I recently stumbled upon Maryilyn Monroe’s biography “My Story” that she wrote in 1954 while still married to Joe DiMaggio. I knew of course about her short life and poor beginnings, but I was struck by how devoid of love and happiness her life was as she was writing the book. She grew up during the Depression to a single mother who couldn’t afford to keep her, so she was in and out of orphanages and foster homes, and eventually her mother was committed to a mental hospital. She was molested when she was eight and used as a servant by her foster families. She describes herself as an oddball who never knew how to talk to people and was ostracized by her classmates for her poverty and not fitting in.
She writes that she only had two old shirts to wear, and when she borrowed her foster sister’s sweater when she was 13, it was the first time anyone even looked at her, let alone talked to her. She started dating older men and got married when she was 16 only to avoid having to go back to an orphanage . She knew that she was only valued for her looks and refers to men throughout the book as “wolves.”
Her work ethic and common sense is what let her survive in Hollywood. She recognized that she was a scared and unloved little girl inside and refers to her inner self as Norma Jean. She started modeling when she was 19 and went on dates so she could “eat like a horse.” She also describes extreme loneliness which led her to spend time at Union Station so she could watch happy families.
Even while attending fancy Hollywood parties, for many years she was essentially broke and could barely scrape together enough money for rent and food. She describes meeting Joan Crawford at a party who told her that her suit was inappropriate, and she was embarrased to tell her it was her only suit. It’s also interesting to hear her describe these parties, mandatory for a budding actress: “The worst thing that happens to people when they go to a party and is that they leave their real selves at home . . . they don’t dare be human or intelligent. They don’t dare to think anything different from the other people at the party.”
She had no illusions about the sordid side of Hollywood beneath the glamour. “Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for kiss, and fifty cents for your soul.” She was constantly propositioned and it reminded her of “the five dollars a week the orphanage used to sell me for…” She went to Hollywood parties and constant casting calls and eventually got small parts. This was back in the day when studios had total control over actors and actresses and treated them as property. I saw a music performance once about Judy Garland’s life and about how she was addicted to pills by the time she was 14 because the studios made them take drugs like amphetamine, adrenaline shots and barbiturates to work for days at a time and stay thin. At this time, studios also decided who would become famous by telling the press to cover certain actresses they wanted to promote. Marilyn was rejected from the major studios because she didn’t have the right look and was considered “unphotogenic.” Her fame came from the public demanding to see more of her, especially soldiers fighting overseas. She actually spent her honeymoon to Joe Dimaggio entertaining the troops during the Korean War.
She was also ahead of her time. When a famous Hollywood club refused to book Ella Fitzgerald because she was black, Marilyn called the club owner and promised to attend every performance, which she did. Ella credited her with changing her career.
Her book ends around 1954 while still married to Joe DiMaggio. She went on to marry Arthur Miller and have several other famous affairs. She got tired of playing the blonde bombshell character and successfully sued 20th Century Fox to get out of an unfair contract and founded her own production company defying the studio system. Along with her fame, she became increasingly dependent on pills and alcohol, and in her book, she eerily foreshadowed her death: “I was the kind of girl they found dead in a hall bathroom with an empty bottle of sleeping pills in her hand.” She was hospitalized several times for drug and alchol overdoses and became known for erratic behaviour. In her notorious singing of “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy which you can see here https://www.biography.com/actor/marilyn-monroe , she seems extremely tipsy more than she does a sex symbol.
She used her looks to get the career she wanted, but at what cost? She attempted suicide multiple times prior to her last fatal overdose, and it seems that she spent her whole life looking for some kind of love and affection to rescue the sad little orphan she still identified as, but all she found were wolves.