Freethought of the Day

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There are 2 entries for this date: Marilyn Monroe and Morgan Freeman
Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe

On this date in 1926, Norma Jeane Mortenson (later baptized Norma Jeane Baker, who would 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 Monroe baptized in the Foursquare Gospel Church. She spent time in various foster care homes and orphanages, some of which were religious, but from 1937 to 1942, was mostly raised by family friends, the Goddards.

When the Goddards left Los Angeles, they didn't take Monroe, 16, with them. Faced with a return to foster care, she married her boyfriend Jimmy Dougherty. He was sent with the Merchant Marine to the South Pacific and Monroe started 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 using her stage name. 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 girl and centerfold for the first issue of Playboy magazine.

In January 1954 she 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." She then studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York and started dating playwright Arthur Miller, whom she married in 1956. Monroe starred in the dramatic comedy "Bus Stop" in 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 had  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 her death, her friend Jeanne Carmen said of Monroe, “I don't think she had a religion. We never talked religion.” Another panelist on the show, James Bacon — one of her purported lovers — confirmed that to his knowledge, Monroe did not attend church. (CNN, Aug. 5, 2003.) When she married Miller, Monroe converted to Judaism and the two were wed with both civil and religious ceremonies. 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.” (Philadelphia Examiner, March 6, 2010.) D. 1962.

Monroe in November 1953 in Modern Screen magazine.

“Jane tried to convert me [to religion] and I tried to introduce her to Freud.”

—Monroe, on starring with Jane Russell in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," from Russell's obituary (Reuters, March 1, 2011)

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski and Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman

On this date in 1937, actor Morgan Freeman was born in Memphis, Tenn. He got his start in drama at age 12 when, as a punishment for teasing a girl in class, he was forced to participate in a drama competition. He was a natural and continued to be involved in theater throughout middle school and high school. Although he loved acting and was very talented, he initially chose to enter the Air Force after school. But after a few years, he realized it wasn’t a good fit and began to pursue acting professionally, first in Los Angeles and then in New York City.

Freeman’s first big break as an actor came in 1967, when he was cast in an all-black Broadway production of “Hello, Dolly!” He continued to appear in theater productions throughout the 1960s and ’70s. He made his television debut in the children’s TV series, “The Electric Company.” It wasn’t until the late ’80s that Freeman began to appear regularly in hit movies, including “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989), “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994) and “Deep Impact” (1998). In 2005, Freeman won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Million Dollar Baby,” directed by Clint Eastwood. He teamed up with Eastwood again in 2009 to play Nelson Mandela in the movie “Invictus.” He has over 100 film credits to his name.

Freeman was married twice, to Jeanette Adair Bradshaw from 1967-79 and to Myrna Colley Lee from 1984-2010. He and Colley Lee adopted his step-granddaughter from his first marriage and raised her as their daughter.

Although he portrayed “God” in the 2003 comedy “Bruce Almighty,” he does not consider himself religious. The actor has been very open about the fact that he does not believe in a higher power: “Well here’s a scientific question: Has anybody ever seen hard evidence? What we get is theories from our earlier prophets. Now, people who think that God invented us think that the Earth can’t be more than 6,000 years old. So I guess it’s a question of belief. My belief system doesn’t support such a creator as such, as we can call God, who created us in His/Her/Its image.” (Interview, The Wrap, June 2012)

He hosted "The Story of God With Morgan Freeman" that aired on the National Geographic Channel from 2016-19 and explored various cultures and religions around the world. Along the way, he told the Hollywood Reporter (June 10, 2019), after long identifying as agnostic he discovered his religion: Zoroastrianism: “It is a belief system that is intrinsically me: ‘Good thoughts, good words, good deeds' pretty much sums it up.’ " 

CNN published an investigation in 2018 in which eight women accused Freeman of being "overly flirtatious" by "making inappropriate comments" while on the set of films or at his production company. He responded: "Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. I apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent." The Screen Actors Guild took no action against him, and further allegations haven't surfaced since then as of this writing in 2020.

Freeman in 1998 at the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor event; John Mathew Smith photo under CC 2.0.

“The highest power is the human mind."

PARADE: Do you believe in heaven and hell and in afterlife?
FREEMAN: I don’t think there is anything after life except life. Life and death are [a] continuum. You die in order to feed life. If there is an afterlife, it’s because life feeds on death. That is my desire — put me in something that will rot real quick and let me become worm food. Worms enrich the soil, and plant something nice, something that’s going to last — like an oak.

—Interview, The Daily Beast, (Jan. 28, 2014); SECOND QUOTE: Parade magazine (March 7, 2019)

Compiled by Dayna Long and Bill Dunn

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