20 Years After Her Suicide, the Magic of Monroe Survives in Rarely Seen Photos
She was born Norma (after silent screen star Norma Talmadge) Jean Baker on June 1, 1926 and died at age 36, just 20 years ago this week—on Aug. 5, 1962—from an overdose of barbiturates. Her childhood was horrendous. She never knew her father, and when Norma Jean was 8, her mother was committed to a mental institution. From then on, Norma Jean was raised in a series of orphanages and foster homes. Amazingly, she would later recall that "no one ever called me pretty when I was a little girl."
She made up for that. After divorcing her first husband at the close of World War II, Norma Jean embarked on a Hollywood career as Marilyn (after actress Marilyn Miller) Monroe (her mother's maiden name). During the 1950s she soared to stardom in films like How to Marry a Millionaire, Bus Stop and Some Like It Hot. But personal happiness still eluded her; Monroe's childless marriages to Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller also ended in divorce.
Her one lasting love affair was with the camera. For their new book, Monroe, Her Life in Pictures (Doubleday, $14.95), Monroephiles James Spada and George Zeno have assembled an extraordinary collection of photos, some of which PEOPLE is publishing here for the first time. Born in Los Angeles, Spada was 13 when he founded the Marilyn Monroe Memorial Fan Club in 1964; Zeno, a native of Puerto "Rico who had begun collecting MM memorabilia back in 1953 when he was only 9, was Spada's Fan Club vice-president. "It is gratifying," writes Spada, "that we grew up to do a book on our dream girl."
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