Marilyn Monroe has been all over the news lately, from the controversy after Kim Kardashian wore Marilyn’s iconic dress to the Met Gala, to the release of Netflix’s Blonde, a biopic about Marilyn’s life based on the novel of the same name.
In case you want to read up a little more on all things Marilyn, here are 21 facts about the star:
When Marilyn was just two weeks old, her mother Gladys dropped her off at a foster home in Hawthorne, California. The identity of her father was never revealed, although Gladys insisted that it was one of her co-workers from Consolidated Studios, which was confirmed through DNA testing in 2022. Although Gladys took Marilyn to the foster home because she didn’t think she could care for her, she was determined to be a part of her daughter’s life, because her two children from a previous relationship had been taken from her.
Gladys frequently visited the foster home, and was eventually granted permission for Marilyn to have sleepovers at her apartment in Hollywood. When Marilyn was 3, Gladys showed up at the foster home and demanded to take her daughter home with her. Her request was denied, so Gladys allegedly broke into the home, stuffed Marilyn in a duffel bag, and locked Ida, the foster mother, out of the house. By the time Marilyn turned 7, Ida decided Gladys and Marilyn should reunite, but Gladys was institutionalized soon after, so Marilyn went to live with one of her mother’s close friends instead. She bounced around several other foster homes for the rest of her childhood.
Marilyn was born as Norma Jeane Mortenson, so where did the name Marilyn Monroe come from? The name Marilyn Monroe was devised by Ben Lyon, a studio executive Marilyn worked with. By the time Marilyn had signed her first big studio contract, she was married to James Dougherty, and was known as Norma Jeane Dougherty. Lyon thought that there were too many potential pronunciations of Dougherty, and wanted to choose a stage name that would set Norma Jeane apart. Marilyn suggested using Monroe, which was actually already a last name in her family.
The name Marilyn was inspired by Marilyn Miller, an actor and dancer who Lyon had worked with in the past. It was also rumored that Lyon and Miller had been romantically involved. Although Lyon thought he had formulated the perfect name, Marilyn shared a few other suggestions with friends. Other options for full names included Clare Norman and Carole Lind, and Meredith was a potential pick for a first name. Although Marilyn started using her stage name in 1946, she didn’t legally change her name to Marilyn Monroe until 1956.
In 1949, photographer Joseph Jasgur took some test shots of Marilyn as a favor to a friend who ran a modeling agency. About 40 years later, Jasgur decided to compile the photos to publish a book about Marilyn, and noticed that it appeared that Marilyn had six toes on one foot in some of the photos. Although Jasgur said that Marilyn’s toes were none of his business, the publisher decided to use the photo as part of a “What’s wrong with this photo?” campaign. Rumors that Marilyn had six toes on her left foot began to swirl, but they were quickly debunked when photos that clearly showed only five toes on Marilyn’s left foot surfaced. Despite the proof, some still believed that Marilyn had gotten the sixth toe surgically removed.
During World War II, Marilyn worked in a factory making military drones. While in the factory, she was discovered by a photographer who recruited her to take photos that would inspire and encourage the troops. The photos became popular with soldiers stationed in Korea. When Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio got married in 1954, Marilyn interrupted their honeymoon to travel to Korea to perform for the troops. Marilyn ended up performing 10 shows in four days, and even developed pneumonia due to freezing temperatures. Marilyn later said that the experience “was the best thing that ever happened to me. I never felt like a star before in my heart.”
Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn had a tumultuous on and off relationship that lasted until Marilyn’s 1962 death. The two met in 1952, right as DiMaggio’s baseball career was coming to an end. He was immediately infatuated with Marilyn, but some said that he wanted her to quit being a movie star so she could stay home and be a wife and mother. The pair eloped in 1954 and formed an agreement. DiMaggio had to approve of all of Marilyn’s roles and wanted her to stop being stereotyped as a “dumb blonde.” When Marilyn would return home from set, DiMaggio would berate her with questions and accusations to ensure she was following the rules they had agreed upon. Joe Jr., DiMaggio’s son from a previous marriage, revealed that he heard screaming and watched his father drag Marilyn by her hair.
