Wednesday, August 5, 2015


 Marilyn Monroe
June 1, 1926 - August 5, 1962

It's not easy to be a sex symbol. It's even more difficult to live up to an illusion. All of Hollywood is an illusion, a fabrication, a fantasy devised solely to foster our delusions of what we imagine things to be.

When Marilyn Monroe died on August 5, 1962, she was only 36 years old but the pinnacle of her fame seemed to be slowly slipping and the fragility of her true self was taking its toll.

This isn't intended to be a biography of Marilyn, nor a saccharine tribute. It's just a few raw facts as I know them, which will perhaps - perhaps - put an illusion into perspective.

When I first went to Hollywood as a nineteen-year-old kid, I had a slight Marilyn Monroe obsession. I read all the Monroe biographies I could find. I saw the house where she died, on Fifth Helena Drive (not easy to locate, and there's a wall around it). I had a huge poster of her in my room.

What attracted me most was the depth of her insecurities, her low self-esteem, her emotional fragility. The inner person that nobody wanted to see. I could strongly identify with that.

The closest I ever came to Marilyn was that late autumn night at 3:00 a.m. when I wandered into the courtyard of Grauman's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. I searched the maze of foot & handprints in cement until I finally found Marilyn's, right alongside of Jane Russell's. Drunk and tired, I fell asleep on Marilyn's prints - - until a cop poked me awake with his foot.

"What are you doing here?" he wanted to know.

"I spent the night with Marilyn, " I told him.

 He didn't seem amused.

Marilyn and Jane Russell
leaving their prints in cement
at Grauman's Chinese Theater

Marilyn Monroe is considered to be the undisputed Goddess of Hollywood - the  epitome of glamor, sex, and perfection.

Any possibility of her being imperfect is quickly expunged, blasted, disputed, denied. We desperately cling to the Grand Illusion, because without it there is nothing.

In reality, Marilyn was about as far from perfect as anyone could get - and I think that's what I always liked most about her. She was painfully aware of her real imperfect self, but dutifully (and masterfully) projected the public image of perfection.

She was plagued with anxiety, low self-esteem, self doubt, depression, and insomnia. She relied heavily on drugs and alcohol to function and to escape. She stuttered persistently and learned to overcome it only with extensive vocal training. Her inability to learn and retain the lines in her films wasn't due to being an airhead, it was solely caused by fear and anxiety.

Perhaps the most often-quoted example of this is when it took her over sixty takes to say "It's me, Sugar!" in the film Some Like It Hot. 

Marilyn Monroe's real name was Norma Jeane Mortenson. Her mother Gladys Monroe married Jasper Baker in 1917. They had two children, Robert and Bernice. After they divorced, Jasper kidnapped the two children and moved to Kentucky. Gladys then married Martin Edward Mortenson in 1924. Marilyn (Norma) was born in 1926.

Marilyn's biological father
Charles Stanley Gifford

At the time that Gladys was married to Mortenson, she was having an affair with a co-worker named Charles Stanley Gifford. It is nearly certain that Gifford was Marilyn Monroe's real father.

To say that her childhood was tragic is an understatement. Her mother Gladys  had no desire to raise her. She put Marilyn in a foster home and occasionally came to visit. Gladys - who suffered from bi-polar disorder - eventually had a nervous breakdown and was confined to a mental hospital.
Mental illness was prevalent in Gladys Monroe's family, and Marilyn was always terrified that she might inherit it.

Marilyn and her mother Gladys

Marilyn spent the duration of her childhood in an orphanage and no less than eleven foster homes, during which time she was sexually abused. When she was sixteen her current foster parents planned to move out of state and said that they couldn't take her with them. They gave her an ultimatum: either get married or go back to the orphanage. She married 21 year-old James Dougherty, who was a friend of the family.

