Marilyn Monroe Biography: Behind the Smile, the Biography Chronicles

Marilyn Monroe (born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926 – died August 5, 1962) was an American actress, model, and singer. She became one of the biggest sex symbols and pop culture icons of the 1950s and early 1960s.

Monroe starred in a number of commercially successful films during her career, including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch, and Some Like It Hot. She was known for her blond hair, hourglass figure, breathy voice, and public persona as a naive “dumb blonde.”

But behind the glamorous image, Monroe lived a troubled personal life. She struggled with addiction, depression, and anxiety for much of her adulthood. At the age of 36, she died from an overdose of barbiturates. Her death has become one of the most debated conspiracy theories in American history.

Early Life

Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles, California. Her mother, Gladys Pearl Baker, was mentally unstable and unable to care for Norma Jeane. Her father’s identity was never confirmed, but it was likely Gladys’ second husband Edward Mortenson.

Norma Jeane spent much of her childhood in foster homes and orphanages. She faced abuse and neglect during these years. At age 16, she married a neighbor named James Dougherty in order to avoid returning to the orphanage. They divorced in 1946 as her modeling career was taking off.

She took her mother’s maiden name as her stage name, becoming Marilyn Monroe. After modeling and small film roles, she caught her big break in the 1950 film The Asphalt Jungle. She became a major sex symbol after starring in the 1953 film Niagara.

Rise to Stardom

In the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe’s career skyrocketed and she became one of the most famous stars in Hollywood. Some of her most notable roles included:

  • Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
  • The Girl in The Seven Year Itch (1955)
  • Sugar Kane Kowalczyk in Some Like It Hot (1959)

She often played a “dumb blonde” character that leaned into her public image as a beautiful, innocent woman. But in reality, Monroe was extremely ambitious and intelligent. She formed her own film production company and had a great deal of control over her films, press coverage, and image.

Monroe’s iconic look featured platinum blond hair, red lips, and a voluptuous figure. She posed for several famous photo shoots, including one for the first issue of Playboy in 1953. Her unique style and beauty made her a top glamour model of the 1950s.

Marriages & Relationships

Marilyn Monroe had three highly publicized marriages during her lifetime.

  • James Dougherty (m. 1942–1946)
  • Joe DiMaggio (m. 1954–1955)
  • Arthur Miller (m. 1956–1961)

She was briefly engaged to Elia Kazan and Johnny Hyde and also had rumored relationships with John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, and Yves Montand among others.

Monroe’s marriages and love life were often troubled and ended quickly. Her husbands complained of her mood swings, insecurities, and addictions. But Monroe sought unconditional love and stability in her many relationships with men.

Mental Health Struggles

Behind Monroe’s public persona, she struggled greatly with her mental health and personal life. Some of her issues included:

  • Depression – She suffered from severe depressive episodes and anxiety. Her unstable childhood contributed to her mental health issues.
  • Addiction – Monroe became dependent on alcohol, prescription medications, and sleeping pills. Her addictions worsened as she tried to cope with fame.
  • Eating disorder – She abused diet pills, laxatives, and enemas to maintain an extremely thin figure. Her weight fluctuated dramatically during her career.
  • Stage fright – Monroe suffered from anxiety and panic attacks around public performances. She was often late to film sets or events due to her stage fright.
  • Miscarriages – Monroe had at least two miscarriages due to an ectopic pregnancy and other gynecological issues. Her inability to have children caused her great sadness.

Despite her inner turmoil, Monroe kept up the appearance of a happy, successful movie star. But her mental health and substance abuse problems continued until her premature death.

Death & Legacy

On August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her home from an overdose of barbiturates. She was just 36 years old.

Her sudden death shocked the public and sparked numerous conspiracy theories. Some believe she was murdered, while others think it was a suicide. The exact circumstances remain a mystery today.

After her death, Marilyn Monroe’s fame and iconic status continued to grow. She became a pop culture legend and inspiration for many other stars. Monroe’s image and style are constantly referenced in music, art, and fashion. She is considered one of the most significant cultural figures of the 20th century.

Some key parts of Marilyn Monroe’s legacy include:

  • Pioneering modern concepts of fame and celebrity
  • Symbolizing idealized femininity and beauty
  • Personifying the “blonde bombshell” in film
  • Her photographs as fine art pieces
  • Enduring fascination with her life story and controversial death
  • Style inspiration for fashion and pop culture icons
  • Quotes, memorabilia, and mythos surrounding her image

Even 60 years after her death, Marilyn Monroe remains an intriguing, glamorous, and tragic figure. Her life story continues to capture the public imagination and inspire new generations of fans. She defined an era in Hollywood and transformed into an unforgettable cultural icon.

When was Marilyn Monroe born?

