Marilyn Monroe was Not Even Close to a Size 12-16
By: DAVEN HISKEY
From Roseanne Barr stating, “I’m more sexy than Pamela Lee or whoever else they’ve got out there these days. Marilyn Monroe was a size 16. That says it all”, to Elizabeth Hurley stating, “I’ve always thought Marilyn Monroe looked fabulous, but I’d kill myself if I was that fat…I went to see her clothes in the exhibition, and I wanted to take a tape measure and measure what her hips were. She was very big”, you’ll often hear people saying Marilyn Monroe was around the same size as the average American woman today (12-16). In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, at least by today’s sizing systems.
How this myth got started isn’t exactly known. One possible contributing factor to this myth was Marilyn Monroe’s a typical extreme hour glass shape. More directly, it probably partially stems from the fact that women’s sizes today are not at all equivalent to women’s sizes in the 1950s. In the 1980s, in order to accommodate people’s vanity and ever expanding girth, the U.S. Department of Commerce got rid of the uniform sizing system and instead allowed for more ego stroking sizes. As a result of this, today, a size 8 would have been roughly equivalent to a size 16-18 in the 1950s, obviously though this varies a shocking amount from brand to brand.
So what size was Marilyn Monroe actually? Luckily, many of her dresses, carefully preserved, are still around to measure off of. Further, one of her dress makers also chimed in with exact measurements he took. Those measurements were 5 ft. 5.5 inches tall; 35 inch bust; 22 inch waist (approximately 2-3 inches less than the average American woman in the 1950s and 12 inches less than average today); and 35 inch hips, with a bra size of 36D. Her weight fluctuated a bit through her career, usually rising in times of depression and falling back to her normal thereafter, but her dressmaker listed her as 118 pounds and the Hollywood studios tended to list her between 115-120 lbs.
As to what size Marilyn Monroe would be in women’s sizes today, that’s not an easy thing to answer due to the differing sizes from brand to brand, country to country, and the fact that her extreme hour glass shape would have made it difficult for her to find the perfect size while clothes shopping. Lucky for her, she could afford to have her clothing custom made, which she usually did.
As a direct example of her size, the white dress she wore in The Seven Year Itch was recently auctioned off and was put on a mannequin that was a size 2, but they were still unable to zip up the dress as the mannequin was too big. Many of her other dresses that exist from throughout her career match up to about the same, give or take an inch or two. That being said, Marilyn Monroe at times would have her dresses so tight they’d have to be sown onto her, so something more comfortable in a size 4-ish (American) and something like an 8 in the U.K. is probably more accurate with most brands, though it should be noted that a 22 inch waist in many popular American jean sizes today would be below a 0. So, again, the exact size is difficult to nail down thanks to the non-standardized sizing system we have today.
If you’re curious as to how that compares to modern contemporary fashion models, according to BluFire Model Registry, models are generally in the vicinity of a 34 bust; 24 waist; and 34 hips, which is very close to Monroe’s measurements of 35-22-35. They list the average model today at 5 ft. 8 inches, to Monroe’s 5 ft 5.5 inches. Elizabeth Hurley, who in the above quote called Marilyn Monroe “fat”, actually has around the same dimensions: 34-24-34, though is about 5 inches taller than Monroe was.
So while it’s often lamented (rightly so) that female models and actresses today set a standard that no normal woman can realistically live up to, the same was true in the Marilyn Monroe era, minus Photoshop, even though she’s often used today as an example of how things were different “back in the day”. Probably the perception of the difference between then and now lies more in the fact that the average American is a lot bigger today. To this point, the average American woman in the 1950s had a 25 inch waist compared to Monroe’s 22 inches. Whereas today, the average American woman has a waist size of 34 inches, so the gap between the models and “average” was much less pronounced then. And, of course, today we have more advanced means of photo and video editing to make the gap seem even larger, with the edited results being truly unattainable. At least a 22-24 inch waist is do-able for some with a significant amount of work via a great fitness routine and healthy diet. A 22 inch waist that is then Photoshopped to look smaller, on the other hand, just isn’t healthily attainable, not to mention that any blemishes are also removed from pictures and film quite easily today via these modern editing techniques.
Another Marilyn Monroe myth was that she was a blonde. In fact, the actress famed for her platinum blond curls actually was a dark haired brunette. She first dyed her hair blonde after being told that models with lighter colored hair were preferable, so bleached it to golden blonde and later adjusted this a total of nine times until she settled on platinum blonde. As Monroe later stated, “There’s only one sort of natural blonde on earth – albinos.”
The words “blond” and “blonde” are not wholly synonymous.
Monroe reportedly kept a small library of around 400 books, largely non-fiction. Her third husband, Arthur Miller, commented though that she rarely finished any of them. She tended to skim them until she picked up the basic idea and then felt it was pointless to read in more detail later.
Veronica Hamel and her husband purchased Monroe’s Brentwood home in 1972 and attempted to have the roof replaced. What the contractor found in the roof was an eavesdropping and telephone tapping system. At the time of Monroe’s death in 1962, this type of system was “standard issue” for the FBI. This, and other evidence, further inflamed conspiracy theorists who maintain Monroe was murdered due to her alleged relationship with JFK and Robert Kennedy. However, in 1982, whether she committed suicide or was murdered was reviewed by an official inquest and they determined the original investigation got it right, that she committed suicide by ingesting large amounts of Nembutal, enough to raise the level in her bloodstream to 4.5 milligrams per 100, meaning she must have ingested about 40-50 capsules.
