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"I never quite understood it, this sex symbol. I always thought symbols were those things you clash together! That's the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate to be a thing. But if I'm going to be a symbol of something I'd rather have it sex than some other things they've got symbols of." — Marilyn Monroe in a 1962 interview for “Life” magazine.On July 17, 1946, 20th Century-Fox executive Ben Lyon met model Norma Jeane Dougherty less than two months after her 20th birthday and immediately proclaimed her "Jean Harlow all over again!" – Harlow’s film stardom had been launched by the 1930 film, “Hell’s Angels,” which had also featured Lyon as a World War I aviator. He quickly arranged a color screen test for her and, despite a lack of enthusiasm by the studio’s chief executive Darryl F. Zanuck, signed her to a standard six-month contract. He also gave her a new first name, in honor of the late Broadway star Marilyn Miller, and Norma Jean chose Monroe, her mother Gladys’ maiden name. Mom had separated from her second husband Martin Mortensen before “Marilyn Monroe” was conceived, and the future star never knew who her father was. An evangelical couple took care of Norma Jean until she was 7, while her mother commuted to work in Los Angeles, but in 1934 Gladys was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and thereafter had little contact with her daughter. Over the next 16 months she was sexually abused and developed a stutter, and she lived with several foster families and often switched schools until 1935, when she was placed in the Los Angeles Orphans Home in Hollywood for two years. After leaving the orphanage, she was molested again. To avoid returning to the orphanage, just after her 16th birthday she married Jim Dougherty, a 21-year-old factory worker who lived next door and dropped out of school. When he was shipped out to the Pacific in the Merchant Marine in 1944, she got a job at the Radioplane Munitions Factory. On behalf of the U.S. Army Air Forces' First Motion Picture Unit, Capt. Ronald Reagan sent a photographer there to shoot morale-boosting pictures of female workers on behalf of “Yank” magazine, and at the photographer’s suggestion she quit her job and began modeling for him. As “Jean Norman” she straightened her curly brunette hair and dyed it blond, and within months appeared on 33 magazine covers, including “Pageant,” “U.S. Camera,” “Laff,” and “Peek,”and her boss arranged a contract for her with an acting agency.
Before meeting Lyon, she had an unsuccessful interview with producers at Paramount Pictures, and in September she divorced her husband. After her contract was renewed, she was given her first two film roles as a "girl next door": nine lines of dialogue as a waitress in the drama “Dangerous Years” (1947) and a one-line appearance in the comedy “Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!” (1948); but Fox neglected to extend her contract again. She continued her studies at the Actors' Laboratory Theatre and returned to modeling while using her considerable charm to advance her career. One of her lovers, Fox executive Joseph M. Schenck, who persuaded the head executive of Columbia Pictures, Harry Cohn, to sign her in March 1948; Cohn had earlier acquired Rita Cansino from Fox, applied electrolysis to raise her hairline and broaden the appearance of her forehead, and changed her hair color to from brunette to dark red and her name to Rita Hayworth, and made her into the film industry’s first officially named "love goddess, and wanted to do the same for Monroe. He hairline was raised by electrolysis and her hair bleached further to platinum blond. However, her only film was a starring role in the low-budget musical, “Ladies of the Chorus” (1948), which failed at the box office; her contract, once again, was not renewed. She returned to modeling and began a new romantic relationship with Johnny Hyde, vice president of the William Morris Agency, who paid for a silicone prosthesis in her jaw (and possibly for a rhinoplasty), and she had small parts in six films in 1950, including John Huston's “The Asphalt Jungle” and Joseph Mankiewicz's “All About Eve;” as a result of the exposure, Hyde negotiated a new 7-year contract with Fox, days before his fatal heart attack. She had supporting roles in 4 low-budget films and was named "Miss Cheesecake of 1951" by “Stars and Stripes,” while having romances with directors Elia Kazan and Nicholas Ray, actors Yul Brynner and Peter Lawford and with retired New York Yankee center fielder Joe DiMaggio. Zanuck, who disliked her and doubted her ability to make money in serious roles, nevertheless assigned her to perform as a mentally disturbed babysitter in “Don't Bother to Knock” (1952), and he loaned her to RKO to make Fritz Lang's “Clash by Night,” but in her other three films that year she had comic roles that focused on her sex appeal, and make-up artist Allan "Whitey" Snyder developed the make-up look that became her hallmark: dark arched brows, pale skin, glistening red lips, and a beauty mark. She often wore white to emphasize her blondness and drew attention by wearing revealing outfits that showed off her figure; her publicity stunts often revolved around clothing malfunctions, such as when one of her shoulder straps suddenly snapped during a press conference; and she revealed to gossip columnist Earl Wilson that she usually did not wear underclothes.
