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What Made Marilyn Monroe Became A Legendary Icon

Updated on May 29, 2013
Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962)
Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962)

There was a time when everyone may have known sex goddess, Mae West. In her day and age, she was not only remembered for her style, but her own method of delivering her sexual innuendos as well. It can be said, however, that Marilyn Monroe will always be remembered as the sex goddess of the 20th Century. Monroe became an icon for several reasons. Besides being physically voluptuous, she was stereotyped as the dumb easy blonde. She was also married to two figures who were well-known in the public eye. She was also involved in scandal with President John F. Kennedy and his younger brother, Bobby Kennedy. Monroe also surpassed an ugly childhood filled with emotional deprivation, and became enveloped in her Hollywood dream, which would shed certain truths as she continued carving her destiny within that realm.

There have been books written about Monroe. Elton John sang a sad song about her ("Norma Jeane"). Over thirty years after the death of Mae West, there are those who would have to hear about who she was in the entertainment industry to know who she was. Over thirty years after Monroe's death, however, while one person who may not ever have seen one of her movies, that person will more than likely know who she was. She is indeed one of the most popular icons that was produced out of the film industry. To understand who she was involves learning about all the circumstances of her life, childhood, experiences in the beginning, middle and end with the film industry, her marriages, public awareness and finally, the speculation concerning her demise.


Monroe's birth name was Norma Jean Mortenson ("Jean" is later spelled "Jeane"). Her mother suffered from a form of mental illness involving emotional problems. Unfortunately, Monroe was cared for in foster homes and orphanages.

"...Norma Jeane, aged seven, went to live briefly with her mother, Gladys Baker. Hardly had mother and daughter settled in when Gladys became ill again and had to be hospitalized. Responsibility for Norma Jeane fell on Glady's best friend, Grace Mcee, who worked with her in a film laboratory. It was 'Aunt Grace' who first encouraged Norma Jeane to believe that she was destined to be a star like Jean Harlow." ("Marilyn Monroe" by Barbara Learning, 1998).

From the circumstances in which Monroe was born, she was a victim of her immediate environment. Where the cause is emotional deprivation, the effect can leave one with depression, low self-esteem and a lack of confidence. If anything, from her experiences, she learne din time that she had power in her sexuality. It should be noted, however, that she was influenced to some extent by her part-time caregiver outside the orphanage or foster homes that this aspect of her being was to her benefit. It is sad to further note she was sexually assaulted when she was a child, which sore memories were only to return later in her life, by men who were more interested in her body than in putting her into a film.

"When Marilyn approached Howard Hawks one weekend in Palm Springs, the director made it clear that he saw nothing special about her. He thought she was stupid and told her so. He wasn't even interested in a sexual encounter." ("Marilyn Monroe" by Barbara Learning, 1998).

Teenage Years

Monroe was married for the first time at the age of 16 to Jimmy Dougherty which was essentially an arranged marriage so she could avoid being placed in another foster home. When Dougherty was shipped out during the war in 1944, Monroe stayed with his parents and worked at the Radio Plane Company. United States Army photographer, David Conover, for the purpose of displaying women at work, photographed her at age 18. Conover told her that "she was pretty enough to model." In due course, this led to her being registered with a modeling agency. The agency, in turn, sent Monroe to a charm school and before too long, her face appeared on the covers of magazines. During this period of her life, she divorced her husband, changed her name from Norma Jeane to Marilyn Monroe and contracted with 20th Century-Fox in 1946. There, she only had two films with minor parts and the studio eventually dropped her because Darryl Zanuck did not think she was attractive. Columbia Pictures seized her in 1948 for a brief period of time as well. She had a part in a musical called Ladies of the Chorus made in 1949, and another part in Love Happy that same year.

Movies - 1950s

Monroe was contracted again in 1950 by 20th Century-fox. This time, her parts gained more attention. She had roles in two films, Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve. In 1951,she was in Love Nest; in 1952, she did Clash By Night, which was her first film to have "star billing," and Monkey Business with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers. In 1953, her first major role was in the film, Don't Bother to Knock. Shortly thereafter, Monroe was starring in leading roles in movies like Niagra and How to Marry a Millionaire. She played the clever blonde named Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In 1954, she made River of No Return and There's No Business Like Show Business. In 1955, Billy Wilder directed Monroe in The Seventeen Year Itch. Monroe clearly had natural sex appeal and became known as the sex symbol of her day and age. Her wide eyes charmed her audience as well as catching the attention of her followers with physical attributes. In fact, people still mimic her "happy birthday, Mr. President," singing presentation.

Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio marry in 1954.
Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio marry in 1954.
Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller
Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller


Monroe married Joe DiMaggio in 1954, which lasted for less than a year. Even while he was escorting her to the premier of The Seven-Year Itch, with the famous subway-grating scene ("cooling" herself), she was seeing playwright, Arthur Miller, on the side. Monroe felt Miller respected her and although they met in 1951, it was not until 1955 when they would have the beginnings of a heavy love affair. In that same year, she became frustrated with her roles that were of the same stereotype. She wanted to form her own production company, so she went to New York and took classes at the Actors Studio under the guidance of Lee Strasberg. She was persuaded to stay at 20th Century-Fox where she was convinced that she would have more creative control. She married Miller in 1956 and in 1957, she made a film with Laurence Olivier, The Prince and the Showgirl, one of her unpopular films. In 1959, she was directed by Billy Wilder again in Some Like It Hot and in 1960, she made Let's Make Love.


It is sad to know, but not too difficult to understand, how Monroe could succumb to depression. She faithfully saw a psychiatrist, but in time, she became undependable which may have been a result of her usage of prescription drugs. Her last move was The Misfits in 1961. Miller wrote it for her and it was made under the direction of John Huston, the second time she worked with him. She divorced Miller a week after the film opened.

In the summer of 1962, Monroe was terminated from her last film and very shortly after that, she was discovered dead at home. She was allegedly a victim of a barbiturate overdose because suicide was not ruled out. Indeed, there has been a fair amount of speculation as to the causes of her death as well as her life's story over the course of time. It is because she is such an icon for her time on this planet that authors were led to write about her existence, as well as producers of film documentaries.

In Denise Worrell's Icons, she writes about modern day Madonna being an icon. Therein, Madonna states,

"I also loved ... Marilyn Monroe. ...just incredibly funny, and ... silly and sweet and ... feminine and sexy. ...I also had this idea that Marilyn Monroe had a glow or white light around her. I saw her in some old black-and-white movie on TV and I just thought I wanted to have that glow too...."

With the reading of the circumstances of Monroe's early life and her early adult years, it is apparent that one has to possess an inner strength to be as determined as she was to persevere despite her inner pain. That is, she had so much baggage which seemed to scream, "am I loveable?"


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  • Anugo profile image

    Gold Samuel 12 months ago from Nigeria

    I have always had this question on my mind; "who is this Marilyn Munroe?" Now I know better. Great piece

  • ytsenoh profile image

    Cathy 6 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    Mr. Epi, thanks so very much! I love researching icons. I adore my avatar too! Audrey Hepburn is my favorite lady. Thanks for your time and efforts on FB.

  • epigramman profile image

    epigramman 6 years ago

    ..oh my goodness what a definitive presentation and such great research here with images I've never seen before and this awesome tribute will be most certainly be posted to my Facebook page with a direct link back here - you have such a marvelous selection of hub subjects by the way and I simply adore your Audrey Hepburn avatar

    ...lake erie time ontario canada 1:10am

    p.s. - I will tell them at FB to check out parts 2 and 3

  • stephaniedas profile image

    Stephanie Das 6 years ago from Miami, US

    She continues to be someone who is talked about years after her death. Its amazing!

  • ytsenoh profile image

    Cathy 6 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    phoenix, thank you and I agree with most of what you say. If her life did not end in tragedy, including the investigation and mystery that was evoked to surround the whole occurrence, we might have a different view of her life. Thanks again for your comment.

  • phoenixarizona profile image

    phoenixarizona 6 years ago from Australia

    Hi ytsenoh! This is a fantastic Hub! I love this era Marilyn, Elvis Jimmy Dean, shaped the world with glamour.

    Marilyn's death was sad and I hate to say it, necessary. Marilyn Monroe would not be thought of as iconic today had she lived to see old age I can assure you!

    I lovesd this hub nonetheless. Looking forward to part 2!

  • ytsenoh profile image

    Cathy 6 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    Thanks much. Part Two to follow. I agree. A very interesting life and career and relationships, to a very sad ending.

  • princesswithapen profile image

    princesswithapen 6 years ago

    Hi ytsenoh

    I have read about Marilyn Monroe and how her life shaped out over and over again, and still find it amusing. This hub too, was fantastic and I find it sad that such a colorful life had to face a depressing end.

    Good hub!