1. Monroe’s birth certificate from 1926 list her birth name Norma Jeane Mortenson. Mortenson is a misspelling of her mother’s second husband, Martin Mortensen.
2. Monroe’s mother, Gladys Baker, was a film cutter for a Hollywood film lab. Thinking she was incapable of raising the child herself, she left Marilyn with various foster families and at one point the Los Angeles Orphan’s home as a ward of the state.
3. In her memoir My Sister Marilyn, Monroe claimed she had been sexually abused while in foster care. One of the abusers was the son of a great-aunt she lived with for a while. Another was the husband of Grace McKee, one of her mother’s friends.
4. In 1942 when Marilyn was 16, Grace and her husband moved to West Virginia. Rather than let Marilyn become a ward of the state again, the couple arranged for her to marry a 21-year-old neighbour, James Doughterty.
5. During WWII while James was serving as a marine, Marilyn worked in the Radioplane factory in Van Nuys. She inspected parachutes and coated airplane parts with fire-retardant spray.
6. The story of Marilyn’s discovery has her walking down Sunset Boulevard in the summer of 1944. The 18-year-old was spotted by photographer Bruno Bernard who offered to take some test shots. From this chance encounter she went on to work in pin-up for a couple years before signing her first movie contract.
7. Ronald Reagan is to thank for getting Monroe into show business. In June 1945 he was a captain in the Army’s 1st Motion Picture Unit, doing publicity and propaganda work. He ordered photographer David Conover to visit the Radioplane factory to shoot pictures of pretty girls contributing to the war effort. Conover was struck by the beauty of 19-year-old Norma Jean. She told him that she wanted to become an actress someday and he offered to take portfolio shots for her. He spent two weeks teaching her how to pose and eventually encouraged her to sign with Blue Book Modeling Agency, who asked her to dye her naturally brown hair blonde.
8. Somewhere between this photoshoot and her divorce Norma started calling herself Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn comes from the 1920s performer Marilyn Miller and Monroe was her mother’s maiden name. A 20th Century Fox talent scout, Ben Lyon, is attributed to the stage name having suggested the “MM” initials would be good luck. These would become her legal initials as well after marrying playwright Arthur Miller.
9. Marilyn filed for divorce from her first husband James in 1946 while he was still oversees. It’s said her reason for the divorce is that Fox wouldn’t sign her unless she was single. Years later Doughterty would claim in a magazine interview that she once threatened to kill herself by jumping off the Santa Monica Pier if he left her; she claims she threatened it because she was bored.
10. Monroe had two subsequent marriages: 9 months with Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio and 5 years with playwright Arthur Miller.
11. Monroe’s white dress from The Seven Year Itch was not her only famous costume. Her jeans from The River Of No Return sold at auction for $37,000. They were bought by Tommy Hilfiger who gave them as a gift to Britney Spears. The Jean Louis gown she wore while singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” for JFK’s birthday later sold for $1.3 million.
12. Monroe was infamous for being chronically late to set and struggling with her lines. These were caused by her crippling insecurity that no one would take her seriously as an actress. Despite using cue cards placed all over the set it would take dozens for takes to get her to deliver the lines as written. But when daily rushes were screened, directors claimed “something magical happened.”