30 Fascinating Facts About Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe was born on June 1, 1926. Had she not passed away in 1962 at the age of 36, what might she be doing now? Would she have continued acting? Become Mrs. Joe DiMaggio for the second time, as he claimed? Carved out an Oscar-winning career for herself? What could have been remains a mystery, much like Monroe herself. But here are some facts we do know.
1. Norma Jeane Baker's first marriage was arranged.
As a child, Norma Jean Baker (originally spelled as Norma Jeane) was in and out of foster homes, state care, and the guardianship of various family friends. She never knew her father, and her mother had been committed to a psychiatric facility. A 15-year-old Baker had been staying with family friend Grace Goddard, but they decided to move to West Virginia, and couldn’t take Baker. Unless she married, the teenager would have been turned back over to an orphanage. So they turned to 20-year-old James Dougherty next door and suggested a marriage. "I thought she was awful young," he later said, but "we talked and we got on pretty good." They were married just 18 days after she turned 16.
2. Norma Jean Baker was named after a movie star.
Norma Jean Baker's mother had fame on the brain early on for her daughter. She chose "Norma" as her first name after actress Norma Talmadge.
3. “Marilyn Monroe” wasn’t her first choice for a stage name.
If Norma Jean Baker had gone with her first choice of stage name, "Jean Adair" would be the household name today. According to Baker's sister, Baker's original stage name of choice played off of Norma Jeane, her real name.
4. "Monroe" was the maiden name of Marilyn Monroe's mother.
Baker chose Monroe as her surname because it was her mother's maiden name. In her ghost-written autobiography, Monroe said she was told that she was somehow related to President James Monroe, but no evidence has ever been found to support that. "Marilyn" came from a studio executive who thought she resembled Marilyn Miller, an actress who died at the age of 37 (Monroe was 36 when she passed away).
5. When Gladys Baker told people she was Marilyn Monroe’s mother, no one believed her.
When Gladys Baker, Marilyn's mother, told people Marilyn Monroe was her daughter, no one believed her. Gladys, once a film cutter at RKO, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was in and out of psychiatric care for years. Gladys took Norma Jean to a foster family when she was just two weeks old, which resulted in a series of orphanages and foster care homes for the rest of her childhood—so she didn’t have a close relationship with her mother. When Marilyn hit it big and Gladys told friends and co-workers that her daughter was the Marilyn Monroe, they dismissed it as one of her paranoid schizophrenic delusions.
6. Marilyn Monroe often referred to "Marilyn Monroe" in the third person.
Actor Eli Wallach once recalled that Monroe seemed to flip an inner switch and turn "Marilyn" on and off. He had been walking on Broadway with her one evening, totally incognito, and the next minute, she was swarmed with attention. "'I just felt like being Marilyn for a minute,'" Wallach remembers her saying. Photographer Sam Shaw often heard her critiquing "Marilyn's" performances in movies or at photo shoots, making comments like, "She wouldn't do this. Marilyn would say that."
7. Marilyn Monroe was Truman Capote's first choice to play Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Truman Capote had Monroe in mind for the lead role in Breakfast at Tiffany's—and she even performed two scenes for him. "She was terrifically good," Capote later said. In the end, she didn't take the part because her advisor and acting coach didn't think it was the type of character she should be playing. Either way, Capote wasn't at all thrilled with the studio's choice of Audrey Hepburn, saying, "Paramount double-crossed me in every way and cast Audrey."
8. Marilyn Monroe reportedly hated being in front of the camera.
After working with Monroe on Bus Stop, Oscar-nominated actor Don Murray noted that while her talent was undeniable, she was never fully comfortable in front of the camera. “She was a very experienced film actress, but she could forget so many of the mechanical techniques. She would constantly miss her marks, so she would be out of focus or out of the light or in a shadow,” Murray said. “I think it was a lack of confidence. For somebody who the camera loved, she was still terrified of going before the camera and broke out in a rash all over her body.”
9. Marilyn Monroe's on-camera glow wasn't exactly natural.
Before her makeup was applied, Marilyn slathered on a layer of Nivea Creme or Vaseline, believing it made her look more luminous on film. And she tried to stay out of the sun. “Despite its great vogue in California, I don’t think suntanned skin is any more attractive ... or any healthier, for that matter," Monroe once said. "I’m personally opposed to a deep tan because I like to feel blond all over.”
