In The Seven Year Itch Marilyn Monroe played The Girl, the object of fantasy for Tom Ewell. A character with no known (to the audience or Ewell) name. It didn't matter. A tad ironic, considering how her name, her many names, played such an important part in who she became.
Norma Jeane Mortenson, or Norma Jean Baker as she was also known, is frequently presented as if she was a completely different person from Marilyn Monroe — as Marilyn's alter ego. But Marilyn never really changed from the girl she was before she became a movie star. She was born with an identity crisis. Who was her father? Her mother Gladys Baker wasn't even sure, or at least she never said so definitively. She was separated from her second husband, Martin Mortensen, but soon changed Norma Jeane's surname to that of her first husband, Baker. Gladys was having an affair with fellow Consolidated Film Industries employee Charles Stanley Gifford, who is thought to be Marilyn's biological father. Gladys chose, probably for legitimacy's sake, to use her current husband's name on Marilyn's birth certificate. Except she spelled the last name wrong — Mortenson instead of Mortensen. How could her daughter not be confused about her murky origins.
Norma Jeane spent her childhood with practically nothing of her own, being shuttled through a series of foster homes from babyhood. A child who had trouble being noticed, one of many in a household of foster children, she grew up wanting to be adored, like the movie stars she idolized: Jean Harlow, Alice Faye, and Katherine Hepburn. She spent hours at the movies, the films acting as a sort of babysitter, while her guardians worked. From early childhood, inspired by her mother's job as a negative film cutter at Consolidated Film Industries and her family friend Grace McKee, who became her legal guardian when Gladys was institutionalized, Norma Jeane was encouraged to become not just an actress, but a star. Grace had some unrealized fantasies of stardom of her own, and endlessly promoted the young girl's dreams of becoming a movie star.
|Norma Jeane Dougherty, 1945|
The marriage was dissolved and Norma Jeane began to model full-time, sometimes using the name Jean Norman. When she finally got a contract at Twentieth Century-Fox she was urged to changed her name from Norma Jeane Dougherty. Her grandmother's maiden name was Monroe, and something alliterative was suggested— she became Marilyn. But The Girl wasn't done changing. She had already lightened her hair color, as blondes got more modeling work than brunettes, but she was told to alter her hairline, raising it a bit. And then to make some slight improvements to her chin and nose. She was willing to do whatever it took. She knew that starlets were a dime a dozen and could be dropped at any moment. And Marilyn wanted, needed, to become a star.
"I am not interested in money. I just want to be wonderful"Nothing ever came easily to Marilyn. Her road to stardom started, then stalled, and at times seemed in reverse. She was hired by Twentieth Century-Fox, only appearing in bit parts, and then dropped. She then was hired by Columbia, who dropped her when her six-moth contract was up. After a walk-on role in the Marx Brothers' Love Happy she caught the attention of Hollywood agent Johnny Hyde, who helped get her into two great movies, The Asphalt Jungle, where she impressively played the very young girlfriend of Louis Calhern; and as starlet-on-the-rise Miss Casswell, a "student of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art," in All About Eve. Hyde was able to persuade Fox to not only rehire her but sign her to a seven-year contract.
Marilyn finally began to get steady work, appearing in mostly comedies until her breakthrough role in the noir-ish Niagara, costarring Joseph Cotten. It was around this time, in 1952, that she was also introduced to one of the most famous men in America, retired Yankee Joe DiMaggio, who had asked to meet her after seeing a publicity photo of her trying to hit a baseball.
"I was surprised to be so crazy about Joe. I expected a flashy New York sports type, and instead I met this reserved guy who didn't make a pass at me right away! He treated me like something special. Joe is a very decent man, and he makes other people feel decent, too."They were soon an item. Marilyn and Joe's romance was documented by photographers in ways that would make modern paparazzi blush. They were the original "It" couple. There are many who still romanticize their "perfect" union. The truth, and their relationship, was of course much more complicated. They may have been great as lovers, even friends, together, but marriage was something neither of them were well-suited for. But their attraction for one another was instantaneous.
|Joe and Marilyn with Cary Grant, Marilyn's costar in Monkey Business, 1952|
|In Canada during the filming of River of No Return|
|Newly married Norma Jeane DiMaggio's passport|
|The "It" couple of the mid-1950s|
|Joe and Marilyn on the town|
There are some (unsubstantiated) reports that he dealt with his frustrations by batting her around. Marilyn may have endured that, but what she couldn't and didn't tolerate was his insistence that she give up her career. Joe didn't realize what Marilyn had gone through to become Marilyn.
Marilyn, "I didn't want to give up my career, and that's what Joe wanted me to do most of all."
Joe, "It’s no fun being married to an electric light."When the New York location shooting of The Seven Year Itch was over, so, for the most part, was the nine month-long marriage. Joe didn't like failure, so their break-up must have been especially hard for him to take. Joe and Marilyn may have failed as a married couple, but their bond was strong, and they stayed close through the years. Joe was always someone Marilyn could rely on. He wasn't a hanger-on. He was one of the few people in her life that didn't want to suck off of her star persona. He went into therapy (possibly influenced by Marilyn) and seemed to mellow in many of his views. One of the most well-known stories of their post-divorce relationship was when Joe rescued Marilyn from the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic. Marilyn, distraught after the filming of The Misfits and the dissolution of her third marriage to playwright Arthur Miller, thought she was going into the hospital for a rest cure. But her psychiatrist, Dr. Marianne Kris had her committed to the psychiatric ward. Marilyn reached out to Lee Strasberg to no avail. It was Joe who responded to her call for help.
|Marilyn joined Joe in Florida for some much-needed R&R|
|Joe sent Marilyn a birthday telegram on June1, 1962|
|An unfinished letter from Marilyn to Joe, found in her house after her death|