Marilyn Monroe was a symbol of sex and beauty, but she was so much more than that. She had plenty of private struggles. And when she died at the age of just 36, many questions were left unanswered. The iconic blonde bombshell kept numerous secrets, and here are some of the most dramatic ones.
40. Two men claimed they were her father
Marilyn Monroe never knew for certain who her father was. Her mother said it was a man called Charles Stanley Gifford. Monroe tried to contact Gifford as she grew up, but was always turned away. Yet it wasn’t Gifford’s name on Monroe’s birth certificate – it was instead that of Martin Edward Mortensen, who married her mother. Both of them claimed paternity eventually, but nobody knows the truth, even now.
39. She referred to “Marilyn Monroe” as a different person
According to people who knew her, the woman born Norma Jeane Mortenson considered “Marilyn Monroe” as an alternate personality, referred to in the third person. One legend goes, the star was walking unnoticed through New York with a friend when she said, “Do you want me to be her?” She opened her coat and started sashaying, and was immediately surrounded by photographers.
38. She loved reading
Though Monroe often played the ditzy blonde, she was anything but. She loved to read, and the shelves of her California home had over 400 books. Her interests were diverse, everything from classics to gardening manuals, and several first editions. Monroe was reading both Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Leo Rosten’s Captain Newman MD just before she died.
37. She did a photoshoot in a potato sack
One story goes that a critic once slammed Monroe, and declared that she would look better in a potato sack than a low-cut dress. Wile another claims that a person told Monroe or her producers that she would look beautiful even in a potato sack. Whatever version is true, she actually did do a photoshoot dressed in the makeshift garment.
36. She used a lot of names
Norma Jeane didn’t officially change her name to Marilyn Monroe until 1956. Before that she’d used the names “Jean Norman” and “Mona Monroe” for her modelling work, and suggested “Jean Adair” for a screen name. A psychiatric clinic admitted her under the moniker “Faye Miller.” And when she needed to go to a hotel incognito, she used the magnificent “Zelda Zonk.”
35. She wanted to be an actress right from childhood
Monroe’s childhood, often spent in foster homes, was a rough one. In 1962 she told Life magazine, “When I was five I think, that’s when I started wanting to be an actress… I didn’t like the world around me because it was kind of grim, but I loved to play house… When I heard that this was acting, I said that’s what I want to be.”
34. She had plastic surgery
Even someone as naturally beautiful as Monroe couldn’t resist the lure of plastic surgery. In 1950 she had two, a tip rhinoplasty and a chin implant, paid for by her agent Johnny Hyde. Many years later, in 2013, her doctor’s notes about this and her X-rays were put up for auction, disappointing those fans who thought she’d never gone under the knife.
33. She was rumored to have had affairs with women
Monroe was married three times, but rumors spread about her and her drama teacher Natasha Lytess, especially when Lytess moved in with her. However, in 1954 Monroe wrote in her autobiography, My Story “A man who had kissed me once had said it was very possible that I was a lesbian because apparently I had no response to males… Now, having fallen in love, I knew what I was. It wasn’t a lesbian.”
32. Her mother had a mental breakdown
Monroe’s mother Gladys was a fragile woman, and her life was extremely hard. She had two children with her first husband, but after they divorced he took them away from her. Then, in 1933, tragedy struck. Gladys’ son Robert (Monroe’s half-brother whom she never knew) died of an infection, mere months after Gladys’s grandfather Tilford Hogan took his own life. The double-whammy of grief was simply too much for her.
31. She married as a teenager
Marilyn’s second and third husbands were famous men – Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. But her first husband was a normal 21-year-old, James Dougherty, whom she married in 1942 at the age of 16 in order to avoid being sent back to an orphanage. Monroe didn’t enjoy being tied down, and she divorced him just four years after they wed.
30. People found her difficult to work with
In 2012, Monroe’s The Prince and the Showgirl co-star Jean Kent told the Daily Mail that Monroe was an unpopular “grubby, dishevelled little thing” who “never arrived on time, never said a line the same way twice, seemed completely unable to hit her marks on the set.” And Tony Curtis famously claimed that kissing Monroe was like “kissing Hitler” although he later said he was joking.
29. Her wedding was ruined by the paparazzi
In 1954 Monroe married baseball player Joe DiMaggio. It was the wedding of the year – it couldn’t fail to be. But Monroe didn’t want the attention at all. She had attempted to keep her relationship with DiMaggio quiet, as well as the marriage ceremony. But someone at her studio leaked the wedding plans, and fans and photographers descended upon the newlyweds.
