Teenage Bride's First Break
fter moving from Colorado with his family, Jim Dougherty had played football at Van Nuys High School. As the tallest member of the team, he was chosen captain. However, the Valley Flea Circuit League team didn't win even one game. With his future in football dim, Dougherty tried his hand in the high-school theater. In the comedy
he costarred with fellow student and future star Jane Russell, whose company he enjoyed.
Working at Lockheed Aircraft after graduation was not what Jim had hoped for. While trying on the white tuxedo for his wedding, he thought about his future. Everything was happening so fast. Could he make enough money to support a wife? Did Norma Jeane really love him as she claimed, or had infatuation or desperation prompted her to accept his proposal? He worried about his career and about starting a family. Later Jim admitted, “We decided to get married to prevent her from going back to a foster home,” then added defensively, “but we were in love.”
Eighteen days after her sixteenth birthday Norma Jeane would become Mrs. James Dougherty. Her wedding dress, hand-embroidered by Aunt Ana, would be a treasured keepsake for years to come. The bride's mother, Gladys, was noticeably absent, and Norma Jeane tried hard to mask her disappointment. Aunt Grace would take her mother's place. This was to be a happy occasion and the bride did not want the day spoiled by tears. At 8:30 in the evening of June 19,1942, a Christian Science minister, Rev. Benjamin Lingefelder, recited the traditional vows and pronounced the couple man and wife. The wedding party continued well into the evening at Florentine Gardens supper club in Hollywood. Mrs. Dougherty drank champagne with the wedding party and danced the night away with her new husband and his friends. Jim's jealousy began to rear its ugly head; he wanted his wife all to himself. A simple honeymoon followed the wedding. Norma Jeane was not a demanding bride and was content with an outdoor week at Sherwood Lake in Ventura County where they fished from a canoe and passed the nights in each other's arms. Norma Jeane reassured her husband that she was his and his alone.
After the honeymoon, the couple moved into a studio apartment in Sherman Oaks. The owner had supplied a pull-down bed and a little furniture. Norma Jeane resigned herself to being a housewife, but felt caged in their small home while Jim worked the night shift at the aircraft plant. Mrs. Dougherty despised housework; it reminded her of the routine in the orphanage. There was no pay and the hours were long and tedious. She was equally uninspired by cooking; however she often spiced Jim's lunchbox with love notes and suggestive photos of herself.
Jim bragged to his pals at work, showing off his beautiful wife. The photos helped him get through the night shifts. He shared sandwiches and braggadocio with his close friend, Robert Mitchum, who worked alongside him in the plant. Mitchum was then a poorly paid daytime bit-part actor, and he had to work nights to pay the bills, but he knew he had a future as an actor. Years later he would play opposite Marilyn in
The River of No Return.
Dougherty's young wife made certain to satisfy her husband after the long hours at Lockheed. She slept in the nude and greeted him in the morning ready and willing to make loveâthe reward for all his hard work. Norma Jeane did not disappoint. When together, they were openly affectionate with one another; he called her “baby,” “honey,” or “cutie,” and she called him “Jimmy ”
Jimmy slept by day while Norma Jeane attempted her household chores. Mrs. Dougherty passed the quiet hours trying on makeup, which she purchased with whatever spare change was left over from her grocery allowance. As a young husband, Jim often wished there was more money so that he could offer his wife all the clothing she admired in the shop windows. Their first Christmas together was a memorable oneâfor Jim saved enough money and proudly purchased the monkey fur coat his wife had admired. Norma Jeane didn't yet dare wish for sable. Being a modest girl who still lived within a budget, Mrs. Dougherty managed to give her husband a silver belt buckle and a shaving cup filled with his favorite cigars. Jim still uses the cup today to hold nuts and bolts.
The security she had with her husband during the early days of their marriage gave Norma Jeane the confidence to seek out her father and confront him with her existence. Ethel Dougherty was present when Norma made the difficult phone call to C. Stanley Gifford, whom she believed was her father. It was a sad day. When she identified herself he hung up instantly. Norma Jeane just could not bring herself to cryâthe rejection was too painful. Jim held her hand tightly. He wanted to protect her now more than ever before; he was happy to play father, lover, and husband.
Jim took his mentor role seriously and decided to teach his new bride to drive. She was constantly distracted and keeping watch out the side window. Once, he recalled, she hit a red trolley on Santa Monica Boulevard, but no one was hurt. (Later, after their divorce, Norma Jeane struck a priest's car, totaling both vehicles. An angry ex-husband was promptly sued for the damages.)
Weekends were spent outdoors fishing or canoeing at Pop's Willow Lake, hiking up into the Hollywood Hills, skiing at Big Bear Mountain, or horseback riding in Burbank. During one weekend jaunt to Big Bear, Norma Jeane showed her possessiveness for her new husband. Fifteen girls vied for the attention of the only two men in the entire area, Jim and a merchant seaman from Sweden. Jim and the Swede paid attention by playing cards with the girls and enjoying themselves. Jim gloated over his popularity and sent Norma Jeane running to their cabin in tears. He enjoyed getting a rise out of his bride, later explaining, “I used to tease her a lot. I was a big tease. Sometimes she would laugh, sometimes get mad at me.”
In 1943, Jim's parents gave them a house at 14743 Archwood Street. The newlyweds had wanted to buy a place for themselves, but on Jim's salary of thirty-two dollars a week, which was good by the day's standards, a home in the Valley priced at five thousand dollars was out of their reach. The move up to a larger living space, especially the queen-size bed instead of the pulldown Murphy, was a source of great satisfaction for the young couple. There was now room for a collie, whom they named Mugsy.
