Marilyn Monroe, the legendary cultural icon and Hollywood star, was known by the world as the beauty queen of the 1950s, instantly recognizable – then and today – for her platinum-blonde locks, red lipstick, and captivating stage presence. However, a lesser known and perhaps more notable fact about Monroe is that she was a deeply generous patron of several worthy causes.
Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson, was known among friends and colleagues for her generosity in offering help to others whenever she was able. Jane Russell, another American film actress and beauty icon of the time, enlisted Monroe’s help whenever she found a particular cause in need, and Monroe was most always ready to help where she could.
In 1955, after she was enlisted by Russell, Monroe worked with WAIF, an organization that placed abandoned children in homes. Monroe herself lived with foster parents until the age of seven. She moved back in with her mother for a short time, but became a ward of the state at eight years old when her mother was committed to the Metropolitan State Hospital in California. Monroe lived with several foster families afterward.
In 1957, Marilyn gave a pair of earrings that she wore to the world premiere of her film, The Prince and the Showgirl, to The Milk Fund for Babies, a charity focused on making milk accessible to the poverty-stricken areas of New York City. She was especially generous when it came to children, and also worked to help the March of Dimes, a foundation dedicated to improving the health of babies.
When Monroe was just starting out as an actress and model, army publication Stars & Stripes named her “Miss Cheesecake of 1951,” a title that helped the budding actress’ recognition. Although the title was not of high profile note, Monroe displayed her gratitude to the publication by cutting her honeymoon with second husband Joe DiMaggio short to visit troops in Korea in February of 1954. Her routine, “which featured her onstage in a sparkling purple dress, was a huge hit. She did 10 shows in four days, despite freezing temperatures,” Biography notes. Monroe later said that the experience “was the best thing that ever happened to me. I never felt like a star before in my heart.”
In 1962, Marilyn traveled to an orphanage in Mexico and signed an initial donation check for $1,000. She then ripped up that check and signed a new one for $10,000 instead. She later recalled that the night following her visit was one of the few nights in her later life when she slept soundly without the help of sleeping pills.
Her last public appearance was at a muscular dystrophy benefit in 1962. The event was held in Los Angeles on June 1st, Monroe’s 36th and final birthday.
The star’s final charitable donation was her largest, and came from her will. Marilyn left 25 percent of her estate to former psychiatrist Dr. Marianne Kris, “to be used for the furtherance of the work of such psychiatric institutions or groups as she shall elect.” Familiar with Marilyn’s great love for children, Kris chose the Anna Freud Children’s Clinic of London for the donation.
The glare of Marilyn Monroe’s celebrity was overwhelming, and sometimes, it overtook her deeply genuine efforts as a humanitarian. The world’s recognition of Marilyn Monroe has stood the test of time 55 years after her death. Her posters still create sales and her name rings familiar even today. Her role as a cultural icon is undeniable, but hopefully, her role as a generous patron to those in need will be allowed its deserving spotlight as well.
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