Marilyn Monroe was born on June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles, California. She was originally born as Norma Jeane Mortenson to an unmarried mother, Gladys Pearl Baker. Her birth certificate listed her father as Martin Edward Mortensen, Gladys’ second husband, though his paternity was never confirmed.

Some key facts about Marilyn Monroe’s birth and early childhood:

  • She was born at Los Angeles County Hospital as Norma Jeane Mortenson.
  • Her mother Gladys worked as a film cutter at Consolidated Film Industries.
  • Gladys had unstable mental health and was unable to care for Norma Jeane.
  • She was placed in foster care shortly after birth and lived with the Bolender family.
  • At age 7, she entered the Los Angeles Orphans Home Society.
  • She bounced between foster homes and orphanages during her childhood.
  • At age 16, she married 21-year-old James Dougherty to avoid returning to the orphanage.
  • The name “Marilyn Monroe” was created in 1946 when she pursued modeling and acting.
  • She was just 20 years old when she became Marilyn Monroe and started her entertainment career.

Monroe’s difficult early childhood set the stage for her complex personality and lifelong struggles with mental health. But out of her traumatic upbringing emerged the iconic star who would become known as Marilyn Monroe.

Where did Marilyn Monroe grow up?

Marilyn Monroe had an unstable upbringing and spent her childhood in foster homes and orphanages around Los Angeles. She never had a permanent home growing up. Some of the key places Monroe lived during her early years include:


  • Born at Los Angeles County Hospital in 1926.
  • Lived briefly with her mother Gladys Baker.
  • From 2 months to 2 years old, she lived with the Bolender family in Hawthorne, CA as a foster child.


  • From 1933-1937, she lived at Los Angeles Orphans Home Society in Hollywood.
  • Stayed with various other foster families:
  • The Giffen family in Compton for 3 months.
  • The Harlow family in Los Angeles for 2 years.
  • Returned to the orphanage in 1935 after stays with foster families.


  • Moved in with her mother’s friend Grace McKee in Van Nuys in 1937 at age 11.
  • In 1938, she began attending Emerson Junior High School.
  • Briefly lived with the Atchinson family when Grace married in 1941.
  • Married James Dougherty in 1942 and lived in Sherman Oaks with his aunt.

Marilyn Monroe never really had a stable home environment growing up. She lived in at least 11 different homes by age 16. This lack of permanency contributed to her struggles later in life. But it also perhaps fueled her drive and ambition as she tried to gain control over her life.


Marilyn Monroe lived an extraordinarily complex life. She endured a traumatic childhood filled with instability and neglect, yet rose to become one of the biggest stars in the world. Monroe created a glamorous, sexy persona that captured the public’s imagination and made her an unforgettable icon.

But behind her fame, she battled private demons related to mental illness, substance abuse, and relationships. Monroe’s sudden death at 36 only added to her legendary, almost mythical status.

Today, Marilyn Monroe remains a source of endless fascination and speculation. Her films, photoshoots, and style continue to inspire modern pop culture. Yet the real woman behind the image is still somewhat mysterious and elusive. Monroe’s vulnerability and inner turmoil seem to resonate across generations of new fans.

She embodied both the glitz of Hollywood and its dark side all at once. Marilyn Monroe’s life story is one of astonishing transformation, the realization of the American Dream, and deep personal struggles that followed even at the height of fame. Her legacy lives on as a symbol of beauty, talent, and tragedy.

Frequently Asked Questions about Marilyn Monroe

When was Marilyn Monroe born and when did she die?

  • Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles, California.
  • She died at the age of 36 on August 5, 1962 from a barbiturate overdose in her home in Los Angeles.

What is Marilyn Monroe’s real name?

  • Marilyn Monroe’s birth name was Norma Jeane Mortenson. Later her name was changed to Norma Jeane Baker when she was young.
  • The name Marilyn Monroe was created as her stage name in 1946 when she started modeling and acting.

How did Marilyn Monroe become famous?

  • Monroe started as a model in the 1940s, posing for pinup photos.
  • Her first major film role came in 1950 in The Asphalt Jungle, which led to more movie parts.
  • In 1953, Monroe had her breakthrough role in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, making her a major Hollywood star.

What were some of Marilyn Monroe’s most famous films?

  • Some of Marilyn Monroe’s most famous films include:
  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
  • How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
  • The Seven Year Itch (1955)
  • Some Like It Hot (1959)
  • The Misfits (1961)

What was Marilyn Monroe’s iconic look?

  • Monroe was known for her platinum blonde hair, red lips, beauty mark, and hourglass figure.
  • Her signature styles included form-fitting dresses, furs, glittering gowns, and sexy costumes from her films.
  • She helped establish the “blonde bombshell” look that became iconic in the 1950s.