I'm Shirley Griffith.
And I'm Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program PEOPLE IN AMERICA. Today we tell about movie star Marilyn Monroe. She died many
years ago, yet still is one of the best known American women.
Her name at birth was Norma Jean Baker. Her life as a
child was like a bad dream. She lived with a number of different people, and
often was mistreated.
At age sixteen Norma Jean married a sailor. But she soon
ended that marriage. She changed her hair color from brown to shining gold. And
she changed her name to Marilyn Monroe.
She wanted to be an actress. And she succeeded. She
appeared in a number of Hollywood movies. Millions of people went to see them.
By the time Norma Jean had reached the age of twenty-six, her beautiful face
and body earned her a place as one of America's leading movie stars.
But success and fame were not enough to make her happy.
The troubles of her childhood days stayed with her. She drank too much alcohol.
She took too many drugs.
At the age of thirty-six, she took her own life.
She has been dead since nineteen sixty-two. Still, her
fame continues to grow.
People born long after she died are watching her movies
on television. Objects that belonged to her bring huge prices at public sales.
People continue to talk about what they feel is her
strange death. Some people believe she was murdered. Two investigations showed
that she died as the result of too many drugs.
Why is the public still so interested in a woman who died
so many years ago? A number of reasons. Her exciting but tragic life. Her
connections with well-known people. And her image as an especially desirable
In the nineteen fifties, many Americans believed sex was
a very private subject. People often severely judged those who were sexually
Into this atmosphere burst Marilyn Monroe. As one critic
said, her body was round in all the right places. She wore her clothes like
skin. When she walked, she moved her lower body in a way that few other
actresses had done. Her voice was soft and breathy. She soon became America's
The story of Marilyn Monroe begins on June first, nineteen
twenty-six. Norma Jean was born that day in the West Coast city of Los Angeles,
California. Her birthplace was not far from the Hollywood movie studios where
she would someday be a star.
Her mother, Gladys Baker, suffered from mental problems.
Often the mother had to be treated in a hospital for long periods of time. Her
daughter was sent to live with a number of different people.
The actress later would describe her stays with these
foster families as sometimes very unhappy. During the worst experiences, she
would go to a movie theater. There the young Norma Jean escaped into the
make-believe world of movies.
By the time she was seventeen, Marilyn was trying very
hard to be a movie actress. She finally was able to get an actors' agent to
help her. He got Twentieth Century Fox Company to give Marilyn parts in some
movies it produced.
Marilyn may have worked more to improve her appearance
than to improve her performance in acting classes. Some people at Twentieth
Century Fox said she did not like to work at all. She appeared in only one
movie. And she had only one line to speak in that. The Fox movie company
Soon, however, her agent got her a job at Columbia
Pictures. She appeared in a movie called "Ladies of the Chorus." She
sang two songs. Several critics praised her performance. But Columbia dismissed
Marilyn did not stop struggling. She next won a small
part in a movie called "Love Happy." It was a comedy starring the
famous Marx Brothers. Critics said it was not one of their better efforts.
Marilyn, though, earned praise for simply taking a short walk in the movie.
The movie called for her to say, "Some men are
following me." Groucho Marx answered that he did not understand why. As he
said that, he watched Marilyn walk her famous walk. His eyes opened very wide.
That short scene in the movie made many people in
Hollywood talk about Marilyn Monroe.
Marilyn got her first major chance when director John
Huston invited her to act in a movie called "The Asphalt Jungle."
Huston said her performance as a criminal's girlfriend
was good. It gained Marilyn her dream of a long-term agreement with Twentieth
Century Fox, the company that had dismissed her earlier. Now its officials gave
her a part in "All About Eve." The movie, released in nineteen fifty,
was about a movie star. She played a golden-haired woman who did not have much
intelligence -- "a dumb blonde."
In nineteen fifty-two, Marilyn again appeared as a dumb
blonde in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." This performance at last won
her widespread fame.
Huge successes now followed. Between nineteen fifty-three
and nineteen fifty-nine she appeared in lead parts in many popular movies:
"How To Marry a Millionaire." "The Seven Year Itch."
"Bus Stop." "Some Like it Hot."
Her part in "Some Like it Hot" showed that she
was very good at making people laugh.
Marilyn's picture appeared on the front cover of many
magazines and the front pages of many newspapers. She began to earn more money.
Life should have been good. But Marilyn was not happy.
She was being asked to repeat her part as a dumb blonde in movie after movie.
She wanted to be accepted as a good actress. She went to
the Actors' Studio school in New York City with many serious actors. She
thought she could change the way people thought of her.
MARILYN MONROE: “What I’d like to do, that is, what I
would like to accomplish, I would like to be a good actress. And it’s not a
matter of being on top because I think some of the best actors and actresses
perhaps aren’t on the top. So that’s not the thing. I’m terribly grateful for
everything that’s happened because I remember when things weren’t like this at
all. But you do miss sometimes just being able to be completely yourself and
some place and people just know you as another human being.”
But she did not succeed. People thought of Marilyn Monroe
as "that blonde bombshell." Few people thought of her as a serious
She also failed in her attempts at marriage. She admitted
that she got married the first time only to escape from being forced to live in
a group home for children without parents. In nineteen fifty-four she married
husband was the famous New York Yankee baseball player,
Joe Di Maggio. They were together for only a few months.
Later, she tried again. She married Arthur Miller, a
famous writer of plays. That marriage ended unhappily in nineteen sixty-one,
after five years.
Marilyn returned to Hollywood. But things were different
now. Friends said she was drinking too much alcohol. They said she was taking
too many drugs.
She seemed to always be in trouble with the movie
company. She had gained too much weight. Or, she had not learned what she was
to say in the movie. Or she had arrived late for the filming.
By nineteen sixty-two, Marilyn's problems were
threatening her work in the movies. She was to appear in the Twentieth Century
Fox movie called "Something's Got to Give.”
She lost weight for her part. She tried to arrive on time
for the filming. She reportedly knew her part. However, she became sick several
times and missed work. Fox company officials dismissed her.
On August fourth, nineteen sixty-two, Marilyn Monroe died
alone in her home. She was thirty-six years old. Reports said taking too many
drugs killed her. But people who knew her said failed marriages, and the
failure of her latest movie also led to her death.
Many people said Marilyn Monroe never escaped her past.
She continued to suffer from the early, sad life of a little girl named Norma
This Special English program was written by Jeri Watson
and directed by Marilyn Christiano. I'm Steve Ember.
And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for
another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.