Story by Jack Foley
THINK of some of the female icons of film and the name Marilyn Monroe is sure to be near the top of most lists. Along with the likes of Hepburn (click here for related story), Hayworth, Leigh and Kelly, Monroe is one of cinema's greats; and her memory is enduring, even today.
Timeless Beauty, an appropriately-named exhibition at Gallery 27, in Cork Street, W1, showcases 80 prints of Monroe by seven photographers, including nudes from Tom Kelley's 1949 Red Velvet shoot that later appeared in the debut issue of Playboy, Milton Greene's glamorous portraits, Bert Stern's images taken six weeks before her death, and George Barris's final photos taken on a windswept beach, showing the actress seemingly happier than ever before.
It is a must-visit for any fan of the star, and one which looks guaranteed to widen her appeal to a new set of fans, giving them a greater insight into a woman who shone so brightly, yet died so young.
Timeless Beauty, Tue 12-Sat 16 Feb, Gallery 27, 27 Cork Street, W1 (020-7734 7595).
Monroe fact-file: Also known as Norma Jeane Baker, Monroe was born
on June 1, 1926, as Norma Jeane Mortenson in Los Angeles, California.
She spent most of her childhood in foster homes and orphanages until 1937, when she moved in with family friend Grace McKee Goddard. Unfortunately, when Grace's husband was transferred to the East Coast in 1942 the couple could not afford to take the 16-year-old with them and she was faced with a choice between returning to an orphanage or getting married.
She chose the latter and, on June 19, 1942, wed her 21-year-old neighbour, Jimmy Dougherty, whom she had only been dating for six months. By all account, they were happy together until he joined the Merchant Marines and was sent to the South Pacific in 1944.
Norma Jeane then took a job on the assembly line at the Radio Plane Munitions factory in Burbank, California, and was spotted, several months later, by photographer David Conover, who saw her while taking pictures of women contributing to the war effort for Yank magazine.
Describing her as a 'photographer's dream', Conover used her for the shoot and then began sending modeling jobs her way. Within two years she had many popular magazine covers to her credit and began studying the work of legendary actresses Jean Harlow and Lana Turner, enrolling in drama classes.
When her husband, Jimmy, returned in 1946 and asked her to choose between marriage and stardom, she divorced him in 1946 and signed her first studio contract with Twentieth Century Fox on August 26 of the same year, earning $125 a week. Soon after, Norma Jeane dyed her hair blonde and changed her name to Marilyn Monroe (borrowing her grandmother's last name). The rest, as they say, is history.
Monroe's first movie was a bit part in 1947's The Shocking Miss Pilgrim and she would play a series of inconsequential characters until 1950, when John Huston's thriller, The Asphalt Jungle, provided her with a small but influential role.
Later that year, Monroe's performance as Claudia Caswell in All About Eve (starring Bette Davis) gave her the break she needed and from then on, she worked steadily in movies such as Let's Make It Legal, As Young As You Feel, Monkey Business and Don't Bother to Knock.
It was her performance in 1953's Niagara, however, that delivered her to stardom. Marilyn played Rose Loomis, a beautiful young wife who plots to kill her older, jealous husband (Joseph Cotten). Marilyn's success in the role helped her to secure lead roles in some of the most popular films of the era, including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (with Jane Russell) and How to Marry a Millionaire (co-starring Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable).
On January 14, 1954, Marilyn married baseball superstar Joe DiMaggio at San Francisco's City Hall and, during their Tokyo honeymoon, the blonde bomb-shell took time out to perform for the servicemen stationed in Korea. Her presence caused a near-riot among the troops.
Unfortunately, her fame and sexual image became a theme that haunted their marriage and nine months later - on October 27, 1954 - the couple divorced.
Determined to be taken more seriously than just a blonde beauty, Marilyn started her own motion picture company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, two years later and the company produced Bus Stop and The Prince and the Showgirl (co-starring Sir Laurence Olivier). For 1959's Some Like It Hot, she won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy.
On June 29, 1956, Marilyn wed playwright Arthur Miller, who wrote the part of Roslyn Taber in 1961's The Misfits especially for her. The movie co-starred Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift. Unfortunately, the marriage between Marilyn and Arthur ended on January 20, 1961, and The Misfits was to be Marilyn's (and Gable's) last completed film.
At the 1962 Golden Globes, Marilyn was named female World Film Favorite, once again demonstrating her widespread appeal.
But in a shocking turn of events on the early morning of August 5, 1962, 36-year-old Marilyn died in her sleep at her Brentwood, California home, an event which stunned the world. On August 8, 1962, Marilyn's body was laid to rest in the Corridor of Memories, #24, at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California.
During her career, Marilyn made 30 films and left one, Something's Got to Give, unfinished.