She made only 30 films in her lifetime, but her legendary status and mysticism will remain with film history forever.
Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!
Ladies of the Chorus
A Ticket to Tomahawk
Home Town Story
As Young as You Feel
Let’s Make It Legal
We’re Not Married!
Don’t Bother to Knock
O Henry’s Full House
There’s No Business Like Show Business
Let’s Make Love
She was never nominated for an Academy Award.
Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson at the Los Angeles County Hospital on June 1, 1926 as the third child of Gladys Pearl Baker (née Monroe, 1902–1984). Gladys was the daughter of two poor Midwesterners who migrated to California. At the age of fifteen, she married a man nine years her senior, John Newton Baker, and had two children by him, Robert (1917–1933) and Berniece (b. 1919). She filed for divorce in 1921, and Baker took the children with him to his native Kentucky. Monroe was not told that she had a sister until she was twelve and met her for the first time as an adult. Following the divorce, Gladys worked as a film negative cutter at Consolidated Film Industries. In 1924, she married her second husband, Martin Edward Mortensen, but they separated only some months later and divorced in 1928. The identity of Monroe’s father is unknown and she most often used Baker as her surname.
Monroe’s early childhood was stable and happy. Gladys was mentally and financially unprepared for a child, and soon after the birth she was able to place Monroe with foster parents Albert and Ida Bolender in the rural town of Hawthorne. They raised their foster children according to the principles of evangelical Christianity. At first, Gladys lived with the Bolenders and commuted to work in Los Angeles, until longer work shifts forced her to move back to the city in early 1927. She then began visiting her daughter on weekends, often taking her to the cinema and to sightsee in Los Angeles. Although the Bolenders wanted to adopt Monroe, by the summer of 1933 Gladys felt stable enough for Monroe to move in with her and bought a small house in Hollywood. They shared it with lodgers, actors George and Maude Atkinson and their daughter, Nellie. Some months later, in January 1934, Gladys had a mental breakdown and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. After several months in a rest home, she was committed to the Metropolitan State Hospital. She spent the rest of her life in and out of hospitals and was rarely in contact with Monroe.
Monroe became a ward of the state, and her mother’s friend, Grace McKee Goddard, took responsibility over her and her mother’s affairs. In the following four years, she lived with several foster families and often switched schools. For the first sixteen months, she continued living with the Atkinsons; she was sexually abused during this time. Always a shy girl, she now also developed a stutter and became withdrawn. In the summer of 1935, she briefly stayed with Grace and her husband Erwin “Doc” Goddard and two other families, until Grace placed her in the Los Angeles Orphans Home in Hollywood in September 1935. While the orphanage was “a model institution” and was described in positive terms by her peers, Monroe found being placed there traumatizing, as to her “it seemed that no one wanted me”.
Encouraged by the orphanage staff who thought that Monroe would be happier living in a family, Grace became her legal guardian in 1936, although she was not able to take her out of the orphanage until the summer of 1937. Monroe’s second stay with the Goddards lasted only a few months because Doc molested her. After staying with several of her relatives and Grace’s friends and relatives in Los Angeles and Compton, Monroe found a more permanent home in September 1938, when she began living with Grace’s aunt, Ana Atchinson Lower, in the Sawtelle district. She was enrolled in Emerson Junior High School and was taken to weekly Christian Science services with Lower. Monroe was otherwise a mediocre student, but she excelled in writing and contributed to the school newspaper. Due to the elderly Lower’s health issues, Monroe returned to live with the Goddards in Van Nuys in either late 1940 or early 1941. After graduating from Emerson, she began attending Van Nuys High School.
In early 1942, the company that employed Doc Goddard relocated him to West Virginia. California child protection laws prevented the Goddards from taking Monroe out of state, and she faced the possibility of having to return to the orphanage. As a solution, she married their neighbors’ son, 21-year-old factory worker James “Jim” Dougherty on June 19, 1942, just after her 16th birthday. Monroe subsequently dropped out of high school and became a housewife; she later stated that the “marriage didn’t make me sad, but it didn’t make me happy, either. My husband and I hardly spoke to each other. This wasn’t because we were angry. We had nothing to say. I was dying of boredom.” In 1943, Dougherty enlisted in the Merchant Marine and was stationed on Catalina Island, where Monroe moved with him.
