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c. 1926

Before Marilyn, there was little Norma Jean Mortensen

It was never easy being Marilyn Monroe, especially for the girl behind the name, Norma Jean Mortensen.

Norma with pets in the garden, 1933

It was never easy being Marilyn Monroe, especially for the girl behind the name, Norma Jean Mortensen. And it was also not easy being Norma Jean Mortensen.

She was born in 1926 and grew up in foster homes until she was seven. Her mother, Gladys, was not a mentally stable woman, and her father was not around – and exactly who he even was remained opaque.

Norma eventually went to live with her mother when she was seven – and her mother then had a breakdown. Norma was then made a state ward, and sent to an orphanage.

Gladys refused to allow Norma to be adopted.

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There then followed a miserable sequence of further foster homes and placements with guardians and relations, where she was subjected to very ill treatment.

This culminated in what amounted to an arranged marriage to Jim Dougherty, the son of a neighbor, when she was 16, in order to avoid foster care.

It must have then come with no small amount relief when, at aged 20, she was handed her new identity by 20th Century Fox, the film studio with whom she was now engaged.

These photographs were taken during Norma’s childhood, before there was such a person as Marilyn Monroe.

1927
At the age of six months, sitting on a woolly rug in a white smock.
Hulton Archive / Getty Images
1929
As a young child, playing on a beach in a striped bathing suit.
Archive Photos / Getty Images
1928
At the age of two, standing on a box in a floral print dress and matching bonnet.
Hulton Archive / Getty
1929
Norma and her mother on a beach
Silver Screen Collection / Moviepix / Getty Images
1930
Norma (right) and a friend
Silver Screen Collection / Moviepix / Getty Images
1929
Norma (front) with her mother behind
Silver Screen Collection / Moviepix / Getty Images
1929
A child rides on Norma’s back
Silver Screen Collection / Moviepix / Getty Images
1929
Norma (right) stands in front of her mother.
Silver Screen Collection / Moviepix / Getty Images
1933
Norma in a garden
Silver Screen Collection / Moviepix / Getty Images
1933
Norma with pets
Silver Screen Collection / Moviepix / Getty Images

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