Monroe, originally Norma Jeane Mortenson, and then shortly thereafter Norma Jeane Baker (Baker being the last name of her mother’s husband before Martin Mortensen, Monroe’s father), was born all the way back in 1926 and spent most of her early years in foster care and some time in an orphanage. Her father ran off before she was born and her mother had severe mental problems, including ultimately being placed in a mental institution. When she was 16 years old, her foster parents moved and could no longer afford to keep her. In order to avoid having to go back to an orphanage, she married her first husband, 21 year old Jimmy Dougherty in June of 1942; apparently not entirely by choice, though this point has been disputed. Monroe herself stated about it, “Grace McKee arranged the marriage for me, I never had a choice. There’s not much to say about it. They couldn’t support me, and they had to work out something. And so I got married.”
Doughtery soon went off to fight in WWII, leaving Monroe at home. Before he left, she tried to convince him to get her pregnant, as she was afraid he’d die, but he refused because he thought she was too young to be pregnant. This worked out for her, though, in some respects, as she found herself working in a Radioplane plant where she was discovered by a photographer. Before her husband returned from the war, she already had a successful career in modeling and would very soon launch her movie career. Shortly after he returned, they got a divorce partially due to the fact that he did not approve of her new career and how scantily clad she was in many of the photos. According to Monroe, though, they just didn’t have a good relationship, with the two almost never talking, not because they were fighting or angry at one another, but just because they had nothing to say.
Doughtery wasn’t the only husband she lost due to her career, another was Joltin Joe DiMaggio. When she met him she was “surprised to be so crazy about Joe. I expected a flashy New York sports type, and instead I met this reserved guy who didn’t make a pass at me right away! He treated me like something special. Joe is a very decent man, and he makes other people feel decent, too.” However, less than a year after getting married, the two divorced. According to Monroe, “I didn’t want to give up my career, and that’s what Joe wanted me to do most of all. I want to be a big star more than anything. It’s something precious.” That being said, DiMaggio and she remained close and when she was in the Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in 1961, he helped her get out. She then spent time with him in Florida where he was working as a batting coach for the Yankees. Concerned with her mental state and the people she had surrounded herself with, he tried to get her to marry him again so he could look out for her directly, but she refused. DiMaggio was the one who a year later arranged her funeral.
For 20 years after her death, DiMaggio had fresh roses placed in the vase next to Monroe’s crypt three times per week.
Marilyn Monroe was on the cover of the first ever Playboy magazine in 1953. The nude centerfold photo inside was taken by Tom Kelley and was originally for a calendar called “Miss Golden Dreams”. After she became famous, it was discovered that the nude photo in the calendar was Monroe. Rather than payoff a blackmailer at the time, she instead came out and admitted the photo was her stating, “My sin has been no more than I have written, posing for the nude because I desperately needed 50 dollars to get my car out of hock.” Hefner shortly thereafter purchased the right to use the photo in the first edition of Playboy for $500. Besides the initial amount she was paid when the photo was taken, she never saw a dime for it after, even though it made Hefner millions thanks to it instantly propelling his magazine into wide circulation, selling around 54,000 issues within week of that first issue being published.
Hugh Hefner purchased the burial vault next to Marilyn Monroe as his future place of final rest.
Playboy was founded thanks to $1000 Hugh Hefner’s mother gave him to start the magazine, along with another $7000 he raised from other sources, such as his brother.
When Monroe died at the age of 36 in 1962, her estate value was estimated at around $1.6 million (about $11.4 million today). Four months shy of 50 years later, her estate still earns around $2 million per year licensing her name and likeness. Her films grossed around $200 million in her lifetime (about $1.7 billion today). She earned so little through most of her career largely thanks to being under contract in the old studio system, making a certain amount per week. In her early years, this was often less than the makeup artists and the like made, despite her being the star of the picture. At the time of her death, she was making considerably more and even had an offer for a four movie stint for $10 million ($72 million today), among many other offers.
Monroe was almost propositioned by the Prince of Monaco, Prince Rainier, being one of the women he was considering for his future wife. However, he instead chose to marry actress Grace Kelly, at which point she quit acting.
Monroe attempted to have kids a couple different times with famed playwright Arthur Miller, resulting in two miscarriages. She had a condition, endometriosis, where tissue of her uterus lining would attach itself to other areas of her body and grow, which can be extremely painful and cause bleeding and difficulty getting and staying pregnant.
Marilyn Monroe started going by that name in 1946 around the same time she dyed her hair blonde and divorced her husband. However, she didn’t legally change it to Marilyn Monroe until 1953, seven years later. Funny enough, she stated, “I’ve never liked the name Marilyn. I’ve often wished that I had held out that day for Jean Monroe. But I guess it’s too late to do anything about it now.” She changed her name initially at the behest of Ben Lyon of 20th Century-Fox. He chose the name “Carol Lind” for her, but she hated it. She then chose Monroe, after her mother’s maiden name, and Lyon chose the Marilyn part, which he liked better than her first choice of Jeane Monroe.
Marilyn Monroe suffered from severe stage fright, even late in her career. Producer Henry Weinstein remarked that he saw her on many occasions near physically ill from stage fright while preparing to film her scenes. He further stated of her stage fright, “Very few people experience terror. We all experience anxiety, unhappiness, heartbreaks, but that was sheer primal terror.”