In April 1944, Jim Dougherty was shipped out to the Pacific; he would remain there for most of the next two years. Monroe moved in with his parents and began a job at the Radioplane Munitions Factory in Van Nuys. In late 1944, she met photographer David Conover, who had been sent by the U.S. Army Air Forces’ First Motion Picture Unit to the factory to shoot morale-boosting pictures of female workers. Although none of her pictures were used, she quit working at the factory in January 1945 and began modeling for Conover and his friends. Defying her deployed husband, she moved on her own and signed a contract with the Blue Book Model Agency in August 1945.
As a model, Monroe occasionally used the name Jean Norman. She straightened her curly brunette hair and dyed it blonde to make her more employable. Her figure was deemed more suitable for pin-up than fashion modeling, and she was featured mostly in advertisements and men’s magazines. The agency’s owner, Emmeline Snively, said that Monroe was one of its most ambitious and hard-working models; by early 1946, she had appeared on 33 magazine covers for publications such as Pageant, U.S. Camera, Laff, and Peek.
Through Snively, Monroe received a contract with an acting agency in June 1946. After an unsuccessful interview at Paramount Pictures, she was given a screen-test by Ben Lyon, a 20th Century-Fox executive. Head executive Darryl F. Zanuck was unenthusiastic about it, but he was persuaded to give her a standard six-month contract to avoid her being signed by rival studio RKO Pictures. Monroe’s contract began in August 1946, and she and Lyon selected the stage name “Marilyn Monroe”. The first name was picked by Lyon, who was reminded of Broadway star Marilyn Miller; the last was picked by Monroe after her mother’s maiden name. In September 1946, she divorced Dougherty, who was against her working.
Monroe had no film roles during the first months of her contract and instead dedicated her days to acting, singing and dancing classes. Eager to learn more about the film industry and in order to promote herself, she spent time at the studio lot to observe others working. Her contract was renewed in February 1947, and she was given her first two film roles, bit parts in Dangerous Years (1947) and Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1948). The studio also enrolled her in the Actors’ Laboratory Theatre, an acting school teaching the techniques of the Group Theatre; she later stated that it was “my first taste of what real acting in a real drama could be, and I was hooked”. Monroe’s contract was not renewed in August 1947, and she returned to modeling while also doing occasional odd jobs at the studio.
Monroe was determined to make it as an actress, and she continued studying at the Actors’ Lab. In October 1947, she appeared as a blonde vamp in the short-lived play Glamour Preferred at the Bliss-Hayden Theater, but the production was not reviewed by any major publication. To promote herself, she frequented producers’ offices, befriended gossip columnist Sidney Skolsky, and entertained influential male guests at studio functions, a practice she had begun at Fox. She also became a friend and occasional sex partner of Fox executive Joseph M. Schenck, who persuaded his friend Harry Cohn, the head executive of Columbia Pictures, to sign her in March 1948.
While at Fox, Monroe was given roles of a “girl next door”; at Columbia, she was modeled after Rita Hayworth. Her hairline was raised, and her hair was bleached to platinum blonde. She also began working with the studio’s head drama coach, Natasha Lytess, who would remain her mentor until 1955. Her only film at the studio was the low-budget musical Ladies of the Chorus (1948), in which she had her first starring role as a chorus girl who is courted by a wealthy man. She also screen-tested for the lead role in Born Yesterday (1950), but her contract was not renewed in September 1948. Ladies of the Chorus was released the following month and was not a success.
After Columbia, Monroe became the protégée of Johnny Hyde, who was the vice president of the William Morris Agency. Hyde represented her and their relationship soon became sexual, with him even proposing marriage. He paid for a silicone prosthesis to be implanted in Monroe’s jaw and possibly for a rhinoplasty and arranged a bit part in the Marx Brothers film Love Happy (1950). Monroe also continued modeling, and in May 1949 she posed nude for photos taken by Tom Kelley. Although her role in Love Happy was very small, she was chosen to participate in the film’s promotional tour in New York that year.
