It’s hard to imagine a star whose life has been examined more relentlessly than that of Marilyn Monroe. Monroe has had every detail of her life — her Dickensian childhood, her brief but unforgettable movie career, her liaisons with famous men, her mysterious death 50 years ago this week (on August 5, 1962) — picked over by biographers and novelists, reporters and FBI agents, filmmakers and fans. And yet there is still plenty about Monroe that isn’t common knowledge. Here are some details that even dedicated Monroephiles may not know, facts that only add to our continuing fascination with pop culture’s most durable sex symbol.
1. Monroe’s first marriage, to neighbor James Dougherty when she was 16, took place as a means of keeping her from being sent back to a state-run orphanage after one of her many foster families could no longer care for her.
2. In an early modeling gig, at an agricultural festival in Castroville, California, Monroe was named the state’s first-ever Artichoke Queen.
3. Even though Monroe got into movies through modeling — and would eventually become the most lasting visual sex symbol in movie history — her first film role featured only her velvety voice. She played a telephone operator in 1947’s “The Shocking Miss Pilgrim” and was never shown on camera.
4. As a struggling young actress, Monroe roomed with another rising starlet, future Oscar-winner Shelley Winters, who claimed to have taught Monroe the sultry, mouth-half-open smile that became her signature.
5. In 1951, a poll of servicemen voted her the Present All GIs Would Like to Find in Their Christmas Stocking. Soldiers stationed in the Aleutian Islands voted her the Girl Most Likely to Thaw Alaska.
6. Monroe arrived two hours late to her first date with Joe DiMaggio, but she charmed him into forgiving her when she told him, “There’s a blue polka dot exactly in the middle of your tie knot. Did it take you long to fix it like that?”
7. Monroe was well-read. In her spare time, she used to take literature classes at UCLA.
8. “Niagara” is the only movie Monroe made in which her character dies.
9. Monroe notoriously became Playboy magazine’s first monthly Playmate in 1953 after the magazine published a nude calendar photo she had posed for six years earlier, for which she had been paid just $ 50. (Hugh Hefner had paid the photographer $ 500 for the rights.) Back then, the magazine called its centerfold “Sweetheart of the Month.”
10. Monroe did her part for civil rights by integrating Hollywood’s Mocambo club. The celebrated nightspot didn’t hire black performers until Monroe persuaded the owner to book Ella Fitzgerald for a week, promising in return to sit in the front row (and draw paparazzi to the club) for each night of the singer’s run. Monroe kept her word, and Fitzgerald never had to play smaller clubs again.
11. The famous subway grate/billowing skirt scene from “The Seven Year Itch” began with a late-summer 1954 shoot on Manhattan’s Lexington Avenue that drew a mob of noisy onlookers even though the cameras didn’t roll until 1 a.m. One of those onlookers was a disgusted Joe DiMaggio, and after the wee-hours argument that ensued between him and Monroe, she rushed back to California and soon filed for a divorce to end their nine-month marriage. Yet the New York event never even ended up in the finished film. It was largely a publicity stunt meant to tease the film (which wouldn’t hit theaters for another nine months). The scene shown in the finished film was shot on a Hollywood soundstage designed to look like a Manhattan streetscape.
12. Sculptor Seward Johnson’s enormous painted statue of Monroe’s iconic pose in that scene, which became a Windy City tourist attraction last year, is called “Forever Marilyn.” It is 26 feet tall and is made of 34,000 pounds of stainless steel and aluminum. In May 2012, it was transported (at a cost of $ 40,000) from Chicago to Palm Springs, California, where it will remain on display outdoors until next June.
13. The pleated dress Monroe wore in the scene wound up in the celebrated collection of movie memorabilia accumulated by Debbie Reynolds. Last year, the veteran movie actress auctioned off the famous costume for $ 5.6 million.
14. The woman born Norma Jeane Mortensen was acutely aware of what a Hollywood creation “Marilyn Monroe” was, and of the differences between her private self and the woman she played onscreen and in public. Author pal Truman Capote once wrote that, after a lunch together, she went to the powder room and stayed so long that he went in to find her. When he discovered her in front of the mirror and asked what she’d been doing, she replied, “Looking at Her.”
15. The headline in Variety when highbrow playwright Arthur Miller married Monroe in 1956 read, “EGGHEAD WEDS HOURGLASS.”
16. For decades, Tony Curtis denied the remark attributed to him that smooching “Some Like It Hot” co-star Monroe was like “kissing Hitler.” In his 2008 memoir, he finally admitted uttering the insult but said he had meant it as a joke.
17. Capote wanted her to star as party girl Holly Golightly in the 1961 adaptation of his novel “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Of course, the role became a signature part for Audrey Hepburn instead.
18. After she died, Monroe reportedly inspired not just one but two characters in Arthur Miller’s plays. The damaged Maggie in 1964’s “After the Fall” is believed to be based on Monroe. Forty years later, in his final play, “Finishing the Picture,” Miller presents a thinly veiled account of the notoriously troubled production of “The Misfits,” whose screenplay he had written for her while they were married.
19. Celebrated punk band The Misfits took its name from the title of Monroe’s last movie. Frontman Glenn Danzig recorded a song called “Who Killed Marilyn?”, inspired by his belief in the conspiracy theories surrounding her death.
20. In the last years of her life, Monroe was seeing a psychoanalyst daily.
21. In an interview she gave in the weeks before her death, she suggested to Life magazine that she was tired of fame. Of her notoriety, she said, “It might be kind of a relief to be finished.”
22. At their 1954 wedding (according to biographer Donald Spoto), Monroe asked DiMaggio whether, should she die first, he would decorate her grave with fresh flowers every week, as William Powell had done for proto-platinum blonde bombshell Jean Harlow after her tragically early demise. DiMaggio said he would, and even though he had been long divorced from Monroe when she died in 1962, he made good on the promise for the next 20 years.
23. “On the basis of my own involvement in the case, beginning with the autopsy, I would call Monroe’s suicide ‘very probable,'” wrote Thomas Noguchi, the coroner who investigated Monroe’s death, in his 1983 memoir. “But I also believe that until the complete FBI files are made public and the notes and interviews of the suicide panel released, controversy will continue to swirl around her death.”
24. Last year, Monroe came in third (behind Michael Jackson and Elvis) on Forbes’ annual list of Top-Earning Dead Celebrities. According to Forbes, she earned $ 27 million last year. Authentic Brands Group, which owns her likeness rights, is reportedly planning to license a chain of Monroe-themed cafes.
25. Death hasn’t stopped Marilyn Monroe from being a presence on social media. Her Facebook page claims 3.3 million friends. On Twitter, besides a promotional account, @marilynmonroe, with announcements of estate-sanctioned Monroe products and events, there’s the unauthorized @TheMsMonroe, whose author tweets what Marilyn might have tweeted, had Twitter existed in 1962.