Her commercial breakthrough as a big star, however, came in 1953, beginning with “Niagara,” which included scenes in which her body was covered only by a sheet or a towel, and a 30-second shot of her from behind, walking with swaying hips, was heavily used in the film's marketing, earning her the title, "the girl with the horizontal walk." Despite protests from women's clubs, the movie grossed $6 million. Her next release was “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” which the studio had intended for its biggest "blonde bombshell," Betty Grable, but the role went to the new fast-rising Monroe instead; it grossed $5.3 million, more than double its production costs. In her third film of the year, “How to Marry a Millionaire,” she co-starred with Grable and Lauren Bacall; the movie earned $8 million. And the inaugural issue of “Playboy” featured nude photos she had taken in 1949. (When asked what she had on in, she replied, "I had the radio on.") As her stardom began, though, she started to become more erratic, being often late or absent from film sets, not remembering her lines, and demanding many re-takes, and by 1956 was severely addicted to barbiturates, amphetamines, and alcohol. She also suffered from anxiety, depression, and insomnia, felt that she was bullied by her directors (who felt that she was too dependent on her acting coaches), and resented the condescension and sexism of her male colleagues.
Although she always played a significant role in the creation and management of her public image, she became increasingly irritated at being typecast. Meanwhile, her contract had not changed since 1950, so she was paid far less than other stars of her stature and could not choose her own projects or co-workers.When she refused to begin work on the musical comedy “The Girl in Pink Tights,” Fox suspended her on January 4, 1954. Ten days later she married DiMaggio (who was reportedly jealous, controlling, and perhaps physically abusive), traveled with him to Japan on a much-publicized business trip, then went on a 4-day USO tour for Marines in Korea. When she returned home, “Photoplay” named her the "Most Popular Female Star," and Fox caved in March: in addition to the promise of a new contract later in the year, she would be given a $100,000 bonus to appear in Billy Wilder's “The Seven Year Itch.” One scene, in which she was standing on a subway grate with the air blowing up her white dress, was filmed on Lexington Avenue in New York in order to generate publicity, lasted for several hours, drew nearly 2,000 spectators, and became one of her most iconic images; it also ended her marriage to DiMaggio, who was furious about the shoot; nevertheless, despite ongoing divorce proceedings, the DiMaggios continued their involvement even as Monroe dated actor Marlon Brando and playwright Arthur Miller. When filming for the movie (which would gross over $4.5 million) ended in November, she founded Marilyn Monroe Productions with photographer Milton Greene and insisted that Fox had reneged on its promises. She also moved to New York to attending workshops on “method acting” at the Actors Studio run by Lee Strasberg, even receiving private lessons at his home due to her shyness and hiring his wife Paula as her acting coach, and undrtook psychoanalysis at his recommendation (Strasberg strongly believed actors must confront their emotional traumas and use them in their performances). At her psychiatrist’s suggestion, she admitted herself to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in New York, which put her on a ward for psychotic patients and locked in a padded cell; after three days, DiMaggio managed to get her released and transferred to the Columbia University Medical Center, where she spent nearly a month.
