Marilyn Monroe's Early Life


Norma Jeane Mortenson was born in Los Angeles to Gladys Raker Mortenson.
Norma Jeane Mortenson was born in Los Angeles to Gladys Raker Mortenson.

"I was never used to being happy, so that wasn't something I ever took for granted. You see, I was brought up differently from the average American child because the average child is brought up expecting to be happy." -- MARILYN MONROE, 1954

Though Marilyn Monroe's difficult journey along the path to Hollywood stardom is often traced back to her early career as a model, her connections to the movie industry go back much further. With the benefit of hindsight, it would be easy to claim that these childhood brushes with Hollywood foretold her future career in show business, but in reality, many Los Angeles natives at one time or another have found themselves connected to "the industry."

Marilyn was no exception. Her mother, Gladys Baker Mortenson, worked as a film cutter at Consolidated Film Industries, a processing lab for the Hollywood studios, at the time of Marilyn's birth.

Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926, at Los Angeles General Hospital. Gladys, not oblivious to the glamour and magic of the movies, named her child after Norma Talmadge, who ranked among the most popular of screen idols during the early to mid-1920s.

Norma Jeane began life with one significant strike against her: She had no father to help raise her, to protect her, or to love her. Though her birth certificate identifies her father as "Edward Mortenson," who was Gladys's second husband, most biographers agree that Norma Jeane's father was actually C. Stanley Gifford. Gifford also worked at Consolidated Film Industries, but he abandoned Gladys after being told of the pregnancy.

When she was a little girl, Norma Jeane asked her mother about a photo hanging on the wall. The photo showed an attractive man who wore a pencil-thin moustache, much like the one Clark Gable wore for most of his career. Gladys told her daughter that the photo was of her father.

Gifford was known to have resembled Gable, if only because of the moustache, and Norma Jeane fantasized for some time afterward that her father was Clark Gable. She often told her classmates that she was the daughter of the famous movie star.

Norma Jeane (who was baptized "Norma Jeane Baker") would never formally meet Gifford, the man that she believed to be her father. When she was a teenager, she tried to speak with him by telephone. She identified herself as "Norma Jeane, Gladys's daughter," but the party on the other end of the line simply hung up.

After Norma Jeane became the sensation called Marilyn Monroe, she supposedly attempted contact with Gifford again, this time in person. More than once, she drove south from Los Angeles with a close friend in tow to a small dairy farm near Hemet, California. On each occasion, she got out of the car, which was parked some distance from the farm, and walked toward the house alone. When she returned to the car, she informed her companion that her father had refused to see her.

Whether Marilyn actually spoke with Gifford on any of these occasions is not known. Perhaps she never found the nerve to actually knock on the front door; perhaps the farm did not belong to Gifford; perhaps Gifford was not her father at all.

Occasionally, the name "Edward Mortenson" crops up in early interviews and stories as the alleged father of Marilyn Monroe. Martin Edward Mortenson married Gladys Baker in 1924, but the couple had been separated long before Gladys became pregnant with Norma Jeane. Mortenson, an immigrant from Norway, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1929.

It's difficult to overemphasize the significance behind these stories. Marilyn felt a profound loss at having never known a father. It left a scar that never healed. Her conflicting stories and fantasies about her father seem to represent her attempts to put her parentage in perspective or to come to grips with her hazy past.

Ultimately, these attempts were not enough. Just before her death in 1962, Marilyn filled out an official form in front of her secretary, who witnessed the melancholy star bitterly scribble "Unknown" on the line marked "Father."

Monroe biographers have learned that Marilyn's contradictory stories about her family point out a problem in uncovering the facts of young Norma Jeane's past. Marilyn often exaggerated, embellished, and fantasized about the dismal events of her childhood. Though a truly honest person at heart, she obviously felt the sting of her unfortunate beginnings to such a degree that it colored her interpretation of them.

Consequently, Marilyn's conflicting accounts of certain incidents in her life make putting together a definitive version of her formative years quite difficult. Some of what we do know about her childhood, including her time spent in an orphanage and in foster care, can be found on the next page.

Marilyn Monroe Enters Foster Care

Norma Jeane's mother, who most often used the name Gladys Baker, placed the infant Norma Jeane in the care of Ida and Wayne Bolender of Hawthorne, California. Life had not been particularly kind to Gladys. She had had two children -- Berniece and Hermitt Jack -- by her first marriage to Jack Baker, but he had taken the children away from her and moved to Kentucky prior to her marriage to Edward Mortenson.

Supposedly, Baker had left a note for Gladys that read, "I have taken the children, and you will never see them again." The absence of her first two children caused Gladys great pain, and her inability to take care of Norma Jeane added to that heartache and stress.

Gladys's family had a history of mental instability. Both of her parents, Otis and Delia Monroe, finished out their lives in mental institutions, and Gladys's brother, Marion Monroe, suffered from a problem diagnosed at the time as paranoid schizophrenia. Gladys battled demons of her own and spent much of her adult life in institutions.

Though Gladys was most likely manic depressive, some have labeled her paranoid schizophrenic. It was not uncommon during the 1930s and 1940s for those suffering from manic depression to be diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, which accounts for the discrepancies in discussions of Gladys's case history.

