When she was 16, Norma Jeane married Jim Dougherty moved in with Dougherty's mother while he searved in the Merchant Marine during World War II. Norma Jeane worked in the Radioplane Munitions Factory. She sprayed airplane parts with fire retardant and inspected parachutes.
Army photographer David Conover snapped a photograph of her for a Yank magazine article. He encouraged her to apply to The Blue Book Modeling Agency. She signed with the agency and began researching the work of Jean Harlow and Lana Turner. She was told that they were looking for models with lighter hair, so Norma Jeane bleached her brunette hair to a golden blonde.
Norma Jeane Dougherty became one of Blue Book's most successful models, appearing on dozens of magazine covers.
Jim Dougherty was oblivious of his wife's new job until he discovered one of his shipmates admiring a revealing photo of Norma Jeane in a magazine. Dougherty corresponded with her via several letters stating that once he returned from service, she would have to give up her modeling. A dissatisfied Norma Jeane, who now saw the possibilities of a modeling and acting career, decided to divorce Dougherty when he returned from overseas in 1946.
Her successful modeling career caught the attention of Ben Lyon, a 20th Century Fox executive, who arranged a screen test for her. Lyon was impressed and commented, "It's Jean Harlow all over again."
She was offered a standard six-month contract with a starting salary of $125 per week. Lyon did not like the name Norma Jeane and chose "Carole Lind" as a stage-name, after Carole Lombard and Jenny Lind, but the name was quickly abandoned. Following her idol Jean Harlow, Norma Jeane decided to choose her mother's maiden name of Monroe.
Several variations such as Norma Jeane Monroe and Norma Monroe were tried and initially "Jeane Monroe" was chosen. Since there were so many actresses with the name Jean, and wanting a more alliterative sounding name, Lyon suggested "Marilyn," commenting that she reminded him of Marilyn Miller, the sexy 1920's Broadway actress.
Norma Jeane was initially hesitant. Lyon, however, felt that the name "Marilyn Monroe" was sexy, had a "nice flow," and would be "lucky" due to the double "M" and thus Norma Jeane Baker took the name Marilyn Monroe.
Marilyn Monroe's first movie role was an uncredited role as a telephone operator in The Shocking Miss Pilgrim in 1947.
Her 1950 performances in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve were well received.
By 1953, Monroe had progressed to leading roles. Her "dumb blonde" persona was used to comedic effect in such films as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953, How to Marry a Millionaire the same year and The Seven Year Itch two years later.
Convinced her roles were being limited by typecasting, Monroe studied at the Actors Studio to broaden her range. Her dramatic performance in Bus Stop in 1956 was hailed by critics, and she received a Golden Globe nomination.
Her production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, released The Prince and the Showgirl in 1957, for which she received a BAFTA Award nomination and won a David di Donatello award. She received a Golden Globe Award for her performance in Some Like It Hot in 1959.
Marilyn Monroe could sing. And she did so in a number of movies including Ladies of the Chorus, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, There's No Business Like Show Business, Some Like it Hot and Let’s Make Love. And, she could sing with dramatic effect, Her performance as Chérie in Bus Stop, a saloon singer with little talent, marked a departure from her earlier comedies.
She also recorded a few songs for RCA; "She Acts Like A Woman Should," "You'd Be Surprised," "A Fine Romance" and "Do It Again."
Of course, her best known singing performance was a birthday wish to President John F. Kennedy.