80 Totally Awesome Facts About the '80s

LightFieldStudios/iStock via Getty Images
LightFieldStudios/iStock via Getty Images

The 1980s were the birthplace of so many things that have become commonplace in our lives: Personal computers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, and two-pound cell phones. It was a strange, magical time that is still widely celebrated thanks to our obsession with nostalgia, but here are 80 things you might not know about the 1980s.

1. Toni Basil was 38 years old when she recorded "Mickey."

Thanks to the music video, the 1982 song, "Mickey" became a cheerleader anthem even though its singer was more than a few years out of high school. It was also originally called, "Kitty," but producers changed it so it would be about a man.

2. Hacky sacks were all the rage, but they were hardly a 1980s invention.

Hacky sacks had a major moment in the 1980s, but they’ve been around since 3000 BCE—when Chinese Emperor Wong Ti used to kick around a leather ball filled with hair.

3. Casey Kasem quit the Transformers cartoon because of a racist script.

Legendary DJ and voice actor Casey Kasem played Cliffjumper on the animated Transformers, but he left the show over a racist script containing an Arab character named Abdul, King of Carbombya. They still made the episodes.

4. Clark Kent helped name the Walkman.

The Sony Walkman
Getty Images

Sony named the Walkman after the Pressman audio recorder featured popularly in Superman. They originally called it the Sound-About in the United States and the Stowaway in the United Kingdom.

5. Waterbeds were an immensely popular luxury item.

In 1987, 20 percent of all mattress sales were waterbeds. The waterbed market was worth $2 billion.

6. Roald Dahl had an existential crises writing Matilda.

Roald Dahl struggled to write the book-devouring character because he was genuinely afraid that books in general were becoming unpopular. Fortunately for all of us, he was wrong.

7. April 24th is "New Kids On The Block Day" in Massachusetts.

Michael Dukakis is famous for losing to George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential election, but people forget about his larger contributions to history—like, for instance, declaring April 24, 1989 "New Kids On the Block Day" in Massachusetts.

8. Luke Skywalker was almost trained by Buffy.

In early outlines for The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda was named Buffy. Jedi and vampire slayer?

9. You could buy the phone from your favorite show.

In 1984, if you wanted a phone shaped like lips, like the one that D.J. had on Full House, it would cost you $70. Nowadays, no one even knows the price of a landline phone—and many people will never know the thrill of chatting on a hamburger phone or a banana phone or a Mickey Mouse phone or one of those transparent phones where you could see all the wires inside. A lip-based telephone will run you about $20 today.

10. Barbra Streisand's stylist invented the crimping iron.

Young woman with crimped hair
kparis/iStock via Getty Images

Stylist Geri Cusenza invented the crimping iron after hours of braiding and unbraiding Barbra Streisand's hair for a photo shoot, unleashing a hairstyle that would rule over the decade.

11. Ms. Pac-Man had an … interesting tagline.

When the video game character was introduced in 1982, her tagline was: "The new femme fatale of the game world." Sure. Fine.

12. Jolt cola found a slogan to stick with.

Jolt Cola, which was introduced in 1985, used the same slogan, "all the sugar and twice the caffeine," for 24 years straight. In the late 2000s, they changed it to "Maximum caffeine, more power," which just doesn't have the same punch.

13. DC Comics was nice enough to let The Karate Kid keep its name.

Ralph Macchio stars in 'The Karate Kid' (1984)
Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid (1984).
Columbia Pictures

Before The Karate Kid movie, The Karate Kid was a completely unrelated DC Comics superhero. Columbia Pictures actually thanked DC Comics in the movie's credits for letting them use the name.

14. Christian Bale once helped sell Pac-Man cereal.

In the 1980s Christian Bale starred in a commercial for Pac-Man cereal, thus giving us the name for his inevitable autobiography: From Pac-Man to Batman.