Whatever the exact nature of Gladys's disorder, Marilyn had a morbid fear of genetic insanity throughout her life. Though manic and schizophrenic disorders have a tendency to run in families, this does not necessarily mean that Marilyn inherited an emotional disorder. It is just as likely that her early life of deprivation and insecurity accounted for her later psychiatric problems.

Ironically, perhaps, when Gladys boarded out Norma Jeane to the Bolenders 12 days after the baby's birth, it was because of financial difficulties -- not mental ones. Gladys went back to work at Consolidated Film Industries, paying the Bolenders five dollars per week to look after her baby. Each Saturday, Gladys would take the trolley to Hawthorne to visit Norma Jeane, who remembered Gladys as "the lady with red hair" rather than as her mother.

A devoutly religious couple, Wayne and Ida Bolender lived a comfortable existence in Hawthorne, a less-than-fashionable suburb of Los Angeles. Wayne worked as a postal carrier and was fortunate enough to remain employed throughout the Depression. In his spare time, he printed religious tracts.

Marilyn would later remember the couple's devotion to their religion as one that approached zealousness. She claimed that as the young Norma Jeane, she had to promise never to drink or swear, she had to attend church several times a week, and she was repeatedly told that she was going to Hell. Norma Jeane quickly learned to hide from the Bolenders if she wanted to sing, dance, or act out a fantasy life "more interesting than the one I had."

Though Norma Jeane regularly attended church with the Bolenders, she was taken by her grandmother, Della Monroe, to the Foursquare Gospel Church to be baptized by the flamboyant evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. Della, a devout follower of Sister Aimee, had her granddaughter christened "Norma Jeane Baker."

When Norma Jeane was two years old, Della suffered a complete nervous breakdown, which led to her commitment to the Metropolitan State Hospital at Norwalk in Los Angeles County. A month later, Della died of a heart attack during a seizure.

Around 1933, Gladys and Norma Jeane experienced a change in luck. Gladys had earned enough money to put something down on a white bungalow near the Hollywood Bowl; for the first time, Norma Jeane actually lived with her mother.

At the time, Gladys was working as a film cutter at Columbia Pictures, but to make ends meet, she rented out most of the house to an English couple who had fringe jobs in the film industry. The man was a stand-in for the English actor George Arliss, while his wife was registered as an extra.

The atmosphere around the house was much looser than it had been at the Bolenders, and Norma Jeane's activities were not as restricted as before. She frequently attended the movies, most often at Grauman's Egyptian Theater but also at Grauman's Chinese Theater.

There, in the famed cement forecourt, she would place her small feet in the footprints of Gloria Swanson and Clara Bow. Much later in her life, when the world knew her as Marilyn Monroe, she would literally follow in those stars' footsteps when her own prints were captured for posterity.

The reunion of Gladys and Norma Jeane was all too brief. As the months went by, Gladys became increasingly depressed until, one morning in January of 1935, she lost control. Unable to calm Gladys down, the English couple telephoned her closest friend, Grace McKee, who suggested they call an ambulance.

Some accounts of this tragic episode report that Gladys came after Grace with a kitchen knife. Whatever the specific events, Norma Jeane's mother was taken away, first to Los Angeles General Hospital and then to Norwalk, where Della Monroe had died just a few years earlier.

Except for very brief periods, Gladys was institutionalized for the rest of her life. As she grew older, she too became fixated on religion and the need to atone for past sins, just as Della had done.

The English couple, whose names are not known, kept Norma Jeane for the better part of a year, though they were forced to move to a small apartment when they could not keep up the payments on Gladys's bungalow. Eventually, the couple returned to England, and Norma Jeane moved in with some neighbors, the Harvey Giffens.

Giffen offered to legally adopt Norma Jeane, as did one of Gladys's coworkers from Consolidated Film Industries, but Gladys refused. After the Giffens moved to Mississippi, Grace McKee was named legal guardian for the luckless little girl.

On September 13, 1935, Grace took Norma Jeane to the Los Angeles Orphans Home Society because she was unable to financially provide for her at that time. Norma Jeane's admittance to the orphanage represented rock bottom to a child whose short life had been nothing but a succession of low points.

In a 1962 interview, Marilyn recalled her immediate reaction to the orphanage: "I began to cry, 'Please, please don't make me go inside. I'm not an orphan, my mother's not dead. I'm not an orphan -- it's just that she's sick in the hospital and can't take care of me. Please don't make me live in an orphans' home.' "

Marilyn often painted a dark portrait of her two years in the orphanage, giving the impression that it was much harsher than it actually was. She claimed that she had to wash 100 cups, 100 plates, and 100 knives, forks, and spoons three times a day, seven days a week. For her efforts, she received five cents a month, four of which went into the collection plate at church.

Later, officials would dispute her version of daily life at the orphanage, pointing out that the children were not regimented to certain tasks and that great pains were taken to make the children feel they were part of one, big, happy family. More than likely, Norma Jeane was never mistreated at the Orphans Home Society, but her feelings of abandonment, loneliness, and insecurity were certainly accentuated by the experience.

