Marilyn Monroe’s platinum blond hair and hourglass figure made her one of the 20th Century’s greatest icons. Beyond the notoriety she garnered as an actress and sex symbol, she faced personal and professional battles from adolescence to her death. Despite all we know about her, there’s still more to discover about the legacy she left behind. Below are 20 facts of things you didn’t know about Marilyn Monroe.
1. She Endured a Traumatic Childhood
Originally born Norma Jeane Mortenson in Los Angeles, California, the young girl was shuffled in and out of orphanages. Her father was absent from her life, while her mother Gladys was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and committed to a psychiatric facility.
2. Monroe Had Two Half-Siblings
A dozen years before Monroe was born, Gladys was briefly married and gave birth to a daughter Berniece and son Robert. Monroe didn’t learn about her siblings until she was a pre-teen and began a steady friendship with her half-sister as an adult. Robert, unfortunately, passed away before she could meet him.
3. Her First Marriage was Arranged
When she was 16 years old, Monroe’s foster parents wanted to move back to West Virginia. To stay in California, Monroe needed to marry or be forced back into the foster system. Monroe wedded her neighbor and beau James Dougherty. Their marriage lasted four years before divorcing.
4. An Army Photographer Discovered Her
While Monroe worked in a munitions factory, Army photographer David Conover encouraged Monroe to pursue modeling. After signing with the Blue Book Modeling Agency, Monroe became one of their most successful models at 19 years old.
5. Hugh Hefner Started Playboy with Her Photos
In 1949, Monroe posed nude against a satin backdrop for pin-up photographer Tom Kelley. After signing away the photo rights to Kelley for $50, they were later sold and reproduced for calendars. In 1953, Hugh Hefner used the photos on the cover and centerfold to launch Playboy Magazine as she was on the cusp of acting fame.
6. Her Grandmother Inspired Monroe’s Famous Moniker
Like many stars contracted to major studios in the 1940s, Monroe changed her real name with the help of Ben Lyon, the head of 20th Century Fox. He chose “Marilyn” based on a New York theater actress, and she wanted to use her grandmother’s surname “Monroe.” Mortenson legally became Marilyn Monroe in 1956.
7. She Dedicated Herself to Acting
Before she became a model, Monroe was passionate about following in the footsteps of her idols Jean Harlow and Lana Turner. Though the studio did not believe she possessed that special “It” factor, Monroe trained with Lee Strasberg at the Actors’ Studio and strengthened her intrinsic theatrical abilities.
8. Monroe Suffered From a Stutter
One of the actress’s most recognizable physical traits was her breathy, smooth voice. The unique way she spoke eased a debilitating stutter she developed after suffering abuse in the foster care system. A speech therapist created this technique for Monroe in high school to improve her self-esteem.
9. Mental Health Issues Plagued Monroe’s Work
She suffered depression and anxiety, often arriving late on-set due to nervousness that made her physically ill. The routine tardiness throughout her career tarnished her reputation.
10. She Owned a Production Company
Monroe wanted more diverse roles than the ditsy blonde. She created a production company to find projects she believed in and produced “Bus Stop” and “The Prince and the Showgirl.”
11. “Marilyn Monroe” Was a Persona
The confident strut and charm that Monroe evoked on-screen was a persona that she could turn on when she wanted. More often than not, she was unrecognizable and slipped under the radar in public or crowded places.
12. She Entertained the Troops
To assist with the Korean war efforts in the 1950s, Monroe was among dozens of Classic Hollywood stars who entertained the troops. Monroe performed in ten shows for the USO over four days, receiving massive standing ovations from soldiers, sailors, and airmen.
13. Monroe Loved to Exercise
Next to weightlifting and surfing, Monroe loved to practice yoga. Though yoga has been around for centuries, it didn’t reach the United States until the mid-1950s. Monroe was one of the first public entertainment figures to talk about using yoga and trained under Indra Devi, who is regarded as the “First Lady of Yoga.”
14. She Was A Victim of Hollywood’s “Healthcare”
An excess of pills and drugs was a common recommendation by managers and Hollywood’s studio doctors who tended to troubled actors and singers. Monroe, like many stars such as Judy Garland and Elvis Presley, succumbed to substance abuse intended to combat a variety of ailments.
15. Monroe Endured Multiple Miscarriages
One of the greatest life experiences Monroe longed to fulfill was motherhood. Throughout her life, and especially during her third marriage to playwright Arthur Miller, she became pregnant multiple times but suffered miscarriages due to endometriosis.
16. Ella Fitzgerald’s Career Skyrocketed After Her Support
Jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald was denied the opportunity to perform at L.A.’s famous hot spot, The Mocambo, due to her race. As an admirer of her work, Monroe personally called the club owner to protest. The actress guaranteed him limitless publicity by promising to sit at the center table every night Fitzgerald performed. Monroe continued to fight prejudice and segregation, and Fitzgerald credited Monroe for propelling her career to the next level.
17. She Loved To Read
Despite the unintelligent and bubbly roles Monroe excelled at with deft charm, the blond bombshell was a voracious bookworm. Her library contained more than 400 books. Additionally, out of all her glamorous portraits, Monroe’s favorites were of herself reading.
18. Monroe’s Birthday Dress Made Auction History
In 1962, Monroe greeted President John F. Kennedy with a timid yet sensual rendition of “Happy Birthday.” The nude, crystallized dress she wore became the highest-earning single piece of clothing sold at auction.
19. Conspiracies Linger About Monroe’s Death
At only 36 years old, Monroe passed away at home in bed from an apparent drug overdose in 1962. However, conspiracy theories linger about the cause of death as several reports from her initial autopsy mysteriously disappeared. Though her tragic death has been ruled an apparent suicide, some believe it was a cover-up homicide by the government.
20. DiMaggio Remained Devoted To Monroe
Monroe’s second marriage to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio only lasted eight months in the early 1950s. When Monroe passed away, DiMaggio arranged her funeral and sent roses to her burial site three times a week for 20 years.
The most influential public figures often lead complicated lives of incomparable brilliance and tragedy. From her work in film and fashion, Marilyn Monroe’s influence knows no bounds. As long as fans keep her legacy alive, there will always be more to learn about the iconic screen goddess.