Date of Birth
1 June 1926, Los Angeles, California, USA
Date of Death
5 August 1962, Los Angeles, California, USA (drug overdose)
Norma Jean Mortensen
The Blonde Bombshell
5′ 5½” (1.66 m)
Her mother was a film-cutter at RKO Studios who, widowed and insane, abandoned her to sequence of foster homes. She was almost smothered to death at two, nearly raped at six. At nine the LA Orphans’ Home paid her a nickel a month for kitchen work while taking back a penny every Sunday for church. At sixteen she worked in an aircraft plant and married a man she called Daddy; he went into the military, she modeled, they divorced in 1946. She owned 200 books (including Tolstoy, Whitman, Milton), listened to Beethoven records, studied acting at the Actors’ lab in Hollywood, and took literature courses at UCLA downtown. 20th Century Fox gave her a contract but let it lapse a year later. In 1948, Columbia gave her a six-month contract, turned her over to coach Natasha Lytess and featured her in the B movie Ladies of the Chorus (1949) in which she sang two numbers. Joseph L. Mankiewicz saw her in a small part in The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and put her in All About Eve (1950), resulting in 20th Century re-signing her to a seven-year contract. Niagara (1953) and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) launched her as a sex symbol superstar. When she went to a supper honoring her The Seven Year Itch (1955) she arrived in a red chiffon gown borrowed from the studio (she had never owned a gown). The same year she married and divorced baseball great ‘Joe Dimaggio’ (their wedding night was spent in Paso Robles, CA). After The Seven Year Itch (1955), she wanted serious acting to replace the sexpot image and went to New York’s Actors Studio. She worked with director Lee Strasberg and also underwent psychoanalysis to learn more about herself. Critics praised her transformation in Bus Stop (1956) and the press was stunned by her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller. True to form, she had no veil to match her beige wedding dress so she dyed one in coffee; he wore one of the two suits he owned. They went to England that fall where she made The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) with Laurence Olivier, fighting with him and falling further prey to alcohol and pills. Two miscarriages and gynecological surgery followed. So did an affair with Yves Montand. Work on her last picture The Misfits (1961), written for her by departing husband Miller was interrupted by exhaustion. She was dropped from the unfinished Something’s Got to Give (1962) due to chronic lateness and drug dependency. Four months later she was found dead in her Brentwood home of a drug overdose, adjudged “probable suicide”.