The most famous of the Blonde Bombshells.
Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926 August 5, 1962) was born Norma Jeane Mortenson to a mentally unstable mother and a missing father, 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 (the first 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 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 as the actress "Marilyn Monroe". Her husband, James, however, didn't like the idea of his wife having a career, 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 she posed nude for photos 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 Conspiracy Theories for years to come.
Do NOT confuse her with Marilyn Manson, who DID actually take his first name from her.
- Love Happy (1949)
- All About Eve (1950)
- The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
- Clash by Night (1952)
- Monkey Business (1952)
- O. Henry's Full House (1952)
- Niagara (1953)
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
- How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
- The Seven Year Itch (1955)
- 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 old Hollywood 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 actress 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.
- The Charmer: As said aptly by Marilyn herself:
- Dark and Troubled Past: Very much so, though it's often overlooked in favour of her sex appeal.
- Did They or Didn't They?: It's unknown whether she actually had an affair with John F. Kennedy, and if so, whether or not it tied into her death.
- Driven to Suicide: Maybe. It's unlikely whether we'll ever know.
- 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.
- Functional Addict: It's likely that she was an addict, but nonetheless was very accomplished as a model and actress. On the set of her last film—The Misfits—she was seen using a pin to prick prescription drugs so they would work faster.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Her answers to "What do you wear/have on at night?" "Chanel No. 5" or "The Radio" depending on how the question was framed.note
- Head-and-Hip Pose: She struck this pose a few times it photographs. She's even the current trope image.
- Home Nudist: When she wasn't acting, Marilyn preferred to be naked and a casual visitor to Palm Drive would see her walk naked from her bedroom to bath and to her pool and cabana. As mentioned under Getting Crap Past the Radar, she also slept nude and remarked that the only thing she wore in bed at night was Chanel No. 5.
- Insult Backfire: In one famous story, a female reporter insulted Monroe's choice of dress for a party they were both attending, saying it was too low-cut and made her look trashy. The reporter then commented that Marilyn would have been better off wearing a potato sack...and so Monroe teamed up with Twentieth Century Fox to shoot photos of herself in a dress made from one. And as the photos in that link prove, she made it work.
- Marilyn Maneuver: Trope Namer after her publicity stunt during the filming of The Seven Year Itch.
- Ms. Fanservice: 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.
- 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, The Misfits.
- Odd Friendship: Monroe was good friends with Ella Fitzgerald—granted, that's not that odd in the twenty-first century, but in the 1950's (before the Civil Rights Movement), it was a huge deal. Fitzgerald even credited Monroe with jump-starting her career: the segregation of her era made it impossible for her to play to large audiences. When the owner of the Mocambo, a famous Hollywood nightclub, refused to let Fitzgerald perform, Monroe personally called him and promised that if he booked Ella for a week's engagement, she would take a front table to listen to the singer every night, knowing full well that the press would swarm the place. The owner agreed to the deal, Monroe kept her vow, and Ella, in her own words, "never had to play a small jazz club again."
- Less "friendship" than "professional relationship," but when Monroe was studying at the Actors' Studio in New York, she saw a therapist five times a week. That therapist's name? Anna Freud—Sigmund Freud's daughter.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: She made it clear that the "blonde bombshell" she portrayed in film wasn't her true personality. In one famous story, a reporter was walking down the street with Monroe in broad daylight. He remarked that he was confused as to the lack of attention—to which Marilyn asked "Do you want to see her?" She then adjusted her posture, started walking like she did in her films, and changed her gestures and vocal tone. Suddenly, everyone around recognized her and ran over.
- 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.
- Sexy Walk: 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.
- Shameless Fanservice Girl: In addition to being the first Playboy Playmate, she was a Home Nudist and on a movie set, she walked around naked among hairdressers, makeup artists and the wardrobe department.
- Silk Hiding Steel: She's mainly known as a blonde, flirtatious sex symbol, and although those things were true, she'd also survived a lot in order to get to where she was.
- Stage Name: Born Norma Jeane Mortenson, known as Marilyn Monroe.
- 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.
- The Woobie: Eli Wallach, her friend for several years, noted that she had this quality about her in her film roles: "As an actress she has lots of imitators - but only Marilyn survives. Why? Because people sense something real and helpless from her on that screen; they want to protect this girl and she makes them ashamed for having thought any dirty thoughts about her."
- 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.
- Played by Melody Anderson in Marilyn & Bobby: Her Final Affair (1993).
- Played by both Ashley Judd (as Norma Jean) 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 Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn (2011).
- Played by Kelli Garner in The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (2015).
- Played by Ana de Armas in Blonde (2021).