In 1950, Monroe also had bit parts in A Ticket to Tomahawk, Right Cross and The Fireball, but also appeared in minor supporting roles in two critically acclaimed films: Joseph Mankiewicz’s drama All About Eve and John Huston’s crime film The Asphalt Jungle. Despite only appearing on screen for a few minutes in the latter, she gained a mention in Photoplay and according to Spoto “moved effectively from movie model to serious actress”. In December 1950, Hyde was able to negotiate a seven-year contract for Monroe with 20th Century-Fox. He died of a heart attack only days later, which left her devastated.
The Fox contract gave Monroe more publicity. In March 1951, she was a presenter at the 23rd Academy Awards, and in September, Collier’s became the first national magazine to publish a full-length profile of her. The same year, she had supporting roles in four low-budget films: in the MGM drama Home Town Story, and in three moderately successful comedies for Fox, As Young as You Feel, Love Nest, and Let’s Make It Legal. According to Spoto all four films featured her “essentially [as] a sexy ornament”, but she received some praise from critics: Bosley Crowther of The New York Times described her as “superb” in As Young As You Feel and Ezra Goodman of the Los Angeles Daily News called her “one of the brightest up-and-coming [actresses]” for Love Nest. To further develop her acting skills, Monroe began taking classes with Michael Chekhov and mime Lotte Goslar. Her popularity with audiences was also growing: she received several thousand letters of fan mail a week and was declared “Miss Cheesecake of 1951” by the army newspaper Stars and Stripes, reflecting the preferences of soldiers in the Korean War. In her private life, Monroe was in a relationship with director Elia Kazan, and also briefly dated several other men, including director Nicholas Ray and actors Yul Brynner and Peter Lawford.
In the second year of her contract, Monroe became a top-billed actress. Gossip columnist Florabel Muir named her the “it girl” of 1952 and Hedda Hopper described her as the “cheesecake queen” turned “box office smash”. In February, she was named the “best young box office personality” by the Foreign Press Association of Hollywood, and began a highly publicized romance with retired New York Yankee Joe DiMaggio, who was one of the most famous sports personalities of the era.
In March 1952, a scandal broke when Monroe revealed during an interview that in 1949, she had posed for nude pictures, which were now featured in calendars. The studio had learned of the upcoming publication of the calendar some weeks prior, and together with Monroe decided that to avoid damaging her career it was best to admit to them while stressing that she had been broke at the time. The strategy gained her public sympathy and increased interest in her films; the following month, she was featured on the cover of Life as “The Talk of Hollywood”. Monroe added to her reputation as a new sex symbol with other publicity stunts that year: she wore a revealing dress when acting as Grand Marshal at the Miss America Pageant parade and told gossip columnist Earl Wilson that she usually wore no underwear.
Regardless of her popularity and sex appeal, Monroe wished to present more of her acting range. She appeared in two commercially successful dramas in the summer of 1952. The first was Fritz Lang’s Clash by Night, for which she was loaned to RKO and played a fish cannery worker; to prepare, she spent time in a real fish cannery in Monterey. She received positive reviews for her performance. The second film was the thriller Don’t Bother to Knock, in which she starred as a mentally disturbed babysitter and which Zanuck had assigned for her to test her abilities in a heavier dramatic role. It received mixed reviews from critics.
Monroe’s three other films in 1952 continued her typecasting in comic roles that focused on her sex appeal. In We’re Not Married!, her starring role as a beauty pageant contestant was created solely to “present Marilyn in two bathing suits”, according to its writer Nunnally Johnson. In Howard Hawks’ Monkey Business, in which she was featured opposite Cary Grant, she played a secretary who is a “dumb, childish blonde, innocently unaware of the havoc her sexiness causes around her”. In O. Henry’s Full House, her final film of the year, she had a minor role as a prostitute.
During this period, Monroe gained a reputation for being difficult on film sets; the difficulties worsened as her career progressed. She was often late or did not show up at all, did not remember her lines, and would demand several re-takes before she was satisfied with her performance. Monroe’s dependence on her acting coaches—first Natasha Lytess and later Paula Strasberg—also irritated directors. Monroe’s problems have been attributed to a combination of perfectionism, low self-esteem, and stage fright; she disliked the lack of control she had on her work on film sets and never experienced similar problems during photo shoots, in which she had more say over her performance and could be more spontaneous instead of following a script. To alleviate her anxiety and chronic insomnia, she began to use barbiturates, amphetamines and alcohol, which also exacerbated her problems, although she did not become severely addicted until 1956. According to Sarah Churchwell, some of Monroe’s behavior—especially later in her career—was also in response to the condescension and sexism of her male co-stars and directors. Similarly, Lois Banner has stated that she was bullied by many of her directors.
