In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Marilyn Monroe

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Fan Reference Websites Devoted to Monroe
  • Filmographies
  • Autobiographies
  • Biographies
  • Reception Studies
  • Star Studies
  • From Monroe’s Personal Archives
  • Photobooks
  • Monroe and Acting
  • CinemaScope
  • Feminist Analyses
  • Monroe in Fashion
  • Memoirs
  • Profiles of Monroe from Her Lifetime
  • Monroe and Race
  • Drama, Fiction, and Creative Nonfiction Essays Depicting Monroe
  • Monroe and the FBI
  • Documentaries
  • Fictional Films, Television Series, and Biopics Depicting Monroe
  • Monroe as Artistic Inspiration for Andy Warhol

Cinema and Media Studies Marilyn Monroe
Amanda Konkle
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0370


Arguably the most recognizable Hollywood star from the 1950s until today, Marilyn Monroe (b. 1 June 1926–d. 4 August 1962) is associated with the Hollywood studio system, widescreen cinema, Playboy magazine, and a fascinating personal life. Born as Norma Jeane Mortenson to divorced and mentally unstable mother Gladys Baker, Monroe’s childhood included several foster families. In 2022, forensic scientists confirmed Charles Stanley Gifford as Monroe’s biological father. Monroe began work as a model after being “discovered” working at a wartime factory by David Conover in 1944. Monroe was signed to and dropped from short contracts with Twentieth Century-Fox in 1946 and 1947, and with Columbia Pictures in 1948. Monroe returned to Fox with a new contract in December 1950, where she would work for the rest of her career, with notable contract disputes in 1954 and 1962. Monroe appeared in thirty-two films between 1947 and her untimely death in 1962; only a dozen of those films feature Monroe in a lead starring role. Monroe won a Golden Globe for her performance in Some Like It Hot (1959), a film that consistently appears on Top 100 lists by the American and British Film Institutes. Monroe’s films span a range of genres. In her early roles, she often played a secretary or mistress, but her best-remembered roles are those in which she performs as a singing and dancing comedienne. Despite her memorable films, Monroe is perhaps better known for her personal life. In addition to her troubled childhood, authors frequently discuss the mental illness that ran in her family, to which Monroe was also susceptible and for which she underwent psychoanalytic treatment. Monroe’s nude calendar photo is emblematic of her sex symbol persona. She is also known for her famous lovers. She married Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller but has also been connected romantically to her agent Johnny Hyde, as well as celebrities Yves Montand, Frank Sinatra, John F. Kennedy, and Bobby Kennedy. Monroe died tragically at the age of thirty-six of an overdose; authors still debate whether that overdose was accidental or intentional. Because of her complex offscreen life, Monroe has been the subject of a number of works of fiction and plays, as well as biopics and documentaries. Today, Monroe remains an icon, remembered at times as an influential woman victimized by powerful Hollywood men and at other times associated with fashion, sex appeal, and independence.

General Overviews

Written work on Monroe’s career, star persona, and meaning to audiences is extensive. These overviews cover a number of different aspects of Monroe’s career. Austerlitz 2010 and Szymkowska-Bartyzel 2022 provide overviews of Monroe’s film roles helpful to a researcher looking for a brief summary of Monroe’s acting work. Wagenknecht 1969 and McDonough 2002 are essay collections. Wagenknecht 1969 includes essays that assess Monroe’s career and legacy from the perspective of the 1960s and is a good place to access the final published profiles of Monroe as well as essays and reflections on her death. McDonough 2002 includes a wide range of perspectives on Monroe; essays discuss Monroe’s film roles, her sex symbol persona, and her lasting impact as a cultural icon. De Vito and Tropea 2007 provides an overview of how Monroe has been represented from the 1950s to the turn of the twenty-first century, leading researchers interested in Monroe’s cultural legacy to a plethora of plays, films, and television shows that have depicted Monroe. In addition to these sources, Churchwell 2005, cited under Biographies, and Rollyson 2014 and Konkle 2019, under Book-Length Studies of Monroe’s Films, provide overviews as well as detailed analyses of Monroe’s film career.

  • Austerlitz, Saul. “Marilyn Monroe: Funny Blonde.” In Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy. By Saul Austerlitz, 151–162. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2010.

    This brief essay provides an overview of Monroe’s film roles, with special attention to her work as a comedienne. Discusses which roles worked as comedy and which seemed to make Monroe the punchline of the joke. Also provides a brief overview of Monroe’s life.

  • De Vito, John, and Frank Tropea. The Immortal Marilyn: The Depiction of an Icon. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2007.

    This detailed book examines the various ways that Monroe has been represented, discussing dramatic works, films, and television shows that use Monroe as a character; films that allude to Monroe but don’t use her name; documentaries about Monroe; and allusions to Monroe or someone like her. The book summarizes how artists have used Monroe’s image and what she represents in popular culture.

  • McDonough, Yona Zeldis, ed. All the Available Light: A Marilyn Monroe Reader. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.

    This collection of essays features many of the great authors of the twentieth century reflecting on Monroe’s meaning and legacy. Essays by Joyce Carol Oates, Molly Haskell, Kate Millett, and Sir Laurence Olivier constitute contributions by well-known authors. Pieces in the collection discuss Monroe’s status as an icon, her sex appeal, her time in Hollywood, and her impact on culture.

  • Szymkowska-Bartyzel, Jolanta. “Marilyn Monroe’s On-Screen Spectrum of Femininity: Types and Nature of Her Movie Characters.” Ad Americam: Journal of American Studies 23 (2022): 103–117.

    DOI: 10.12797/AdAmericam.23.2022.23.06

    Summarizes the types of film roles that Monroe played. Monroe’s roles fit into the categories of “child-woman” and “dumb blonde,” what Szymkowska-Bartyzel calls “a perfect product of the 1950s” (p. 105), “a female buddy” (p. 109) desperate for acceptance and companionship, and women who are eager for recognition as equal partners with their own identities. Niagara is the exception to this typing, according to the author.

  • Wagenknecht, Edward, ed. Marilyn Monroe: A Composite View. Philadelphia: Chilton, 1969.

    Collects a number of relevant documents published shortly after Monroe’s death, including Monroe’s final two magazine profiles by Richard Meryman and Alan Levy, the comments Lee Strasberg delivered at her funeral, and recollections from those who knew Monroe, such as her former father-in-law Isidore Miller and friend Norman Rosten. The collection also includes assessments of Monroe’s image from the 1960s.

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