“I’ve discovered that the man is absolutely obsessed with jealousy and possessiveness,” Marilyn allegedly told Brad Dexter, one of her close friends. “He doesn’t want to know about my business. He doesn’t want to know about my work as an actress. He doesn’t want me to associate with any of my friends. He wants to cut me off completely from my whole world of motion pictures, friends, and creative people that I know.” Things began to get worse while Marilyn was in New York filming her iconic subway grate scene in The Seven Year Itch. During filming, DiMaggio allegedly looked disgusted when Marilyn’s dress blew in the air. Once they returned to Los Angeles, a fight over the scene allegedly turned physical. Just nine months after their elopement, Marilyn filed for divorce, citing “mental cruelty.”
During that period, DiMaggio began to suspect that Marilyn was having an affair with Hal Schaefer, her voice coach. DiMaggio turned to Frank Sinatra, who had been in a similar situation with his own ex, Ava Gardner. Sinatra suggested that DiMaggio hire a private investigator to trail Marilyn. One night in Hollywood, DiMaggio, Sinatra, and several accomplices allegedly went to an apartment complex where they believed Marilyn and Schaefer were conducting their affair. They banged down the door and found that Marilyn wasn’t there. The home actually belonged to a 50-year-old woman named Florence Kotz, who sued DiMaggio, Sinatra, and the accomplices. Sinatra quietly settled the lawsuit. A few years later, a tabloid caught wind of the story, and dubbed it “The Wrong Door Raid.”
Despite their complicated relationship, DiMaggio remained loyal to Marilyn long after their divorce. Just weeks after the pair separated, DiMaggio accompanied Marilyn to a planned surgery. They even were spotted together celebrating DiMaggio’s 40th birthday, but soon after, Marilyn was linked to Marlon Brando and Arthur Miller, who she went on to marry in 1956. Despite Marilyn’s attempts to move on, DiMaggio vowed he would win her back. Soon after Marilyn and Miller split, she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and was committed to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic by her psychiatrist Dr. Marianne Kris in 1961. In a letter written while in the institution, Marilyn said that she was mistreated and ignored by the staff.
She called DiMaggio, who came to the hospital and demanded that they release Marilyn. When the doctors refused, he allegedly said, “I’ll give you five minutes to get her out here or I’ll tear this f–king place apart brick by brick.” After she was released, DiMaggio got her proper care, and she called him “my hero.” Around this time, Marilyn became entangled with the Kennedys, which enraged DiMaggio. He even ended his friendship with Frank Sinatra for introducing Marilyn to the Kennedys. When Marilyn died in 1962, DiMaggio claimed her body, planned her funeral, and arranged for roses to be delivered to her grave twice a week until his death in 1999.
Marilyn and Ella Fitzgerald were close friends. In fact, Marilyn even said that Fitzgerald was her “very favorite person.” It was rumored that Fitzgerald was denied a performance at the Mocambo Club because of her race. However, it was later revealed that the club owners, who had previously allowed Black singers like Eartha Kitt and Dorothy Dandridge to perform, thought that Fitzgerald wasn’t glamorous enough to play the club. After learning this, Marilyn stepped in and told the club owner that she would be in the front row every night if he allowed Fitzgerald to perform. Knowing that Marilyn would draw a huge crowd, Fitzgerald was given the chance to perform.
Most people don’t associate Marilyn with being a business woman, but she was actually the second woman to start her own production company. Marilyn thought she deserved more money from 20th Century Fox after learning how much money she brought in for the production company. She came to the studio with ideas of books she wanted to adapt into films, but the studio turned them all down. Marilyn decided to take matters into her own hands. She broke her contract and started her own production company, making her the second woman, behind Mary Pickford, to do so.
The FBI kept extensive files on Marilyn and released many of their findings in 2012. The files revealed that the government suspected Marilyn was a communist. In 1956, Marilyn married Arthur Miller, a playwright. The file revealed that the FBI thought Miller was the “culture front man” of the communist party. The FBI believed that Miller was influencing Marilyn to support communism, and even asserted that they thought there was evidence to prove that the religious ceremony at their wedding was done in an attempt to cover up any suspicions of their involvement in communism. The released files also revealed that the FBI believed money from Marilyn’s production company was being used to fund communist activities.