10. Marilyn Monroe had a thing for intellectual men.
Monroe's marriage to writer Arthur Miller probably tells you that, but there's more evidence. Monroe was once roommates with actress Shelley Winters, who said they made a list of men they wanted to sleep with, just for fun. "There was no one under 50 on hers," Winters later reported. "I never got to ask her before she died how much of her list she had achieved, but on her list was Albert Einstein, and after her death, I noticed that there was a silver-framed photograph of him on her white piano."
11. Marilyn Monroe was loyal to Arthur Miller, even thought it put her career in jeopardy.
In 1956, Marilyn’s future husband—The Crucible playwright Arthur Miller—was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. When this happened, celebrities were expected to name names of people who had allegedly been involved in Communist activities. Miller refused to do so, which could have landed him in prison. Marilyn’s steadfast commitment to Miller probably kept the playwright from being sentenced. (It probably didn’t hurt that he announced their wedding plans in the middle of his testimony.)
12. The FBI had a file on Marilyn Monroe.
The FBI's file on Monroe was probably opened due to her relationship with Miller and his “un-American” activities, coupled with a request she made to visit the Soviet Union in 1955. (She never actually made the trip.) If you’re so inclined, you can peruse the file online.
13. Marilyn Monroe's house was bugged.
The only house Monroe ever owned, a modest hacienda in Brentwood, California, was purchased by married actors Michael Irving and Veronica Hamel in the early 1970s, roughly a decade after Marilyn had died there. During a remodel, the couple discovered a sophisticated, government-grade phone tapping system that extended throughout the house.
14. According to Shelley Winters, Marilyn Monroe wasn't much of a cook.
Winters says she once asked the actress to wash lettuce so they could have salad for dinner. When she walked into the kitchen, Winters found Monroe washing each individual lettuce leaf “with a Brillo pad.”
15. But Marilyn Monroe eventually found her footing in the kitchen.
Several of Monroe's recipes were discovered after her death, and in 2010, The New York Times tried making her stuffing recipe for Thanksgiving. They found it surprisingly complex and theorized that “she not only cooked, but cooked confidently and with flair.”
16. Marilyn Monroe was well-read.
Monroe's bookshelf was exceedingly impressive. At the time of her death, she owned more than 400 volumes, including several first editions. Of the thousands of photographs taken of her, she was especially fond of ones that showed her reading. When a director once found her reading R.M. Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, he asked her how she chose it. "[On] nights when I've got nothing else to do I go to the Pickwick bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard," she told him. "And I just open books at random—or when I come to a page or a paragraph I like, I buy that book. So last night I bought this one. Is that wrong?"
17. Marilyn Monroe helped Ella Fitzgerald book the Mocambo Club.
The rumor has long circulated that Ella Fitzgerald was originally denied due to her race, but according to one biographer, race wasn't the deterrent for nightclub owner Charlie Morrison; Eartha Kitt and Dorothy Dandridge had already played there. The problem was that Morrison didn't believe Fitzgerald was glamorous enough for his patrons. A huge Fitzgerald fan, Monroe promised to be in the front row every night if Morrison would book her, guaranteeing massive amounts of press for the club. He agreed, and Monroe was true to her word. "After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again," Fitzgerald said. "She was an unusual woman—a little ahead of her times. And she didn't know it."
18. Marilyn Monroe had a hard time memorizing lines.
"The joke was, she couldn't make two sentences meet," said Don Murray, an actor who co-starred with Monroe in the 1956 film Bus Stop. Though some chalked it up to a lack of professionalism, others—including Murray—believed it was nerves.
19. Marilyn Monroe's wardrobe is worth a fortune.
At $1,267,500, the sheer, spangled dress Monroe wore to sing "Happy Birthday" to JFK in 1962 set the world record for the most expensive piece of clothing ever sold. A collectible company purchased it. The famous Seven Year Itch dress set a record, too, selling for $4.6 million in 2011. Casual attire goes for less, but still fetches more than your average pair of Levi's: Tommy Hilfiger bought her jeans from Otto Preminger's River of No Return for $37,000—and gave them to Britney Spears as a gift.
20. Frank Sinatra gifted Marilyn Monroe with a dog named Maf.
The Maltese Terrier was a gift from Frank Sinatra, and the dog's full name was “Mafia Honey,” which was apparently a nod to Sinatra’s supposed criminal ties. After Monroe's death, Maf was taken in by Sinatra’s secretary, Gloria Lovell.
