Without much doubt, the most famous and iconic of Hollywood's Blonde Bombshells — and much more than that.
Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962) was born Norma Jeane Mortenson to a mentally unstable mother and a missing father in Los Angeles, she was placed with foster parents and lived there until she was seven. Her mother was bizarre and once tried to kidnap her from her foster parents by stuffing her in a bag. A few years later her mother bought a house and they lived together, but a few months later her mother had a mental breakdown (neither the first nor the last of many). She was then moved into foster care as a ward of the state and her later guardian Grace McKee was the one who got her into movies. However her guardian got married and she was sent to an orphanage, and then to a string of foster homes (it is unclear how many).
Several families wanted to adopt her but she ended up going back with Grace. Grace's new husband repeatedly attempted to sexually assault her and she was sent to her great-aunt Olive's. This didn't last long either because one of Olive's sons also sexually assaulted her. She was moved to her aunt Ana's, who she had a good relationship with, but Ana had health problems and went back to live with Grace. This was also short since Grace's husband found a job elsewhere and wanted to move without her, and they ended up approaching her current boyfriend's mother so she could get married.
In 1942, at age 16, she married the 21-year-old factory worker James Dougherty, but with the US entry into World War II, her husband enlisted with the Merchant Marine in 1943 and was shipped to the Pacific in 1944, so she moved in with his mother.
Norma Jeane was working at Reginald Denny's aviator factory during World War II when someone (apparently Ronald Reagan's photographer) took a picture of her for a magazine. This small event would eventually lead to her fame. Her husband, James, however, didn't like the idea of his wife having a career of her own, so the couple would divorce in 1946.
Before then, she took up a successful modeling career after having dyed her brunette hair to blonde. She got some small acting jobs, but nothing big, although she did agree to change her name, which included taking on her grandmother's surname. At one point, an acquaintance convinced her to pose nude for some photos meant for a "tasteful" art calendar when she had no other jobs. These photos caused a scandal and nearly ruined her career when it ended up on a calendar, and eventually the first issue of Playboy. Marilyn headed off the scandal by admitting she posed, because she had no other way to pay her bills and by her natural charm and innocence winning everyone over.
Her career took off over a number of films, but she also suffered from stage fright which eventually led to taking pills and booze to relax her.
She was briefly married to Baseball star Joe DiMaggio and later to playwright Arthur Miller. Allegedly, she had an affair with John F. Kennedy. Her singing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" in a slinky dress in 1962 is commonly referenced/parodied.
Behavior aside, she was also noted to be far more intelligent than people gave her credit for, and made sure she learned drama (she studied acting at The Actor's Studio). The Dumb Blonde persona she had on film was, in fact, acting, and her typecasting as this tended to frustrate her. She was also a huge buff about the life of Abraham Lincoln.
During her marriage to Arthur Miller, she converted to Judaism, and may have continued her religious observance after the divorce.
She died in 1962 at age 36 from an overdose of barbiturates. Her death was officially classified as a "probable suicide", but it would spark urban legends for years to come.
Do NOT confuse her with Music/Marilyn Manson - like anybody could! - who DID actually take his first name from her.
- Ladies of the Chorus (1948)
- Love Happy (1949)
- All About Eve (1950)
- The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
- Clash by Night (1952)
- Monkey Business (1952)
- O. Henry's Full House (1952)
- Don't Bother to Knock (1952)
- Niagara (1953)
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
- How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
- The Seven Year Itch (1955)
- Bus Stop (1956)
- The Prince and the Showgirl (1957)
- Some Like It Hot (1959)
- The Misfits (1961)
- '50s Hair: Her short and wavy platinum blonde hair is emulated by women in parties as a shorthand for Hollywood's Golden Age glamour.
- Alliterative Name: Invoked. When she was advised to change her name upon becoming an actress, she chose her mother's maiden name of Monroe, and although she wanted to base her first name on her actual first names, Norma Jeane, 20th Century Fox head of production Ben Lyon suggested "Marilyn Monroe", partly in homage to early 20th century Broadway actor Marilyn Miller and partly because he felt an alliterative name was more attention-grabbing.note
- Aroused by Their Voice: Marilyn intentionally invoked this in many of her movies, and occasionally mocked at the time as being over the top. Nowadays, when a character speaks in a breathy, low voice, they're mimicking Marilyn whether they know it or not.
- Creator Breakdown: The Misfits was intended to be a dramatic vehicle for her now that she had trained in method acting, and showcase her in something besides Dumb Blonde roles. While Arthur Miller used a short story he'd written and expanded a minor female character in it for her, she grew increasingly annoyed when he took elements from her real life and their actual conversations to use in the script. Their marriage fell apart while filming, and both had affairs, by the end only speaking to each other through her acting coach Paula Strasberg. She was also dealing with endometriosis, but she was self medicating, as well as being sent into a panic over the frequent script changes and new lines to learn. They gave her a later call time, knowing it was unlikely she would show up on time, and sometimes she wouldn't show up at all. She was far from the only one with problems on the shoot - John Huston was frequently drunk and gambling all night, and ended up $50,000 in debt. He shut down production for two weeks, persuaded Marilyn to check into a hospital for some rest, and then leaked a story to the press that she was the reason filming was postponed.
- Dumb Blonde: She often played a platinum-blonde Brainless Beauty in films. That being said, the real Marilyn Monroe was very intelligent, particularly for her time, but she did very frequently play on the stereotype as part of her public persona. It is also worth noting that she was a brunette, before she decided to Dye Hard.
