Marilyn Monroe was the most popular sex symbol of the 1950s, but behind the facade of the Blonde Bombshell, Marilyn was the Girl Next Door with a painful past. Monroe’s real name is Norma Jeane Mortenson. During her childhood and adolescence, Norma never met her father and spent little time with her mentally unstable mother. She lived in a series of foster homes and married at just 16 years old. In these 15 photographs, you will witness Maryln as she is once was: a brunette young woman with a winning smile.
Norma at 15
Norma Jeane Mortenson was born on June 1, 1926, and had a troubled childhood due to her mother’s mental illness. Young Norma was a wholesome girl-next-door with brown hair, who became an unlikely beauty queen after she was discovered working in a munitions factory during World War II.
Norma at 5
Norma Jeane’s mother, Gladys, was institutionalized for most of her life, unable to care for her daughter emotionally or financially. Mental illness ran in the family. Norma’s grandparents on her mother’s side, Otis and Delia Monroe, both lived in mental institutions at the end of their lives.
Norma as a Toddler
Gladys separated from her husband, Martin Mortenson, before she got pregnant with Norma. After Norma’s birth, Gladys divorced Mortenson and took the surname of her first husband, Baker. Norma was not sure who her father was, but strongly suspected it was a man named Charles Gifford who had been a co-worker of Gladys in 1925.
Norma at age 10
Norma lived with a woman she called Aunt Ana at 11348 Nebraska Avenue in the Sawtelle neighborhood of Los Angeles. It was the most stable home Norma had ever lived in, and she stayed in Sawtelle until Aunt Ana developed serious health problems.
Norma at 14
When Aunt Ana became ill, Norma was forced to move back in with the Goddard family who had once been her foster family. Erwin Goddard molested Norma Jeane when she was 11 years old, which eventually resulted in Norma’s removal from the home. Unfortunately, just three years later she was sent back to live with the Goddards in Los Angeles.
Norma at 15
Norma Jeane became a beauty queen at age 15, when she was attending high school.
Norma and Her Friends
Norma is pictured (center) with her friends in a rowboat. Norma attended Van Nuys High School as a teenager in 1940 and she once said living in the community was the happiest time in her life.
Norma at 15, Enjoying Life
Norma Jeane, all dressed up and enjoying a night on the town. In this photograph, Norma is noticeably taller and is beginning to develop the figure that would one day make her famous.
Norma as the Center of Attention
A teenaged Norma Jeane(center) at an outdoor party with friends. Only a year earlier, boys had teased her with the name “Norma Jeane the Human Bean” because of her thin physique, but over the summer she grew taller and more voluptuous.
Norma at 16
Norma was still a young teenager when this photograph was taken on the beach. Her smiling face hides her painful childhood experiences.
Norma, Age 16, Marries James Dougherty, Age 21
Norma Jeane married James Dougherty when she was just 16 and he was 21. Norma Jeane’s marriage to James Dougherty was arranged by her guardians, the Goddards. Dougherty was her neighbor and Norma needed a home since the Goddards were moving to West Virginia. Dougherty seemed like the best option and Norma dropped out of high school to be his wife.
Norma at 18
Norma Jeane Dougherty working at the Radioplane Munitions Factory during World War II while her husband was deployed overseas. Photographer David Conover was sent to the factory by his commanding officer, a young Ronald Reagan, in order to take publicity photographs documenting the civilian war effort. Conover is credited with discovering the still-brunette Norma Jeane with his photographs.
Norma at Her First Photo Shoot
The munitions factory photo session led to Norma’s first work as a model, as Conover recommended her to a friend of his, who was looking for a girl-next-door type for his photo portfolio. Norma soon signed with the Blue Book Modeling Agency against her husband and his family’s wishes.
Norma and James
James Dougherty joined the Merchant Marine and eventually was sent to fight in the Pacific theater during WWII. The two rarely saw each other after he deployed. Norma would later say they had little in common and barely even spoke to each other.
Norma’s First Paid Modeling Gig
Norma signed with the Blue Book Modeling Agency in 1945, and the agency started crafting her image. They taught her how to smile in a way that minimized the shadow from her nose. Marilyn’s quivering smile later became one of her trademarks, as did her dyed blonde hair.