In the summer of 1937, Grace at last rescued Norma Jeane from the orphanage. Earlier that year, Grace had married Ervin "Doc" Goddard, who had three children from a previous marriage. The couple was trying to establish some semblance of a normal family life in Doc's little home in Van Nuys.

Despite her attempts at domestic harmony, Grace decided to place her ward in a foster home. For poor Norma Jeane, it was a case of jumping out of the frying pan of the orphanage into the fire of a succession of foster homes.

During the Depression, couples who took in foster children received money from the state, an arrangement that did not encourage the noblest of motivations for helping out parentless children. Norma Jeane was so miserable in the foster homes in which she was placed that she asked Grace to send her back to the orphanage. It was then that Grace and Doc decided to keep Norma Jeane themselves.

At some point in her childhood, perhaps during this hazy period of foster-home existence, or perhaps even earlier, Norma Jeane was sexually molested. In recounting the story in later interviews, Marilyn variously gave her age at the time of the incident as 6, 8, 9, or at some time in adolescence. According to Marilyn, a family friend or boarder in the foster home in which she lived at the time molested -- or raped -- her in his room.

When she told her foster mother what had happened, the woman refused to believe her. In some versions of the story, the foster mother actually slapped Norma Jeane, shouting, "I don't believe you. Don't you dare say such things about that nice man." The resultant trauma left the terrified girl with a stutter, though in early interviews Marilyn attributed her childhood stutter to her abandonment at the orphanage.

Her lack of specific recall and her overall tendency to embellish stories about her childhood have led some insensitive biographers to assume that Marilyn invented or greatly exaggerated the molestation story to gain sympathy. Those who knew her personally, however, attest to the emotional honesty in her recountings of the past. Though the details of her story may vary, the basic truth seems to be that she was sexually abused as a child, and the memory haunted her for the rest of her life.

Find out about Marilyn's growth into a young woman and why and who she married so young on the next page.

Marilyn Monroe Marries Jim Dougherty

Norma Jeane's swimsuit photos became particularly popular with magazines and their readers. This one was taken circa 1948.
Norma Jeane's swimsuit photos became particularly popular with magazines and their readers. This one was taken circa 1948.

Despite Grace McKee's determination to keep Norma Jeane, circumstances did not permit it. Now an adolescent, Norma Jeane went to live nearby with Grace's maiden aunt, Ana Lower. The arrangement turned out to be a blessing in disguise because Aunt Ana provided the most stable home environment that the unfortunate girl had ever known.

Aunt Ana belonged to the Christian Science Church, and she introduced the young girl to its teachings. Norma Jeane remained a Christian Scientist for over eight years, marking her only lasting religious influence.

Though the tenets of the church eventually faded in importance for Norma Jeane, Aunt Ana's guidance never did. One of Norma Jeane's most prized possessions was a book Ana had given her about Christian Science. The inscription read, "Norma dear, read this book. I do not leave you much except my love, but not even death can diminish that; nor will death ever take me far away from you."

Norma Jeane attended Emerson Junior High School in Westwood Village beginning in September 1939. Thirteen years old at that time, she soon grew tall and her figure developed rapidly, causing a sensation among the boys at school. For the first time in her life, Norma Jeane began to receive favorable attention. Her stutter diminished and her level of confidence soared.

It was quite a change from the previous year, when the boys had called her "Norma Jeane the Human Bean" because of her rail-thin torso. Though she had fallen behind in school and had to repeat the seventh grade, she eventually made it up by skipping the latter half of the eighth grade.

Norma Jeane entered Van Nuys High School in September of 1941, but her days as a typical high-school girl were numbered. At about that time, Doc Goddard received a job promotion that required him to relocate his family to West Virginia. At some point it was determined that Norma Jeane would not make the move with the Goddards, and that 61-year-old Aunt Ana could no longer take care of her.

Grace decided that a convenient solution to all involved would be Norma Jeane's marriage to a local boy, 21-year-old Jim Dougherty. The only alternative, according to Grace, would be to send Norma Jeane back to the orphanage.

The Doughertys lived in the same neighborhood as the Goddards, and young Jim sometimes drove Norma Jeane and Eleanor "Bebe" Goddard home from school. Norma Jeane harbored a crush on Jim, who had been a football star and student body president at Van Nuys High School.

Jim -- considered quite a catch by Grace and Aunt Ana -- had a good job at Lockheed Aviation, an aircraft factory, where he worked alongside a handsome young man named Robert Mitchum. A dozen years later, Mitchum would costar in a film called River of No Return with Marilyn Monroe -- the former Mrs. James Dougherty.

Jim and Norma Jeane began dating casually in December of 1941, after Grace asked him to escort the budding young woman to the Christmas dance put on by Doc's company. A few months later, the courtship had progressed to several dates each week.

By May of 1942, the couple were engaged. Norma Jeane dropped out of University High School in West Los Angeles, where she had transferred in February, to marry Jim. The couple wed on June 19, 1942 -- less than three weeks after Norma Jeane's sixteenth birthday. Aunt Ana helped the Doughertys plan the wedding, and she gave Norma Jeane a simple but elegant wedding gown.

