Though Marilyn Monroe passed away in 1962 at just 36 years old, her star still looms large over Hollywood today. And her performances in films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), The Seven Year Itch (1955), and Some Like It Hot (1959) have entertained and inspired generations of movie lovers.
From her on-again-off-again relationship with baseball slugger Joe DiMaggio to the story behind her very famous pseudonym, here are some fascinating facts about the life and career of history’s most glamorous “blonde bombshell.”
Norma Jeane Baker’s first marriage was arranged.
Before Marilyn Monroe became one of Hollywood’s most celebrated (and blondest) leading ladies, she was a curly-haired brunette named Norma Jeane Baker. With an absentee father and a mother in a psychiatric hospital, she spent most of her childhood being cared for by foster parents or family friends.
At 15 years old, she was living in California with Grace Goddard, a friend of her mother’s, when the Goddards decided to relocate to West Virginia. Unfortunately, they didn’t plan on taking their young charge with them.
Marilyn Monroe was married soon after she turned 16.
Since Baker was still underage, the Goddards’s move meant that the state would once again assume responsibility for her care and send her to another foster home or orphanage. Her only other option was to get married.
So, a few weeks after her 16th birthday, Baker tied the knot with the Goddards’ neighbor, 20-year-old James Dougherty, a former high school class president and high school football captain. Though Dougherty admitted that their marriage was out of necessity, he clarified that they were, in fact, in love.
She often referred to “Marilyn Monroe” in the third person.
Baker may have traded in her name for a more glamorous one to help her career take off, but she never fully shed her old identity. “Marilyn Monroe” was always a separate persona that she slipped into whenever necessary, and often referred to “Marilyn” in the third person.
“I just felt like being Marilyn for a minute,” she told actor Eli Wallach when the two encountered a sea of fans during a walk in Manhattan. Sam Shaw, a photographer, recalled her giving herself notes like “She wouldn’t do this,” or “Marilyn would say that.”
Marilyn Monroe was Truman Capote’s first choice for Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
It’s difficult to imagine anybody being a better match to play Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s than Audrey Hepburn, but Truman Capote originally had another star in mind for the whimsical, enigmatic role: Marilyn Monroe.
Though Capote said Monroe’s audition had been “terrifically good,” her acting coach advised her not to accept the role, since it didn’t seem like the character was a match for Monroe. She declined, and Paramount gave the part to Hepburn, which Capote considered a betrayal. “Paramount double-crossed me in every way and cast Audrey,” he said.
Marilyn Monroe had a different stage name in mind.
As is the case with many entertainers, authors, and other public figures who adopt catchy pseudonyms in the early stages of their careers, Baker brainstormed a bit before landing on Marilyn Monroe.
Her favorite was Jean Adair, which her sister later claimed was inspired by her real name, Norma Jeane. Though “Norma” definitely doesn’t seem like a glitzy, sophisticated moniker—especially by today’s standards—her mother had actually named her after silent film star Norma Talmadge, who was popular around the time Baker was born.
“Monroe” was Marilyn’s mother’s maiden name.
“Monroe,” on the other hand, was Baker’s own idea—it was her mother’s maiden name. According to her autobiography, she was even told she had been related to President James Monroe, but the claim has never been proven.
In the end, Baker went with a name inspired by Marilyn Miller, a Broadway performer and actress who had passed away in the 1930s, when Baker herself was still a child. “Marilyn” was suggested by a film executive who thought Baker looked a little like her.
When her mother told people Marilyn Monroe was her daughter, no one believed her.
Before Monroe’s mother, Gladys Baker, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she had a short-lived career as a film cutter for RKO Pictures. Her mental health fluctuated throughout her adult life, and she had handed her daughter over to foster care shortly after her birth.
Monroe wasn’t close with her mother, and many of Gladys’s acquaintances and colleagues didn’t know much (if anything) about her daughter. As such, when Gladys tried to tell them that she was Marilyn Monroe’s mother, they thought it was a delusion.
Marilyn Monroe’s on-camera glow was thanks to a beauty secret.
