River of No Return (1954)
Directed by Otto Preminger
Shown: Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe’s enduring stardom
Words by Mark Worgan / Picture research by Jon Gillespie
She is one of Hollywood’s greatest icons both during her turbulent life and subsequent death, and on 1 June 2016, screen siren Marilyn Monroe, who died in 1962 at the age of 36, would have been 90, had she survived her brief but influential blaze of stardom.
Born Norma Jeane Mortenson in Los Angeles County Hospital to parents Gladys Pearl Monroe and her estranged husband Martin Edward Mortensen, the future silver screen legend star endured a tough upbringing. Placed with a foster family and then an orphanage due to her mother’s problems with mental illness, she lead a nomadic and troubled childhood.
As a 16-year-old Norma Jeane married James Dougherty, 21. While her husband fought with the U.S. Army in the Second World War, she began a modelling career which gave her a way in to Hollywood.
After a successful screen test, in 1946 she signed a contract with the 20th Century Fox movie studio, divorced James and took her famous moniker from popular Broadway star Marilyn Miller and her mother’s maiden name.
In 1947, she made her cinematic debut, delivering several lines as a waitress in the drama Dangerous Years. However it was her role as the mistress of a criminal mastermind in John Huston’s iconic 1950 film noir The Asphalt Jungle that kickstarted her rise to stardom and by 1953 she was a leading lady in hit musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes alongside movie star Jane Russell. Her performance in the film as a naive blonde showgirl established her as a major star and birthed the 'dumb blonde' character she would use to great effect in films How To Marry A Millionaire and The Seven Year Itch. She became a major sex symbol and one of the most popular Hollywood stars during the 1950s. And although she was a top-billed actress for only a decade, her films grossed $200 million by 1962.
While her star rose, Marilyn’s personal life was turbulent. She had begun dating baseball legend Joe DiMaggio in 1952 and the couple caused a media frenzy when they married in 1954.
Her rising stardom affected the relationship as Joe struggled to come to terms with her fame and they divorced after just nine months of marriage. He allegedly reacted furiously to the filming of the iconic scene in The Seven Year Itch which saw Marilyn standing on a subway grate in a billowing white dress. The shoot in New York City attracted thousands of spectators and the image appeared on front pages around the worl, spawning a million copycats.
Marilyn married the celebrated playwright Arthur Miller in 1956. During their three year marriage, the actress took a break from work to concentrate on family life, but suffered an ectopic pregnancy and a separate miscarriage.
Arthur encouraged his then wife to take another of her most famous roles alongside Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in the acclaimed 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot. But her increased dependence on drugs and poor health began to affect her career as she often failed to turn up on set.
A few years later Marilyn was found dead in her bedroom of her Los Angeles home at the age of just 36, on 5 August 1962. She was buried with a funeral at L.A.’s famed Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery on 8 August. An inquest into her death concluded she had committed suicide by taking an overdose of sedative drugs.
Her alluringly voice and blonde bombshell looks made her the epitome of a 1950s screen siren, and her shocking death arguably marked the end of Hollywood’s golden age.
Remembered in popular culture from Andy Warhol’s iconic pop art to Elton John's Candle In The Wind, it seems certain the world will never forget Marilyn Monroe, not even for after another 90 years have passed.