28. She strove to be a good cook
Monroe started out as a disaster in the kitchen. One story goes, a friend asked her to wash some lettuce for dinner and found her scrubbing at it with a Brillo pad. However, as she got older she learned more and more, and even created her own recipes. In 2010 The New York Times tried her Thanksgiving stuffing recipe and said that the actress “cooked confidently and with flair.”
27. Nude photos of her circulated
Before Monroe was famous, she agreed to pose nude for $50, as she badly needed the money. In later years she hoped desperately that they wouldn’t leak, but they did. The 20th Century Fox studio tried to deny it was Monroe in the photos, but then the actress took the bold step of announcing that yes, she had posed naked, and she wasn’t ashamed.
26. Joe DiMaggio was angry about an iconic scene
The most famous image of Monroe is that of her standing over a grate while her skirt blows up in the 1955 movieThe Seven Year Itch. But when that scene filmed, Monroe’s then-husband DiMaggio took issue with it. He didn’t want other people looking at his wife that way, and allegedly he was so angry he got physical with her. Shortly afterwards, Monroe divorced him.
25. Her notebooks contain insights into her personality
Monroe’s notebook entries were uncovered in 2010, and they showed the world the depths of despair she often felt. One entry reads, “I can’t really stand human beings sometimes – I know they all have their problems as I have mine – but I’m really too tired for it. Trying to understand, making allowances, seeing certain things that just weary me.”
24. She may or may not have had an affair with John F. Kennedy
For years people speculated that Monroe had an affair with President Kennedy. Her performance at his birthday celebration in 1962 was enough proof for some. However, there’s no actual evidence that the two had a sexual relationship. People who knew Monroe have said it’s possible that they slept together once, but if so, the actress never talked about it.
23. Her corpse was covertly photographed
After Monroe died, there was a flurry of press interest and some of it was downright ghoulish. According to his own son Devik, famous photograph Leigh Wiener bribed morgue officials to gain access to Monroe’s body in order to take photographs. Weiner died in 1993 and most of these secret photos have, thankfully, never been found.
22. She liked intellectual men
After divorcing from Joe DiMaggio, Monroe married playwright Arthur Miller, and which bewildered many people. They thought the blonde bombshell and the Pulitzer Prize winner couldn’t possibly have anything in common. However, Monroe was by all accounts attracted to intellectuals, and she also even kept a framed photograph of Albert Einstein.
21. She hated being in front of a camera
Monroe appeared on film all the time, often in skimpy outfits. And yet she hated it. In 2012 her Bus Stop co-star Don Murray told the Los Angeles Times, “For somebody who the camera loved, she was still terrified of going before the camera and broke out in a rash all over her body.”
20. Joe DiMaggio spied on her
After Monroe divorced DiMaggio, the wounded ex-husband did not take it well. He would turn up at her residence disguised with a fake beard and watch her from afar. He even reportedly hired a private investigator to inform him if Monroe started to see other men – which she did.
19. Some people think the Kennedys had her killed
Monroe was romantically linked to Bobby Kennedy as well as JFK. Some conspiracy theorists are convinced that Monroe was killed by the Kennedys to hide the affair. And a FBI file published in 2007 may lend credence to the theory, as it states that on the day she died Bobby Kennedy made a phone call “to find out if Marilyn was dead yet.”
18. She eventually met her half-sister
Tragically Monroe’s half-brother Robert died before she could meet him, but she did get to meet her half-sister Berniece. Berniece got a letter in 1938 from her mother Gladys, who she thought dead, and learned of Monroe’s existence. The pair remained friends for the rest of Monroe’s life: the star would send parcels of clothes for Berniece and her daughter Mona.
17. There was an open casket at her funeral
In 2012, actress Mitzi Gaynor recalled to the Los Angeles Times that Monroe wanted to look beautiful even in death. She said, “the paparazzi would at least see a pretty picture of her when they took her out on the gurney.” Monroe got this wish for her funeral ceremony. It was an open casket and she had a wig on, as her head had been shaved for the autopsy.
16. Arthur Miller was disappointed in her
The Miller-Monroe marriage didn’t last. One day Monroe came across a page written by Miller expressing disappointment about the relationship. Miller claimed it was for a play, but Monroe knew better. At the time she wrote in her diary, “I guess I have always been deeply terrified to really be someone’s wife since I know from life one cannot love another, ever.”
15. She was sewn into one of her most famous gowns
When Monroe sang “Happy Birthday” to John F. Kennedy, she wore a beautiful sequined dress. It was very tight on her – so tight she couldn’t wear anything under it – and indeed it technically didn’t fit her. She had to be sewn into it. However, the dress is considered so historically important that in 2016 it was sold for $4.8 million to Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
14. A stranger is buried on top of her
Even in death Monroe couldn’t escape being a sex symbol. In 1986 a man named Richard Poncher demanded that his body be placed in the crypt above Marilyn’s – and be put in upside down, as well. Although his widow once tried to sell the crypt, Poncher is still there to this day. Some people might well consider this an indignity as, of course, Monroe had no say in this.