21. Maf the dog “wrote” a book in 2010.
In 2010, author Andrew O’Hagan wrote The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his Friend Marilyn Monroe—a work of fiction written from Maf’s perspective.
22. Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra once attempted to catch Marilyn Monroe cheating with another man.
In 1954, Joltin’ Joe and Ol’ Blue Eyes were having dinner together when a private investigator that DiMaggio had hired tipped them off that Marilyn was with another man—right that second—in a house not far away. They assembled a crowd—yes, a crowd—and broke into the house where she was allegedly having her tryst.
It wasn’t until they broke the lock on the door and stormed inside snapping photos that they realized it was the wrong house entirely. The whole thing blew up when the homeowner sued; Sinatra had to testify before the California State Senate two years later. The homeowner, secretary Florence Kotz, was awarded $7,500 for her trauma.
23. Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio were only married for 8 months.
Their romance is infamous, but Monroe was only married to second husband Joe DiMaggio for a mere 274 days. Though many things contributed to their divorce, the infamous "subway scene" in The Seven Year Itch—where the skirt of Marilyn's white dress billows up—was said to have been the last straw. The scene was shot in front of a large crowd of media and bystanders, and DiMaggio became irate over how much she was exposing herself. They fought over it, and according to some reports, DiMaggio got physical.
24. Marilyn Monroe divorced Joe DiMaggio over "mental cruelty."
Whether or not DiMaggio did get physical with Monroe, their marriage came to an end shortly after The Seven Year Itch incident. Monroe filed for divorce on the grounds of "mental cruelty" not long after.
The kicker? That particular fight was completely unnecessary. The crowd made enough noise that the footage shot that day was completely unusable, so Monroe had to re-shoot her scenes on a closed sound stage.
25. Joe DiMaggio remained devoted to Marilyn Monroe, even after their divorce.
DiMaggio continued to be there when Monroe needed him, including bringing her to spring training with him so that she could get away from Hollywood for a while. Shortly before her death, DiMaggio had been telling friends that they were going to get remarried. When she died, he was in charge of the funeral, and he refused to allow almost anyone from Hollywood to attend. "Tell them, if it wasn't for them, she'd still be here," he said. He had roses delivered to her grave twice a week for 20 years following her death.
26. Marilyn Monroe had been in discussions to star in a biopic about Jean Harlow, one of her heroes, for years.
Marilyn and her friend Sidney Skolsky had long been hatching plans for a biopic of Jean Harlow, which Marilyn would star in and Skolsky would produce. Harlow, another blonde bombshell and Hollywood starlet who died young, was one of Marilyn’s idols—so the self-casting would have been poetic.
27. Even in death, Marilyn Monroe and Jean Harlow had a lot in common.
About DiMaggio having roses delivered to Monroe’s grave several times a week for 20 years following her death? The tradition was taken from Jean Harlow’s untimely death: When she died, fiance William Powell had flowers delivered to her grave every week for years. One account says that Monroe actually asked DiMaggio to deliver on this same morbid promise on their wedding day.
28. Warren Beatty was one of the last people to see Marilyn Monroe alive.
A 25-year-old Warren Beatty was attending a party at actor (and JFK’s brother-in-law) Peter Lawford’s house when he met Monroe for the first time. She asked him to take a walk along the beach with her; he later recalled that “It was more soulful than romantic.” Her death was announced the next day.
29. Marilyn Monroe’s estate earned much more money following Monroe’s passing.
At the height of her career, Marilyn had a million-dollar contract for two films. During the same time frame, Elizabeth Taylor was paid $1 million for her role in Cleopatra alone. It’s estimated that Marilyn was worth about $20 million at the time of her death, which is nothing to sneeze at—but these days, her estate is making $30 million a year.
30. being buried near Marilyn Monroe is a big deal.
After her death, Monroe was buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. DiMaggio originally owned the crypt above hers, but sold it when they divorced. The buyer was Richard Poncher, a fan who requested that he be flipped over when he was buried so he could lay face down on top of Monroe for eternity. Charming. Though his wife obliged the request, she changed her mind in 2009 and put the plot up for sale on eBay. It brought in a whopping $4.6 million, but the buyer later backed out.
Hugh Hefner famously purchased the plot right next to hers. Though she graced the first cover of Playboy, the two never met. "I feel a double connection to her because she was the launching key to the beginning of Playboy," he said. When Hefner died in 2017, he was buried in the plot he'd bought for $75,000 in 1992.
This story was updated in 2020.