15. A lot of popular books were ghostwritten.

Ghost writing was incredibly common in the 1980s, especially among serials aimed at tweens and teens. For example, The Baby-sitter's Club author Anne M. Martin ghost wrote the first Sweet Valley Twins book, and Sweet Valley Twins author Peter Lerangis ghostwrote 43 Baby-sitter's Club books.

16. Olivia Newton-John’s song Physical was meant to be macho.

According to songwriter Steve Kipner, the Olivia Newton-John song Physical was originally written for "a macho male rock figure like Rod Stewart." The singer also worried after she recorded it that it was too raunchy.

17. The Razzies were born out of a bad double feature.

Speaking of Olivia Newton-John: After publicist John J.B. Wilson watched a double feature of Can't Stop the Music and Xanadu, he was inspired to start the Golden Raspberry Awards, a.k.a. "The Razzies." The parody plaudits for bad filmmaking were initially awarded at his home Oscar party.

18. Halley's Comet was first observed via spacecraft in 1986.

Chinese astronomers first noticed it in 239 BCE. We won't see it again from Earth until 2061.

19. Boomboxes demanded some serious arm strength.

A retro boombox
BrAt_PiKaChU/iStock via Getty Images

According to boombox expert Fred Brathwaite, those boxes were so heavy that "some cats that would carry their boxes all the time, they would develop massive forearms and biceps." Some boomboxes were 26 pounds.

20. You're a big fan of Project Ii—whether you know it or not.

When American Greetings was developing Care Bears, they were top secret and only called "Project II." Project I, by the way, was none other than Strawberry Shortcake.

21. a Strawberry Shortcake convention lasted into the 2000s.

Incidentally, Strawberry Shortcake has her own annual convention in Cleveland that kicked off in 2003 and lasted more than a decade.

22. A soap opera helped make Rick Springfield a global pop star.

In 1981, Rick Springfield accepted a role on General Hospital after recording his album, "Working Class Dog." The show got around 14 million viewers daily, which may be why Jesse's Girl hit number one that year. It's his only single to ever hit the top spot.

23. You can visit a Rainbow Brite museum.

Your wish has come true. There's a Rainbow Brite museum in North Carolina made up of 1500 items of memorabilia from one woman's Rainbow Brite collection.

24. Nintendo got its console into stores with an offer they couldn't refuse.

In 1985, in an attempt to convince stores in New York City to carry the new Nintendo Entertainment System, a Nintendo exec promised that they could send back the ones they didn't sell free of charge, but they ended up selling 50,000 that holiday season.

25. Leopard print helped Simon Le Bon get his lead singer gig.

A photo of the band Duran Duran
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Simon Le Bon showed up for his Duran Duran audition in pink leopard prints pants. Nick Rhodes said, "Anyone who looks that stupid is positively the one."

26. Eddie Murphy's debut musical album was produced by Rick James and Stevie Wonder.

It cost over half a million dollars to make Eddie Murphy's album "How Could It Be," featuring the infamously bad single Party All the Time, which is now in your head. You're welcome.

27. Real-life scientists inspired Jem And The Holograms.

The last names of Jem (a.k.a. Jerrica Benton) and the Holograms were the names of real scientists who worked on hologram technology.

28. Don't Worry, Be Happy still makes people happy.

The 1988 song Don't Worry, Be Happy still has many fans, including Hillary Clinton, who received a teddy bear that sings the song from former Secretary of State George Schultz. Her memoir claims, "I kept it in my office, first as a joke, but every so often, it really did help to squeeze the bear and hear that song."

29. Lisa Frank has her own proprietary ink.

It's a mixture that makes colors brighter.

30. Members Only jackets were a big, big deal.

Another brand that did well for itself in the 80s: Members Only. Thanks to their famous jackets, the company brought in $100 million a year.

31. Hairspray helped relaunch hairspray.

An aisle full of hair care products
JackF/iStock via Getty Images

In 2002, Aqua Net Hairspray had an unlikely comeback when the musical Hairspray, based on John Waters' 1988 film, started on Broadway. Because nothing says fashion like a musical that takes place in 1960s Baltimore. (Which was kind of Waters's point.)

