she even once came close to kidnapping her, by stuffing her in a duffle bag and locking her foster mum Ida Bolender inside the home. But Bolender broke free.

In 1934, Marilyn’s mother suffered a nervous breakdown during which she is thought to have brandished a knife, while screaming that someone was trying to kill her. She was institutio­nalised at the state hospital in Norwalk, California, and Marilyn placed under the guardiansh­ip of her mother’s friend, Grace McKee, who also worked in the film industry. It is thought ‘Aunt Grace’ first inspired Marilyn to become a movie star.

But with a husband and three children of her own, Grace’s hands were full. She convinced a judge to grant Monroe a ‘half orphan’ status, which allowed her to place the minor with foster care families under her guardiansh­ip and receive a government stipend for Monroe’s wellbeing. ‘Aunt Grace would say things to me like no one else would ever talk to me,’ Marilyn once admitted. ‘I felt as whole as a loaf of bread nobody’s eaten.’

Possibly, her tumultuous childhood, lack of love and possible inheritanc­e of mental fragility paved the way for

Marilyn’s equally stormy later life – as well as her seeming inability to find happiness.

Still, despite it all, Marilyn didn’t forget her mother and left her a sizeable inheritanc­e after her untimely death in 1962.

When Gladys heard that Norma Jeane was dead, she reportedly pulled the hairpins from her hair and started stabbing the veins in her wrist, crying that she just wanted to die, too. ‘My baby,’ she sobbed. She escaped from the asylum she was placed in and months later was found sitting peacefully by a church. She died in Florida from heart failure in 1984.

Blonde, perhaps more than other films before it, captures much of Marilyn’s secret, inner torment – the side she hid from the world, before flashing that megawatt smile, that we continue to be so fascinated by.

Blonde lands on Netflix on 23 September.

 ?? ?? Her tragic death rocked the world
Her tragic death rocked the world
 ?? ?? With The Seven Year Itch co-star Tom Ewell... ...this famous scene brought New York to a standstill
With The Seven Year Itch co-star Tom Ewell... ...this famous scene brought New York to a standstill
 ?? ?? In Some Like It Hot, with Tony Curtis
Flowers at Marilyn’s grave
In Some Like It Hot, with Tony Curtis Flowers at Marilyn’s grave
 ?? ?? Ana de Armas stars as Marilyn in Blonde
With second husband Joe DiMaggio
Ana de Armas stars as Marilyn in Blonde With second husband Joe DiMaggio
 ?? ?? Marilyn with her mother Gladys
Six-monthold Marilyn
Marilyn with her mother Gladys Six-monthold Marilyn
 ?? ?? The documentar­y unveiled some of the icon’s secrets
The documentar­y unveiled some of the icon’s secrets
 ?? ?? The film portrays more of Marilyn’s inner torment
The film portrays more of Marilyn’s inner torment

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