While Jim Dougherty was in the service during WWII, Marilyn became obsessed with modeling and pursuing an acting career. The rest is history. She initially modeled using the names Jean Norman and Mona Monroe. She didn't legally change her name to Marilyn Monroe until 1956.

 Marilyn and first husband Jim Dougherty

A few people have gotten angry with disbelief when I told them that Marilyn Monroe had plastic surgery. It's an undisputed fact. She had her protruding front teeth fixed in 1948.

In 1949 her agent Johnny Hyde paid for her to have a nose job and chin implant. The surgery was performed in the Los Angeles office of Dr. Michael Gurdin, but the doctor who actually did the surgery was John Pangman. 
Marilyn didn't need radical surgery, but she got just enough to modify her features and make her look perfect.

Incidentally, the chin implant was a type of plastic sponge that Pangman was experimenting with. The implant began to dissolve over time, which compelled Marilyn to make a return visit to the doctor in 1958.

 Before surgery

 ...and after

A few random facts about Marilyn:
Height: 5' 5 1/2"
Weight: 118 lbs.
Eye color: blue - - not exactly, they were more of a hazel or light brown.
Dress size: 12
Bra size: 36D
I beg to differ - her boobs appeared to have been a smaller size. Most of the 1950's sex starlets were stuffed with those humongous torpedo bras.
Social Security #: 563 32 0764

ID card when she was married to Joe Dimaggio

Did Marilyn do her own singing in films?
Yes, most of the time, but difficult passages and high notes were dubbed by Marni Nixon.
Nixon also dubbed Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.

There are rumors of abortions and miscarriages. Since Marilyn loved children it's highly unlikely that she would have willingly had an abortion (unless it was required by a studio due to filming schedules). She was supposedly a good cook, liked poetry and fine art. She enjoyed being nude.

Marilyn Monroe was the very first centerfold in Playboy Magazine - Playmate of the Month 1953 (at that time they were called "Sweethearts", not "Centerfolds." She was paid $50 for the nude photos.

The infamous affair that she supposedly had with President Kennedy is a lie. It was fueled by the sultry, sexy rendition of Happy Birthday that she sang to JFK during his birthday bash in May, 1962. The rumor began long after Marilyn and Kennedy were dead, and it snowballed - - but has never been substantiated.

Two months before she died, in June, 1962, Marilyn's nose was slightly fractured - supposedly from a fall. In truth, she was beaten up (or at least punched) by her psychiatrist Ralph Greenson. He accompanied her when she went to her plastic surgeon Dr. Gurdin. It was decided that further surgery on her nose was unnecessary.

By August, 1962, Marilyn's life seemed to be suspended in a drug-hazed limbo. She had been fired by 20th Century Fox on June 8th during the production of Something's Got to Give. This was due to her perpetual absence from the set because of health issues and drug-induced stupors.

Another important factor - which is often overlooked - is the fact that 20th Century Fox was heavily in debt with the nightmarish production of Cleopatra (starring Elizabeth Taylor ) which was being filmed in Rome at that time. In a financial panic, the studio was eager to drop other productions.

On July 13, about three weeks before her death, Marilyn did a photo shoot on the beach at Santa Monica for her photographer friend George Barris. She wasn't exactly pleased with her physical appearance in the photos. She was only 36 - a "baby" by today's standards. At that time, however, when a sex Goddess was pushing 40, the end of her career was usually in plain sight.

From the photo shoot at Santa Monica in July, 1962
a few weeks before her death 

Marilyn was plagued with health problems: sinusitis, an ulcerated colon, and endometriosis - which caused pain and discomfort in the uterus and abnormal vaginal bleeding.

She died on August 5, 1962, of a barbiturate overdose (nembutal, also known as pentobarbital - used to induce sleep). The telephone receiver was clasped in her hand.

Was her death suicide? I seriously doubt it. She was anxious and depressed, but that was her standard psychological mode. She wanted escape, wanted blessed oblivion - - but not death. She was reading "To Kill a Mockingbird" at the time of her death, and planning to pick up some new furniture for her house the next day.

