Jill Layton
June 01, 2015 2:07 pm

Marilyn Monroe would have turned 89 today. She’s been gone for 53 years, but with each year that passes, she becomes more of an icon. Most people remember her as sex symbol or a tragic casualty of the Hollywood machine. Others recall her as the ‘other’ woman both on-screen and in real life, or the woman who transformed from Norma Jean into the iconic blonde. But there was so much more to Marilyn than what she represented. She was a driven career woman with a passion for literature, who grappled with her own insecurities and overcame major hurdles at a time when sexism in Hollywood was at its height.

So to celebrate her birthday and her life, here are some surprising facts that illustrate just how intelligent and complex Marilyn Monroe really was:

She was a poet

Monroe turned her most private feelings into poems. She wrote them down wherever she could — in notebooks and on loose-leaf papers. Many of the poems were published in Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters, and they give us some insight into Monroe’s deep sensitivity and thoughts about people and the world.

“Life —
I am of both of your directions
Life
Somehow remaining hanging downward
the most
but strong as a cobweb in the
wind — I exist more with the cold glistening frost.
But my beaded rays have the colors I’ve
seen in a paintings — ah life they
have cheated you”

She was a shrewd business woman

She was the second woman ever to own her own production company (the first was Mary Pickford). Once she became a massive star, she broke the mold and challenged the authoritarian structure of Hollywood studios, which dictated what films their stars would make. With the help of producer Milton Greene, she formed Marilyn Monroe Productions, so she could make her own career choices. “My company was formed because I wanted to make better pictures, improve my work, to secure my income and to help others make good pictures,” she stated.

She had a passion for literature

She always wanted to be photographed while reading, because that’s what she loved doing most. She had a library of over 400 books. At the time of her death, she was reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Leo Rosten’s Captain Newman MD, a book based on the life of her psychiatrist. She once met Nikita Khrushchev, and they discussed The Brothers Karamazov. She dreamed of playing the part of Grushenka in a film adaptation of the book.

Her favorite artist was Francisco De Goya

In her poetry, she wrote “I know this man very well, we have the same dreams, I have had the same dreams since I was a child.”

She was fascinated by different religions

Monroe became a Christian Scientist at 18, learned as much as she could about different religions and spiritualities, then converted to Judaism before marrying Arthur Miller in 1956.

She practiced yoga before yoga became popular in Western society

She was taught by Indra Devi, a Swedish-Russian Bollywood film star, who also taught Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson.

She lobbied for Ella Fitzgerald

She promised to sit in the front row of a Los Angeles nightclub for a week if the management agreed to allow Ella Fitzgerald to play. At that time in 1955, Fiztgerald was banned from the club because of her race. Fitzgeraled once said, “I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt … she personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him – and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status – that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”

Abraham Lincoln was her hero

In her autobiography My Story, she wrote “I used to read everything I could find about him. He was the only famous American who seemed most like me, at least in his childhood.”

She loved cooking, and was an excellent chef

Her bouillabaisse was famous among her friends. A group of writers at The New York Times tried making her recipe for stuffing, but it took them two hours to finish because it was so complex.

She didn’t care for diamonds

One of her most famous musical numbers of all time is “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” but guess what? She owned very few diamonds. In fact, she didn’t have much jewelry at all. If she collected anything, it was books. She left behind an impressive collection of titles by everyone from Joyce and Proust to Freud and Bertrand Russell. As one photographer recalled, she kept “Ulysses in her car and had been reading it for a long time. She said she loved the sound of it and would read it aloud to herself…”

Rest in peace, Marilyn.

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