Monroe starred in three movies that were released in 1953 and emerged as a major sex symbol and one of Hollywood’s most bankable performers. The first of these was the Technicolor film noir Niagara, in which she played a femme fatale scheming to murder her husband, played by Joseph Cotten. By then, Monroe and her make-up artist Allan “Whitey” Snyder had developed the make-up look that became associated with her: dark arched brows, pale skin, “glistening” red lips and a beauty mark. According to Sarah Churchwell, Niagara was one of the most overtly sexual films of Monroe’s career, and it included scenes in which her body was covered only by a sheet or a towel, considered shocking by contemporary audiences. Its most famous scene is a 30-second long shot behind Monroe where she is seen walking with her hips swaying, which was heavily used in the film’s marketing.
When Niagara was released in January, women’s clubs protested that the film was immoral, but the movie proved popular with audiences and grossed $6 million at the box office. While Variety deemed it “clichéd” and “morbid”, The New York Times commented that “the falls and Miss Monroe are something to see”, as although Monroe may not be “the perfect actress at this point … she can be seductive – even when she walks”. Monroe continued to attract attention by wearing revealing outfits in publicity events, most famously at the Photoplay awards in January 1953, where she won the “Fastest Rising Star” award. She wore a skin-tight gold lamé dress, which prompted veteran star Joan Crawford to describe her behavior as “unbecoming an actress and a lady” to the press.
While Niagara made Monroe a sex symbol and established her “look”, her second film of the year, the satirical musical comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, established her screen persona as a “dumb blonde”. Based on Anita Loos’ bestselling novel and its Broadway version, the film focuses on two “gold-digging” showgirls, Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw, played by Monroe and Jane Russell. The role of Lorelei was originally intended for Betty Grable, who had been 20th Century-Fox’s most popular “blonde bombshell” in the 1940s; Monroe was fast eclipsing her as a star who could appeal to both male and female audiences. As part of the film’s publicity campaign, she and Russell pressed their hand and footprints in wet concrete outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in June. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was released shortly after and became one of the biggest box office successes of the year by grossing $5.3 million, more than double its production costs. Crowther of The New York Times and William Brogdon of Variety both commented favorably on Monroe, especially noting her performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”; according to the latter, she demonstrated the “ability to sex a song as well as point up the eye values of a scene by her presence”.
In September, Monroe made her television debut in the Jack Benny Show playing Jack’s fantasy woman in the episode “Honolulu Trip”. She co-starred with Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall in her third movie of the year, How to Marry a Millionaire, released in November. It featured Monroe in the role of a naïve model who teams up with her friends to find rich husbands, repeating the successful formula of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It was the second film ever released in CinemaScope, a widescreen format that Fox hoped would draw audiences back to theaters as television was beginning to cause losses to film studios. Despite mixed reviews, the film was Monroe’s biggest box office success at that point in her career, earning $8 million worldwide.
Monroe was listed in the annual Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll in both 1953 and 1954, and according to Fox historian Aubrey Solomon became the studio’s “greatest asset” alongside CinemaScope. Monroe’s position as a leading sex symbol was confirmed in December 1953, when Hugh Hefner featured her on the cover and as centerfold in the first issue of Playboy. The cover image was a photograph taken of her at the Miss America Pageant parade in 1952, and the centerfold featured one of her 1949 nude photographs.
Although Monroe had become one of 20th Century-Fox’s biggest stars, her contract had not changed since 1950, meaning that she was paid far less than other stars of her stature and could not choose her projects or co-workers. She was also tired of being typecast, and her attempts to appear in films other than comedies or musicals had been thwarted by Zanuck, who had a strong personal dislike of her and did not think she would earn the studio as much revenue in dramas. When she refused to begin shooting yet another musical comedy, a film version of The Girl in Pink Tights, which was to co-star Frank Sinatra, the studio suspended her on January 4, 1954.