Was she murdered? Highly unlikely. Another preposterous rumor that has been elevated, inflated,  and perpetuated by the conspiracy fanatics. The usual suspects.

I think that biographer Fred Lawrence Guiles said it best in his biography Norma Jean: the Life of Marilyn Monroe.
"All that was missing was the rescue."

Marilyn was expecting the rescue that never came. She hadn't counted on the prospect of eternal sleep......

copyright 2015 by Jon Varga

My personal favorite Marilyn films:

Don't Bother to Knock 1952
Niagara 1953
The Seven Year Itch 1955
Some Like it Hot 1959

Her worst film:
The Misfits 1961
and possibly Bus Stop 1956

Okay, my criticism of "Bus Stop" might be unduly harsh.......

I posted some photos of Marilyn on my photo blog. Here's the link:



  1. Wow. I dropped by simply for a sneak peek, and then? Fascinated. I was disappointed when you stopped!
    Don't you think she surely resembled her (presumed) natural father?

    I'd heard about her low self-esteem (etc.) before, which I found strangely endearing. But the rest - particularly the circumstances surrounding her death - was a surprise. I'm looking forward to your next addition to the Cabinet.

    1. I had been wanting to write this in commemoration of her death, but it turned out much longer than I expected. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Enjoyed this post. Thank you.

  3. WHOA! I learned a few things I did not know!

    1. It took me awhile to learn these things. It's often difficult to distinguish fact from fiction.

  4. Thanks Jon for another interesting look at old Hollywood. Recently I finished a quick read bio "Marilyn Monroe" by Barbara Leaming. You might have already read it; I think it was published in 2010. I found it interesting because the author delves more in depth than all the tabloids that were on the stand. I especially thought she covered Monroe's relationship with Arthur Miller more revealing about Miller than Monroe.
    p.s. I really enjoy Cabinet of Curious Treasures. I love looking at old and interesting photos and the ones you display are just that.

    1. I haven't heard of the bio by Barbara Leaming but I'd like to read it. I don't know much about Marilyn's relationship with Miller, but I've heard some unpleasant things about him. I'm so glad that you enjoy my other blog. I enjoy it, too, mainly because I don't have to write much in it.

  5. I enjoyed your post, thanks for sharing.

  6. I remember watching Marilyn Monroe in the movie theaters when I was a kid. Theaters were full of families every weekend. Of course I adored her performances. So unfortunate that she suffered emotional disorders that cut her life so short. Your post explains a lot, and does so with compassion.

    1. It's strange, but I honestly can't remember the first time I saw a MM movie. I THINK it was "Some Like it Hot", but it wasn't in a theater, it was on television.

  7. Fascinating post Jon! So much that I didn't know. My favourites are Niagara and Some like it hot. My favourite film about her is My week with Marylin. Have you seen that? Michelle Williams was brilliant I thought.

    1. "Niagara" is a great movie and so is "Don't Bother to Knock". Her dramatic roles were rare but surprisingly good. I haven't heard of "My Week With Marilyn" but I'd like to see it.

  8. Oh, Jon, Possibly "Bus Stop" as her worst film? My favorite Marilyn film. Love the scene in the bar where she is singing "That Old Black Magic" and hits the switch with her foot to bring some magic, helping her in her quest to become a great 'chanteuse'. The look on her face - Priceless.

    1. Paul, I haven't seen "Bus Stop" in a very long time. Perhaps another viewing would change my mind. I was probably a little "quick on the draw" with my criticism.