By the end of the year, Monroe and Fox had agreed on a new 7-year contract, during which time she would make 4 films at $100,000 each, she would be free to make one film with MMP for each one she completed for Fox, and she could choose her own projects, directors, and cinematographers. The studio also urged her to end her affair with Miller, who had been subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee and was under investigation by the FBI for his leftwing politics; the Bureau had also opened a file on her, going back to her association with the Actors’ Laboratory Theater at the beginning of her acting career. But they married in June 1956, and she converted to Judaism. The “Variety” headline was EGGHEAD WEDS HOURGLASS. Her first film under her new contract was Joshua Logan’s “Bus Stop,” for which she learned an Ozark accent and eschewed her usual glamour. The movie earned $4.25 million and Monroe was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress. Then, for MMP, she made “The Prince and the Showgirl”in England, directed and co-produced by the film’s costar Laurence Olivier, who wanted her to replicate the part as originally developed by his wife Vivien Leigh; largely ignored in the US, it was nominated for a BAFTA and won the Italian David di Donatello and the French Crystal Star awards. Over the next year and a hald she suffered two miscarriages and bought out Greene in the belief that he was embezzling company funds. The she returned to work on Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot” (1958) on condition that she receive 10% of the profits. Despite her increasingly erratic behavior (Tony Curtis said that their love scenes were “like kissing Hitler” because she demands so many retakes, and Wilder commented that “anyone can remember lines, but it takes a real artist to come on the set and not know her lines and yet give the performance she did!"), Monroe won a Golden Globe. After another long hiatus, putting her behind in her contractual obligations, she made George Cukor’s “Let’s Make Love” (1959) after Miller rewrote the parts of the script that she disliked, and she had a widely reported affair with her co-star Yves Montand. But, despite the effective end of their marriage, Miller wrote “The Misfits” for her, loosely based on her own life, and her professional difficulties grew worse: she was in immense pain from gallstones and her barbiturate addiction was so severe that her make-up had to applied while she was asleep; filming was halted for a week while she detoxed in a Los Angeles hospital. It was the last completed movie both for her and her costar, Clark gable. After the film was finished, she divorced again as her health further deteriorated. She moved back to Los Angeles and dated Frank Sinatra for several months.
In 1962 she began Cukor’s “Something's Got to Give” despite medical advice to postpone filming due to her sinusitis, but Fox insisted that production must go according to schedule, even though she was too sick to work for most of the first six weeks, and she took a break to sing onstage for the birthday of her new lover, president John F. Kennedy, in a beige, skintight dress covered in rhinestones which made her look naked. She returned to the set and celebrated her 36th birthday there on June 1. One of her last scenes was a nude swim in a pool, to which the press was invited in order to generate advance publicity. But then she was absent again for several days, and Fox fired her on 7 June, suing her for $750,000 in damages. She countered by doing a number of interviews for several high-profile publications, such as “Life,” “Cosmopolitan,” and “Vogue,” for which she again posed nude. Later in the month, the star and the studio re-opened negotiations, and before the end of the summer they agreed to resume work on “Something's Got to Give” and to make a black comedy. “What a Way to Go!” the following year. She also planned to do a movie about Jean Harlow. On the morning of 4 August she met with a photographer to discuss “Playboy” publishing some of the nude photos from “Something's Got to Give.” In the afternoon her psychiatrist went to her home to conduct a therapy session and asked the housekeeper to stay overnight to keep her company. Soon after, her stepson Joe DiMaggio, Jr., called to discuss his breakup with a girlfriend Monroe disliked. Then Lawford called to invite her to a party that night; she told him to "Say goodbye to Pat [his wife, the sister of Kennedy], say goodbye to the president, and say goodbye to yourself, because you're a nice guy" and then lost consciousness. Lawford called his agent, who tried to reach the psychiatrist but contacted Monroe's lawyer, who called Monroe's house but was told by the housekeeper that Monroe was fine. But the housekeeper called the psychiatrist at 3AM on 5 August 1962, and they found her dead body in her locked bedroom. The Los Angeles County Coroners Office estimated that she had died between 8:30 and 10:30 the previous night due to acute barbiturate poisoning, probably a suicide.