The Goddards did not attend as they had already moved to West Virginia, but Ida and Wayne Bolender came up from Hawthorne for the ceremony. Having never had a significant father figure in her life, Norma Jeane asked Aunt Ana to give her away.

Whether Mr. and Mrs. James Dougherty were generally happy or not depends on which account of the marriage one believes. Marilyn would later profess that she had been pushed into a loveless marriage by Grace and that she was never really happy. On the other hand, Jim Dougherty claimed that the young couple had been truly in love.

In 1953, Jim stated, "Our marriage was a good marriage . . . it's seldom a man gets a bride like Marilyn . . . I wonder if she's forgotten how much in love we really were." Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, a mature Marilyn realized how much more life had to offer outside of her relationship with Jim.

Further evidence of Marilyn's discontent with the marriage includes her unwillingness to forgive Grace for maneuvering the young couple into matrimony, an act Marilyn later believed had been designed to ease Grace's conscience over moving out of state and leaving Norma Jeane behind.

In that first year, Jim and Norma Jeane Dougherty spent a great deal of time together and shared many activities. On closer inspection, though, it seems that those activities were more Jim's cup of tea than Norma Jeane's.

The young couple went fishing at Sherwood Lake, skiing at Big Bear Lodge, and occasionally to the movies or dancing. Jim Dougherty's recollection of this period suggests they led a carefree and fun-loving existence, while Marilyn recalled in a 1956 interview that she made a suicide attempt but "not a very serious one."

In the fall of 1943, during the middle of World War II, Jim began to feel the pressure of being without a uniform. He joined the Merchant Marine as a physical-training instructor, and the Doughertys were shipped to Catalina Island, off the coast of southern California.

Perhaps because of Jim's influence, or perhaps because of some secret ambition, Norma Jeane took weightlifting lessons from an Olympic champion while she and Jim lived on the island.

The Doughertys remained secure as a couple until the following year, when Jim was shipped overseas. Norma Jeane moved in with Jim's mother and began work at the Radio Plane Company in Burbank, a defense plant owned by actor Reginald Denny.

At first she inspected parachutes, but she was later promoted to another area where she sprayed the fuselages of target planes with a pungent liquid plastic. Despite the hardships of this task -- the area was known as the "dope room" because of the fumes -- Norma Jeane was a diligent worker who won an "E" certificate for her excellent handiwork.

Within a few months, however, Norma Jeane was recognized for something other than her work habits. Army photographer David Conover visited the plant on assignment in 1945 to shoot photographs of women working to aid the war effort. He was searching for someone to boost the morale of the boys overseas when he discovered 18-year-old Norma Jeane Dougherty, who looked quite fetching even in her company overalls.

When Conover found out that Norma Jeane had a sweater in her locker, he asked her to model for his series of photographs for Yank magazine. Conover's appealing shots of Norma Jeane resulted in her first magazine cover and led to her career as a model.

Norma Jeane discovered that she was in her element as a photographic model. To say she was a "natural" wildly understates her ability to use the camera to enhance her beauty and to bring out her innate glamour and sensuousness.

Having never felt a sense of belonging in her entire childhood, Norma Jeane now knew exactly where she belonged -- in front of the camera.Learn how these first photos would help get Marilyn discovered on the next page.

Marilyn Monroe Gets Discovered

This 1945 photo by photographer Joseph Jasgur was one of those that confirmed Norma Jeane's affinity for the camera and that opened the door to a whole new world.
This 1945 photo by photographer Joseph Jasgur was one of those that confirmed Norma Jeane's affinity for the camera and that opened the door to a whole new world.

"Models ask me how they can be like Marilyn Monroe and I say to them, honey, I say to them, if you can show half the gumption, just half, that little girl showed, you'll be a success too. . . . there'll never be another like her." -- EMMELINE SNIVELY, HEAD OF THE BLUE BOOK MODEL AGENCY

After the initial Yank magazine photographic session with Conover, Norma Jeane posed for him on other occasions. As his freelance model, she was paid five dollars an hour -- to Norma Jeane, a substantial amount of pocket money.

Conover worked as an Army photographer for the 1st Motion Picture Unit, which operated through the auspices of the Hal Roach Studios. His commanding officer was an actor-turned-serviceman named Ronald Reagan.

Conover's work, including some photos of Norma Jeane, appeared regularly in such military magazines as Yank and Stars and Stripes. Norma Jeane was enthusiastic about her new vocation, and even consented to join Conover on a picture-taking excursion through Southern California.

Norma Jeane's ability to pose before the camera from the very beginning of her career has been widely acknowledged, though where that ability came from remains a mystery. Was she simply blessed with a natural charisma, as many biographers have assumed? Or, had she been working on her appearance because of a secret desire for a more glamorous career, as some -- including Jim Dougherty -- have suggested?

Others have attributed her photogenic quality to her skill at attracting the gaze of men -- a skill she supposedly perfected to gain the attention she was denied as a child.

Those who claim that Norma Jeane was simply fortunate to have a charismatic, natural ability regard this stage of her life as a predestined fairy tale, in which her talent would have been rewarded no matter what the odds. Those who suggest that she had been harboring a secret desire to be a model or movie star imply that she not only had some control over her life but was also actively working to fulfill her dream.