Although Miller and Marilyn divorced in 1961, the FBI maintained their suspicions due to Marilyn’s “mutual infatuation” with Fredrick Vanderbilt Field, a member of the Vanderbilt family who had been pushed out because of his leftist political views. In 1962, Marilyn was spotted with Field on a shopping trip in Mexico. Despite the FBI’s probings into Marilyn’s life and relationships, they were never able to officially prove that she was a communist. A 1962 note in the file read: “Subject’s views are very positively and concisely leftist; however, if she is being actively used by the Communist Party, it is not general knowledge among those working with the movement in Los Angeles.”
After Marilyn and Arthur Miller got divorced, Miller kept the couple’s dog. Marilyn was allegedly devastated by this. Frank Sinatra decided to give Marilyn a new dog as a Christmas gift to replace her beloved pet. Marilyn named the Maltese terrier Maf, which was short for “mafia.” In 1999, two Polaroid photos of Maf sold for $220,000.
While Marilyn’s breathy voice became one of her signature traits, she actually adopted it as an attempt to overcome a childhood stutter. “First time was at the orphanage, and then later in my teens, I stuttered. And I was elected secretary of the minutes of the English class. … Then, I’d say the minutes of the last meeting, I’d go m-m-m-m-m … Oh, it’s terrible,” she said in a 1960 interview. A speech therapist recommended the breathy voice tactic. While filming Something’s Got to Give, her final movie, the stutter returned. She was fired from the film soon after.
One of Marilyn’s most iconic looks came from her sultry rendition of “Happy Birthday Mr. President,” performed at President John F. Kennedy’s 45th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden. The nude-colored dress was adorned with 2,500 rhinestones, and was so tight and sheer that Marilyn decided she would forgo undergarments so she wouldn’t risk ruining the illusion. Marilyn famously had to be sewn into the dress because it was so tight. In 2016, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! purchased the dress for $4.8 million. In 2022, the museum loaned it to Kim Kardashian, who controversially wore the gown at the Met Gala.
Speaking of the Kennedys, Marilyn certainly has a complicated history when it comes to the family, and was rumored to have had affairs with both President John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby. James Spada, a Marilyn biographer, told People that “it was pretty clear that Marilyn had had sexual relations with both Bobby and Jack.” Rumors about Marilyn and the then-president began to swirl after her birthday performance. Spada said that Marilyn and JFK met in 1954, and engaged in an affair at some point between then and 1962. Spada told People that he believes John passed Marilyn off to his brother Bobby at some point in the spring of 1962. In fact, Bobby Kennedy can be heard yelling on tapes from the night of Marilyn’s death in August 1962.
Despite these claims, the true extent of Marilyn’s relationships with the Kennedys will never be known. According to Ralph Roberts, who was Marilyn’s personal masseur, she slept with John F. Kennedy once, at Bing Crosby’s house in March 1962. “Marilyn gave me the impression that it was not a major event for either of them: It happened once, that weekend, and that was that.” Some believe that Marilyn’s involvement with the Kennedys lead to her death. Joe DiMaggio was vocal about this belief. In a 2017 biography, DiMaggio was quoted as saying, “The whole lot of Kennedys were lady-killers, and they always got away with it. They’ll be getting away with it a hundred years from now.”
Although Audrey Hepburn was famous for her role as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Marilyn was also in talks for the role. Truman Capote, who wrote the novel that inspired the movie, actually said that Marilyn was his first choice to star in the film. Paula Strasberg, Marilyn’s acting coach, actually told her not to take the role because she thought being seen playing “a lady of the evening” would be bad for her reputation. This infuriated Capote, who said, “Paramount double-crossed me in every way and cast Audrey.”
