Probably the most celebrated of all actresses, Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on Tuesday, June 1st, 1926, in Los Angeles General Hospital. Prior to her birth, Marilyn's father bought a motorcycle and headed north to San Francisco, abandoning the family in Los Angeles. Marilyn grew up not knowing for sure who her father really was. Her mother, Gladys, had entered into several relationships, further confusing her daughter as to who it was who fathered her. Afterward, Gladys gave Norma Jeane (Marilyn) the name of Baker, a boyfriend she had before Mortenson. Poverty was a constant companion to Gladys and Norma. Gladys, who was extremely attractive and worked for RKO Studios as a filmcutter, suffered from mental illness and was in and out of mental institutions for the rest of her life, and because of that Norma Jeane spent time in foster homes. When she was nine, she was placed in an orphanage where she was to stay for the next two years. Upon being released from the orphanage, she went to yet another foster home. In 1942, at age 16, Norma Jeane married 21-year-old aircraft plant worker James Dougherty. The marriage only lasted four years, and they divorced in 1946. By this time, Marilyn began to model swimsuits and bleached her hair blonde. Various shots made their way into the public eye, where some were eventually seen by RKO Pictures head Howard Hughes. He offered Marilyn a screen test, but an agent suggested that 20th Century-Fox would be the better choice for her, since it was a much bigger and more prestigious studio. She was signed to a contract at $125 per week for a six-month period and that was increased by $25 per week at the end of that time when her contract was lengthened.
Her first film was in 1947 with a bit part in The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947). Her next production was not much better, a bit in the eminently forgettable Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1948). Two of the three brief scenes she appeared wound up on the cutting room floor. Later that same year, she was given a somewhat better role as Evie in Dangerous Years (1947). However, Fox declined to renew her contract, so she went back to modeling and acting school.
Columbia Pictures then picked her up to play Peggy Martin in Ladies of the Chorus (1948), where she sang two numbers. Notices from the critics were favorable for her, if not the film, but Columbia dropped her. Once again Marilyn returned to modeling. In 1949, she appeared in United Artists' Love Happy (1949). It was also that same year she posed nude for the now famous calendar shot which was later to appear in Playboy magazine in 1953 and further boost her career. She would be the first centerfold in that magazine's long and illustrious history. The next year proved to be a good year for Marilyn. She appeared in five films, but the good news was that she received very good notices for her roles in two of them, The Asphalt Jungle (1950) from MGM and All About Eve (1950) from Fox. Even though both roles were basically not much more than bit parts, movie fans remembered her ditzy but very sexy blonde performance.
In 1951, Marilyn got a fairly sizable role in Love Nest (1951). The public was now getting to know her and liked what it saw. She had an intoxicating quality of volcanic sexuality wrapped in an aura of almost childlike innocence. In 1952, Marilyn appeared in Don't Bother to Knock (1952), in which she played a somewhat mentally unbalanced babysitter. Critics didn't particularly care for her work in this picture, but she made a much more favorable impression later in the year in Monkey Business (1952), where she was seen for the first time as a platinum blonde, a look that became her trademark. The next year, she appeared in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) as Lorelei Lee. It was also the same year she began dating the baseball great Joe DiMaggio.
Marilyn was now a genuine box-office drawing card. Later, she appeared with Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall and Rory Calhoun in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). Although her co-stars got the rave reviews, it was the sight of Marilyn that really excited the audience, especially the male members. On Thursday, January 14th, 1954, Marilyn wed DiMaggio, then proceeded to film There's No Business Like Show Business (1954). That was quickly followed by The Seven Year Itch (1955), which showcased her considerable comedic talent and contained what is arguably one of the most memorable moments in cinema history: Marilyn standing above a subway grating and the wind from a passing subway blowing her white dress up.
By October 1954, Marilyn announced her divorce from DiMaggio. The union lasted only eight months. In 1955, she was suspended by Fox for not reporting for work on How to Be Very, Very Popular (1955). It was her second suspension, the first being for not reporting for the production of The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955). Both roles went to others. Her work was slowing down, due to h