In retrospect, Marilyn Monroe had been pretty forward-thinking when it came to skincare. For one, she was exceptionally well-moisturized—she covered her face with Vaseline or Nivea Creme before having her makeup done, which she thought would make her glow more on screen.
She was also “personally opposed to a deep tan,” explaining that she preferred “to feel blond all over,” so she made it a point of avoiding the sun when she could. “I don’t think suntanned skin is any more attractive,” she stated, “Or any healthier, for that matter.”
Marilyn Monroe had a thing for intellectual men.
Marilyn Monroe had dalliances with (and marriages to) a wide variety of men over the course of her life, but she had a special affinity for older, erudite men. This was partially evidenced by her marriage to acclaimed playwright Arthur Miller, and further proven by her once-roommate and fellow actress Shelley Winters.
According to Winters, she and Monroe wrote a list of men they’d like to sleep with, and Monroe’s list was entirely men over the age of 50—including Albert Einstein. “After her death, I noticed that there was a silver-framed photograph of him on her white piano,” Winters said.
Marilyn Monroe was loyal to Arthur Miller, even when it could have hurt her career.
When anti-communist sentiment in America was at an all-time high during the Cold War, the House Un-American Activities Committee called forth a number of celebrities to out Communist sympathizers in the industry. But when Arthur Miller was summoned to testify in 1956, he wouldn’t name anyone.
Many believe Miller’s relationship with Monroe prevented him from being imprisoned for his refusal to cooperate. She stuck by him through the media backlash, and they even announced their plans to be wed in the midst of Miller’s court appearances.
The FBI had a file on Marilyn Monroe.
Monroe didn’t face any legal retribution for supporting Miller through his testimony, but it was likely the reason that the FBI decided to open a file on her. That said, it wasn’t uncommon for celebrities to have FBI files dedicated to them during the era—Frank Sinatra had one, too.
Basically anything even tangentially related to the Soviet Union or communism in general caught the FBI’s attention, and Monroe had also requested permission to travel to the Soviet Union in 1955 (though she didn’t end up going).
Marilyn Monroe’s house was bugged.
It seems, however, that the FBI investigation into Monroe’s possible communist ties—or her alleged relationship with President John F. Kennedy—went beyond keeping a static file on her. Marilyn Monroe owned exactly one estate during her life, an understated hacienda in Brentwood, California.
About 10 years after she died, Monroe’s home was purchased by actors Veronica Hamel and Michael Irving. During an extensive renovation in the 1970s, the new owners found that the entire house had been bugged with a high-tech, government-level wiretapping system.
Marilyn Monroe wasn’t much of a cook.
During her time living with Monroe, Shelley Winters discovered more than just her roommate’s love for brainy men—she also realized just how clueless Monroe was when it came to cooking.
One day, Winters asked Monroe to wash some lettuce so they could prepare a salad for dinner, which was apparently uncharted territory for Monroe, whose rocky childhood hadn’t exactly afforded her the luxury of being taught such tasks. Winters found her roommate at the sink, armed with a Brillo pad, scrubbing each lettuce leaf.
But Marilyn Monroe eventually found her footing in the kitchen.
Monroe was a smart and savvy go-getter in many different parts of her life, and cooking was no exception. After she died, some original recipes of hers were found among her possessions, and they weren’t for beginners.
One, a stuffing recipe for turkey or chicken, called for walnuts, chestnuts, and pine nuts, browned beef, hard-boiled eggs, giblets, a colorful mixture of herbs and spices, and more. When The New York Times tried recreating the difficult dish in 2012, they came to the conclusion that Monroe “cooked confidently and with flair.”
A co-star said Marilyn Monroe hated being in front of the camera.
According to Don Murray, Monroe’s co-star in 1956’s Bus Stop, the glamorous starlet was much less at ease in front of the camera than her polished performances indicated. Murray recalled her forgetting a lot of the basic mechanics of being on film—missing her marks, standing in shadow, etc.
But Murray didn’t think it was a lack of talent so much as it was a lack of confidence. “For somebody who the camera loved,” he said, “She was still terrified of going before the camera and broke out in a rash all over her body.”
Marilyn Monroe was well-read.
