The Marilyn Monroe You May Not Know: Celebrity Legacies
I’m fortunate enough to be part of a television project docu-series called “Celebrity Legacies” on ReelzChannel, where I provided mental health and relationship commentary on the lives of deceased celebrities.
Beneath the Glamour
Marilyn Monroe is perhaps the most iconic figure in Hollywood history. At the height of her fame, she oozed glamour, effortless charm, and sex appeal, and the audiences and critics couldn’t get enough. But beneath the exterior of the “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” singing one-woman empire was a deeply troubled girl riddled with insecurity, family losses, and emotional pain.
A Troubled Childhood
Norma Jean Mortenson had an unstable early childhood. Born in a charity ward in Los Angeles, she moved in and out of foster homes for years, as her mother Gladys was emotionally and financially unstable to raise her. Though Gladys did temporarily regain custody of her daughter a few times, her mental state rendered her unable to permanently care for her, and Norma Jean eventually became a ward of the state. As Gladys was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, Norma Jean lived the rest of her life in fear that she too would experience mental illness. Her tumultuous upbringing was not lost on her; of her experience, she wrote: “this sad bitter child who grew up too fast is hardly ever out of my heart.”
Norma Jean Becomes Marilyn Monroe
Upon reaching young adulthood, the trajectory of Norma Jean’s life would begin to change as she set out on the path that would lead her to superstardom. In her teens, she had started modeling, and in 1946, a director from 20th Century Fox came across her photos and gave an audition. After securing a contract and renting a room in Hollywood, she declared, “this is the end of Norma Jean,” and the persona of Marilyn Monroe was born. Some of her best known movies are “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953), “The Seven Year Itch” (1955), and “Some Like it Hot” (1959).
Longing for a Father Figure
One of the biggest influences on her success was her agent Johnny Hyde, who had promised he could make her a star. Here, Marilyn found someone invested in her not only professionally, but personally. Of Johnny, she said, “he not only knew me, he knew Norma Jean, too. All the pain and desperate things in me. When he said he loved me, I knew it was true.” Tragically, Johnny would succumb to a fatal heart attack, and in response, a distressed Marilyn was found attempting to overdose with in what was very possibly a suicide attempt. The death of her agent, confidant, and lover was devastating to Marilyn, and she would never be the same.
Through the coming years, Marilyn starred in a string of box office bombs. Her poor performances are commonly attributed to her nerves and prescription drug use. Additionally, her high profile marriages to Yankees baseball player Joe DiMaggio and American playwright Arthur Miller, both significantly older than Monroe, were short-lived and both ended amidst reports of jealousy and infidelity.
Gone Too Soon
Marilyn’s career started to make a comeback, but her untimely death meant that her final planned film projects would never materialize. At the age of only 36, her body was found in her home in LA, and the coroner diagnosed the cause of death as barbiturate poisoning in a highly probable suicide Unsurprisingly, her death was highly publicized. Considering that Marilyn had achieved international stardom, sadly she died very alone.
In her will, she designated that her estate be divided between her psychiatrist and her acting coach, Lee Strasberg.
Legacy Lives On
Through her work as an actress, model, singer, and public figure, Marilyn solidified her status as an American sex symbol. Her legacy lives on, as even today she remains an international brand. But beneath the facade of glitz and glamour was a young woman marred by a dysfunctional home life, failed relationships, and a crippling mental state that ultimately led to her tragic end. Though her life was cut short, her legacy lives on as an icon of beauty.
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to KSL TV's Studio 5, and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Facebook & Twitter. Her books The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide are now available.