32. Jon Bon Jovi hated Livin' On A Prayer (at first).

Speaking of hairspray: Jon Bon Jovi didn't like the song "Livin' on a Prayer" and almost scrapped it from the Slippery When Wet album before it gave them their first number one song.

33. Two famous '80s styles were invented decades before the 1980s.

Thanks to Dynasty and Working Girl, shoulder pads in women's clothing became very popular during the 1980s, but designer Elsa Schiaparelli actually invented the style in the 1930s. Also people have been perming their hair since 1872.

34. "Mr. T" is not a stage name.

A photo of Mr. T
Michael Buckner/Getty Images

When he turned 18, Laurence Tureaud legally changed his name to Mr. T, because he wanted people to call him Mister, which he considered a sign of respect that white people didn't generally grant black men.

35. Baby Animal on The Muppet Babies had two famous voices.

Both Dave Coulier and Howie Mandel voiced Animal on Muppet Babies. What a great program.

36. Cheers didn't get off to a good start.

The cast of 'Cheers'
NBC

The Cheers premiere in 1982 was ranked almost last in ratings, but its finale 11 years later brought in 80.4 million viewers.

37. ALF did wunderbar in Germany.

Speaking of sitcoms: ALF was very popular in Germany. The country actually has a city named Alf, and people kept stealing the sign due to the show's popularity. It also led, for some reason, to ALF making hit hip-hop records.

38. John Hughes wrote Sixteen Candles for Molly Ringwald before ever meeting her.

Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling in 'Sixteen Candles' (1984)
Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling in Sixteen Candles (1984).
Universal Pictures

John Hughes wrote Sixteen Candles after an agent sent him a stack of actresses' head shots, including Molly Ringwald's. He put her picture over his desk and wrote the bulk of the film in one weekend.

39. John Hughes wrote Ferris Bueller's Day Off in six days.

But Hughes often wrote pretty quickly. In fact, the script for Ferris Bueller's Day Off took him just six days as he raced an oncoming writer's strike.

40. Most of Run DMC didn't like the name "Run DMC."

Russell Simmons—Joseph "Run" Simmons's brother, who helped promote the band and get their first single produced—actually came up with the name "Run DMC," which the rest of the group hated. They wanted to be called the "Devastating Two" or the "Dynamic Two MCs."

41. Gelly roll pens have something in common with gluten-free baking.

Gelly Roll pens were invented in the 1980s, but it took a while to come up with the perfect ink formula after trying things like grated yam and egg whites. A member of the team saw an ad for the food additive xanthan gum, which turned out to be the missing ingredient.

42. The Terminator most iconic line was supposed to be "I'll come back."

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'The Terminator' (1984)
Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984).
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The line, "I'll be back," from the Terminator movies was written in the movie's novelization as "I'll come back." But before you write that off as a typo: "I'll come back" is how the line was written in the original script.

43. Jane Fonda helped popularize leg warmers.

Jane Fonda gets some of the credit or, arguably, blame for making leg warmers trendy. She wore them in her very first workout video and encouraged people to wear them to "feel like athletes."

44. Jennifer Beals accidentally launched the ripped sweatshirt craze.

Another reason for the leg warmer craze: the movie Flashdance, which also gave us the collarless sweatshirt. Actress Jennifer Beals once shrunk a sweatshirt in the dryer then cut around the collar so it could fit. She wore that to her audition, and the style made it into the movie.

45. The ubiquitous "Baby On Board" signs might not have been so great.

Baby on board sign hangs in the back of a car
StockSolutions/IStock via Getty Images

Stickers for your car that said "Baby on Board" were very popular in the '80s. But, according to a 2012 study, one in 20 drivers blame such stickers for obscuring their vision and causing accidents.

46. The oldest known emoticon is from 1982.

Computer Scientist Scott E. Fahlman offered them as a way of showing lightheartedness on message board posts. :-)

47. The Clapper wasn't the only product with that ear worm jingle.

The Clapper is notorious thanks to its commercial jingle, but the exact same song was actually used earlier in the 1980s in a commercial for Sine-Off cold medicine.

