In 1949, Marilyn Monroe, struggling to make ends meet as an actress, got paid $50 to pose nude for a calendar. She worked as a pinup and — according to some — as a prostitute before becoming an internationally recognized sex symbol & box office sensation. Her undeniable charisma, comedic genius, and iconic sensuality enchant and resonate with old pros and civilians alike. Over fifty years after her death, we’re still obsessed with her.
Marilyn Monroe is one of the most recognizable actresses in Hollywood history, and an icon for old pros. Her undeniable charisma, comedic genius, and iconic sensuality enchant and resonate with old pros and civilians alike. She was one of the first women to start her own production company, she fought for (and won) artistic and personal independence within a deeply chauvinistic studio system, and she defied the limitations of her era. Marilyn Monroe’s history as a sex worker impacted her life and informed her legacy.
Born Norma Jeane Mortenson in 1926, Marilyn Monroe grew up in foster homes and orphanages. Her childhood was marked by poverty, abuse, and neglect, which contributed to her sense of isolation and vulnerability. She married young, and began working when her husband was serving in WWII. She divorced him to pursue modeling as a career after he returned.
In 1949, Marilyn Monroe, struggling to make ends meet as a divorced actress, was paid $50 to pose nude for a calendar. These photos would later haunt her when they were acquired by Playboy and widely distributed. She worked as a pinup and, according to some, as a prostitute before becoming an internationally recognized sex symbol and box office sensation. Her choice to embrace her history as a vulnerable young starlet allowed her to defy social expectations and freed her to explore her sexuality onscreen in ways that were deeply stigmatized at the time.
Sex work provided Marilyn Monroe with a sense of agency and control over her own body and brand, and her experiences in the industry helped her to develop the sexually charged persona that would eventually make her a star.
In Hollywood, Marilyn Monroe’s experiences as a sex worker informed performances in some of most famous films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and How to Marry a Millionaire. She also championed the stories of sex workers. Her onscreen persona was marked by a sense of vulnerability and sexuality, suggesting that her experiences with sex work had given her a deep understanding of the power dynamics and emotional complexities of desire.
Some critics have argued that Marilyn Monroe’s work in the sex industry was exploitative or shameful. There are valid criticisms to be made given the limited options available to her, but her time as a sex worker also provided Marilyn Monroe the financial freedom she needed to leave a repressive marriage, gave her a unique perspective on the human experience, and helped to shape her into the icon that she became.
A complex and multifaceted woman, Marilyn Monroe continues to be celebrated and studied to this day. Her influence has had a lasting impact on Hollywood and on society as a whole, challenging and satirizing traditional limitations of femininity, sexuality, and beauty and paving the way for more diverse and inclusive representations of women in media.