Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles General Hospital. She was illegitimate and her mother, Gladys, listed the father's address as unknown, and Marilyn never learned her father's identity.

Gladys was considered mentally unstable, and this together with the fact that she was unmarried led to Norma Jeane spending the first 7 years of her life in foster care with a strict religious couple, Albert and Ida Bolender. In interviews Marilyn described them as harsh, but well-meaning.

In 1933, Norma Jeane spent a short time living with her mother, but Gladys developed depression and was admitted to a rest home in Santa Monica in 1934. Care of Norma Jeane was taken over by Grace McKee, a close friend of Gladys', and it was she who introduced the child to the movies, and sowed the seeds of desire for a career in entertainment.

When Grace married in 1935 her new situation, together with financial problems meant that she could no longer care for the child, and Norma Jeane was placed in an orphanage until June 1937.. Grace continued to visit her however, taking her out to movies, showing her how to make herself up and so on.

From 1937 until she became independent Norma Jeane was to move from pillar to post between Grace, and various of her relatives. In 1941, again living with Grace, and aged just 15 she met Jim Dougherty, a man 5 years older than herself. Grace encouraged the romance and when she found out that she and her husband would be moving to the East Coast, she basically engineered a marriage between Norma Jeane and Dougherty which took place on June 19, 1942. Marilyn described it as an arranged marriage -- "They couldn't support me, and they had to work out something. And so I got married."

Dougherty joined the Merchant Marines and was sent overseas in 1944. While he was away an Army promotional shoot took place in the parachute factory Norma Jeane worked at, to show women's contribution to the war effort. One of the photographers, David Conover, was captivated by Norma Jeane and asked to take more pictures – and within months she had appeared on 33 covers of national magazines.

She and Dougherty divorced in 1946 shortly after she signed a contract with Twentieth Century-Fox Studios, choosing the screen name Marilyn Monroe.

To begin with she had little success in getting roles, and in 1949, Marilyn agreed to pose nude for a calendar – a decision which would come back to haunt her later. Around this time, Johnny Hyde, of the William Morris Agency, became her mentor and lover and soon after, her career began to look up.

In 1950 she got her first serious acting part in "The Asphalt Jungle". Though it was only a small role, it was crucial to the plot, and her performance received good reviews. She moved on to several more films, still in small roles, but growing in importance, and in 1952 she got her first leading role in "Don't Bother to Knock

In early 1952, Monroe met Joe DiMaggio, 12 years her senior, and recently retired from baseball. The relationship grew quickly, and so did Marilyn's stardom. "Niagara" with Joseph Cotten established her reputation and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", earned her a place posterity -- as she signed her name and placed her hands and feet in the wet cement in front of the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.

On January 14 Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn were married. Their wedding was big news, but their marriage was doomed from the start – Joe wanted Marilyn to himself, to play the housewife, and she wasn't ready to give up her hard-won celebrity.

She didn't give up her career. Almost immediately after her wedding she went to Korea to perform in a USO tour She entertained over 60,000 soldiers in the space of four days and was a huge success.

On May 29, she started work "There's No Business Like Show Business", but was dogged with illness throughout filming. The drugs – particularly sleeping pills – that she had been taking for the last few years began to take their toll, leaving her with bronchitis, anaemic and often shaky, sluggish and tearful on set.

She kept working however, filming "Seven Year Itch" in 1954 as well. Little wonder then that in the autumn of 1954 Marilyn and Joe separated, later to divorce.

At the beginning of 1955 Marilyn returned to New York and joined the Actors Studio in a quest to become a 'serious actress'. In New York, she renewed an old acquaintance with playwright Arthur Miller, starting an affair with him which was to culminate in marriage, a year later.

To Marilyn, Miller represented intellect, and the serious theatre that she was striving for. To Miller, she was simply an overwhelming, unconventional presence. They were married June 29 1956 in White Plains, NY. Very soon after the wedding, the Millers travelled to London, so that Marilyn could work on "The Prince and the Showgirl" with Lawrence Olivier.

The marriage very quickly began to show signs of strain when both partners realised that they had married people, and not ideals.

Monroe didn't return to Hollywood until 1958 when she starred in "Some Like It Hot". Increased reliance on drugs, together with an unhappy marriage was damaging her health – and her reputation. She often arrived late, equally often forgot her lines. Even so, her performance was outstanding. Her next film however, "Let's Make Love", was remarkable only for her much-publicised brief affair with co-star Yves Montand.

Early in 1960, she was in therapy with Dr. Ralph Greenson, a prominent psychoanalyst who relied heavily on drug therapy to supplement his psychotherapy, a course of action which did Marilyn more harm than good.

In July 1960 she started filming "The Misfits",a short story by Arthur, adapted for film. The Millers however now lived separately, and barely spoke to one another. Once again, Marilyn managed to give an exceptional performance, despite the fact that pills were being flown in to her from various LA doctors, and it was rumoured that she was so slow to get going in the morning that her make up was often done while she was still in bed.

The day after "The Misfits" was completed Clark Gable, Marilyn's co-star, suffered a serious heart attack and died. Marilyn was wracked with guilt for her behaviour on the set, keeping Gable waiting, often for hours. This made it easy to make her the scapegoat for all the production's problems, whether or not they were her fault (and often they weren't). This was to be the last film she completed.

Marilyn and Arthur Miller divorced in January of 1961, the same month that "The Misfits" was released.

In 1961 Monroe bought a house and, on the advice of her psychoanalyst, hired Eunice Murray as housekeeper. It is suggested that Murray, who claimed to be a nurse but had no training or qualifications, acted as a "spy” for Dr. Greenson, who certainly gained gradually more control over Marilyn's life.

Though never confirmed, her reported affair with John F. Kennedy began in late 1961. The Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy was also rumoured to have had an affair with Marilyn shortly before her death.

In April 1962 Marilyn began work on "Something's Got to Give". Her reputation and reliability on the film were notorious, but at the same time, she was frequently quite legitimately ill, and many of her absences were authorised.

However, the studio was in trouble with the film "Cleopatra” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Behind schedule, and way over budget, it was a nightmare. There is a theory that Fox realised that by replacing Monroe in her film they could recoup many of the losses on "Cleopatra” from "Something's Got to Give". Marilyn was fired, and Fox started a suit against her for damages, though this was dropped.

During this period Monroe had been seeing Joe DiMagio again, and the couple had agreed to remarry, setting a wedding date of August 8, 1962. Fox rehired her on August 1 to complete "Something's Got to Give".

However, neither of these events were to happen. On 5 August 1962 Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her home of a drug overdose.

Speculation has been rife ever since Monroe died as to what happened. Suicide, murder, or accident? The most likely answer is an accidental overdose (though possibly administered by Monroe's untrained nurse).

Given the recent upturn in Monroe's life, suicide seems highly improbable, and although conspiracy theorists love to blame the FBI, there is little reason to think that any revelations about Monroe could have been damaging enough to the Kennedy clan to necessitate her being put out of the way.

Despite her success and her popularity, despite being "the sexiest woman of the century", Marilyn Monroe remains a tragic figure, in the popular conciousness, as alone at the end of her life as she was at the start, never having found anyone to completely accept and take responsibility for her.

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