The suspension was front-page news, and Monroe immediately began a publicity campaign to counter any negative press and to strengthen her position in the conflict. On January 14, she and Joe DiMaggio, whose relationship had been subject to constant media attention since 1952, were married at San Francisco City Hall. They then traveled to Japan, combining a honeymoon with his business trip. From there, she traveled alone to Korea, where she performed songs from her films as part of a USO show for over 60,000 U.S. Marines over a four-day period. After returning to Hollywood in February, she was awarded Photoplay’s “Most Popular Female Star” prize. She reached a settlement with the studio in March: it included a new contract to be made later in the year, and a starring role in the film version of the Broadway play The Seven Year Itch, for which she was to receive a bonus of $100,000.
Monroe’s next film was Otto Preminger’s Western River of No Return, which had been filmed prior to her suspension and featured Robert Mitchum as her co-star. She called it a “Z-grade cowboy movie in which the acting finished second to the scenery and the CinemaScope process”, although it was popular with audiences. The first film she made after returning to Fox was the musical There’s No Business Like Show Business, which she strongly disliked but the studio required her to do in exchange for dropping The Girl in Pink Tights. The musical was unsuccessful upon its release in December, and Monroe’s performance was considered vulgar by many critics.
In September 1954, Monroe began filming Billy Wilder’s comedy The Seven Year Itch, in which she starred opposite Tom Ewell as a woman who becomes the object of her married neighbor’s sexual fantasies. Although the film was shot in Hollywood, the studio decided to generate advance publicity by staging the filming of a scene on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. In the shoot, Monroe is standing on a subway grate with the air blowing up the skirt of her white dress, which became one of the most famous scenes of her career. The shoot lasted for several hours and attracted a crowd of nearly 2,000 spectators, including professional photographers.
The publicity stunt placed Monroe on international front pages, and it also marked the end of her marriage to DiMaggio, who was furious about the stunt. The union had been troubled from the start by his jealousy and controlling attitude; Spoto and Banner have also asserted that he was physically abusive. After Monroe returned to Hollywood, she hired high-profile attorney Jerry Giesler and announced in October 1954 that she was filing for divorce from DiMaggio after only nine months of marriage. The Seven Year Itch was released the following June and grossed over $4.5 million at the box office, making it one of the biggest commercial successes that year.
After filming for The Seven Year Itch wrapped in November, Monroe began a new battle for control over her career and left Hollywood for the East Coast, where she and photographer Milton Greene founded their own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions (MMP) – an action that has later been called “instrumental” in the collapse of the studio system. Announcing its foundation in a press conference in January 1955, Monroe stated that she was “tired of the same old sex roles. I want to do better things. People have scope, you know.” She asserted that she was no longer under contract to Fox, as the studio had not fulfilled its duties, such as paying her the promised bonus for The Seven Year Itch. This began a year-long legal battle between her and the studio. The press largely ridiculed Monroe for her actions and she was parodied in The Seven Year Itch writer George Axelrod’s Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1955), in which her lookalike Jayne Mansfield played a dumb actress who starts her own production company.
Monroe dedicated 1955 to studying her craft. She moved to Manhattan and took acting classes with Constance Collier and attended workshops on method acting at the Actors Studio, run by Lee Strasberg. She grew close to Strasberg and his wife Paula, receiving private lessons at their home due to her shyness, and soon became a family member. She dismissed her old drama coach, Natasha Lytess, and replaced her with Paula; the Strasbergs remained an important influence for the rest of her career. Monroe also started undergoing psychoanalysis at the recommendation of Strasberg, who believed that an actor must confront their emotional traumas and use them in their performances.
In her private life, Monroe continued her relationship with DiMaggio despite the ongoing divorce proceedings; she also dated actor Marlon Brando and playwright Arthur Miller. She had first been introduced to Miller by Kazan in the early 1950s. The affair between Monroe and Miller became increasingly serious after October 1955, when her divorce from DiMaggio was finalized and Miller separated from his wife. The FBI also opened a file on her. The studio feared that Monroe would be blacklisted and urged her to end the affair, as Miller was being investigated by the FBI for allegations of communism and had been subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Despite the risk to her career, Monroe refused to end the relationship, later calling the studio heads “born cowards”.
