14 Fascinating Facts About Marilyn Monroe

Keystone Features/Getty Images
Keystone Features/Getty Images

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.

Portrait of a young Marilyn Monroe
Sotheby's/Getty Images

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.

Marilyn Monroe in June 1949.
Marilyn Monroe in June 1949.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.

Marilyn Monroe circa 1954.
Marilyn Monroe circa 1954.
Baron/Getty Images

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.

Marilyn Monroe's famous "Happy Birthday" dress.
DAN CALLISTER Online USA, Inc./Hulton Archive

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.

Marilyn Monroe's gravesite.
Mel Bouzad/Getty Images

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.

11 Great Gifts for Retro Gaming Fans

No Starch Press/Amazon
No Starch Press/Amazon

Video games are more realistic, expansive, and ambitious than ever, but there’s one thing that most modern titles can’t offer: a hit of nostalgia. If you’re shopping for the retro gaming enthusiast in your life, check out these 11 gift suggestions that promise to level up their holiday season.

1. Pac-Man Ghost Light Table Lamp; $30

The Pac-Man Ghost Light Table Lamp is pictured
Paladone/Amazon

Liven up a stagnant work area or nightstand with this cool LED lamp in the likeness of Pac-Man’s ghost nemesis. It can flash in a variety of different colors, and at a compact 8 inches tall, you can buy more than one to haunt your living space.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Street Fighter II Home Arcade; $245

Street Fighter II Arcade Cabinet.
ARCADE1UP/Amazon

Relive the sweaty palms and raw fingertips of your youth with this Street Fighter II arcade cabinet from Arcade1Up. The entire package is true to its classic arcade roots, with era-appropriate artwork adorning the outside and buttons and joysticks that look like they were transported right out of a '90s Pizza Hut. But this cabinet comes with a bonus: Instead of just getting Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, it also plays Street Fighter ll: The New Challengers and Street Fighter ll Turbo. If you're not in the mood for competitive play, the company also offers a retro Star Wars arcade cabinet, featuring games based on A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

Buy It: Amazon

3. Level One Donkey Kong T-Shirt; $41

A Level One 'Donkey Kong' T-shirt is pictured
80sTees.com

Show off your love of arcade gaming with this cool design that depicts Mario’s earliest challenge: navigating the barrel-tossing rage of a giant ape.

Buy It: 80sTees.com

4. Playstation Coasters; $12

A set of four Playstation coasters is pictured
Paladone/Amazon

Keep beverage stains off your gaming-adjacent furniture with this set of four coasters depicting classic Playstation controller buttons.

Buy It: Amazon

5. SEGA Genesis Mini-Console: $79

Sega Mini Classic System.
Sega/Amazon

Flash back to the Genesis era with this retro console that features over 40 games from SEGA’s heyday, including Sonic the Hedgehog, Earthworm Jim, and Virtua Fighter. The system also features a port of the arcade version of Tetris, which never actually made its way to the original Genesis.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Sock It to Me Retro Gaming Socks; $11

Sock It to Me Retro Gaming Socks are pictured
Sock It To Me/Amazon

Keep it professional in a suit but game on underneath with these dress socks featuring iconic game controllers from Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony.

Buy It: Amazon

7. The Game Console: A Photographic History from Atari to Xbox; $19


No Starch Press/Amazon

Take in a photographic history of gaming consoles, from the vintage devices of the ‘70s like the Magnavox Odyssey on through Nintendo’s reign and the emergence of Sony and Microsoft. In all, 86 consoles are on display, ending with the era of the PS4 and Wii U.

Buy It: Amazon

8. Nintendo Super Mario Bowser Vs. Mario 3-Pack Diorama; $26

A Nintendo Super Mario and Bowser diorama is pictured
World of Nintendo/Amazon

Let other people display fine art. You can show off this diorama depicting the biggest rivalry in retro gaming between Mario and Bowser. You'll also get a Bob-Omb figurine, just in case you want to recreate one of the duo's video game battles.