- Dye Hard: When she was still just Norma Jeane, she had curly brown hair. The platinum-blonde, straight hair was an attempt to stand out as a model, and it worked, becoming a mainstay of the Marilyn Monroe persona.
- Friendship on the Set:
- Although the gossip columns tried to stir up rumours of a feud between her and Jane Russell on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, they got on very well and became good friends. She in fact was the only person who could entice Marilyn out of her trailer.
- She befriended Montgomery Clift on the set of The Misfits, reportedly saying she was glad to see someone "in worse shape than I am".
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: She was blonde, albeit naturally brunette, and her characters were almost invariably very charming and sweet-natured.
- Head-and-Hip Pose: She struck this pose a few times it photographs. She's even the current trope image.
- Hidden Depths: Though Monroe was the most famous bombshell and Dumb Blonde of her era (and possibly of all time), she was also an extremely intelligent, gifted woman who took her craft seriously enough to attend the legendary Actors' Studio in New York, where she studied with some of the greatest teachers in the industry. She also took her mental health seriously by attending regular therapy sessions, and was perfectly aware of the seedier side of Hollywood using her body and ignoring her brains. She was also very politically active, having been a founding member of the Hollywood brand of SANE (National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy), an early supporter of racial equality in Hollywood and a supporter of unions in the film industry. Many later works about Marilyn focus on this disparity and how she longed to have people see all of her, not just her beauty.
- Hide Your Pregnancy: During Some Like It Hot, requiring her to use stand-ins for publicity photographs, with her head superimposed on top.
- Hostility on the Set: Bette Davis was particularly mean to her on the set of All About Eve, intimidating her so much that she went into a bathroom to vomit after filming with her.
- Marilyn Maneuver: Trope Namer after her publicity stunt during the filming of The Seven Year Itch.
- Ms. Fanservice: Her films would often play up her sexiness, from focusing on her hip swaying walk, to putting her in outfits that emphasized her curves. Overlaps with Innocent Fanservice Girl at times.
- In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes she tries to distract a court trial by doing Sexy Coat Flashing.
- The Seven Year Itch has a scene where she stands over a grate, and there is a gust of air making her skirt fly up. She revels in it instead of being embarrassed.
- In Some Like It Hot she is introduced from the waist down doing her sexy walk.
- Nervous Wreck: Had severe stage fright, which she stifled with booze, barbiturates and amphetamines that would lead to her untimely death.
- Nice Girl: She played nice girls in movies, her only villainous role being Niagara, and she generally played sweet Innocent Fanservice Girls in films like Some Like it Hot, Let's Make Love and The Misfits. By all accounts, she was one in real life as well.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Despite her image as a ditzy bombshell, she was exceptionally intelligent and well-read and played up her image as a dumb blonde for films.
- One-Take Wonder:
- While she took eighty takes to do the "where's that bourbon?" scene in Some Like It Hot, for the upper berth bed scene, she said "I loved it" after the first, delighting the cast and crew, who were similarly happy with it.
- While filming The Prince and the Showgirl, she discovered that Laurence Olivier had the crew taking bets on how long it would take her to finish a scene, so she set about rehearsing meticulously to prepare. When the time came to film, she did it perfectly on the first take. The scene ends with her character leaving through a door, but while they were still rolling, she opened it again to say "pretty good huh?" and they left it in.
- Pretty in Mink: Wore several furs in both her films and publicity pictures.
- She wore a white fox wrap in How to Marry a Millionaire.
- In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes she wears a mink coat to a trial, just to flash everyone as a form of courtroom antics.
- In publicity pictures for Love Happy, Marilyn wore an ermine bikini. It wasn't shown in the film, but sure helped the marketing.
- Romance on the Set: Perhaps the most notorious one she had was with French actor Yves Montand on the set of the aptly named Let's Make Love in 1960. It caused trouble for the filming of The Misfits as well.
- Supermodel Strut: Her swaying walk was renowned, and often given focus in films, such as her introduction in Some Like It Hot. There's a pretty well-substantiated story that she would sometimes cut a small piece off the tip of one of her high-heeled shoes to accentuate that sexy wobble.
- What Could Have Been: Alfred Hitchcock was interested in casting her as the lead in Marnie after Grace Kelly passed, but she was never officially given the role, and her death made it impossible. The role ultimately went to Tippi Hedren from The Birds.
- Played by Misty Rowe in Goodbye Norma Jean (1976).
- Played by Theresa Russell in Insignificance (1985).
- Played by Susan Griffiths in Marilyn & Me (1991). Perhaps Marilyn's most famous regular impersonator; she later played either Marilyn herself or Marilyn impersonators in films and TV shows such as Pulp Fiction and Quantum Leap.
- Played by Melody Anderson in Marilyn & Bobby: Her Final Affair (1993).
- Played by both Ashley Judd (as Norma Jeane) and Mira Sorvino in Norma Jean & Marilyn (1996).
- Played by Barbara Niven in The Rat Pack (1998).
- Played by Poppy Montgomery in Blonde (2001).
- Played by Sophie Monk in The Mystery of Natalie Wood (2004).
- Played by Susie Kennedy in Io & Marilyn (2009).
- Played by Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn (2011).
- Played by both Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty (as fictional characters Karen Cartwright and Ivy Lynn) in Bombshell, the Show Within a Show in Smash (2012-2013).
- Played by Kelli Garner in The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (2015).
- Played by Ana de Armas in Blonde (2022).