by Eddie Deezen
Norma Jeane's early childhood was happy, but unfortunately, Gladys was mentally unstable (she was later to be confined to a mental institution). Because of this, and the limited income Gladys made as a studio film cutter, Norma Jeane spent several years living at various foster homes and in an orphanage.
By 1941, young Norma Jeane Mortenson's legal guardians were Grace and "Doc" Goddard. The Goddards had given her a happy Los Angeles home in recent years, but now Doc had gotten a job as head of East Coast sales at Adele Precision and the Goddards decided to move to Virginia. Unfortunately, under then-California laws, the couple couldn't bring Norma Jeane along with them.
Enter the young and virile James Dougherty, who had tannish-blonde hair and eyes such a deep blue they were almost violet. James agreed to give Norma Jeane and her best girlfriend a lift back and forth to school every day. Soon, the two had struck up a friendship and began dating.
Five years Norma Jeane's senior, James was any girl's dream "catch," as he'd been president of his senior class and captain of the football team. Norma Jeanne and "Jimmie," as she called him, would drive up to a trysting spot in the hills called Pop's Willow Lake, where they would romantically rent a canoe, paddle under the trees, and make out at the water's edge. The two seemed genuinely fond of each other.
On June 19, 1942, the two were married. The wedding was officiated by a minister, Norma Jeane wore an embroidered lace wedding dress with long sleeves and veil. The sixteen-year old bride (Marilyn's birthday was just two weeks days previous) was overcome with emotion at the ceremony and cried.
After they were married, Jimmie and Norma Jeane settled into a four-room house in Van Nuys. Every furnishing in the home was chosen personally by Norma Jeane, from the kitchen cutlery right down to the doormat. Now his wife, Norma Jeane sometimes addressed her former "Jimmie" as "Daddy" instead.
Norma Jeane was a naive and endearing young housewife, albeit slightly ditzy. Once, during a rainstorm, she tried to bring a cow in out of the rain so it wouldn't get wet. She was hopeless as a cook, but loved serving peas and carrots because "she liked the colors." When told by a friend that "a pinch" of salt wold improve a cup of coffee, Norma Jeane decided to add a spoonful instead.
The young couple lived an apparently idyllic life together. On sunny afternoons, they would often drive down to Santa Monica Beach and dine on cold hot dogs and potato salad together.
Jimmie learned to ignore the stares of leering sailors as the ogled his beautiful wife in her a-bit-too-skimpy bathing suit. "She was just a housewife," remembered Jimmie, "We used to go down to the beach and have luaus on Saturday nights." The couple's favorite song was Glen Miller's "Moonlight Serenade." They would listen to it together in a parked car and dreamily hold each other in their arms.
On one eerily prescient occasion, Norman Jeane threatened to kill herself by jumping off off the Santa Monica pier, if Jimmie ever left her.
According to Jimmie, he was Marilyn's "first." He said for Norma Jeane, after the initial pain of their first coupling, she loved sex, and thoroughly enjoying their encounters.
Marilyn and her Jimmie had a near idyllic first one or two years as a married couple and seemed destined to spend their lives together in marital bliss. According to Jimmie: "We loved each other madly. I felt like I was the luckiest guy in the world." He recalled of the couple's early days, "It was like being on a honeymoon for a year."
But after Jimmie enlisted in the Merchant Marines in 1943, things were to change. He was soon called up for overseas duty. Norma Jeane would dutifully write her husband letters several times a week, but soon she became bored without him. She got a job at the Radioplane factory, inspecting parachutes and preparing planes for flight.One day in late 1944, Marilyn met photographer David Conover, who had come to her factory to take some morale-building photos of the pretty young girls at work for the U.S. Armed Forces motion picture unit. Although the pictures taken of Norma Jeane were never used, she was "hooked."
With the help of Emmaline Snively, she made some acting contacts too and even got a screen test at 20th Century Fox Studios. By mid-1946, Norma Jeane had to choose between the relative stability (and boredom) of marriage to her "Jimmie" or the inherent capriciousness of a full-time career as an actress.
Jimmie received the divorce notice from Norma Jeane when he was on duty and ready to go into Shanghai. After four years of vicissitudes, the marriage of Norma Jean Mortenson and James Dougherty came to an end.
Norma Jeane would soon change her name to the much catchier "Marilyn Monroe." Her career in show business is familiar to all, as she was to become the most famous and popular movie actress of all-time.
After their divorce, James Dougherty was to re-marry, to a woman named Pat. Aware of her predecessor, Pat would not allow her husband to ever watch Marilyn Monroe movies on television or even mention her name.
He was to recall: "I never knew Marilyn Monroe and I don't claim to have any insights to her to this day. I knew and loved Norma Jeane. I destroyed all my letters from Norma Jeane. Hundreds of them," he said (probably at his new wife's demand or possibly to placate her).
One final irony: after he finished his military service, James Dougherty got a job as a policeman. One night in 1950, in Los Angeles, he was assigned to crowd control at a movie premiere. It was a Marilyn Monroe film- The Asphalt Jungle. Mercifully, the two did not see each other at the premiere.
I guess every person's life can be broken down into a series of "what if's?" And one is left wondering what would have happened to James Dougherty and his pretty wife Norma Jeane if he had never enlisted in the merchant marines on that long ago day in 1943.