Buy It: Amazon

9. Playstation Wallet; $25

A Playstation wallet is pictured
SONY PlayStation/Amazon

Keep your cards and cash in one place with this Playstation-shaped wallet. There's even a button-snap opening in the shape of the system's disc tray.

Buy It: Amazon

10. Pong Shirt; $38

A 'Pong' T-shirt is pictured
80sTees.com

Go so retro that Millennials won’t even know what you’re referencing with this nod to the popular game Pong.

Buy It: 80sTees.com

11. The Legend of Zelda Ugly Christmas Sweater; $39

Legend of Zelda Ugly Christmas Sweater
Nintendo/Amazon

It may call itself ugly, but those pixelated images of Link from Legend of Zelda are nothing but gorgeous to retro gamers. There's also a Mario version, if the portly Italian plumber is more your style.

Buy It: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

15 Secrets of Sesame Street Puppeteers

Abby Cadabby, Suki Lopez, and Elmo (L-R) on Sesame Street
Abby Cadabby, Suki Lopez, and Elmo (L-R) on Sesame Street
HBO

For 50 years and more than 4500 episodes, Sesame Street has been imparting valuable moral, ethical, and social lessons to young audiences using a sprawling cast of puppets. The Sesame characters—Big Bird, Elmo, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, the Count, and others—have become instantly recognizable to generations of viewers. But behind every memorable character is a human performer, one tasked with juggling the technical demands of puppet operation without losing the humor and heart that makes their furry counterpart so memorable.

To get a better sense of what goes into this unique skill set, Mental Floss spoke with three veteran Sesame Street performers during the show’s semicentennial celebration. Here’s what they had to say about crossed puppet eyes, grooming habits, and enjoying a long career finessing felt.

1. Sesame Street puppeteers usually get started lending a (right) hand.

Though there’s no definitive set of directions for puppeteers to get to Sesame Street, a number of performers selected to work on the show begin as apprentices with one specific task: operating the right hand of characters alongside the veteran cast members. “A lot of performers will almost only do right hands for a very long time,” Ryan Dillon, the puppeteer behind Elmo, tells Mental Floss. “Some characters, like Cookie Monster, require two performers with two practical hands.”

Dillon started working on Sesame Street in 2005 at the age of 17. He performed as a right hand and as supporting characters for years before scoring the Elmo role in 2013. Throughout that training, he accompanied the main puppeteer, who uses their dominant (usually right) hand to control the mouth and the other to control the left hand. The newcomer will manipulate the right, a duty informally known as right handing. “It’s a great training ground,” Dillon says. “You’re working directly next to a performer with years of experience. You become one character together.”

2. Sesame Street puppeteers have tricks for making their characters emote.

Abby Cadabby, Elmo, and Big Bird (L-R) appear in a scene from 'Sesame Street'
(L-R) Abby Cadabby, Elmo, and Big Bird delve into fine art.
HBO

Peter Linz, who portrays Ernie (among other characters) on the series, tells Mental Floss that getting a puppet to exhibit a personality takes some finessing. “You have to show the entire range of human emotion through something that doesn’t have an expression,” he says. Linz, who also teaches classes on puppeteering, says that there are some techniques to get puppets to show off their mood, however. “You can make them look sad by having them look down. You can get them to smile by opening their mouth. If they’re angry, maybe you close their mouth and then shake their arms ever so slightly. There are degrees of subtlety in all of that.”

Linz says the audience does part of that work themselves, projecting their own feelings onto a puppet. The ultimate proof might be in the example of Miss Piggy. While not a Sesame Street cast member, Linz says it’s telling that people often seem to believe the vivacious and flirtatious porcine character bats her eyes. “She can’t,” he says. The puppet doesn’t have that ability.

3. Not all Sesame Street puppets can perform the same tasks.

Sesame Street utilizes three major varieties of character. There’s the full-body puppet, like Big Bird and Snuffleupagus; “bag” puppets with two articulated hands, like Cookie Monster; and hand-and-rod puppets that have arms controlled by thin rods. “Elmo is a hand-and-rod puppet,” Dillon says. “[The difference means] some puppets can do things others can’t. Cookie Monster can pick things up. Elmo can, but it takes longer. You need to stop [filming] and attach something to his hands with tape or a pin.”

