Norma Jean Mortenson was born in Los Angeles on 1 June 1926. Her mother, Gladys – a film cutter – was emotionally disturbed. Marilyn never knew for sure who her father was. He may have been Edward Mortenson, a Danish baker later killed in a motorcycle accident. Or he could have been C Stanley Gifford, her mother’s boss.
Just 12 days after her birth her mother was carted off to an asylum after trying to slit a friend’s throat. Marilyn was to spend the next 15 years in children’s homes and with a succession of foster parents.
Shuttled from home to home, she became a shy, nervous girl who panicked easily.
Tragedy struck early. At 15 she was seduced by one of her foster fathers. She went to live with her Aunt Grace, and found she was pregnant. She was overjoyed with her baby boy but her aunt insisted on having him adopted.
She was also pushed into her first marriage – to boy-next-door Jim Dougherty – by her Aunt Grace, who wanted her off her hands.
The life of working-class housewife soon bored her, and escape came when Dougherty was called up in WWII. They lived for a while on a base in California where she killed time in bars. She soon discovered she could make money by going to men’s hotel rooms with them
After Jim was posted overseas she built up her new career until she met an agent who advised her to use her powers of seduction to become a movie star. She began getting invited to Hollywood parties, where she met big studio moguls and distributed her favours freely.
There was Twentieth Century Fox founder Joe Schenk, who – at the age of 70 – asked only that she sat with him in the nude while he fondled her breasts and talked about the good old days. And Columbia boss Harry Cohn who, she said, simply told her to get into bed.
In her fight for a toehold on the ladder to stardom, she admitted later that she would have slept with almost anybody, so long as they were ‘nice’.
It was the film Asphalt Jungle (1950) that put her on the map. Suddenly she was the star of the cocktail parties, the luscious ripe peach of a girl with a walk that spoke volumes. Being blonde and deliciously beautiful, she was slotted into the dumb blonde category.
Producer Billy Wilder said “she has breasts like granite and a brain like cheese”, but in fact, she was far from dumb, and craved intelligent conversation.
In Niagara (1953) she had one of her first starring roles – as a femme fatale who plans to murder her husband – and went on to become THE voluptuous blonde sex symbol of the 1950s.
Her second husband was the baseball star Joe DiMaggio, and her third husband was the playwright Arthur Miller, who wrote The Misfits (1961) for her – a serious film that became her last.
As she and Miller drifted apart, she turned to champagne, pills and a succession of affairs with all kinds of men, from politicians – including, it is alleged, US President Jack Kennedy himself – to a plumber working in her apartment block.
After she and Miller divorced, Marilyn entered a psychiatric clinic, fearful that she might suffer insanity as her mother had.
Marilyn’s last film was called Something’s Got To Give – and something did. Taking more pills than ever, she often did not arrive on the set until the afternoon. Sometimes she did not turn up at all.
She was fired. Her co-star Dean Martin quit. The film was abandoned.
One of her last public appearances was at Madison Square Garden in New York on 21 May 1962. Dressed in a clinging, flesh-coloured sequinned dress she sang Happy Birthday to President Kennedy.
Just before dawn on Sunday 5 August 1962, the naked body of Marilyn Monroe was discovered sprawled across her bed at her newly acquired home on 5th Helena Drive in Brentwood, Los Angeles.
Her death was officially ruled to be the result of an overdose of sleeping pills, although conspiracy theories and controversy have surrounded her death ever since.
Officially the overdose which killed Marilyn was more than 50 sleeping pills. And yet police found no glass in her bedroom, and a post mortem showed virtually no fluid in her stomach.
When her body was found, she was clutching a telephone. Who had she been trying to ring? And strangely, there was little trace of the sleeping pill in Marilyn’s digestive tract – all evidence that pointed to an intruder injecting the deadly barbiturate dose directly into her body.
According to one of her closest friends, Robert Slatzer, Marilyn had two important meetings planned for the day following her death. One was with her lawyer, the other was a press conference.
She felt that the Kennedy’s had used her, then abandoned her – her calls to the White House were no longer being accepted – and she was out for revenge.
One sensational theory said that the FBI were given the task of silencing her. LA police sergeant Jack Clemmons, the first officer to arrive on the scene, said “I was shocked to high heaven by the official verdict of suicide”.
A 1983 inquiry into Marilyn’s death clearly refuted the allegations that she was murdered. The district attorney’s report confirmed the diagnosis of forensic experts at the time that she had died of a heart attack due to an overdose of barbiturates.