48. Slash almost joined Poison.

Future Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash auditioned for Poison but realized he wasn't right for the job when they asked him if he'd wear make-up.

49. Richard Page almost joined Toto.

Similarly, Richard Page—the lead singer of Mr. Mister—turned down the lead singer job in two other bands, Toto and Chicago, because, you know, he was waiting for Mr. Mister to come alone. It's unclear how he feels about the rains down in Africa.

50. Van Halen's famous "M&M" request had a serious purpose.

A pack of milk chocolate M&Ms
Samohin/iStock via Getty Images

In the 80s, Van Halen famously requested a bowl of M&Ms minus all the brown candies backstage at their shows. It wasn't to be snooty jerks. They added it to their contracts to make sure that people running the venue actually read the entire rider. If they saw brown M&Ms, they knew the venue wasn't detail-oriented and that there might be some (potentially dangerous) technical problems on stage.

51. Fraggle Rock was HBO's first original series.

Fraggle Rock was HBO's first original series. It was a lot like the content that HBO makes now, but there was less violence than Game of Thrones, fewer drugs than Euphoria, and just about as much scheming as Succession.

52. The Pee-Wee's Playhouse theme song had a famous singer.

Cindy Lauper! She revealed in her autobiography that she sang the theme song for the wacky show.

53. Neil Armstrong turned down MTV.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong is photographed after walking on the moon
NASA/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When MTV premiered in the 1980s, they wanted to use Neil Armstrong's "One Small Step" quotation from the moon landing, but Armstrong refused, so they tossed in a beeping sound over the video collage of the Apollo 11 landing instead.

54. The Beastie Boys opened for Madonna.

The opening act for Madonna's first ever tour? The Beastie Boys, who often got booed for screaming obscenities. But it worked for Madonna. It turns out that the audience hating the opening act makes them that much happier to see the headliner.

55. "Fight For Your Right" is a parody song.

The Beastie Boys, by the way, wrote "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)" as a parody of rock songs (so many parentheses). It was a joke. They refused to play it live.

56. Bright Lights, Big City's publisher thought the setting would limit its greatness.

While Jay McInerney was working on his novel Bright Lights, Big City, his publisher said that no great American novels took place in New York, to which Jay McInerney probably replied, "Have you read The Great Gatsby?"

57. A three-year-old inspired the Polaroid camera.

Little girl holds up a photo taken with an instant camera
Rawpixel/iStock via Getty Images

All the cool '80s kids had a Polaroid 660. The brand itself was started in 1944 by Edwin H. Land because his three-year-old daughter didn't understand why she couldn't see a picture right after it was taken, so he fixed that problem for her, and then became a billionaire. Listen to your toddlers, people.

58. The Ghostbusters crew made three Stay Puft suits

It cost $20,000 to create the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man suit for Ghostbusters. The crew had to make three of them, which were all destroyed during filming.

59. Dr. Ruth was almost in Dirty Dancing.

Eleanor Bergstein, who wrote and produced Dirty Dancing, was friends with Dr. Ruth. Anyways, Bergstein wanted to cast Dr. Ruth as Mrs. Schumacher, but Dr. Ruth declined when she realized the character was a thief.

60. Doc Brown almost had a chimp sidekick.

Doc and Marty in the movie 'Back to the Future.'
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Doc Brown had a chimpanzee in early drafts of Back to the Future, but the head of Universal said no movie with a chimpanzee ever made any money. Which is just completely unfair. I mean, granted MVP: Most Valuable Primate hadn't been made yet, but surely that exec was familiar with the Ronald Reagan movie Bedtime for Bonzo. Anyway, Doc Brown's chimp would have been named Shemp.

61. Miami Vice didn't have a real Ferrari at first.

Sonny Crockett's car on Miami Vice was originally a Corvette that the crew made to look like a Ferrari, but eventually Ferrari gave the show a Testarossa.