And those who insist that Norma Jeane was subconsciously trying to gain the attention or affections of men paint a portrait of a woman who was frightfully insecure and easily manipulated. The truth of Norma Jeane's abilities and motivations is probably a combination of these scenarios; each of them seems to be an accurate description of her at certain points of her life.

No definitive answer can be pieced together from the recollections of Conover, the photographer who "discovered" Marilyn Monroe. According to him, his reason for choosing Norma Jeane over the other girls at the Radio Plane Company was simply that "her eyes held something that touched and intrigued me."

Norma Jeane's ability to magically transform herself before the camera will probably never be fully explained; perhaps it is an injustice to her to try.

A commercial photographer named Potter Hueth became interested in Norma Jeane on a professional level after Conover showed him some of his photographs. Hueth asked Norma Jeane if she would be willing to work on "spec." That is, he would shoot some photos of her and then tout them to various magazines, but Norma Jeane would not get paid unless the photos were sold.

She agreed, providing she could pose in the evenings, after her shift at the defense plant. Find out what happened with these photos and the story behind Norma Jeane becoming a blonde on the next page.

Marilyn Monroe Becomes a Blonde

Early Marilyn Monroe photos                                            exuded a delightful                                            wholesomeness.
Early Marilyn Monroe photos exuded a delightful wholesomeness.

Some of Potter Hueth's photographs of Marilyn ended up on the desk of Emmeline Snively, head of the Blue Book Model Agency in Los Angeles. Snively sent Norma Jeane a brochure and expressed interest in using her if she was willing to take Blue Book's three-month modeling course.

Though the agency's $100 fee almost frightened Norma Jeane away, Snively assured her that the fee could be taken out of her model's salary. Norma Jeane signed a contract with Blue Book in the summer of 1945 and landed a modeling assignment right away, though it was not in front of the camera lens.

She was hired by Holga Steel for a ten-day engagement as the hostess for their booth at an industrial show at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. After the show had concluded, Norma Jeane reluctantly returned to the defense plant but continued to attend Blue Book's classes.

In class, Snively taught Norma Jeane to lower her smile to alleviate the shadow cast by her nose. This modified way of smiling resulted in the quivering lips that would later become Marilyn Monroe's trademark.

For certain modeling assignments, Snively temporarily changed Norma Jeane Dougherty's name to the more sophisticated "Jean Norman." Norma Jeane (sometimes erroneously referred to during this period as Norma Jean) was eager to excel at her new profession and worked hard to please everyone at Blue Book.

She would study every photograph made of her, pick out the ones she thought were not successful, and ask the photographers what she had done incorrectly. She took their advice very seriously and never repeated what she considered to be a mistake.

One afternoon in 1946, Snively sent Norma Jeane to Frank & Joseph's Beauty Salon to have her hair done for a modeling assignment for Rayve shampoo. Frank & Joseph's had built a solid reputation by styling the hair of such Hollywood notables as Rita Hayworth, Ingrid Bergman, starlet Judy Clark, and even professional wrestler Gorgeous George.

On that day in 1946, a timid Norma Jeane walked into the salon and asked if something could be done to make her look better for her shampoo shoot that evening. Tint technician Sylvia Barnhart and shop owner Frank immediately set out to straighten Norma Jeane's hair, which Barnhart has described as "brown and kinky."

The strong solution used in the process also lightened her hair, giving it a reddish-blonde cast. Norma Jeane was quite pleased by the effect and wanted to go blonder. Over the next four to five months, Barnhart changed the color of the young model's hair to a golden honey-blonde by lightening and toning it a step at a time.

Barnhart disputes the oft-told tale that Norma Jeane did not want to be a blonde and that she resisted any suggestion to change her hair color. To the contrary, Norma Jeane felt a lighter color helped accentuate her eyes, which Barnhart has described as "beautiful [and] luminous."

Sylvia Barnhart and Norma Jeane Dougherty became friends during this period; Barnhart often bought lunch for Norma Jeane. Though sometimes angered by Norma Jeane's penchant for lateness, Barnhart never remained angry for long. She recalls that Norma Jeane had her and Frank "wrapped around her finger."

Barnhart continued to style Norma Jeane's hair for the next five to seven years, long after the shy, timid Norma Jeane had become starlet Marilyn Monroe.

In the next section, you'll learn about the events that led up to Marilyn's divorce from her first husband, Jim Dougherty.

Marilyn Monroe Gets Divorced

A bikini swimsuit of the type Norma Jeane wears here was quite rare on the nation's beaches at the time.
A bikini swimsuit of the type Norma Jeane wears here was quite rare on the nation's beaches at the time.

Norma Jeane's hair may have been progressing nicely during the mid-'40s, but her personal life was another matter. There is little doubt that her marriage to Jim Dougherty was based on a shaky emotional commitment from Norma Jeane. Still, the effect of her new profession on her marriage would not be readily apparent for a few months.

In the summer of 1945, Norma Jeane was still living with her in-laws, but their disapproval at her vocation made a move back to Ana Lower's more comfortable for all concerned. Jim's mother had suggested that Norma Jeane write to Jim, who was still overseas, to ask his opinion before she embarked on her modeling career. Norma Jeane had insisted there was not time.