4. Sesame Street puppeteers rely on a key design element to connect to their audience.

Grover, Oscar the Grouch, and Elmo from 'Sesame Street' are pictured
Grover, Oscar the Grouch, and Elmo.
Zack Hyman/HBO

It can be difficult to communicate that a puppet is able to focus a pair of fixed eyes on something, whether it’s another character, an object, or the audience. But Linz says that the Sesame Street crew and the rest of the Muppets were designed by Henson with that in mind. “The eyes are just two black dots against a white background,” he says. “But all the characters are ever so slightly cross-eyed. There’s a triangle between the eyes and nose and a point where it looks like they’re looking right into the camera.” It’s a sensitive illusion. Turning the puppet even slightly, he says, and they will wind up looking at something else.

5. Sesame Street puppeteers can spend their entire day crouched on the floor.

Being a Sesame Street puppeteer requires more than just having performing chops. On set, characters that may be at waist level with their human co-stars are operated by performers crouched below frame, often on wheeled boards called rollies. “The first day or two, your back and everything else is sore,” Dillon says. “It engages your whole body. Your arm is up in the air performing.” Some actors, Dillon says, have developed knee issues as a result of a career bent over. Fortunately, not every scene requires contortions. Some sets are built raised so performers can stand up straight. Other times, they’ll have to situate themselves horizontally. Scenes set on a stoop usually mean the performer is lying down behind the steps.

6. Sesame Street puppeteers have input into character design.

Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Rosita (L-R) pose with fans of 'Sesame Street'
(L-R) Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Rosita pose with fans.
Zack Hyman/HBO

Lurking in the offices of Sesame Workshop is a puppet factory that, according to Dillon, houses a number of "Anything Muppets"—blank designs that may one day be used as the template for a brand-new character. In 1991, performer Carmen Osbahr got an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of conceptualizing a character when she helped originate Rosita (top right), the first regular bilingual Muppet on the series. “They had a meeting and asked what I had in mind,” Osbahr tells Mental Floss. “I was able to tell them I wanted a monster and I wanted live hands because I wanted to be able to play a musical instrument. I wanted her to be active and colorful. I didn’t want a petite, tiny little monster.” Both Osahr and Rosita have been a presence on the show ever since.

7. Sesame Street puppeteers have material for a blooper reel, but you’ll probably never see it.

Puppet manipulation takes concentration and effort. Occasionally, the cast of Sesame Street can find themselves flubbing a take. According to Osbahr, that’s often due to trying to coordinate left and right hands. “The main thing is props,” she says. “Grabbing stuff is easy, but if you want to pour something into a cup or write a letter, that’s hard. You think you’ll have a glass but just miss it.” Performers can also fall off their rollies, sending their counterparts tumbling out of the frame.

8. Each Sesame Street character has a dedicated puppeteer—with a couple of exceptions.

Actress Amanda Seyfried (L) appears on 'Sesame Street' with Abby Cadabby
Actress Amanda Seyfried with Abby Cadabby.
Richard Termine/HBO

When it comes to Sesame Street characters, there is one sacrosanct rule—aside from right handing, no puppet will have more than one puppeteer. “We feel strongly each Muppet has a dedicated performer,” Dillon says. “If there were two or three Elmos, you would see a copy of a copy.” However, illnesses or personal appearances can make that rule difficult to follow every time. If Dillon can’t make a shoot, a performer will step in to operate the puppet, with Dillon going in to provide the voice later.

The cast can also cover for one another if a scene requires two characters who are normally operated by the same actor. Both Bert and Grover, for example, are played by actor Eric Jacobson. If the two share screen time, Dillon might step in to perform one of them, with Jacobson recording his lines later.

