On this date in 1926, Norma Jeane Mortenson (later baptized Norma Jeane Baker, and who would later become immortalized as Marilyn Monroe) was born in Los Angeles. Monroe never knew her father, and her mother, Gladys, practiced Christian Science and was institutionalized for psychiatric problems. Her grandmother, Della Monroe, had young Monroe baptized in the Foursquare Gospel Church. Monroe spent time in various foster care and orphanages, some of which were religious, but, from 1937 to 1942, was mostly raised by the Goddards, family friends. When the Goddard family left Los Angeles, they did not take Monroe with them. Faced with a return to foster care, 16-year-old Monroe married her boyfriend, Jimmy Dougherty. He was sent to the South Pacific, and Monroe began working as a model. After Dougherty returned in 1946, the couple divorced over disagreements about Monroe's career. That year, the 20-year-old signed her first film contract and started performing under the name “Marilyn Monroe.” Her first critical and popular exposure occurred in 1950, for her roles in "The Asphalt Jungle" and "All About Eve." Her breakout starring role was in "Niagara" (1953), and that same year she starred in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "How to Marry a Millionaire." Also in 1953, Monroe was the cover and centerfold for the first issue of Playboy Magazine. In January 1954, Monroe married baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, whom she had been dating for two years. They divorced later that same year, after a fight on the set of "The Seven-Year Itch." In 1955, Monroe studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York City. At that time she began dating Arthur Miller, whom she married in 1956. Monroe starred in the dramatic comedy, "Bus Stop" (1956). In 1959, she received a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy for her role in "Some Like It Hot." Monroe's last completed film, "The Misfits," was written for her by Miller. The couple split soon after filming finished in 1961. Monroe was fired from the film "Something's Got to Give" (1962), and on August 5 of that year was found dead of a sleeping pill overdose. The death was ruled a probable suicide.
On a call-in panel commemorating Monroe's death, her friend Jeanne Carmen said of Monroe, “I don't think she had a religion. We never talked religion.” Another panelist on that show, one of Monroe's lovers, James Bacon, confirmed that, to his knowledge, Monroe did not attend church (CNN, Aug. 5, 2003). When she married Arthur Miller, Monroe converted to Judaism and the two were married with both a civil and religious ceremony. The rabbi who converted her said, “She was impressed with the rationalism of Judaism — its ethical and prophetic ideals and its concept of close family life” (quoted in The Philadelphia Examiner, March 6, 2010). She reportedly renounced her “lack of faith,” rather than any former faith, in the conversion ceremony. Monroe was also involved with psychoanalysis, a method with a nonreligious outlook, throughout her career. D. 1962.
“Jane tried to convert me [to religion] and I tried to introduce her to Freud.”
—Marilyn Monroe, on starring with Jane Russell in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," in Russell's obituary in Reuters, March 1, 2011
Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski
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