By the time Jim came home around Christmas on his second leave, Norma Jeane had quit her job at the Radio Plane Company and was pursuing modeling full time.

Though Norma Jeane seemed happy to see her husband, a number of changes were readily apparent to Jim -- changes that both surprised and disappointed him. He noticed a stack of unpaid bills from local department stores lying on the table, which led to his discovery that Norma Jeane had spent most of his allotment as well as their savings on clothes and accessories. She defended her actions by telling him the clothes were necessary for her career.

Her career became Norma Jeane's primary topic of conversation, as opposed to their future. She also spent a great deal of time on modeling assignments while Jim was home on leave, including an extended excursion to the Pacific Northwest with photographer Andrè de Dienes. Dougherty's disappointment was fueled by the realization that he was no longer the center of her attention. Now he was only incidental to her life.

In his 1976 book The Secret Happiness of Marilyn Monroe, as well as in various interviews and articles, Jim Dougherty blames the breakup of his marriage on his Merchant Marine duties. He paints an idyllic portrait of his life with Norma Jeane in the period before he was shipped overseas.

Dougherty implies that if he had not left Norma Jeane alone, circumstances would have been different for them. He talks of Norma Jeane Dougherty and Marilyn Monroe as though they were two different people -- as if in his absence persons and forces beyond his control changed his naive, uncomplicated Norma Jeane into an ambitious, calculating career woman.

It's difficult to doubt the sincerity of Dougherty's comments. But in the end, his argument is unconvincing. Norma Jeane pursued her career with a determination that belies Dougherty's insistence that she enjoyed "peace and tranquility, security, [and] the uncomplicated joy of just being alive" while married to him. It seems unlikely that Dougherty's presence would have been sufficient to deter Norma Jeane's ambitions.

When Jim shipped out again, he knew that Norma Jeane was slipping away from him. She sent him no letters once he was back out to sea, whereas before, she had written almost every day.

After several weeks, he heard from her Las Vegas attorney. Norma Jeane had established residency in Nevada and filed for divorce. Jim refused to sign the papers until he came home on leave once more, and they could have a long talk. The discussion had little effect on Norma Jeane's decision. She was determined to become an actress, and, according to Dougherty, had been told her chances of a contract with a major film studio were next to impossible if she were married.

Finally, in the early autumn of 1946, Dougherty reluctantly signed the divorce papers; Norma Jeane was gone from his life. Meanwhile, her career as a pinup was on the rise. Learn more about this part of her journey to stardom in the next section.

Marilyn Monroe's Pinup Career

 Norma Jeane modeled many times for illustrator Earl Moran, who shot photos for his own reference.
Norma Jeane modeled many times for illustrator Earl Moran, who shot photos for his own reference.

In 1946, Norma Jeane's modeling career had taken off, coinciding with the boom in exploitation magazines. Though virtually nonexistent today, these types of publications flooded the market after World War II, particularly after paper rationing ended in 1950.

Several types of exploitation magazines appeared on newsstands following the war. Some were devoted to lurid crime stories, others to dimestore romance or Hollywood scandal. A significant number were aimed at men.

Because Norma Jeane was not the tall, willowy type best suited for fashion modeling, she began to make her mark in pinup magazines such as Laff, Peek, See, Glamorous Models, Cheesecake, and U.S. Camera. A result of the popularity of the pinup during the war, these inexpensive magazines featured the best in cheesecake photography.

Contrary to what might be assumed today, the magazines did not include photographs of nudes but displayed women in bathing suits, negligees, towels, and other scanty but tasteful attire. By modern standards, the layouts are amusing, even innocent.

The pinup magazines played an indirect role in the Hollywood star system during this era by bringing certain models to the attention of the movie studios. Although eventually superseded and later forced into extinction by the bolder Playboy and its many imitators, these earlier magazines provided invaluable exposure for many ambitious models who aimed for Hollywood careers.

Norma Jeane posed for a number of photographers who sold their work to pinup magazines. One of the best of these photographers was André de Dienes, a fine technician gifted with a sensitive eye that enabled him to work with equal success in color and black and white.

De Dienes worked with Norma Jeane from 1945 to 1949, capturing her at the peak of her modeling career. Their photographic excursion into Nevada, Oregon, the Mojave Desert, and Yosemite in the winter of 1945 resulted in the famous series of photos of a fresh-faced Norma Jeane conquering the wilds of the Pacific Northwest.

Their last session together was a series of seashore photos shot at Tobey Beach in 1949, when Norma Jeane -- by that time Marilyn Monroe -- was in New York City to promote one of her early films. Sometime in between, de Dienes fell in love with his young model, proposing to her just before he moved back east. According to de Dienes, Norma Jeane agreed to marry him but broke off the engagement after he left Los Angeles.

Others who used Norma Jeane as a photographic model include calendar and magazine illustrator Earl Moran. Moran first hired her in 1946 and used her off and on until 1950. As discovered in the 1980s, some of Moran's photos of Norma Jeane, used by the artist as reference for his then-popular cheesecake illustrations, are striking semi-nudes.

Moran provided Norma Jeane with one of her few steady sources of income during those lean years when she was trying to break into the movie industry. Marilyn would later say, "Earl saved my life many a time."

