Marilyn Monroe had a number of lovers but none of them remained with her for very long. Before passing away from an overdose at age 36 in 1962, she had gone through three divorces. A Los Angeles police officer named James Dougherty was Marilyn’s first husband.
Monroe might be a happy, matronly housewife leading a leisurely life of retirement in Arizona if she hadn’t become a star.
“You know, she would have been 50 this June. I’m positive if I didn’t zone into the service, she would still be Mrs. James Dougherty today,” said Marilyn’s first husband before he passed. “But stardom, movies, notoriety all changed that.” ‘
Dougherty has long been content to stay out of the media attention that Marilyn Monroe and seemingly everyone else in her life have received. He has been the dark outsider in her world, which has otherwise been considered to be public property.
Dougherty married his neighbor, 16-year-old Norma Jean Baker, in 1942 when he was 21 years old. Grace Goddard. James’ family lived next door to Grace Goddard, a friend of Norma Jean’s mother, Gladys, who was frequently in psychiatric hospitals. After living in a handful of foster homes, Norma Jean was taken in by Grace and her husband, who wanted to move across the country and couldn’t take her with them. Grace suggested that James marry Norma Jean so that she wouldn’t have to return to the foster care system.
“They wanted to move back to [West] Virginia, and they couldn’t take Norma Jean,” Dougherty said in the 1990 interview. “She would have gone back to an orphanage or another foster home, so her foster mother suggested I marry her.
“I thought she was awful young, but I took her to a dance. She was a pretty mature girl and physically she was mature, of course. We talked and we got on pretty good.”
On June 19, 1942 — after dating only a few months and just 18 days after Norma Jean’s 16th birthday — they were married.
“We decided to get married to prevent her from going back to a foster home, but we were in love”, James said in an interview. 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.
After a honeymoon to a lake in Ventura County, the newlyweds moved into a studio apartment with a pull-down Murphy bed in Sherman Oaks.
“She was just a housewife,” Dougherty told UPI. “We would go down to the beach on weekends, and have luaus on Saturday night. She loved it over there. It was like being on a honeymoon for a year.”
He joined the Merchant Marines, was sent to the South Pacific in 1944, returned to Los Angeles in 1946, and soon after he and Baker divorced.
Dougherty, the first of Monroe’s three husbands, died of complications of leukemia in San Rafael, Calif. in 2005, his family said.
Over the decades, Dougherty was repeatedly asked — by reporters, biographers and the curious — about his four-year marriage to the legendary star.
“I never knew Marilyn Monroe, and I don’t claim to have any insights to her to this day,” he told United Press International in 1990. “I knew and loved Norma Jean.”
And perhaps partly to free himself of the grip of the legend of Marilyn Monroe, a manufactured woman be claims he never knew.
“People find it hard to understand,” said Dougherty over lurch in a coffee shop here. “I was in love with Norma Jean. Marilyn Monroe is a person I didn’t know.”
Remembering Norma Jeane isn’t difficult for Dougherty now. He has cultivated the ability to view the four years they shared through the long lens of time.
Norma Jeane was a naive and endearing young housewife, albeit slightly dizzy. 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 would improve a cup of coffee, Norma Jeane decided to add a spoonful instead.
But soon Norma Jeane was turning into a rare beauty, and she seemed to realize it. She was happy to pose for pictures, he recalls, and it was hard for anyone to ignore her charms.
With America at war, Marilyn Monroe’s first husband couldn’t postpone military service much longer. When he left to go to sea, Norma Jeane already was tentatively exploring opportunities at modeling.
Hollywood soon beckoned. And, when her marriage to her absent husband crumbled as her career ambitions rose, she sought a quickie divorce in Las Vegas; the marriage was officially over in September 1946.
“I was on a ship in the Yangtze River getting ready to go into Shanghai when I was served with divorce papers,” Dougherty told Associated Press in 2002.
After returning home, he tried to persuade Norma Jean to forget about the divorce, but she refused.
“She wanted to sign a contract with [20th Century] Fox and it said she couldn’t be married — they didn’t want a pregnant starlet,” Dougherty said in a 1984 interview with UPI. “When I went back to see her, I tried to talk her out of it. She wanted me to be there — she just wanted us to keep on and not be married for the contract. I couldn’t do that.”
After four years of marriage, the couple went their separate ways.
In later life, it was reported that Dougherty’s second wife refused to let him see films in which Marilyn Monroe was a star.
His second marriage ended in divorce and his third wife died in 2003. In 1946, Norma Jean Baker changed her name to Marilyn Monroe. Married twice more, first to baseball great Joe DiMaggio and later to playwright Arthur Miller, Monroe became a movie star and an icon of post-war America. She died in 1962.