Part of the reason Monroe was so interested in intellectual men was probably because she herself was so well-read. She was partial to photos of her that showed her reading, and she owned several hundred books when she died. Some of them were even first editions.
Once, she was reading Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke on set when a director inquired about how she came to select such a volume. Monroe told him that she liked to wander the Pickwick Bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard and choose books randomly, reading a little here and there until she found one that piqued her interest.
Marilyn Monroe had a dog named Maf.
Frank Sinatra once gave Marilyn Monroe a white Maltese Terrier (though Monroe sometimes referred to him as a poodle) named “Mafia Honey,” mocking his own alleged ties to the Mafia. After Monroe died, the dog, nicknamed “Maf,” was taken in by Gloria Lovell, Sinatra’s secretary.
Decades after Maf had passed away, too, Andrew O’Hagan published a book called The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe, which imagined their time together from the vantage point of Maf himself.
Marilyn Monroe helped Ella Fitzgerald book the Mocambo Club.
Contrary to long-standing rumors, Charlie Morrison wasn’t averse to having African Americans perform at his legendary nightclub the Mocambo Club—he had booked Dorothy Dandridge and Eartha Kitt in the past. But when Ella Fitzgerald was hoping for a gig, Morrison turned her down, not thinking her glamorous enough for the establishment.
Monroe, already a fan of Fitzgerald’s, told Morrison that she’d attend every performance if he gave Fitzgerald a contract, which he did. Monroe kept her promise, and her presence drummed up tons of press for the club. According to Fitzgerald, she “never had to play a small jazz club again” after that.
Marilyn Monroe had a hard time memorizing lines.
While many of her contemporaries interspersed their film roles with critically-acclaimed live performances, Marilyn Monroe wasn’t one for the stage—likely because she so struggled to memorize lines.
“The joke was, she couldn’t make two sentences meet,” Don Murray once said of his experience with Monroe on the set of Bus Stop. It didn’t seem to matter how well Monroe knew the lines, she still hesitated or stuttered often. Murray was firm in his belief that Monroe’s shortcomings were because she was so self-conscious, but others thought it was simply unprofessional.
Marilyn Monroe’s wardrobe is worth a pretty penny.
In 2011, the fluttery white dress that Monroe wore for The Seven Year Itch—in which the dress flies up while Monroe is standing over a subway grate—sold for a record $4.6 million, and the slinky, pale number she donned to sing “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy in 1962 was purchased by a collectible company for almost $1.3 million.
The gowns are by far the most valuable, especially when attached to a memorable movie or event, but even more casual items sell for thousands. Tommy Hilfiger shelled out $37,000 for a pair of jeans she wore in 1954’s River of No Return, which he then gifted to Britney Spears.
Marilyn Monroe was in discussions to star in a Jean Harlow biopic for years.
Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe had quite a bit in common besides the name “Jean.” Harlow was also a highly sexualized Hollywood “blonde bombshell” who died young—Harlow had passed away suddenly from kidney failure in her mid-20s.
Monroe looked up to Harlow, and she even had tentative plans to play her in a biopic, which her friend Sidney Skolsky—a gossip columnist and film producer—was going to produce. Unfortunately, Monroe herself died suddenly before they could get the project off the ground.
Even in death, Marilyn Monroe emulated Jean Harlow.
At the time of her death, Jean Harlow was engaged to fellow actor William Powell, with whom she had co-starred in 1935’s Reckless and 1936’s Libeled Lady. For years after she died, Powell had bouquets of flowers placed on her grave in Los Angeles.
When Monroe died, her former husband Joe DiMaggio took up a similar practice—three times a week for two decades, the baseball player had roses left on Monroe’s grave. Though not proven, it has been claimed that Monroe made DiMaggio swear to do so when they got married.
Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio were only married for eight months.
Monroe may have grown comfortable with her status as Hollywood’s most high-profile sex symbol, but her career—and the behavior that went along with it—didn’t always sit well with the modest Joe DiMaggio.