Moran's comments about Marilyn echo those of other photographers from throughout her career: "She knew exactly what to do, her movements, her hands, her body were just perfect. She was the sexiest. Better than anyone else. Emotionally, she did everything right. She expressed just what I wanted."

Find out how Marilyn's movie career evolved from her pinup days on the next page.

Marilyn Monroe's Movie Ambitions

 Always on the lookout for fresh, new faces, Hollywood executives regularly perused pinup magazines. By 1946, Norma Jeane had attracted the attention of no less a movie mogul than Howard Hughes.
Always on the lookout for fresh, new faces, Hollywood executives regularly perused pinup magazines. By 1946, Norma Jeane had attracted the attention of no less a movie mogul than Howard Hughes.

Norma Jeane's work for Earl Moran and other photographers and her appearances in pinup magazines had a direct relationship to her later success as a movie star. Her entrance into movies was not just a lucky break, as some biographers have implied, and her modeling experience was more than just a way for her to mark time.

In truth, Norma Jeane's early modeling experiences are integral parts of a long line of carefully planned events that led to her first film contract. That movie stardom was the goal of Norma Jeane and Blue Book's Emmeline Snively is evident from certain strategies and tactics employed from almost the beginning of their professional relationship.

In 1945, for example, Norma Jeane made her first appearance before a movie camera at the Blue Book Model Agency. Actually no more than an amateur screen test, the footage shows a smiling, curly-haired young model with the name "Norma Jean Dougherty" in block letters beneath her. It seems unlikely that Blue Book would have bothered with such a test if the movies had not been Norma Jeane's ultimate goal.

Sylvia Bamhart, Norma Jeane's hairdresser, confirms this assumption in her unpublished memoirs about her friendship with the young model. She not only mentions that Norma Jeane discussed her ambitions with her but also notes that she was willing to endure changes in her physical appearance in order to achieve her goal.

Snively also directed Norma Jeane toward pinup modeling when she realized that the young girl's figure and natural charisma were not suited to fashion photography. Certainly, Snively knew that Norma Jeane's cover photographs on pinup magazines could attract the attention of certain movie producers.

When Norma Jeane returned from Nevada after filing her divorce papers in the summer of 1946, she discovered that Snively's plans for her had grown in proportion. Eager to attract the attention of Hollywood, Snively had planted an item in the gossip columns about Norma Jeane.

At the time, Howard Hughes -- millionaire industrialist, aviator, and president of RKO Pictures -- was recuperating in the hospital from a serious flying accident. On July 19, 1946, the following item appeared in the gossip column of the Los Angeles Times: "Howard Hughes is on the mend. Picking up a magazine, he was attracted by the cover girl and promptly instructed an aide to sign her for pictures. She is Norma Jeane Dougherty, a model."

Over the past months, Norma Jeane had appeared on the cover of Laff magazine four times, using her real name as well as her alias, "Jean Norman." Hughes -- notorious for his interest in pretty women -- supposedly glanced at pinup magazines for the purposes of discovering starlets; it is possible that he saw her on these covers.

A Hughes aide did make an inquiry about Norma Jeane, but whether Hughes himself had noticed her magazine covers remains unknown. Over the years, this story has been endlessly recounted and reinterpreted until the facts have become overshadowed by publicity and myth.

In some versions of the story, Emmeline Snively sent the publicity notice to powerful Hollywood columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper because they owed her a favor. Snively's version of the notice read, "Howard Hughes must be on the road to recovery. He turned over in his iron lung and wanted to know more about Jean Norman, this month's cover girl on Laff magazine."

In simpler recountings of the tale, Hughes supposedly noticed Norma Jeane because she appeared on four or five magazine covers in a single month, prompting him to track her down.

The particulars of the story aside, Hughes's nominal interest in Norma Jeane was parlayed by her new agent into grabbing the attention of other film studios, most notably Twentieth Century-Fox. Realizing the need for professional help if Norma Jeane were to snag a movie contract, Snively had enlisted the aid of agent Helen Ainsworth of the National Concert Artists Corporation.

After fielding some of the calls herself, Ainsworth handed Norma Jeane over to one of the agency's talent representatives, Harry Lipton. Almost immediately, Lipton set up a meeting with Ben Lyon, the casting director at Fox.

Norma Jeane must have known that the odds were stacked against her and that a break that might lead to movie stardom was unlikely. But this only strengthened her resolve to reach her goal.

Marilyn recalled later, "I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night, 'There must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I'm not going to worry about them. I'm dreaming the hardest.' "

See the next page for the story behind Norma Jeane changing her name to Marilyn Monroe.

Norma Jeane Becomes Marilyn Monroe

New Twentieth Century-Fox contract player Marilyn Monroe roams the studio backlot. Just 20 years old, she had impressed talent director Ben Lyon with her charm and innocence.
New Twentieth Century-Fox contract player Marilyn Monroe roams the studio backlot. Just 20 years old, she had impressed talent director Ben Lyon with her charm and innocence.