By the end of the year, Monroe and Fox had come to an agreement about a new seven-year contract. It was clear that MMP would not be able to finance films alone, and the studio was eager to have Monroe working again. The contract required her to make four movies for Fox during the seven years. The studio would pay her $100,000 for each movie and granted her the right to choose her own projects, directors and cinematographers. She would also be free to make one film with MMP per each completed film for Fox.
Monroe began 1956 by announcing her win over 20th Century-Fox; the press, which had previously derided her, now wrote favorably about her decision to fight the studio. Time called her a “shrewd businesswoman” and Look predicted that the win would be “an example of the individual against the herd for years to come”. In March, she officially changed her name to Marilyn Monroe. Her relationship with Miller prompted some negative comments from the press, including Walter Winchell’s statement that “America’s best-known blonde moving picture star is now the darling of the left-wing intelligentsia.” Monroe and Miller were married in a civil ceremony at the Westchester County Court in White Plains, New York, on June 29, and two days later had a Jewish ceremony at his agent’s house at Waccabuc, New York. With the marriage, Monroe converted to Judaism, which led Egypt to ban all of her films. The media saw the union as mismatched given her star image as a sex symbol and his position as an intellectual, as demonstrated by Variety’s headline “Egghead Weds Hourglass”
The drama Bus Stop was the first film that Monroe chose to make under the new contract; the movie was released in August 1956. She played Chérie, a saloon singer whose dreams of stardom are complicated by a naïve cowboy who falls in love with her. For the role, she learned an Ozark accent, chose costumes and make-up that lacked the glamour of her earlier films, and provided deliberately mediocre singing and dancing. Broadway director Joshua Logan agreed to direct, despite initially doubting her acting abilities and knowing of her reputation for being difficult. The filming took place in Idaho and Arizona in early 1956, with Monroe “technically in charge” as the head of MMP, occasionally making decisions on cinematography and with Logan adapting to her chronic lateness and perfectionism.
The experience changed Logan’s opinion of Monroe, and he later compared her to Charlie Chaplin in her ability to blend comedy and tragedy. Bus Stop became a box office success, grossing $4.25 million, and received mainly favorable reviews. The Saturday Review of Literature wrote that Monroe’s performance “effectively dispels once and for all the notion that she is merely a glamour personality” and Crowther proclaimed: “Hold on to your chairs, everybody, and get set for a rattling surprise. Marilyn Monroe has finally proved herself an actress.” She received a Golden Globe for Best Actress nomination for her performance.
In August 1956, Monroe began filming MMP’s first independent production, The Prince and the Showgirl, at Pinewood Studios in England. It was based on Terence Rattigan’s The Sleeping Prince, a play about an affair between a showgirl and a prince in the 1910s. The main roles had first been played on stage by Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh; he reprised his role and directed and co-produced the film. The production was complicated by conflicts between him and Monroe. He angered her with the patronizing statement “All you have to do is be sexy”, and by wanting her to replicate Leigh’s interpretation. He also disliked the constant presence of Paula Strasberg, Monroe’s acting coach, on set.
In retaliation to what she considered Olivier’s “condescending” behavior, Monroe started arriving late and became uncooperative, stating later that “if you don’t respect your artists, they can’t work well.” Her drug use escalated, and according to Spoto she became pregnant and miscarried during the production. She also had arguments with Greene over how MMP should be run, including whether Miller should join the company. Despite the difficulties, the film was completed on schedule by the end of the year. It was released to mixed reviews in June 1957 and proved unpopular with American audiences. It was better received in Europe, where she was awarded the Italian David di Donatello and the French Crystal Star awards and was nominated for a BAFTA.
After returning to the United States, Monroe took an 18-month hiatus from work to concentrate on married life on the East Coast. She and Miller split their time between their Manhattan apartment and an eighteenth-century farmhouse that they purchased in Roxbury, Connecticut; they spent the summer in Amagansett, Long Island. She became pregnant in mid-1957, but it was ectopic and had to be terminated. She suffered a miscarriage a year later. Her gynecological problems were largely caused by endometriosis, a disease from which she suffered throughout her adult life. Monroe was also briefly hospitalized during this time due to a barbiturate overdose. During the hiatus, she dismissed Greene from MMP and bought his share of the company as they could not settle their disagreements and she had begun to suspect that he was embezzling money from the company.
