Women’s History Month Honoree: Celebrating Marilyn Monroe

USA. Nevada. FILM: The Misfits. US actress Marilyn MONROE on the set of 'The Misfits'. 1960.

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USA. Nevada. FILM: The Misfits. US actress Marilyn MONROE on the set of ‘The Misfits’. 1960.

By Allan Jamail

March 13, 2024 ~ Women’s History Month is from March 1st. through March 31st. Marilyn Monroe deserves this week’s recognition for her contributions to the motion picture and modeling industry.

She was born Norma Jeane Mortenson, on June 1, 1926, at the Los Angeles General Hospital in Los Angeles, California. She’s known for playing comedic “blonde bombshell” characters, and she became one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s and early 1960s, as well as an emblem of the era’s sexual revolution. She was a top-billed actress for a decade, and her films grossed $200 million (equivalent to $2 billion in 2022) by the time of her death. Long after her death at age 36, Monroe remains a pop culture icon. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked her as the sixth-greatest female screen legend from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Monroe spent most of her childhood in a total of 12 foster homes and an orphanage before marrying James Dougherty at age sixteen. She was working in a factory during World War II when she met a photographer from the First Motion Picture Unit and began a successful pin up modeling career, which led to short-lived film contracts with 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures. After a series of minor film roles, she signed a new contract with Fox in late 1950. Over the next two years, she became a popular actress with roles in several comedies, including As Young as You Feel and Monkey Business, and in the dramas Clash by Night and Don’t Bother to Knock. Monroe faced a scandal when it was revealed that she had posed for nude photographs prior to becoming a star, but the story did not damage her career and instead resulted in increased interest in her films.

By 1953, Monroe was one of the most marketable Hollywood stars. She had leading roles in the film noir Niagara, which overtly relied on her sex appeal, and the comedies Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire, which established her star image as a “dumb blonde.” The same year, her nude images were used as the centerfold and cover of the first issue of Playboy. Monroe played a significant role in the creation and management of her public image throughout her career, but felt disappointed when typecast and underpaid by the studio. She was briefly suspended in early 1954 for refusing a film project but returned to star in The Seven Year Itch (1955), one of the biggest box office successes of her career which led to her and Joe DiMaggio’s divorce.

When the studio was still reluctant to change Monroe’s contract, she founded her own film production company in 1954. She dedicated 1955 to building the company and began studying method acting under Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. Later that year, Fox awarded her a new contract, which gave her more control and a larger salary. Her subsequent roles included a critically acclaimed performance in Bus Stop (1956) and her first independent production in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). She won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her role in Some Like It Hot (1959), a critical and commercial success. Her last completed film was the drama The Misfits (1961).

Monroe’s troubled private life received much attention as she struggled with addiction and mood disorders.

Her marriage to retired baseball star Joe DiMaggio was highly publicized; they divorced only after nine months. He was very jealous and got lividly mad when he saw her dress blow up over her head in the movie The Seven Year Itch. Director Billy Wilder said, “Joe had the look of death” when he saw the cameras click away at his wife’s dress going up showing her panties.

She died from an overdose of barbiturates at her Los Angeles home. Her death was ruled a probable suicide. Joe directed her funeral services and he placed over 18,000 flowers on Marilyn’s grave twice a week for over twenty years. His last words before he died were, “I’ll finally get to see Marilyn.”

Monroe won, or was nominated for, several awards during her career. Those she won included the Henrietta Award for Best Young Box Office Personality (1951) and World Film Favorite (1953), and a Crystal Star Award and David di Donatello Award for The Prince and the Showgirl (1958). She was inducted to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, and a Golden Palm Star was dedicated at the Palm Springs Walk of Stars in 1995. Three of the films in which she appeared—Some Like It Hot, All About Eve, and The Asphalt Jungle—have been added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry, and the former earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress. She continues to be considered a major icon in American popular culture in the decades following her death.

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