­"I kept driving past the theater with my name on the marquee. 'Marilyn Monroe.' Was I excited. I wished they were using 'Norma Jeane' so that all the kids at the home and schools who never noticed me could see it."-- MARILYN MONROE, ON THE RELEASE OF LADIES OF THE CHORUS IN 1948

Norma Jeane walked into Ben Lyon's office at Twentieth Century-Fox in July of 1946 unsure of her future but certain of her goals. Lyon interviewed her about her background and inquired about any training she might have had in show business.

A nervous and frightened Norma Jeane admitted that she had no training or experience, but she volunteered, "I've tried to pick up all the camera experience I can around the photographers who've used me."

Impressed by her appearance but suspicious of her naiveté, Lyon asked her where she was living. When Norma Jeane replied that she currently resided at the Studio Club, Lyon knew that she was probably as innocent as she sounded.

The Studio Club, located in the heart of Hollywood, was a residential hotel affiliated with the YWCA that catered to young women seeking work in the film business. Norma Jeane was obviously "not playing the Hollywood game," as Lyon referred to it. That is, she was not the plaything of a Hollywood producer or mogul but was honestly trying to break into the film industry on her own.

Lyon had been in show business much of his life, first as an actor and then as a radio personality in England. Married to actress Bebe Daniels, he had teamed up with his wife for a series of film comedies in the States and then a long-running radio program in London.

Lyon's most significant role as an actor was in the film Hell's Angels, the epic World War I aviation adventure produced by Howard Hughes in 1930. At Lyon's urgings, Hughes had replaced the Norwegian actress Greta Nissen with Jean Harlow on that film when Nissen's accent became too much of a problem.

Lyon reportedly said of Norma Jeane Dougherty, "It's Jean Harlow all over again." Appointed executive talent director at Fox after the war, Lyon was adept at recognizing potential screen stars.

He was less interested in the amount of acting talent that Norma Jeane possessed than in her charisma and unique charm, which he knew would be magnified on the screen. Norma Jeane had screen presence -- just as Harlow had -- and Lyon saw it.

A few days after his initial meeting with Norma Jeane, Lyon arranged a screen test for Norma Jeane and set up a tentative contract with her agent, Harry Lipton.

Lyon supervised her screen test, which was shot by veteran cinematographer Leon Shamroy. The test was shot in color because Lyon realized that the stark nature of black-and-white photography might emphasize Norma Jeane's lack of experience, while color film would surely bring out her best qualities and enhance her screen impact.

Norma Jeane's "performance" consisted primarily of walking: She walked across the set, sat down, lit a cigarette, and put it out. She then walked upstage, looked out a window, sat down once more, walked downstage, and exited off-camera.

Though the test was silent and lasted only a few minutes, Shamroy, too, noticed Norma Jeane's resemblance to Jean Harlow. Shamroy later said, "This girl had something I hadn't seen since silent pictures. She had a kind of fantastic beauty like Gloria Swanson . . . she got sex on a piece of film like Jean Harlow. . . . She was showing us she could sell emotions in pictures." The Harlow comparison would surface again in the years to come.

A week later, Darryl Zanuck, who was head of production at Fox, saw the screen test and approved Norma Jeane's contract. She was to receive $75 per week for six months, at which time she would be reviewed and possibly signed for another six months. Norma Jeane Dougherty signed her first movie contract in August of 1946.

Only 20 years old at the time, Norma Jeane had to ask Grace McKee Goddard to cosign the contract for her. Though Grace readily obliged, there were really very few family members to rejoice in Norma Jeane's first success.

Grace and Doc Goddard had moved back to California after the war, but the relationship between Grace and Norma Jeane remained strained. Norma Jeane's mother, Gladys Baker, had been released from a San Francisco institution in 1945, just as her daughter's modeling career was getting underway, but Gladys had been unable to withstand the pressures of everyday life. She had returned to an institution, this time in Los Angeles, by the time Norma Jeane signed that first contract.

Because Norma Jeane and Jim Dougherty were on the verge of divorce, she had lost contact with the Dougherty clan as well. The aging Ana Lower remained her only close family tie.

Norma Jeane chose to celebrate her good fortune with her new associates -- Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels. The first order of business was to change the young actress's name -- Lyon utterly loathed "Norma Jeane Dougherty."

Lyon remembered a stage actress from the 1920s whom he had long admired -- a musical performer named Marilyn Miller. He thought "Marilyn" would better suit Norma Jeane's new, glamorous identity as a Hollywood starlet.

For her part, Norma Jeane suggested her mother's family name, "Monroe," as a last name. Lyon liked the alliteration of "Marilyn Monroe," and told Norma Jeane that the double "M" was a lucky omen. So it was that in the course of one afternoon, Norma Jeane Mortenson Baker Dougherty was transformed into Marilyn Monroe.

She was forever grateful to Lyon for his support and his help. A few years later, when Marilyn Monroe was on top, she sent Lyon a photograph inscribed: "You found me, named me and believed in me when no one else did. My love and thanks forever."

Armed with a new name, and perhaps a new sense of purpose, Marilyn prepared herself for a career in motion pictures. Unfortunately, even moderate success would elude the hopeful starlet for several years. To learn about her early days as an extra and bit player at Fox, read the next article in our series, Marilyn Monroe's Early Career.