Updated: Feb 16
By: Emma Enebak
Laura Loveday / Flickr.com
Norma Jeane Baker (future Marilyn Monroe,) was a strikingly beautiful, blue-eyed, brunette young girl born into the remnants of a broken home. Tossed around orphanages for the better part of her upbringing, Norma Jeane didn’t know much by the brink of her teenage years.
But, she did know that she was destined for stardom.
LIFE Magazine recounts a story of 11 year old Norma Jean measuring her hands and feet against the sidewalk imprints of great film stars who came before her – blue eyes sparkling with visions of the Hollywood screen.
But the legend’s big break, needless to say, did not come easy. Throughout her teen years she failed to feel cared for whatsoever, and would later say that it was almost 12 years before she had ever felt real love. Her troubled upbringing offered her little opportunity, and she was even forced to accept an arranged marriage at the young age of 16 just to keep herself afloat (Remembering Marilyn: LIFE Magazine)
It was at this age she was discovered by a military photographer looking for young “Rosie the Riveters” to grace the pages of World War II propaganda.
Norma Jeane quickly became a gold mine to the modeling industry. Something it had never seen the likes of before. She came to life before a still lens in the most theatrical and bewitching ways, captivating nearly every photographer she worked with in that period.
“I used to think, as I looked out on a Hollywood night, ‘there must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I’m not going to worry about them.
I’m dreaming the hardest,” (LIFE Magazine.)
Her dream soon came true. In 1946, the starlet signed a six month contract with Twentieth Century Fox, dyed her hair platinum blonde and was given a new name:
pure julia / unsplash.com
Monroe’s film career is as tragic as it is triumphant. The glitz and glamour that was Marilyn soon came to be perceived as a dim-witted, malicious and temperamental diva. But on the inside few knew that, Marilyn had always remained the generous, intelligent and tragically misunderstood Norma Jeane Baker.
Marilyn spent the rest of her life as–what she thought to be–a commodity. Everybody wanted something from her, but no one seemed to want to go deeper. Arthur Schlesinger, a close friend of the Kennedys, gave this haunting yet telling recount of what it was like knowing Marilyn,
“I was enchanted by her manner and her wit, at once so masked, so ingenious and so penetrating. But one felt a terrible unreality about her–as if talking to someone underwater.”
But perhaps Marilyn was never the one “underwater” at all. Perhaps it was the drowned out and forgotten Norma Jeane, begging to finally be seen.
So, what can be learned from Norma Jeane’s captivating, messy, tragic, yet beautiful transformation into Marilyn Monroe?
We can learn that we are not defined by our pasts, nor are we constrained by them. That we do not need to apologize for the flaws that others might perceive in us, and that outward appearances have nothing to do with our inner character.
Marilyn showed us that boldness does not make you crazy and kindness does not make you weak. That our futures are whatever we believe they can become. That beauty might be nice, but our inner strength is truly our greatest weapon.
And most of all, she taught us that it is never too late to take a broken thing and make it beautiful, to arise from the circumstance of Norma Jeane Baker and become our Marilyn Monroe.