Norma Jeane, named for films stars Norma Talmadge and Jean Harlow, is born on June 1, 1926. Her unwed mother, Gladys Pearl (Monroe) Mortenson, works at The Studio. Unable to take care of her child, Gladys leaves her daughter with her own mother, Della Monroe. Grandmother Della is an alcoholic and abuses drugs, but she takes care of Norma Jeane the best she can. Gladys becomes ill from handling toxic chemicals at work. Mentally unstable, she is hospitalized in 1934, when Norma Jeane is eight years old. Also in 1934, Grandmother Della dies, forcing Norma Jeane to enter an orphans’ home. In 1942, she is placed with foster parents Elsie and Warren Pirig in Los Angeles.
The Pirigs enroll Norma Jeane in Van Nuys High School, but she drops out of school during her sophomore year. When she is sixteen years old, she is encouraged by her foster parents to marry Bucky Glazer, a twenty-one-year-old high school graduate and local sports star. As World War II rages, Bucky joins the U.S. Merchant Marine and sets sail on The Liberty. Norma Jeane begins working at Radio Plane Aircraft.
In 1944, a U.S. military magazine photographer named Otto Öse takes photographs of Norma Jeane, marking the start of her career as a pinup model. Her photos are seen in Stars & Stripes, Pageant, and other publications. In 1945, she is named Miss Aluminum Products. She then establishes herself as a model and starts auditioning for film roles.
At the age of twenty-one, Norma Jeane gets her first part in a film. Early on, men take advantage of her beauty for profit. They even give her a new name—Marilyn Monroe. At about this time, Cass Chaplin, the son of actor-comedian Charles Chaplin, begins a romantic relationship with Monroe, also becoming her confidante. However, Cass is also the lover of Eddy G. The three are close-knit and begin calling themselves the Gemini. Monroe becomes pregnant but is not sure who the father is. She has an abortion rather than give up her career. Though Monroe leaves the “trio,” Cass remains her friend, and he even ghost writes letters to her, from her father, to make her happy.
Although Monroe has only minor roles initially, she steals scenes in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve in 1950. Her first lead roles were in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire, both released in...
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