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'The Secret Life of Marilyn': A user's guide

Following this weekend’s The Secret Life of Marilyn and in honor of Marilyn’s birthday today, here’s a look at some of the things you need to know about the iconic actress.

Not just another biopic, Secret Life takes a look at Marilyn’s tumultuous relationship with her mother—a paranoid schizophrenic—and the apparent way it informed every aspect of her life, including inheriting the disease herself.

photo: Mark Holzberg/Lifetime

Photo: Mark Holzberg/Lifetime

The movie is based on the bestseller of the same name by J. Randy Taraborrellis, and it doesn’t feel like another cliched caricature of an idealized icon. The film takes a much more sympathetic approach to its depiction of the complex actress, playing down Marilyn’s diva image and playing up her wounded psyche.

It doesn’t soft-pedal her destructive behaviors or selfish manipulations, but there’s almost no judgment, and the film isn’t recycling the same old Marilyn mythology. It actually steers away from the iconic moments and looks closer at the times Marilyn is away from the public eye.

The story feels like a new Marilyn, thanks to the brilliant Kelli Garner—no small feat when dealing with a subject as culturally ubiquitous as Marilyn Monroe, although other critics disagree. Even though we’ve seen a million movies about Marilyn, this one feels like something different, and I think Lifetime did the Taraborrellis book justice.

Here’s what you need to know as you watch The Secret Life of Marilyn: 

  • Marilyn was born Norma Jean Mortenson in 1926, which would  make her 24 when she did All About Eve in 1950. All About Eve also starred Bette Davis, an idol of Marilyn’s, and screen siren of the early studio film days.

The 1950 film "All about Eve" received a record 14 Academy Award® nominations, breaking the previous record of 13 nominations held by "Gone with the Wind" since 1939.  Shown here in a scene still from the film are (left to right): Anne Baxter, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe and George Sanders. Restored by Nick & jane for Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans Website: http:www.doctormacro.com. Enjoy!

  • Marilyn met and befriended many studio executives during her early years at 20th Century Fox. Ben Lyons was the head of casting, and an ex-movie star himself, and is widely credited for discovering Norma Jean and engineering her big break. He famously called her “Jean Harlow all over again.” He saw Marilyn, then Norma Jean Dougherty, walking down the street in June of 1946, and just knew she had something special.
  • Joseph Schenck was co-founder of Fox and, according to The Hollywood Reporter, rumor has it that “she spotted him leaving the studio in his limousine, flashed him a flirty smile, and got his card and a dinner invitation in return.”
  • Their affair was Hollywood’s worst-kept secret, and Schenck was responsible for many of her early picture deals. Marilyn would have been around 21 at the time, while Schenck was close to 70.
  • Natasha Lytess was Marilyn’s acting coach from 1948 to 1955, and the two became very close during the time they worked together. In fact, recent reports have surfaced suggesting their relationship might have been more than platonic.


  • Lytess was a proponent of method acting, asking actors to draw on their painful past experiences in order to better form the characters they were playing. This form of acting is notoriously stressful, and takes a psychological toll on its users. (Heath Ledger, among others, reportedly used method acting.)
  • Johnny Hyde was Marilyn’s longtime agent and friend, and is responsible for getting her the roles in Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve. He was 31 years older than Marilyn, but he pined for her the entirety of their relationship. She never reciprocated his feelings, and he died after he left his wife for her.
  • Marilyn starred in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953, alongside Jane Russell. It’s the scene in which she sings “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and that infamous pink dress that make Marilyn the star of the picture.
  • Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn’s second husband, is one of the greatest ball players in the history of the sport, and possibly the most famous Yankee. He was a genuine celebrity in his own right, comparable to Marilyn’s fame, and would have been widely recognized everywhere they went. They were the most famous couple on the planet, and are widely considered one of the great American love stories.


  • Arthur Miller was Marilyn’s third husband and a highly acclaimed playwright. He wrote Death of Salesman and won the Pulitzer Prize for it in 1949. Miller also wrote The Crucible, which was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee for its perceived communist themes and undertones.
29 Jun 1956, Roxbury, Conneticut, USA --- Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe at Miller's house in Roxbury, a few hours before their wedding. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Photo: Bettmann/CORBIS

  • Their marriage surprised the public, and they were considered a total mismatch. Arthur and Marilyn worked together on the play The Misfits right around the time they divorced, and he considered it a gift to her, although it was scathingly autobiographical. Arthur was a rigid man who took his work very seriously, prioritizing it above everything else in his life.
  • Pat Lawford was sister to President Kennedy and a dear friend to Marilyn. Pat was brought up as a very conservative Catholic, reserved and stoic. She found Marilyn’s openness refreshing and treated her like a little sister.
  • Pat was married to Peter Lawford, an actor, former English aristocrat and a member of “The Rat Pack.” Peter claimed, years later, that Marilyn’s last words were in a phone call to him, uttering “Say goodbye to the president … and say goodbye to yourself, because you’re a nice guy.”


  • Marilyn’s rumored affair with JFK has become the stuff of American myth and lore. Her performance at his birthday celebration, in which she sang a sexy and breathy rendition of “Happy Birthday,” didn’t work to dispel any rumors. That is Peter Lawford introducing her in the clip.

Whatever you think you know about Marilyn Monroe, The Secret Life of Marilyn surely will find a way to surprise you. Let me know how you liked it, and if my cheat sheet helped at all!

The Secret Life of Marilyn airs Tuesday, June 2, at 10/9C on Lifetime.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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