One of the most memorable and adored screen stars of her era Marilyn had inauspicious early beginnings and reinvented herself almost entirely in her short life
The question really is: who was Norma Jeane Mortenson (Marilyn’s birth name)? This notable woman was to use a variety of names throughout her short life and went through three turbulent marriages in the space of 19 years. She died at the tender age of 36 officially from Barbiturate overdose – recorded as a probable suicide. Over the decades many stories have circulated about her death including suggestions of possible mafia involvement and murder – although none of these theories has ever been proved conclusively.
A new documentary – Autopsy – has accused her personal physician Dr Hyman Engelberg, of prescribing a lethal cocktail of sleeping pills. It has also revealed significant evidence about Dr Engelberg, who has since died, showing that he lied, under oath, about the drugs that he had instructed her to take, during the 1982 investigation into her death. Whatever the truth it was a tragic and early end for the legendary actress.
Marilyn had a troubled start in life living her early years in a series of foster homes being pushed from pillar to post, eventually resulting in her youthful first marriage to a neighbour’s son and policeman James Dougherty. When Dougherty was away serving in the Merchant Marines Marilyn took up employment in the Radioplanes Munitions Factory and it was here that she got her first ‘lucky break’. The factory was owned by English actor Reginald Denny and during her time there author and documentary maker David Conover, of the U.S. Army Air Forces’ First Motion Picture Unit, was sent to the factory to take uplifting pictures of young women helping the war effort.
Although the pictures of Marilyn were not used his resulting efforts are sometimes credited with discovering this striking and wily woman. He encouraged her to contact the Blue Book Modelling Agency and she went on to become one of their most successful models. Her success brought her to the attention of Ben Lyon – a 20th Century Fox executive who was partially responsible for her eventual name change to the one we know her as today. Monroe was her mother’s maiden name and after toying with several different first names they settled on Marilyn as an alliterative lucky charm – with Lyon telling Marilyn that she reminded him of Broadway musical star Marilyn Miller, with whom he had once acted as a love interest in the film Her Majesty Love.