[On the early morning of August 5th, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her LA home, in a moment that quickly became as mythic as everything else about young Norma Jean Mortenson. So this week I’ll remember the iconic and singular Marilyn through posts on her life, career, and legacy as well as her tragic death.]
On how each of Monroe’s three marriages reflects different American contexts.
I wrote in Tuesday’s post about the first and least famous of Monroe’s marriages, her 1942, teenage marriage to her 21-year old LA neighbor Jim Dougherty. In many ways that marriage was solely and entirely one of convenience and practicality, a means for Monroe to avoid a return to the orphanage when her legal guardians left the state. Yet I think it’s quite likely that many 1940s marriages—indeed, many 20th century American marriages overall—were similarly driven more by convenience and timing than by romantic ideals of love and partnership. Or at least that whatever their origin points, those marriages very often pushed the wives into situations much like how Monroe would later describe her life and perspective as a 1940s housewife: “Marriage didn't make me sad, but it didn't make me happy, either. My husband and I hardly spoke to each other. This wasn't because we were angry. We had nothing to say. I was dying of boredom.” Long before Betty Friedan published her groundbreaking work, Monroe experienced, and fortunately escaped, “the problem that has no name.”
Just under a decade after her divorce from Dougherty, Monroe married for a second time, and this marriage could not have been more distinct from her first. Monroe and baseball superstar Joe DiMaggio had been dating since 1952, and in January 1954 were married in what seemed to be an impromptu service at San Francisco City Hall. Planned or not, the marriage would be short-lived, as Monroe very publicly hired attorney Jerry Giesler and filed for divorce in October of that same year. While of course the details of their marriage and divorce were and always would be known only to Monroe and DiMaggio, the entire relationship certainly parallels (and foreshadowed) many 20th and 21st century celebrity romances. I’m not saying that there wasn’t an actual romantic connection, but it was certainly framed by their respective celebrity identities and roles, as illustrated by their honeymoon: they traveled to Japan where DiMaggio had professional business to attend to, and then Monroe left to travel solo to Korea in order to perform USO shows for soldiers stationed there. Certainly relationships and marriages can work under such circumstances, but just as certainly Monroe and DiMaggio’s did not.
In early 1955, before Monroe’s divorce from DiMaggio was finalized, she began dating her future third husband, playwright Arthur Miller. When it comes to celebrity writers are not athletes, but Miller was certainly one of the most famous writers in America at the time, and so it would be possible to see this relationship as another celebrity connection for Monroe (an argument strengthened by the fact that she also dated Marlon Brando in this period before things got serious with Miller). But I would argue Monroe and Miller’s marriage was far more personal than that, as revealed by various details: she converted to Judaism as part of their marriage; they attempted to have children on multiple occasions (but the pregnancies ended tragically each time); and the marriage (while complicated throughout) lasted nearly five years, from June 1956 through January 1961. I would also argue that Miller reflected very different sides of Monroe, not just as a writer (and one with whom she worked on various screenplays for her films, as I noted yesterday) but also a prominent left-wing intellectual and Cold War cultural critic. That is, it’s not just that Monroe’s films were moving in a new and more thoughtful direction during her final years, as I also wrote yesterday; it’s that her relationships seemed to be doing the same, as illustrated by this third of her three telling marriages.
Next Marilyn memories tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?
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