Monroe returned to Hollywood in July 1958 to act opposite Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Billy Wilder’s comedy on gender roles, Some Like It Hot. Although she considered the role of Sugar Kane another “dumb blonde”, she accepted it due to Miller’s encouragement and the offer of receiving ten percent of the film’s profits in addition to her standard pay. The difficulties during the film’s production have since become “legendary”. Monroe would demand dozens of re-takes, and could not remember her lines or act as directed – Curtis famously stated that kissing her was “like kissing Hitler” due to the number of re-takes. Monroe herself privately likened the production to a sinking ship and commented on her co-stars and director saying “[but] why should I worry, I have no phallic symbol to lose.” Many of the problems stemmed from a conflict between her and Wilder, who also had a reputation for being difficult, on how she should play the character. Monroe made Wilder angry by asking him to alter many of her scenes, which in turn made her stage fright worse, and it is suggested that she deliberately ruined several scenes to act them her way.
In the end, Wilder was happy with Monroe’s performance. Despite the difficulties of its production, Some Like It Hot became a critical and commercial success when it was released in March 1959. Monroe’s performance earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress and prompted Variety to call her “a comedienne with that combination of sex appeal and timing that just can’t be beat”. It has been voted one of the best films ever made in polls by the BBC, the American Film Institute, and Sight & Sound.
After Some Like It Hot, Monroe took another hiatus until late 1959, when she returned to Hollywood and starred in the musical comedy Let’s Make Love, about an actress and a millionaire who fall in love when performing in a satirical play. She chose George Cukor to direct and Miller re-wrote portions of the script, which she considered weak; she accepted the part solely because she was behind on her contract with Fox, having only made one of four promised films. The film’s production was delayed by her frequent absences from the set. She had an affair with Yves Montand, her co-star, which was widely reported by the press and used in the film’s publicity campaign. Let’s Make Love was unsuccessful upon its release in September 1960; Crowther described Monroe as appearing “rather untidy” and “lacking … the old Monroe dynamism”, and Hedda Hopper called the film “the most vulgar picture she’s ever done”. Truman Capote lobbied for her to play Holly Golightly in a film adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but the role went to Audrey Hepburn as its producers feared that Monroe would complicate the production.
The last film that Monroe completed was John Huston’s The Misfits, which Miller had written to provide her with a dramatic role. She played Roslyn, a recently divorced woman who becomes friends with three aging cowboys, played by Clark Gable, Eli Wallach and Montgomery Clift. The filming in the Nevada desert between July and November 1960 was again difficult. The four-year marriage of Monroe and Miller was effectively over, and he began a new relationship with set photographer Inge Morath. Monroe disliked that he had based her role partly on her life and thought it inferior to the male roles; she also struggled with Miller’s habit of re-writing scenes the night before filming. Her health was also failing: she was in pain from gallstones, and her drug addiction was so severe that her make-up usually had to be applied while she was still asleep under the influence of barbiturates. In August, filming was halted for her to spend a week detoxing in a Los Angeles hospital. Despite her problems, Huston stated that when Monroe was playing Roslyn, she “was not pretending to an emotion. It was the real thing. She would go deep down within herself and find it and bring it up into consciousness.”
Monroe and Miller separated after filming wrapped, and she was granted a quick divorce in Mexico in January 1961. The Misfits was released the following month, but it failed at the box office. Its reviews were mixed. Despite the film’s initial failure, it has received more favorable reviews from critics and film scholars in the twenty-first century.
Monroe was next to star in a television adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s short story Rain for NBC, but the project fell through as the network did not want to hire her choice of director, Lee Strasberg. Instead of working, she spent the first six months of 1961 preoccupied by health problems. Monroe underwent surgery for her endometriosis, had a cholecystectomy, and spent four weeks in hospital care – including a brief stint in a mental ward – for depression. She was helped by her ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, with whom she now rekindled a friendship. In spring 1961, Monroe also moved back to California after six years on the East Coast. She dated Frank Sinatra for several months, and in early 1962 purchased a house in Brentwood, Los Angeles.
