Marilyn Monroe was only 36 when she died on August 5, 1962. But in her short time in the spotlight, she left endless marks on showbiz, fashion, music, and even the centerfold. Here are nine things Marilyn made famous.
1. Her name Born Norma Jeane, Marilyn selected one of the most popular names of the 1930s for her showbiz moniker and transformed what was once commonplace into a synonym for stardom. She made it legally hers in 1956, well after her ascendance to fame. By the time of her death, in 1962, far fewer moms were choosing it for their children—perhaps because of the bombshell they might have to live up to. Last year, the name ranked 426 on the Social Security’s list of top baby names. But say “Marilyn,” and only one woman comes to mind. Ms. Monroe owns it.
2. The white halter dress Even if you haven’t seen The Seven Year Itch, you probably know its most famous scene. Marilyn stands on a subway grate, and the rush of a train going by sends a gust of air above ground—and sends her iconic white halter dress billowing all around her. The playful image from Billy Wilder’s 1955 film has been burned into popular consciousness. The dress, meanwhile, wound up in a collection of Hollywood memorabilia owned by actress Debbie Reynolds. In 2011, Reynolds sold it at auction for close to $5 million.
3. Playboy magazine In 1953, a then-unknown magazine editor named Hugh Hefner came across nude photos Marilyn posed for in 1949. He purchased one for $500 and put it in the inaugural issue of his new magazine, Playboy. Marilyn became the very first Playmate of the Month. Needless to say, the magazine was a hit.
4. Ella Fitzgerald’s career The “First Lady of Song” owed her career to Marilyn after the starlet stood up for her jazz-singer friend and got her a boundary-breaking gig. In the 1950s, segregation kept African-American singers out of many of the most popular clubs, including the Mocambo, a hotspot in Hollywood. But Marilyn, who was a self-professed fan of Fitzgerald, called the owner of the club and told him that if he booked Ella Fitzgerald, she would sit at a front table every night. Not one to pass up the publicity of having Marilyn front and center, he agreed. Fitzgerald broke out and was forever grateful to Marilyn. “She was an unusual woman—a little ahead of her times,” Fitzgerald had said. “And she didn’t know it.”
5. Chanel No. 5 The French parfum was the recipient of the best free publicity any company could ever dream of. In 1952, a 26-year-old Marilyn was asked in an interview what she wore to bed. “Five drops of Chanel No. 5,” she replied. A year later in a photo shoot for Modern Screen, a bottle of the elixir appeared on her nightstand in every shot, further proving her affinity for the fragrance. Reflecting on the legendary line in 1960, Marilyn spoke of her sleeping habit. “I don’t want to say nude,” she said, “but it’s the truth.”
Watch the Marilyn-Chanel ad:
6. Bottle-blonde curls Just search “Marilyn Monroe hair” and hundreds of tutorials come back. Decades after her death, her platinum curls are still a look to strive for. She was a natural brunette, but in 1948, Marilyn debuted her blonde ‘do. It became the iconic style of the 1950s.
7. The beauty mark There’s much debate over whether Marilyn’s mole just north of her mouth was real or drawn, but there’s no debating that it made the facial polka dot into a symbol of beauty. Until Cindy Crawford became the supermodel of the ‘80s, Marilyn had cornered the market on the beauty mark, and it is her whom young girls emulated decades later with facial piercings resembling Marilyn’s mole.
8. Divorce Marilyn had three ex-husbands, two of them as famous as she was. Her high-profile splits from baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller ushered in the era of celebrity mate-watching that has only gotten more publicly tawdry in the decades since. She and DiMaggio divorced in 1954—the same year the seemingly charmed couple married. Her relationship with Miller lasted longer—five years. In the year-and-a-half after their split, she and DiMaggio were rumored to have rekindled things. But their possibly on-again romance was cut short by Marilyn’s death in 1962.
9. “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” President John F. Kennedy’s got quite a present for his 45th birthday—Marilyn, in a skintight and glittering gown, singing him a sultry version of the birthday song. Her breathy delivery, which substituted “Mr. President” for his name, went down in history as the hottest way to wish a loved one a happy birthday. The performance, on May 19, 1962, was given at Madison Square Garden. After Marilyn’s song, JFK walked out on stage and thanked her. “I can now retire from politics after having had ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way,” he said.