Marilyn Monroe (born Norma Jeane Mortenson; June 1, 1926 – August 4, 1962) was an American actress, model, and singer. Famous for playing comedic “blonde bombshell” characters, she became one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s and early 1960s and was emblematic of the era’s changing attitudes towards sexuality. She was a top-billed actress for only a decade, but her films grossed $200 million (equivalent to $2 billion in 2019) by the time of her death in 1962. More than half a century later, she continues to be a major popular culture icon.
Monroe was born and raised in Los Angeles. She spent most of her childhood in foster homes and an orphanage and married at age 16. She was working in a factory as part of the war effort during World War II when she met a photographer from the First Motion Picture Unit and began a successful pin-up modeling career. The work led to short-lived film contracts with 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures. After a series of minor film roles (including Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s All About Eve), she signed a new contract with Fox in late 1950.
Over the next two years, she became a popular actress with roles in several comedies, including As Young as You Feel and Monkey Business (starring Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers), and in the dramas Clash by Night (directed by Fritz Lang) and Don’t Bother to Knock. She faced a scandal when it was revealed that she had posed for nude photos before she became a star, but the story did not damage her career and instead resulted in increased interest in her films.
By 1953, Monroe was one of the most marketable Hollywood stars; she had leading roles in the film noir Niagara (directed by Henry Hathaway), which focused on her sex appeal, and comedies Such as Howard Hawks‘s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), with Jane Russell, Charles Coburn, Elliott Reid, Tommy Noonan, George Winslow, Taylor Holmes and Norma Varden; and Jean Negulesco’s How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), with Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall, and William Powell; which established her star image as a “dumb blonde”.
The same year, her nude images were used as the centerfold and on the cover of the first issue of Playboy. She played a significant role in the creation and management of her public image throughout her career, but she was disappointed when she was typecast and underpaid by the studio. She was briefly suspended in early 1954 for refusing a film project but returned to star in Billy Wilder‘s The Seven Year Itch (1955), one of the biggest box office successes of her career.
When the studio was still reluctant to change Monroe’s contract, she founded her own film production company in 1954. She dedicated 1955 to building the company and began studying method acting at the Actors Studio. In late 1955, Fox awarded her a new contract, which gave her more control and a larger salary. Her subsequent roles included a critically acclaimed performance in Bus Stop (1956) and her first independent production in Laurence Oliver’s The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). She won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her work in Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959), with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Her last completed film was the John Huston directed drama The Misfits (1961), with Clark Gable (also his last film).
Monroe’s troubled private life received much attention. She struggled with addiction, depression, and anxiety. Her marriages to retired baseball star Joe DiMaggio and to playwright Arthur Miller were highly publicized, and both ended in divorce. On August 4, 1962, she died at age 36 from an overdose of barbiturates at her home in Los Angeles. Her death was ruled a probable suicide, although several conspiracy theories have been proposed in the decades following her death.
Each review will be linked to the title below.
(*seen originally in theaters)
(**seen rereleased in theaters)
- Dangerous Years (1947) – directed by Arthur Pierson
- Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1948) – directed by F. Hugh Herbert – uncredited
- The Green Grass of Wyoming (1948) – directed by Louis King – uncredited
- Ladies of the Chorus (1948) – directed by Phil Karlson
- Love Happy (1949) – directed by David Miller
- A Ticket to Tomahawk (1950) – directed by Richard Sale – uncredited
- The Asphalt Jungle (1950) – directed by John Huston
- The Fireball (1950) – directed by Tay Garnett
- All About Eve (1950) – directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
- Right Cross (1950) – directed by John Sturges – uncredited
- Home Town Story (1951) – directed by Arthur Pierson
- As Young as You Feel (1951) – directed by Harmon Jones
- Love Nest (1951) – directed by Joseph Newman
- Let’s Make It Legal (1951) – directed by Richard Sale
- Clash by Night (1952) – directed by Fritz Lang
- We’re Not Married! (1952) – directed by Edmund Goulding
- Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) – directed by Roy Ward Baker
- Monkey Business (1952) – directed by Howard Hawks
- O. Henry’s Full House (1952) – directed Henry Koster, Henry Hathaway, Jean Negulesco, Howard Hawks, & Henry King
- Niagara (1953) – directed by Henry Hathaway
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) – directed by Howard Hawks
- How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) – directed by Jean Negulesco
- River of No Return (1954) – directed by Otto Preminger
- There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954) – directed by Walter Lang
- The Seven Year Itch (1955) – directed by Billy Wilder
- Bus Stop (1956) – directed by Joshua Logan
- The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) – directed by Laurence Oliver
- Some Like It Hot (1959)** – directed by Billy Wilder
- Let’s Make Love (1960) – directed by George Cukor
- The Misfits (1961) – directed by John Huston
- Something’s Got to Give (1962) – directed by George Cukor – unfinished