Monroe returned to the public eye in the spring of 1962; she received a “World Film Favorite” Golden Globe Award and began to shoot a new film for 20th Century Fox, Something’s Got to Give, a re-make of My Favorite Wife. It was to be co-produced by MMP, directed by George Cukor and to co-star Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse. Days before filming began, Monroe was diagnosed with sinusitis; despite medical advice to postpone the production, Fox began it as planned in late April. Monroe was too ill to work for the majority of the next six weeks, but despite confirmations by multiple doctors, the studio tried to put pressure on her by alleging publicly that she was faking it. On May 19, she took a break to sing “Happy Birthday” on stage at President John F. Kennedy’s birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden in New York. She drew attention with her costume: a beige, skintight dress covered in rhinestones, which made her appear nude. Monroe’s trip to New York caused even more irritation for Fox executives, who had wanted her to cancel it.
Monroe next filmed a scene for Something’s Got to Give in which she swam naked in a swimming pool. To generate advance publicity, the press was invited to take photographs of the scene, which were later published in Life; this was the first time that a major star had posed nude while at the height of their career. When she was again on sick leave for several days, Fox decided that it could not afford to have another film running behind schedule when it was already struggling to cover the rising costs of Cleopatra (1963). On June 7, Fox fired Monroe and sued her for $750,000 in damages. She was replaced by Lee Remick, but after Martin refused to make the film with anyone other than Monroe, Fox sued him as well and shut down the production. The studio blamed Monroe for the film’s demise and began spreading negative publicity about her, even alleging that she was mentally disturbed.
Fox soon regretted its decision and re-opened negotiations with Monroe later in June; a settlement about a new contract, including re-commencing Something’s Got to Give and a starring role in the black comedy What a Way to Go! (1964), was reached later that summer. To repair her public image, Monroe engaged in several publicity ventures, including interviews for Life and Cosmopolitan and her first photo shoot for Vogue. For Vogue, she and photographer Bert Stern collaborated for two series of photographs, one a standard fashion editorial and another of her posing nude, which were both later published posthumously with the title The Last Sitting. In the last weeks of her life, she was also planning on starring in a biopic of Jean Harlow.
During the final months of her life, Monroe lived in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Her housekeeper Eunice Murray was staying overnight at the home on the evening of August 5, 1962. Murray awoke at 3:00 a.m. on August 6 and sensed that something was wrong. Although she saw light from under Monroe’s bedroom door, she was unable to get a response and found the door locked. Murray then called Monroe’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, who arrived at the house shortly after and broke into the bedroom through a window, finding Monroe dead in her bed. She was pronounced dead by her physician, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, who arrived at the house at around 3:50 a.m. At 4:25 a.m., they notified the Los Angeles Police Department.
Monroe had died between 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on August 5, and the toxicology report revealed that the cause of death was acute barbiturate poisoning. She had 8 mg% (milligrams per 100 milliliters of solution) chloral hydrate and 4.5 mg% of pentobarbital (Nembutal) in her blood, and 13 mg% of pentobarbital in her liver. Empty medicine bottles were found next to her bed. The possibility that Monroe had accidentally overdosed was ruled out because the dosages found in her body were several times over the lethal limit.
The Los Angeles County Coroners’ Office was assisted in their investigation by the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Team, who had expert knowledge on suicide. Monroe’s doctors stated that she had been “prone to severe fears and frequent depressions” with “abrupt and unpredictable mood changes”, and had overdosed several times in the past, possibly intentionally. Due to these facts and the lack of any indication of foul play, deputy coroner Thomas Noguchi classified her death as a probable suicide.
Monroe was an international star and her sudden death was front-page news in the United States and Europe. Her funeral, held at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery on August 8, was private and attended by only her closest associates. The service was arranged by Joe DiMaggio and her business manager Inez Melson. Hundreds of spectators crowded the streets around the cemetery. Monroe was later entombed at crypt No. 24 at the Corridor of Memories.
In the following decades, several conspiracy theories, including murder and accidental overdose, have been introduced to contradict suicide as the cause of Monroe’s death. The speculation that Monroe had been murdered first gained mainstream attention with the publication of Norman Mailer’s Marilyn: A Biography in 1973, and in the following years became widespread enough for the Los Angeles County District Attorney John Van de Kamp to conduct a “threshold investigation” in 1982 to see whether a criminal investigation should be opened. No evidence of foul play was found.