In early 1962, Marilyn prepared to move into a new home in Los Angeles. According to Goddess, a book about Marilyn’s life written by Anthony Summers, Art James, a real estate agent who was an acquaintance of Marilyn, got a phone call asking him to get Marilyn away from the house. “They wanted her place empty so that they could install bugging equipment. I told them I wouldn’t do it. I didn’t warn Marilyn,” James said. “I figured she worried about things enough anyway. If they wanted to bug the house, they would find a way.”
Summers claimed that in addition to bugging Marilyn’s phones, there were also attempts to place “room bugs” throughout her home. The equipment installed included a microphone that was as small as “a grain of rice,” that supposedly was invisible once installed in the woodwork. Summers wrote that some believed the Kennedy family was behind the bugging because they were worried details about Marilyn’s alleged relationships with both John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy would ruin the family’s political dynasty. A couple renovating the house in the 1970s found a phone tapping system installed throughout the house.
Marilyn allegedly told her friends that she had a thing for older men. In the 1940s, Marilyn and actor Shelley Winters were roommates. The duo made a list of men they wanted to sleep with. According to Winters, there was no one under 50 years old on Marilyn’s list. “I never got to ask her before she died how much of her list she had achieved, but on her list was Albert Einstein, and after her death, I noticed that there was a silver-framed photograph of him on her white piano.”
Marilyn longed to play Jean Harlow, who was one of her idols, in a biopic. Sidney Skolsky, a gossip columnist who was close friends with Marilyn, planned to produce the film. Marilyn and Harlow had a lot in common. Both stars died young. DiMaggio even got the idea to have weekly roses delivered to Marilyn’s grave from Harlow’s fiancé William Powell. On their wedding day, Marilyn allegedly asked DiMaggio to do the same for her in the event that she died young. DiMaggio followed through with the promise.
Although Marilyn and Hugh Hefner never met, the Playboy founder said he felt a deep connection to her. When Playboy launched in 1953, Hefner used a nude photo of Marilyn as the first Sweetheart of the Month. Marilyn wasn’t even paid directly for the use of the photos, which had been taken years before when Marilyn agreed to pose for a pinup photographer. The photographer then sold the collection of photos he took to the Western Lithograph Co., who then used them in a calendar that went on to make millions. After seeing the photos, Hefner decided he would purchase them to use in his first issue, but never got direct permission to use Marilyn’s likeness.
“I never even received a thank-you from all those who made millions off a nude Marilyn photograph,” she said in Marilyn: Her Life in Her Own Words. “I even had to buy a copy of the magazine to see myself in it. … I admitted it was me who posed for that nude calendar even when the Fox executives became nervous and believed this would cause the ruination of any films I would appear in and also the end of my movie career. Of course, they were wrong. The fans, my public, cheered when I admitted it was me, and that calendar and that Playboy first-issue publicity helped my career.” In 1992, Hefner spent $75,000 to purchase the crypt beside Marilyn’s. “I’m a believer in things symbolic,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “Spending eternity next to Marilyn is too sweet to pass up.” In 2017, Hefner was buried next to Marilyn.
Marilyn was an outspoken advocate for civil rights. While in foster care, one of Marilyn’s foster parents worked as a mail carrier in a predominately Black area, which biographers said contributed to her progressive views on race. On the set of All About Eve in 1950, Marilyn was warned to hide the politically radical books she was reading. Once Marilyn and Arthur Miller got married, Marilyn became even more politically involved. In 1960, she became a founding member of the Hollywood branch of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy and was elected as an associate delegate to Connecticut’s Democratic caucus. Marilyn also shared support for the Civil Rights Movement.
When Marilyn died in 1962, she left 25% of her assets to her psychiatrist, Dr. Marianne Kris, with the caveat that it would be used “for the furtherance of the work of such psychiatric institution or group as she shall elect.” Her portion of the estate was transferred to the Anna Freud Centre in London, where the funds were used to help children struggling with their mental health.
And finally, Marilyn loved to read and had over 400 books in her home. She once said that when she was bored, she would go to a local bookstore to pass the time. “I just open books at random — or when I come to a page or a paragraph I like, I buy that book,” she said. It has been alleged that at the time of her death, she was reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Captain Newman, M.D., a book based on the life of her psychiatrist.