They got divorced after just 274 days of marriage, and it’s been reported that Monroe’s exposure while shooting the subway scene in The Seven Year Itch was the final nail in the coffin for their rapidly deteriorating relationship. It was filmed with a mass of spectators and members of the press alike, and DiMaggio was angry over her willingness to bare so much to so many.
Marilyn Monroe filed for divorce on the grounds of “mental cruelty.”
Monroe and DiMaggio’s fight after she filmed that scene for The Seven Year Itch was much more serious than a run-of-the-mill marital squabble, and it’s been reported by some (though never confirmed) that DiMaggio might have even struck his wife. Soon after, Monroe filed for divorce, claiming “mental cruelty.”
The whole argument might’ve been avoided if the filmmakers had anticipated that the uproarious din from the crowd that day would’ve ruined the film footage—which is exactly what happened. Monroe ended up having to reshoot the scene on a closed set.
Despite their divorce, Joe DiMaggio remained devoted to Marilyn Monroe.
As evidenced by DiMaggio’s 20-year routine of sending flowers to Monroe’s grave, the end of his marriage to Monroe definitely didn’t mean the end of their relationship altogether. After they divorced, Monroe still leaned on him for emotional support, and she sometimes visited him during spring training when she needed a respite from Hollywood.
DiMaggio had even told a few people that they had plans to walk down the aisle a second time. When Monroe died, DiMaggio arranged the funeral service, and he kept the doors closed to many people in the film industry, explaining “if it wasn’t for them, she’d still be here.”
Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra once tried to bust Marilyn Monroe with another man.
In the midst of their divorce, when Monroe and DiMaggio’s unstable relationship was really teetering on the brink of oblivion (due in large part to DiMaggio’s extreme jealousy), he hired a private investigator to see if his wife was engaging in any affairs.
In 1954, he was enjoying dinner with Frank Sinatra when the P.I. interrupted them with the news that Monroe was with someone that very minute in a house quite close to them. They gathered a crowd of people, marched down to the property, and barged in.
Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio broke into a secretary’s home looking for Marilyn Monroe.
They cracked the lock, rushed inside, and started taking photos immediately, only to realize with embarrassment that they had walked in not on an illicit affair, but on a nightgown-clad office secretary named Florence Kotz. They had the wrong house.
Katz sued, and a sheeping Sinatra was dragged before the California State Senate a whole two years later. Katz won $7500, and Confidential magazine revealed the whole ordeal to the public, nicknaming it the “Wrong-Door Raid.” DiMaggio and Sinatra’s friendship fell apart after that.
Warren Beatty was one of the last people to see Marilyn Monroe alive.
In early August of 1962, a 25-year-old Warren Beatty headed to the Malibu house of Peter Lawford, an actor who was married to John F. Kennedy’s sister Patricia, for a party. There, he was introduced to Marilyn Monroe. “I hadn’t seen anything that beautiful,” Beatty later said about her. Monroe asked if he’d like to take a stroll along the beach with her, and he said yes.
Monroe was only 36 years old, so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that either of them could’ve had romantic intentions for the nighttime walk, but Beatty described it as “more soulful than romantic.” The very next day, Beatty found out that Monroe had died.
Marilyn Monroe’s estate earns more today than Monroe ever did in her lifetime.
By the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe had achieved a level of affluence that probably would’ve been inconceivable to the humble young foster child she had once been. At the peak of her career, Monroe inked a two-film deal for $1 million (though Elizabeth Taylor had banked the same amount for just one film around the same time: 1963’s Cleopatra), and she was worth around $20 million in total when she died.
That said, her estate is making much more now that Monroe herself ever did. As of 2012, it was generating around $30 million each year.
Being buried near Marilyn Monroe is a big deal.
Monroe was born in Los Angeles, and she was buried there, too—in a white grave at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. Though DiMaggio had bought the tomb directly above hers during their relationship, he put it up for sale after their marriage fell apart.
Richard Poncher purchased it, and, being a little obsessed with Monroe, asked that he be buried face down so that he’d spend the afterlife essentially lying on top of the actress. His wife initially agreed, but reconsidered in 2009 and decided to sell the plot instead. It fetched $4.6 M in an eBay auction, but the buyer later reneged on his bid.