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Fact vs Fiction: 6 Common Misconceptions About Marilyn Monroe

Madeline Hiltz
(Photo Credit: M. Garrett/ Getty Images)

Marilyn Monroe remains one of the biggest celebrities of all time. She’s stayed in our public consciousness because she has become such a legend. And as with most legends, it is important to separate fact from fiction. There are many misconceptions surrounding Marilyn Monroe’s short but impactful life, and we’re here to set to record straight.

1. She started out as a brunette

Marilyn Monroe 1941

A teenaged dark-haired Norma Jeane Baker, future film star Marilyn Monroe, circa 1941. (Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection/ Getty Images)

Marilyn Monroe is remembered for her platinum blonde hair, but she was a natural brunette. When Norma Jeane Mortenson first joined a modeling agency in the 1940s, she was willing to do anything to get noticed and jump-start her career. At this time, blonde hair was considered the most versatile hair color for women trying to break into the film industry.

Monroe began lightening her hair in the mid-1940s and never stopped. She continued to lighten her tresses until she got the platinum blonde look we associate with her image today. She often referred to this platinum shade as “pillow case white.”

2. She was extremely intelligent

Marilyn Monroe reading

Actress Marilyn Monroe reads the book “To the Actor: On the Technique of Acting” by Michael Chekhov in a quiet moment at the Ambassador Hotel in March 1955 in New York City. (Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/ Getty Images)

Marilyn Monroe tended to be cast in “dumb blonde” movie roles, but she was actually very intelligent. There was a rumor circulating a few years ago that she had an IQ of 168, but there was no evidence that supported Monroe ever actually having her IQ tested. What is true is that she had an extensive personal library of over 400 books.

These books covered a wide range of topics, including literature, art, drama, biography, poetry, politics, theology, history, psychology, and philosophy. It is safe to say that the wide range of subjects and the sheer number of books reflected Monroe’s intelligence.

3. She was involved in politics

Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe

Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe at the Tiffany Club in Hollywood, 1954. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

Marilyn Monroe has been linked to some politically famous individuals, including John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. She was extremely involved in politics during her lifetime. Monroe took a detour during her honeymoon with her second husband, Joe DiMaggio, in 1954 to visit troops in Korea. Despite the freezing temperatures, Monroe performed ten shows in only four days. Although she developed pneumonia after she visited Korea, she later said that the experience was “the best thing that ever happened to me. I never felt like a star before in my heart.”

Marilyn Monroe also supported her friends at home. Monroe was very close with singer Ella Fitzgerald. This was during a time when racial prejudices were rampant in the United States, and African American citizens did not have the same opportunities as white Americans. Throughout the 1950s, Fitzgerald had been touring smaller clubs throughout the US but struggled to book anything major.

After befriending Fitzgerald, Monroe urged the club Mocambo to hire her for a show. The club, however, felt that Fitzgerald lacked star power. Monroe told the club that she would sit at the front of the house every night with her celebrity friends if the club booked Fitzgerald. After the club agreed to this, Fitzgerald sold out and was then booked for a second week. This success at Mocambo brought the singer’s career to a new level. In 1972, Fitzgerald told Ms. magazine how Monroe had helped her get the gig at Mocambo and said, “I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt… she was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”

4. She wasn’t paid well

Actress Marilyn Monroe 1960

American actress Marilyn Monroe stars as off-Broadway actress Amanda Dell in George Cukor’s ‘Let’s Make Love’, 1960. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive/ Getty Images)

Despite being one of the most recognizable actresses of all time, Marilyn Monroe was not paid well for the films she worked on. For example, when she was under contract with 20th Century Fox, she reportedly made only $18,000 for the 1953 movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. On the other hand, her costar Jane Russell,  a freelance actress, made $100,000 for the same film.

She was set to earn $100,000 for her last film, Something’s Gotta Give. Although this is more than she was making at the start of her career, it was still much less than what other actresses were earning at the time. Elizabeth Taylor, for example, who was filming Cleopatra at the same time Marilyn was working on Something’s Gotta Give, was making a reported $1 million.

5. She didn’t have an ‘affair’ with JFK

Marilyn Monroe singing happy birthday to JFK

Actress Marilyn Monroe sings “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, for his upcoming 45th birthday. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

Marilyn Monroe had alleged affairs with a number of big Hollywood names, but no affair is more talked about than her supposed relationship with President John F. Kennedy. Rumors about this affair were sparked after Monroe’s sultry “Happy Birthday” performance at Madison Square Garden for JFK’s 45th birthday celebration.

Surprisingly, there is very little evidence that Kennedy and Monroe ever had an affair. According to most reports, the pair only met a few times throughout their entire lives. In April 1957, they were at the same event at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, but attended with their respective spouses and over a thousand other guests. In 1961, there was a rumor that the two were at a luncheon together, but it can’t be confirmed that Monroe was actually present at this luncheon.

The most plausible night for a secret rendezvous would have been March 24, 1962. Both Marilyn Monroe and JFK are thought to have been at a party hosted by Bing Crosby at his Palm Spring home. In his book, Marilyn Monroe: The Biography, author Donald Spoto recounts a story shared with him by Ralph Roberts, who was Marilyn’s masseur and friend. Supposedly, Monroe called Roberts asking for professional massage advice. JFK famously had a very bad back, and according to Roberts, the president even took the phone and thanked Roberts for his expert information.

According to Ralph Roberts, Marilyn Monroe also told him that “this night in March was the only time of her ‘affair’ with JFK. Of course she was titillated beyond belief, because for a year he had been trying… to have an evening with her. A great many people thought after that weekend that there was more to it. But Marilyn gave me the impression that it was not a major event for either of them: it happened once, that weekend, and that was that.”

6. She had major stage fright

Marilyn Monroe in a strapless dress 1950s

Marilyn Monroe in a strapless dress and a hairstyle favored in the mid 1950s (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

One misconception that has plagued the legacy of Marilyn Monroe is that she was not a hard worker. There were rumors that she would show up late on set and rarely had her lines memorized. In reality, Monroe had a bad case of stage fright.

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According to actor Don Murray, who co-starred with the actress in the 1956 film Bus Stop, Marilyn was so nervous about her scenes that she would break out in a rash. He told Closer Weekly that “she was very, very nervous. She’d break out in a rash every time we’d shoot a scene.” Murray also said that “she was very insecure, very frightened of acting in front of the camera, which is amazing. Being such a big star, she had done so many films, and yet, she was so frightened. But she took the part very seriously.”