14 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. In honor of her birthday, here are 14 things we do know.
1. Norma Jean Baker's first marriage was arranged.
As a child, Norma Jean Baker 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. She 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."
3. Marilyn Monroe was Truman Capote's first choice for Holly Golightly..
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."
4. "Monroe" was her mother's maiden name.
She chose her new 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. Marilyn Monroe had a thing for intellectual men.
Her 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."
6. According to Winters, 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.”
7. But Marilyn Monroe eventually found her footing in the kitchen.
Several of her 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.”
8. 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?"
9. 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."
10. 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. "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."
11. Marilyn Monroe's wardrobe is worth a pretty penny.
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.
12. 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.
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.
13. Despite their divorce, DiMaggio remained devoted to her.
DiMaggio continued to be there when Monroe needed him, including bringing her to spring training so 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. The rumors are true, by the way: He had roses delivered to her grave twice a week for 20 years.
14. Even 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 2019.