Actress. Born Norma Jeane Mortenson (later baptized as Norma Jeane Baker) on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles, California. During her all-too-brief life, Marilyn Monroe overcame a difficult childhood to become of the world’s biggest and most enduring sex symbols. She never knew her father, and her mother Gladys, developed psychiatric problems and was eventually placed in a mental institution. Growing up, Monroe spent much of her time in foster care and in an orphanage. In 1937, a family friend and her husband, Grace and Doc Goddard, took care of her for a few years. But when Doc’s job was transferred in 1942 to the East Coast, the couple could not afford to bring Monroe with them.
Once again, Monroe faced life in foster care. But she had one way out—get married. She wed her boyfriend Jimmy Dougherty on June 19, 1942. A merchant marine, Dougherty was later sent to the South Pacific. Monroe went to work in a munitions factory in Burbank where she was discovered by a photographer. By the time Dougherty returned in 1946, Monroe had a successful career as a model. She dreamt of becoming an actress like Jean Harlow and Lana Turner.
Her marriage fizzled out as Monroe focused more on her career. The couple divorced in 1946—the same year she signed her first movie contract. With the movie contract came a new name and image, she began calling herself “Marilyn Monroe” and dyed her hair blonde. But her acting career didn’t really take off until the 1950s. Her small part in John Huston’s crime drama The Asphalt Jungle (1950) garnered her a lot of attention. That same year she impressed audiences and critics alike as Claudia Caswell in All About Eve, starring Bette Davis.
In 1953, Monroe made a star-making turn in Niagara, starring as a young married woman out to kill her husband with help from her lover. The emerging sex symbol was paired with another bombshell, Jane Russell, for the musical comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). The film was a hit and Monroe continued to find success in a string of light comedic fare, such as How to Marry a Millionaire with Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall, There’s No Business like Show Business (1954) with Ethel Merman and Donald O’Connor, and The Seven Year Itch (1955). With her breathy voice and hourglass figure, Monroe became a much-admired international star.
Tired of bubbly, dumb blonde roles, Monroe moved to New York City to study acting with Lee Strasberg at the Actors’ Studio. She returned to the screen in the dramatic comedy Bus Stop (1956), playing a saloon singer kidnapped by a rancher who has fallen in love with her. She received mostly praise for her performance.
In 1959, Monroe returned to familiar territory with the wildly popular comedy Some Like It Hot with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. She played Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, a singer who hopes to marry a millionaire in this humorous film in which Lemmon and Curtis pretend to be women. They are on the run from the mob after witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and hide out with an all-girl orchestra featuring Monroe. Her work on the film earned her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Comedy.