From the beginning of the 1950s to the early 1960s, Marilyn Monroe was one of the hottest stars in Hollywood. Her “blonde bombshell” characters, often appearing in comedic roles, lit up the screen, and her colorful and turbulent private life — which often became very public — made her even more famous.
Born Norma Jeane Mortenson, the future star had a tough childhood, moving between 12 successive sets of foster parents and spending time in an orphanage. The movies provided an escape. In her last-ever interview, just days before her death, Monroe said, “Some of my foster families used to send me to the movies to get me out of the house and there I'd sit all day and way into the night. Up in front, there with the screen so big, a little kid all alone, and I loved it.”
Many of her most successful roles saw her playing women who were naïve, artificial, sexually available, or a combination of all three — the stereotypical “dumb blonde.” Her onscreen persona, however, was far removed from the real woman, the real Norma Jeane. As Sarah Churchwell, author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, put it, “The biggest myth is that she was dumb. The second is that she was fragile. The third is that she couldn't act.”
Marilyn Monroe died of an overdose on August 4, 1962. But, as Elton John sang in his 1973 song “Candle in the Wind,” her candle burned out long before her legend ever did. She remains one of the greatest pop culture icons in American history and a screen legend from the Golden Age of Hollywood. And she left us with a wealth of witty, clever, and honest quotes that reveal her true character: a smart, fierce, and funny woman in possession of so much more than sex appeal.
I've often been asked, “Does it bother you when someone refers to you as a dumb blonde?” It never has. You see, I've always known I wasn't. Things go on in my mind that no one knows about. I've always figured things out and done them according to plan. Oh no, I'm not calculating or tricky. But I know what I want.
— From a "Modern Screen" interview, 1954
Sure, I posed that way. I needed the money. And it’s not quite true I had nothing on: the radio was on.
— When asked about the infamous 1949 calendar in which she posed nude, Monroe replied in typically witty fashion
Another writer asked me, “What do you think of sex?” and I told him, “It’s a part of nature. I go along with nature.”
— From a "Saturday Evening Post" interview by Pete Martin, 1956
I restore myself when I'm alone. A career is born in public — talent in privacy.
— Quoted in “Ms.” magazine in 1972
The truth is I've never fooled anyone. I've let men sometimes fool themselves. Men sometimes didn't bother to find out who and what I was. Instead they would invent a character for me. I wouldn't argue with them. They were obviously loving somebody I wasn't.
— From Monroe’s autobiography, "My Story," which she wrote at the height of her fame with the help of screenwriter Ben Hecht. It was published in 1974, over a decade after her death.
A career is wonderful, but you can't curl up with it on a cold night.
— Monroe was dedicated to her career. She strived to improve herself as an actress, and was a student of the method acting approach. But she never stopped looking for love, and was not ashamed to admit it.
I am invariably late for appointments — sometimes as much as two hours. I’ve tried to change my ways but the things that make me late are too strong and too pleasing.
— In "My Story," Monroe readily acknowledged her habit of being late.
Once in New York my lawyer was telling me about my tax deductions and stuff and having the patience of an angel with me. I said to him, “I don't want to know about all this. I only want to be wonderful.” But if you say that sort of thing to a lawyer, he thinks you're crazy.
— From Monroe’s 1960 interview with "Marie Claire" editor-in-chief Georges Belmont
You know, they ask me questions. Just an example: “What do you wear to bed? A pajama top? The bottoms of the pajamas? A nightgown?” So I said, “Chanel No. 5,” because it's the truth… And yet, I don't want to say “nude.” But it's the truth!”
— From the Georges Belmont interview
I am content to be Marilyn Monroe, to the best of my ability. Being one's self is a twenty-four hour a day job anyway, isn't it?
— In response to a reader question for an interview in "Motion Picture" magazine in 1954
I really don't think I can go as fast as other people. They get in their cars, they run into each other, they never stop. I don't think mankind was intended to be like machines. Besides, it's a great waste of time — you get more done doing it more sensibly, more leisurely.
— From the Georges Belmont interview
I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love.
— This quote sums up the woman who was both Marilyn and Norma Jeane. Kind, but no push-over; a shining star of the silver screen, but far from perfect.
I never quite understood it, this sex symbol. I always thought symbols were those things you clash together! That's the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate to be a thing. But if I'm going to be a symbol of something, I'd rather have it sex than some other things they've got symbols of.
— From her last interview, "Life" magazine, 1962
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