  9. Jon,
    Excellent post! Like you, I had an obsession with Marilyn back in the Fifties. Not a sexual obsession (of course) but a fascination with the contradictory aspects of her life. Her perfect looks and fabulous success paired with her many insecurities. A couple of months ago I finished reading another biography of her. Your blog posting about the facts of Marilyn's life is absolutely accurate. All these stories of her murder and affair with both Robert and John Kennedy are false. Nothing but rumor mongering to make money.
    Again Jon, what a good writer you are. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Ron. Those stories about murder and affairs with the Kennedys have always infuriated me because they are absolutely untrue. As you said, it's all a ploy to make money. Marilyn was in no mental or physical condition to be constantly running around with presidents and politicians - - and the conspiracy theories about murder are absurd.

  10. Jon,

    Very interesting. I don't know why people would doubt the plastic surgery when you can see the changes in her facial structure in various photos taken over the years. For some reason I thought she was shorter than 5'5, I guess I really didn't think about her height much though. I do remember when she died. We were on vacation in New York and had come out on the street looking for a restaurant when the news boys were shouting, "Marilyn Monroe Dead!" and all the headlines were everywhere.


    1. A careful look at the early photos of MM clearly indicate that she later had surgery to improve her features. I don't see why some people are so reluctant to admit this. I was only a small child when Marilyn died, but I remember that I was outside playing in the yard. My Mom heard the news on the radio and came out saying "Marilyn Monroe is dead."

  11. Now wait a minute, Jon. I'm sure I read somewhere that Peter Lawford arranged clandestine meetings between Marilyn and the Kennedys. If you read it it print, it must be true, right? (kidding)
    I liked Bus Stop but I was probably a teenager when I saw it. I might feel differently now. I think Amazon was offering a set of her movies recently as a Deal of the Day.
    I think she would probably be considered overweight by today's standards. A size 12 is huge when most of these girls are a 00 nowadays. Same goes for Mae West. Zaftig women are no longer in fashion, aside from a few whom I refuse to name.

  12. Heck, Peter Lawford was so drunk most of the time that he couldn't even arrange his OWN meetings.........
    A size 12 dress is indeed considered huge by today's standards. I miss the good ol' days when women had figures and could be distinguished from men.

  13. Great Post! As for distinguishing women from men, a 5'5 women at 118lbs is still considered very thin. Her size 12 in today's size would be between a size 0 to size 4, depending on the clothing company and how much they want to vanity size.

    Is the 118lb a typo? I only ask because my 5'5 friend looks like a bean pole and she weighs 114lbs.

  14. I never thought about it, but you're absolutely right - - a size 12 back in the early 1960's would be entirely different from what it is today. No, 118 lbs wasn't a typo.

  15. She was a year older than my mother, no wonder my father was obsessed with her.

    1. She was five months older than my mother.

  16. Wonderful post and tribute to Marilyn Monroe. Thank you so much for sharing, and warm greetings from Montreal, Canada.

    1. Linda, thank you for visiting my blog and I'm glad you enjoyed the MM tribute.

  17. I loved Marilyn Monroe's movies, even the less-than-stellar ones. My claim to fame when I was young was that I could do a pretty darned good imitation of her singing voice.

    My father had the original MM Playboy centerfold. For years and years, it hung in his closet, and it was still there when I cleaned out his house after his death. Unfortunately, it was detached from the magazine, and wasn't in pristine condition. Nonetheless, I brought the picture home to give to my brother, so I guess it's hanging in HIS closet now.

  18. MM was definitely one of a kind. They don't make them like that anymore.
    I'm glad you got to see the calendar photo on my other blog.

  19. I also really liked Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire. Great post! ~~~ NB

    1. "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" is definitely a Hollywood classic. I only saw "How to Marry a Millionaire" long ago and my memory is hazy. I'd really like to watch all of her films again.

  20. I have just posted a review of the book Blonde by Joyce Carol Oats, a fictionalized biography of MM. The story was quite interesting. I am not really sure that it is not the truth about MM and President Kennedy! But, what do I know? Nice review of a very troubled lady! I was sent here by your friend Myra!! (I have never seen a single film she starred in)

    1. I left a reply on your blog. Thanks for the visit!


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