62. There was a literal book about what "real men" don't do.

In the 1980s, the book Real Men Don't Eat Quiche spent 55 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. According to the book, here are a few things that real men don't do: have meaningful dialogues, catch rays, drink light beer, or wear gold chains or anything with more than three zippers.

63. We didn't have Chicken McNuggets until 1981.

A plate of chicken nuggets
rez-art/iStock via Getty Images

Believe it or not, America lived in ignorance of McDonald's Chicken McNuggets until the 1980s. They were released to test markets in 1981. Supposedly, by the way, they only come in four shapes: the boot, the ball, the bow tie, and the bell.

64. Michael Jackson's Beat It had a famous guitarist.

Eddie Van Halen! He rocked the guitar solo in Michael Jackson's Beat It for free as a favor to Quincy Jones. It lasts 20 seconds.

65. Thriller almost got a Fred Astaire cameo.

Fred Astaire almost guest-starred as a zombie in Michael Jackson's music video for Thriller. He even attended a rehearsal.

66. Pat Benatar expanded what music videos could do.

Pat Benatar's Love Is a Battlefield music video was the first ever to feature spoken dialogue. Near the beginning of the story where Benatar's rebellious teen character runs away from home, her father tells her she can "forget about coming back" if she leaves.

67. Spandex is an anagram of expands.

Fitting for the stretchy, synthetic fabric.

68. Paula Abdul choreographed for ZZ Top and Janet Jackson.

Such great team-ups. Abdul designed the dance for ZZ Top's Velcro Fly in 1985, and her 1986 design work for Janet Jackson's Nasty solidified her status as an elite choreographer. She also crafted the giant dance sequence in Coming to America.

69. the inventor of the Rubik's Cube struggled to solve it.

Person playing with a Rubik's Cube
xmagic/iStock via Getty Images

So don't feel too bad. After creating the set of colored cubes, Erno Rubik was fascinated by their beauty, saying, "It was tremendously satisfying to watch this color parade." Then he wondered how to figure it out. It took him a month, but there are also over 43 quintillion possible combinations, so a month isn't too shabby. Rubik also gave us the key to not figuring it out: Just enjoy the satisfaction of the color parade.

70. Hair mousse is named after the french word for foam.

It was invented in France and popularized in North America in the 1980s thanks to L'Oreal.

71. The guy who wrote Heathers wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct it.

A still from 'Heathers' (1988)
Getty Images

Daniel Waters initially wrote Heathers as a three-hour-long dark comedy with Kubrick in mind as his dream director. Obviously Kubrick didn't direct it, or any movie after 1987's Full Metal Jacket until he made his final film, 1999's Eyes Wide Shut.

72. Rick Allen's mom got him his Def Leppard gig.

Drummer Rick Allen joined Def Leppard when he was just 14 years old after his mom responded to the band's ad for him. He auditioned against two others, including the band's original drummer who wanted the job back.

73. Prince wrote Manic Monday.


BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

Manic Monday by the Bangles was written by Prince under the pseudonym Christopher. That was before his pseudonym was a symbol. He also wrote "Nothing Compares 2 U" for Sinead O'Connor and hits for Alicia Keys, Chaka Khan, and more.

74. Quoting Top Gun at Topgun comes with a fine.

People at the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (a.k.a. TOPGUN) reportedly receive a $5 fine every time they quote Top Gun. Which is tough, fair, and worth it to toss out a few cracks about feeling the need for speed during class.

75. Ray-Ban was very happy with top Gun.

Tom Cruise in Top Gun
Paramount Pictures

On the other end of the $5 fine spectrum: Ray-Ban Aviator sales jumped 40 percent after Val Kilmer snapped his teeth at Tom Cruise on the big screen.

76. Reese's Pieces were happy with E.T.

But if you think that's impressive, after E.T. came out, Reese's Pieces sales increased by 65 percent. The original script called for Elliot to use M&Ms to draw out the alien, but Mars famously turned them down (and lost out).