DiMaggio made the funeral arrangements, which was attended y only 30 close friends and family members, and dictated that red roses would be placed in a vase attached to her crypt for the next 20 years. Lee Strasberg, delivered the eulogy, and in her will he received 75% of her estate, including her personal effects, with instructions to distribute them "among my friends, colleagues and those to whom I am devoted." [After he died in 1982, his third wife Anna claimed Monroe's publicity rights and began to license her image to companies and gained full rights to the estate in 1990; in 1996 she hired CMG Worldwide, a celebrity-legacy licensing group, to manage the licensing rights (which entered into 700 agreements with merchandisers by 2001) and prevented Odyssey Group from auctioning the effects that Monroe's business manager had obtained when she died; in 1999 she commissioned Christie's to auction Monroe’s personal effects, which Strasberg had never distributed, netting $13.4 million. In 2000, she founded Marilyn Monroe LLC, which claimed exclusive ownership of Monroe's publicity rights. In 2006, the heirs of three freelance photographers challenged the company in court, and in 2007 it was determined that Monroe could not have passed her publicity rights to her estate since the law that granted such right was not passed until 1985. In the fall, California passed a new law, for which Anna Strasberg and the Screen Actors Guild had lobbied, which established that non-family members could inherit publicity rights through the residuary clause of the deceased's will if that person was a California resident. However, the United States District Court in Los Angeles ruled the following year that Monroe had been a resident of New York at the time of her death, citing the statement of the executor of her estate to California tax authorities, and Anna Strasberg was subsequently fined $200,000 and ordered to pay $30,000 by a New York court "for delaying the handing over of documents showing that Monroe was legally a New Yorker on her death." She terminated her business relationship with CMG in 2010 and sold the licensing rights to Authentic Brands Group.]
Two years after her death, Frank A. Capell, in “The Strange Death of Marilyn Monroe,”claimed that Monroe was having an affair with Kennedy’s brother, attorney general Robert F. Kennedy, and was threatening to cause a scandal, so he had her assassinated to protect his career. In1973 Norman Mailer, in “Marilyn: A Biography,” repeated the rumor that she had an affair with Robert Kennedy and speculated that she was killed by the FBI or CIA as a "point of pressure ... against the Kennedys," but later that year on “60 Minutes” he told Mike Wallace that he had only sought commercial success for his book. However, the Capell charges were repeated in 1975 by Robert F. Slatzer in “The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe,” which also asserted that Slatzer and Monroe had been married in Mexico for three days in 1952 and that they had remained close until her death. Later that year rock journalist Anthony Scaduto published an article in “Oui,” which, as “Tony Sciacca,” he expanded into a book, “Who Killed Marilyn Monroe?” (1976); he repeated Slatzer's claims but also alleged that Monroe had kept a diary which contained confidential information she had heard from the Kennedys and that her house had been wiretapped by Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa in an effort to obtain information he could use against the Kennedys. In 1982, Slatzer's private detective Milo Speriglio published “Marilyn Monroe: Murder Cover-Up,” claiming Hoffa and mob boss Sam Giancana had been responsible for her death. In response, Los Angeles County district attorney John Van de Kamp conducted a "threshold investigation" to determine if a criminal investigation should be opened; but after three months no evidence of foul play was found. However, the British tabloid the “Sunday Express” hired Anthony Summers (who had previously reported a conspiracy to assassinate president Kennedy) to cover the story of Van de Kamp’s review. In “Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe” (1985), he wrote that Monroe had threatened to reveal her romance with the attorney general after he had ended the affair and that his brother-in-law Lawford had tried to prevent by enabling her addictions; hysterical, Monroe accidentally overdosed and died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital, but Kennedy had her body returned to her home to give him time to leave Los Angeles before news of her death became public; the suicide was staged by Lawford, both Kennedys, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Peter Brown and Patte Barham's “Marilyn: The Last Take” (1992) and Donald H. Wolfe's “The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe” (1998) rehashed the earlier claims by Capell and Summers. In 1993, in “Marilyn Monroe: The Biography”Donald Spoto rejected the conspiracy theories of Capell et al. but alleged that Monroe's death was an accidental overdose staged as a suicide to protect her doctors from prosecution as a result of their overprescription of drugs, and added that she was going to remarry DiMaggio. Matthew Smith wrote “The Men Who Murdered Marilyn” (1996) and “Victim: The Secret Tapes of Marilyn Monroe” (2003), repeatin the old claims that she was murdered by the CIA due to her association with Robert F. Kennedy in revenge for the way the Kennedys had handled the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba at the beginning of the Kennedy administration. Monroe’s celebrity continues to grow. The Smithsonian Institution included her on its list of "100 Most Significant Americans of All Time" and art historian Gail Levin claimed she was "the most photographed person of the 20th century."
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