Five Interesting Facts About Marilyn Monroe That You Probably Didn't Know
August 2012 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe. Though often cited as a tragic figure because she was only 36 at the time, she was nonetheless a young woman who was vibrant and full of life. While stories about her are legion, here are a few interesting and fun facts about Marilyn Monroe that you might not know.
1. She Owed Her First Big Break to Ronald Reagan
During World War II, as part of his duties in the Army's First Motion Picture Unit, Captain Ronald Reagan thought it would be a great morale booster for the troops to see some pictures of some pretty factory girls, showing how they, too, were contributing to the war effort just as the boys were overseas. One factory Captain Reagan had in mind was the Radioplane Company in Burbank, which was owned by his friend and fellow actor Reginald Denny. To complete the task, Reagan sent out a private by the name of David Conover, an experienced photographer, to do a shoot for Yank magazine.
When he got to Radioplane, Conover found a pretty 19-year-old brunette by the name of Mrs. Norma Jeane Dougherty working on the lines. Her duties included inspecting parachutes and spraying fire retardant on drone airplanes. The girl had a bright smile and was so photogenic that Conover not only decided to make her the feature of his piece but to use her in later modeling jobs as well. Mrs. Dougherty eventually got divorced, changed her hair, and changed her name, but the hookup with Conover in 1945 is generally considered her first step to stardom. And Ronald Reagan had been the impetus.
2. She Once Roomed With Shelley Winters
A couple of years later, a now-21-year-old Marilyn Monroe roomed with fellow actress Shelley Winters, who was six years older. They shared not only an apartment and cooking duties but also clothing and intimate secrets. They each made a list of famous men they'd like to make love to and told each other who was on it. One of the men on Monroe's list was future third husband Arthur Miller. Winters was also instrumental later in persuading Monroe to move to New York and study at the Actors' Studio.
Winters has recounted several stories about living with Monroe. She claimed responsibility for teaching Monroe how to smile in a sultry way, with her chin up and her lips parted ever so slightly. She also told of how she once asked inexperienced cook Monroe to wash the lettuce, only to come home to find Monroe scrubbing the lettuce in a tub of soapy water.
3. She Was Extremely Well-Read
Ever conscious of the gaps in her formal education, Monroe tried to make up for it by educating herself as an adult whenever she could. One avenue she pursued avidly toward that end was reading. According to Christie's, which auctioned off many of her effects in 1999, her personal library at the time of her death contained over 400 volumes.
Her taste in reading material included works from authors whom one would not normally assocate with a sex goddess but who were nonetheless typical of the ones people were reading in the 1950s and early 60s: Freud. Tolstoy. Dostoevsky. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Camus. Ralph Ellison. James Joyce. Often such selections came after Monroe's having sought the advice of others whom she thought more knowledgeable, and in some works, such as Man's Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander, she made extensive personal notes.
4. She Was a Jogger Long Before Jogging Became Popular
If you lived on a back street in Hollywood in the early 1950s you might have caught a glimpse of Monroe running by. No, she wasn't being pursued by paparazzi. She was performing an exercise routine which she called her "jog-trot" which she did many mornings, typically dressed in jeans and a T-shirt or a halter top -- a good twenty-five years before Jim Fixx wrote The Complete Runner and introduced America to the jogging craze. She also lifted weights as part of her exercise regimen.
5. She Could Turn Her Marilyn Monroe Persona On and Off at Will
Like many Hollywood stars, Monroe had an off-screen life that was quite different from her public image. At business meetings or rehearsals, for example, she was known to dress quite modestly. And like other glamour girls before her -- most notably Rita Hayworth -- she regarded her screen image as a character, someone very different from herself.
Incredible though it may seem, she could take these differences to the point of becoming almost invisible at times. When she was living in New York, if she went out without makeup and not baring much skin, people tended not to recognize her. Fellow Actor's Studio alum Eli Wallach tells the story of walking down the street with her in Manhattan, the two of them virtually unnoticed, when all of a sudden they started to draw stares. Somehow, Monroe had changed her body language to morph into the world-renowned sex goddess. As she explained to Wallach, "I just felt like being Marilyn for a moment."
Thank God for all of us that there were plenty of moments when she did.