77. Wendy's fired the "Where's The Beef?" lady for being unfaithful.

Clara Peller, who said the "Where's the beef?" line in Wendy's ads, got fired from Wendy's when she did a commercial for Prego spaghetti sauce in which she said, "I found it!"

According to Wendy's, that quote inferred "That Clara found the beef at somewhere other than Wendy's restaurants." We all know there is only one location for the beef.

78. Fake Cabbage Patch Kids were a real problem for the FBI.

Photo of Cabbage Patch Kid dolls
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

While parents were scrambling to find Cabbage Patch Kid dolls in stores, the FBI was hunting down thousands of counterfeit versions that sold for cheap and had "a strong chemical odor." They were tipped off to a massive operation when customs officials seized 240 fake dolls heading from Canada into Michigan.

79. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Uncle Phil voiced Shredder in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.

The late James Avery was a familiar presence in households all over the world as Will Smith's sensible, put-upon father figure in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but he also voiced the cruel nemesis of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in their late-80s animated show. Enjoy using this to win $5 bets with your friends. 

80. The recording for the star-packed song We Are the World lasted until 3 a.m.

Stevie Wonder wanted to record a verse in Swahili, and was waiting for a phone call about correct pronunciations. When the call finally came, Ray Charles said, "It's three o'clock in the g*ddamn morning. Swahili, sh*t—I can't even sing in English no more."

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Turn Your LEGO Bricks Into a Drone With the Flybrix Drone Kit

Flyxbrix/FatBrain
Flyxbrix/FatBrain

Now more than ever, it’s important to have a good hobby. Of course, a lot of people—maybe even you—have been obsessed with learning TikTok dances and baking sourdough bread for the last few months, but those hobbies can wear out their welcome pretty fast. So if you or someone you love is looking for something that’s a little more intellectually stimulating, you need to check out the Flybrix LEGO drone kit from Fat Brain Toys.

What is a Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit?

The Flybrix drone kit lets you build your own drones out of LEGO bricks and fly them around your house using your smartphone as a remote control (via Bluetooth). The kit itself comes with absolutely everything you need to start flying almost immediately, including a bag of 56-plus LEGO bricks, a LEGO figure pilot, eight quick-connect motors, eight propellers, a propeller wrench, a pre-programmed Flybrix flight board PCB, a USB data cord, a LiPo battery, and a USB LiPo battery charger. All you’ll have to do is download the Flybrix Configuration Software, the Bluetooth Flight Control App, and access online instructions and tutorials.

Experiment with your own designs.

The Flybrix LEGO drone kit is specifically designed to promote exploration and experimentation. All the components are tough and can totally withstand a few crash landings, so you can build and rebuild your own drones until you come up with the perfect design. Then you can do it all again. Try different motor arrangements, add your own LEGO bricks, experiment with different shapes—this kit is a wannabe engineer’s dream.

For the more advanced STEM learners out there, Flybrix lets you experiment with coding and block-based coding. It uses an arduino-based hackable circuit board, and the Flybrix app has advanced features that let you try your hand at software design.

Who is the Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit for?

Flybrix is a really fun way to introduce a number of core STEM concepts, which makes it ideal for kids—and technically, that’s who it was designed for. But because engineering and coding can get a little complicated, the recommended age for independent experimentation is 13 and up. However, kids younger than 13 can certainly work on Flybrix drones with the help of their parents. In fact, it actually makes a fantastic family hobby.

Ready to start building your own LEGO drones? Click here to order your Flybrix kit today for $198.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

30 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. But here are some facts we do know.

1. Norma Jeane Baker's first marriage was arranged.

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

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.

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

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.

Marylin Monroe waves to the camera with husband Arthur Miller on her arm in 1958.
Marylin Monroe waves to the camera with husband Arthur Miller on her arm in 1958.
Votava/Imagno/Getty Images

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

Marilyn Monroe stars in The Seven Year Itch (1955).
Marilyn Monroe stars in The Seven Year Itch (1955).
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

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.

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 2020.