9. Sesame Street puppeteers have a specific way of handling their puppets to keep them clean.

Day after day of manipulating puppets can lead to issues with cleanliness. Performer sweat can dampen the foam insides, while body oils and other contaminants can affect their fur coats. To avoid being dirtied, Linz says performers and production members try to pick up the puppets by the scruff of their necks. “We don’t want to put our oily hands on their faces,” Linz says. Puppets are also usually delivered to and from the set by a team of “Muppet wranglers,” and stored in the workshop where they’re built and maintained. To dry out a puppet, they’re sometimes placed on a wooden stand. A hair dryer set on low might also be used to dry a sweaty interior.

10. Sesame Street puppeteers work very, very closely together.

The characters from 'Sesame Street' are pictured
The puppet cast of Sesame Street.
HBO

Owing to the frequent proximity of puppets in frame, Sesame Street puppeteers are usually working near or virtually over other performers. “We try to be very aware and conscious of the people around us,” Dillon says. “Mistakes happen. Elmo has big feet, and Abby Cadabby has big feet, so you’ll often hit the other person with a foot. It doesn’t hurt.”

11. Guest stars will talk directly to Sesame Street characters—not just the puppeteers.

Sesame Street has played host to many guest stars over the decades, from actors to First Lady Michelle Obama. According to Osbahr, their human guests will often address the character even off-camera. “Most everybody who visits us talks to the character like they’re alive,” she says. “The moment we bring a character down [to rest], we have a conversation, but it’s great to have a relationship with a character and a celebrity. They’ll talk to Elmo, Rosita, Cookie Monster, and we’re talking to them right back.”

12. Sesame Street puppeteers can take years to get fully comfortable with a character.

Actress Blake Lively (L) poses with Cookie Monster on the set of 'Sesame Street'
Actress Blake Lively (L) poses with Cookie Monster.
Zack Hyman/HBO

For many performers, it can take years before they feel like they’re fully inhabiting their character. “You can be so focused on doing something right, you forget to have fun with the character,” Osbahr says. “By the fourth season, that’s when I started letting go, taking risks, having fun. You stop having to think about it.”

Fortunately, it’s not uncommon for performers on Sesame Street to spend decades on the show, which means there's plenty of time to adjust. Carol Spinney, who portrayed Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, retired in 2018 after 49 years as a cast member. Osbahr says the familial atmosphere encourages longevity. “I’ve been with this group of people for 30 years,” she says. “We’ve shared a lot of incredible memories together.”

13. Sesame Street puppeteers can sometimes mourn a puppet who is declared “toast.”

Made of foam and other delicate materials, Sesame Street puppets have a shelf life. Depending on use, wear, and handling, they might last a few years before needing to be replaced. Linz says two new Ernies have recently been made after one began sloughing off foam inside, a symptom the production calls “toast” because the foam resembles toast crumbs.

Even with replacements, the legacy of characters can still live on. Linz uses an Ernie with the same mouth plate that was used by Jim Henson as far back as 1982.

14. Sesame Street puppeteers have to work backward.

Actor Anthony Mackie appears on 'Sesame Street' with Cookie Monster
Actor Anthony Mackie with Cookie Monster.
Jesse Grant/HBO

The most surprising aspect of working as a Sesame Street puppeteer? According to Linz, it’s the fact that performers often have to essentially work backwards. Because they’re crouched below the camera frame, puppeteers need to watch a monitor placed low to the ground to see what the camera sees. “When you move your arm to the right, the arm on the monitor moves to the left,” he says. “You’re seeing the image the audience sees.”

15. Yes, Sesame Street puppets are technically Muppets.

Sometimes there's confusion over whether the puppets that appear on Sesame Street actually constitute Muppets, or whether that term is reserved for non-Sesame projects like The Muppet Show or other endeavors featuring Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the others. According to Dillon, any Henson-birthed or -inspired puppet is a Muppet. “It’s become a catch-all term for puppets,” he says. “It’s a brand name, like Kleenex. Jim Henson came up with the name. A Muppet is used for characters that he came up with."

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