Hollywood sex symbol Marilyn Monroe had her fair share of lovers, none of them stuck around long. She was divorced three times before dying of an overdose at age 36 in 1962. Marilyn’s first husband was James Dougherty, a Los Angeles police officer. They began dating in January 1942 and were married in June of that year, just 18 days after Marilyn (then Norma Jean Baker) celebrated her 16th birthday.
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. To prevent Norma Jean from having to go back into the foster care system, Grace suggested that James marry the teenager.
“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.
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. 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. Photos of the pretty brunette taken at work landed her modeling gigs around LA, and it wasn’t long before she caught the fame bug. While James was still stationed overseas in September 1946, Norma Jean filed for divorce.
“I was on a ship in the Yangtze River getting ready to go into Shanghai when I was served with divorce papers,” James said in a 2002 interview. He returned home and tried to talk Norma Jean out of the split, but she wouldn’t budge. “She wanted to sign a contract with Fox and it said she couldn’t be married — they didn’t want a pregnant starlet”, James said in a 1984 interview. “When I went back to see her, I tried to talk her out of it. 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.