Norma Jean Mortenson took up modeling in 1944 while she was 18. In 1946, she signed a short-term contract with 20th Century Fox, taking as her screen name Marilyn Monroe (derived from her mother’s family name Monroe and Marilyn, a musical performer of 20s). She had a few bit parts and then returned to modeling, famously posing nude for a calendar in 1949. She began to attract attention as an actress in 1950 after appearing in minor roles in the The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve. Her acting career took off in the early 1950s with performances in Love Nest (1951), Monkey Business (1952), and Niagara (1953). Celebrated for her voluptuousness and wide-eyed charm, she won international fame for her sex-symbol roles in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), and There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954). The Seven-Year Itch (1955) showcased her comedic talents and features the classic scene where she stands over a subway grating and has her white skirt billowed up by the wind from a passing train.
In 1955, she gave a strong performance as a hapless entertainer in Bus Stop (1956). She made The Prince and the Showgirl–a critical and commercial failure–with Laurence Olivier in 1957 but in 1959 gave an acclaimed performance in the hit comedy Some Like It Hot. Her last role, in The Misfits (1961), was directed by John Huston and written by Miller, whom she divorced just one week before the film’s opening. There have been a number of conspiracy theories about her death, most of which contend that she was murdered by John and/or Robert Kennedy, with whom she allegedly had love affairs. These theories claim that the Kennedys killed her (or had her killed) because they feared she would make public their love affairs and other government secrets she was gathering. Two decades after the fact, Monroe’s housekeeper, Eunice Murray, announced for the first time that the attorney general had visited Marilyn on the night of her death and quarreled with her, but the reliability of these and other statements made by Murray are questionable. An autopsy found a fatal amount of sedatives in her system, and her death was ruled probable suicide.