13. She planned to remarry Joe DiMaggio before she died
In 2012 Monroe’s niece Mona did an interview with British newspaper The Mirror and let slip something interesting. She said, “I know she was planning on remarrying Joe. He was really the love of her life. They knew what they wanted out of life at that point and they could have made it work.” But of course, it was not to be.
12. Her mother was institutionalized
Gladys Baker was a paranoid schizophrenic, and mental health treatment was far from sophisticated back in 1934. That year, Gladys was institutionalized, and it wouldn’t be for the last time. When Monroe started to achieve fame, she was advised to tell the world that both her parents were dead. And Monroe herself would suffer mental health problems throughout her life.
11. She was monitored by the FBI
Monroe’s left-wing views – she was pro-civil rights and a member of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy – made the FBI suspicious of both her and Arthur Miller. They monitored her for a while to see if she was a Communist, eventually concluding that she was not. The original files on her are lost now, according to the FBI at least.
10. Arthur Miller didn’t go to her funeral
Monroe’s ex-husband Miller didn’t attend her funeral, but it wasn’t out of malice. On the day of it he began writing an essay in which he said, “Instead of jetting to the funeral to get my picture taken I decided to stay home and let the public mourners finish the mockery. Not that everyone there will be false, but enough. Most of them there destroyed her, ladies and gentlemen.”
9. Her niece thinks her death was accidental
The official cause of Monroe’s death is suicide. But her niece Mona isn’t so sure. In 2012 she told the Mirror, “I do not subscribe to any of these murder or suicide theories or her supposed affair with President Kennedy. None of it is true. It was an accident. She had so many appointments booked. The day after she died she was going to see producers and then a lawyer to change her will.”
8. She left a great deal of money to her psychoanalyst
Monroe left most of her fortune to her acting coach Lee Strasberg, plus plenty for her half-sister and for her mother’s care. But she also left 25 percent to her psychoanalyst Dr. Marianne Kris, even though the trust between them was broken when Kris sent Monroe to a mental health institution in 1961. Did she mean to? Or had she meant to change the will?
7. Hugh Hefner is buried next to her despite never meeting her
Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner bought the crypt next to Monroe’s in 1992, and was buried in it after his death in 2017. Many people thought this was disrespectful – aside from the fact that Hefner never actually met Monroe, he also printed her nude pictures in Playboy without telling or compensating her.
6. There’s a box of her files sealed until 2039
Some Monroe fans must eagerly await the year 2039, because that’s when a box of her private files is set to be opened. “Box 39” currently sits in a special section of the UCLA library, and some people think it might finally answer the question of whether she meant to take her own life or not.
5. Joe DiMaggio had roses delivered to her grave for years
DiMaggio never stopped loving Monroe, despite their turbulent relationship. He was devastated at her funeral, and for twenty years after her death he had roses delivered to her grave twice a week. And according to DiMaggio’s lawyer (though the story has been disputed by others) the last words of Monroe’s ex-husband were, “I’ll finally get to see Marilyn.”
4. She resented being a sex symbol
Some of Monroe’s best-known quotes sadly reflect on her status as a screen goddess. “Being a sex symbol is a heavy load to carry, especially when one is tired, hurt and bewildered,” is just one of many. Her 1957 diary entries talk of “tension, sadness, disappointment” and her own “dead eyes.” Combining that with her fear of the camera and general anxiety makes for a sad story.
3. She wanted to be a mother
According to those who knew her, Monroe’s biggest dream was to have a child, but she couldn’t. She had endometriosis, and that lead to several devastating miscarriages. In the 2018 documentary Marilyn Monroe For Sale her fellow actress Marion Collyer said, “All that Marilyn ever wanted in her life was to have a baby.”
2. The coroner wasn’t sure she committed suicide
In 2009, the coroner who performed Monroe’s autopsy spoke to British newspaper The Telegraph. Dr. Noguchi revealed that he performed toxicology tests, but not analyzed her internal organs. He admitted, “I am sure that this could have cleared up a lot of the subsequent controversy, but I didn’t follow through as I should have. I think that was a great shame.”
1. She wasn’t a natural blonde
Both during her life and after it, Marilyn Monroe was the quintessential blonde. But actually, that wasn’t her natural hair color at all. She started life as a brunette, dying her hair with peroxide when she started getting into the acting business. No matter her hair color, though, she was a beautiful woman.