Marilyn Monroe: A Life in Pictures | History Hit

Marilyn Monroe: A Life in Pictures

Teet Ottin

24 Sep 2022
Monroe in a publicity photo for Photoplay magazine in 1953
Image Credit: Studio publicity still, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson, is remembered by many as one of the most iconic yet tragic actresses of the classical Hollywood period. Her public image is one that has become synonymous with the glamour of the mid-20th century, while her scandals are discussed and remembered to this very day.

Marilyn’s image and legacy have lived on since her untimely death in 1962, featuring in everything from modern works of art to movies and TV shows about her life. But it is easy to get lost in her public image that is so well remembered to this day.

Here, we look back at the life of one of the most iconic actresses of all time, telling the story of her life – from childhood to tragic end – in a series of remarkable photos.

Baby Norma

Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson, 1927

Image Credit: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Norma Jeane Mortenson was born on 1 June 1927 at the Los Angeles County Hospital in California. It is unknown who her biological father was. She had a difficult childhood, with her mother and grandmother frequently confined to an asylum.

First marriage

Wedding of Marilyn Monroe and James Dougherty

Image Credit: ScreenProd / Photononstop / Alamy Stock Photo

Norma Jeane was 16 when she married her first husband, Jim Dougherty, who was her neighbour at that time. Her motivations for the marriage were partly caused by the desire to escape the orphanage. They divorced following World War Two, after being together for four years.

Modeling career

Postcard photo of Marilyn Monroe. The photo is from her pre-stardom days when she did shoots for calendar photos, etc.

Image Credit: Teichnor Bros., Boston, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

While working for a California munitions factory during World War Two, Marilyn was ‘discovered’ by a photographer who helped her to become a successful model.

First steps in Hollywood

This appears to have been one of Marilyn Monroe’s first jobs in the film industry. 11 June 1947

Image Credit: Photo by Dave Cicero-International News Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Her first role with 20th Century Fox was an uncredited part in the 1947 movie The Shocking Miss Pilgrim. Her true breakthrough was in the 1953 film-noir thriller Niagara. It was her first movie where she was given top billing, elevating her to stardom.

Marilyn in Korea

Marilyn Monroe with American troops in Korea, 1954

Image Credit: National Archives at College Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Marilyn visited South Korea a year after the end of the Korean War. She toured in multiple American military bases, performing for around 100,000 servicemen. The performances helped her to overcome her own stage fright.

Blonde bombshell

Marilyn Monroe photographed by Ed Feingersh, 1955

Image Credit: Ed Feingersh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Marilyn Monroe’s famous photo session with photographer Ed Feingersh highlights her image as a ‘love goddess’ and a ‘sexual icon’. Her breathy sultry voice, which became one of her trademarks, was suggested by her speech therapist to overcome a stutter.

Global superstar

Monroe in a publicity shot for ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ (left) / publicity photo for ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ (right)

Image Credit: Dell Publications, Inc., New York, publisher of Modern Screen, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (left) / Sam Shaw, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (right)

Monroe’s fame kept on rising with a succession of commercial Hollywood hits like 1953’s How to Marry a Millionaire and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, as well as 1954’s There’s No Business Like Show Business.

Her second marriage

Monroe and Joe DiMaggio after getting married at San Francisco City Hall in January 1954

Image Credit: Macfadden Publications New York, publisher of Radio-TV Mirror, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In January 1954, Monroe married her second husband, the American baseball player Joe DiMaggio. From the outside, it seemed like a quintessential all-American love affair, with enormous press attention given to both of them.


Marilyn Monroe with her attorney Jerry Giesler during her divorce from Joe DiMaggio

Image Credit: Los Angeles Times, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The couple divorced after 9 months of marriage following DiMaggio’s increasing jealousy turning into violent outbursts.

New career directions

Monroe at the Actors Studio in 1961 (left) / Monroe with Lemmon and Curtis in ‘Some Like It Hot’ (right) / Monroe on the set of ‘Something’s Got to Give’ (middle)

Image Credit: Macfadden Publications New York, publisher of Radio-TV Mirror, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (left) / Eureka Humboldt Standard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (middle) / Self made screen capture from a public domain film trailerLicencing information : CLEARANCE GUIDELINES for PRODUCERS /Trailers. Archived from the original on 20151106., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (right)

After growing increasingly discontented with her acting career, Marilyn Monroe began studying with Lee Strasberg at the Actors’ Studio in New York City. The Seven Year Itch in 1955 and Bus Stop in 1958 displayed her emerging talents as a comedian, proving that she was more than a beauty icon. Her performance in the 1959 movie Some Like It Hot is considered to be one of her finest, gaining widespread critical acclaim and a Golden Globe Award.

Final marriage

Photo of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller at the April in Paris Ball held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria in 1957 / Miller and Marilyn Monroe tie the knot in Westchester County, New York, 1956 (left)

Image Credit: Photo by Associated Press Published in the Kingsport Times-News, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (left) / Macfadden Publications New York, publisher of Radio-TV Mirror, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (right)

Her third and final marriage was to the Hollywood playwright Arthur Miller, whom she met in 1951. Following her wedding in 1956, she converted to Judaism and started reading Judaic texts with her husband’s family rabbi Robert. E. Goldburg. The couple split in 1961.

Her final movie

Photo of Marilyn Monroe in ‘the Misfits’ from the May 1961 issue of TV-Radio Mirror

Image Credit: Macfadden Publications New York, publisher of Radio-TV Mirror, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Her last theatrical release was the drama The Misfits, released in 1961 and a departure from her previous more comedic work. Marilyn Monroe suffered from emotional exhaustion following the filming of the movie and was omitted to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in New York.

Alleged relationship with President John F. Kennedy

Monroe with U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy at the birthday celebration

Image Credit: Cecil W. Stoughton, official White House photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1962 Marilyn Monroe famously sang a sultry version of ‘Happy Birthday’ to President John F. Kennedy, to which he jokingly replied, “I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way”. The dress she wore that night was sold in 2016 for 4.8 million dollars.

Final year

Marilyn Monroe with Mexican actress Columba Domínguez, and Mexican film director Emilio Fernández during her visit to Mexico in 1962

Image Credit: Associated Press, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

One of Marilyn Monroe’s last trips before her death was to Mexico in 1962. She met screenwriter and cinematographer José Bolaños, who allegedly was one of the last people she spoke to prior to her overdose.

The death of Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe’s Crypt with a fresh red rose at Westwood Memorial Park. 2 March 2012 (left) / Front page of the New York Mirror on 06 August 1962 (right)

Image Credit: Sehenswerk, (left) / New York Daily Mirror, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (right)

On 5 August 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead of an overdose of barbiturates, in her home in Brentwood, California. Reportedly she was seeking the help of psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenson right before her death, talking to him over the phone for an hour. She was only 36 years old at the time of her passing. Her funeral was organised by her second husband Joe DiMaggio on 8 August 1962 at the Westwood Memorial Park.

Marilyn’s legacy

The Shot Sage Blue Marilyn by Andy Warhol, 29 April 2022. Following her death she became the inspiration for countless of books, movies and works of art

Image Credit: UPI / Alamy Stock Photo

Monroe has been immortalised in the public consciousness following her death, making her one of the most recognisable people in history. Potentially the most iconic works of art that she inspired are the series of paintings done by Andy Warhol. In 2022, his ‘Shot Sage Blue Marilyn’ became the most expensive painting ever sold.

Teet Ottin