The consequences of being drafted in the service in 1944 were grim, so Jim joined the merchant marine and became a physical training instructor. He immediately was stationed on Catalina Island. The island was lush and beautiful and inhabited by virile young men. His wife accompanied him and they rented an apartment overlooking the bay at Avalon and the Grand Wrigley Mansion. Jim took weightlifting lessons from a champion weightlifter and Olympic wrestler and taught Norma Jeane to reshape her body. Soon she boasted measurements of 36-24-34.
Norma Jeane swore she'd pay her husband back for all his teasing. She donned tight sweaters and skirts and flaunted her body for all the adoring males in Avalon. She pranced around in white shorts and a skin-tight blouse, enjoying the admiring catcalls. Her choice of the skimpiest bathing suits left men breathless, and left her husband out in the cold. Jim had finally tired of Norma Jeane's behavior and gave her a dose of her own medicine. Years later, Jim recalled the one night every week he and his wife would spend in his barracks. When he forgot his key, he knocked. Norma Jeane's response: “Is that you, George? Is it Bill?” she'd giggle, “or maybe you're Fred.” Though Jim could dish it out, he couldn't take it. There were bitter disputes about the way she dressed, though their arguments led them straight to bed, where passionate lovemaking made up for hurt feelings. Something about the way other men looked at his sexy wife only aroused Jim's desire for her the more. As a willing partner enjoying the passion of her well-endowed man, Norma Jeane was beginning to understand the control she could exercise over men.
An overseas transfer for Jim prompted a move back to Van Nuys. The Doughertys thought it best for Norma Jeane to live with his parents while Jim was away. The loss of privacy was compensated for by having more help around the house. The pressures of her lonely marriage were mounting as Norma Jeane wrote to Jim of her diversions in speaking to the salesmen who came to her door. All were offering bargains with time payments and although she was tempted to buy, most of the time she merely engaged in conversation. She taunted her husband that she was lonely for male companionship and enjoyed the outlet these men provided. The military sent her support and Jim's family chipped in for groceries but Norma Jeane spent her money on clothes and makeup. The outfits, cosmetics, and an occasional new hairstyle charged her spirits with excitement and made the day pass more quickly.
But shopping alone couldn't overcome her frustration and loneliness, so Jim's mother arranged for her to get a job at the Radio Plane Company in Burbank. Norma Jeane was placed in the Chute Room, packing and inspecting parachutes that attached to miniature remote-controlled target planes. Though earning twenty dollars a week, she quickly became bored. Norma Jeane requested a transfer to the Dope Room, where liquid plastic called “dope” was sprayed over cloth, which was then used on the fuselage of the target plane. She worked harder in her new position and was awarded a certificate for excellence. Being shy and untalkative had not helped her make many friends in the plant. Her quietness made her suspect, and now, with the award under her belt, she stirred up resentment among the other employees. But Norma did not seem to care. Disregarding the whispers, Norma Jeane felt proud of the achievement and continued with her good work.
Early in 1945 the Allies poured east across the Rhine River, and Jim Dougherty was home on his first leave.
Jim and Norma Jeane made a beeline for privacy from his parents' home and checked into the La Fonda Hotel in the Valley. Eager to spend time with her husband, Norma Jeane took a leave of absence from her job. The couple spent entire days and nights in their room ordering their meals from room service. Being apart almost a year had made them ravenous for each other. They made continuous love the first week. Norma Jeane took off additional days from work, her leave extended to three weeks. It was pure enjoyment for her. No work and all playâDaddy was home and she had missed him. She told him about her accomplishments at the plant, and that made Jim uneasy. He cringed when she told him of her dreams of being a great movie star one day. He reminded her that so many talented women were jobless and she should appreciate having steady work. He didn't approve of her aspirations; he wanted a wife and a mother for his children.
Norma Jeane bottled up her desires after his initial reaction. But when he left for the Pacific, she began paying frequent visits to her Aunt Ana Lower in Culver City. Ana always encouraged Norma's ambition.
Norma Jeane went into action in other ways, too. The local bars served to keep Mrs. Dougherty occupied during the days and nights that her husband was gone. Sometimes she drank too much. Other times a tall, attractive, dark-haired man would invite her out to dinner and then to his apartment for more drinks. The perfect outlet for her anger over Jim's recent “desertion” was to show her faraway husband that she was beautiful and desirable enough to keep a man interested. With her husband conveniently overseas, Norma Jeane was lonely and aching for love. She unbuttoned her cotton short-sleeved blouse and revealed her lacy brassiere. Her date, a bit drunk from one too many beers, asked her to remove all her clothing. It was easier than she thought it would be; he had already paid for a charming dinner. But the best part of the evening was the expression on his face as Norma Jeane revealed her body to him. The astonishment on the stranger's face as he perused the most magnificent nude body he'd ever seen sent exciting chills up and down Norma Jeane's spine. Attention from a man was what she was looking for. It seemed like an eternity since her husband had touched her. She missed the lovemaking. Bridging the lonely gap was the right thing to do. Pleasure and comfort were happy bedfellows, and Norma Jeane indulged herself. When the stranger was satiated he asked if she needed taxi money home, generously offering ten times the necessary fare.
The next time the sad, lonely feelings surfaced, Mrs. Dougherty returned to the bars. Anger over her husband's absence increased daily as time passed slowly, but fantasizing about her next interlude both stimulated and comforted her. Subsequent visits reinforced her struggling sense of worthiness. There was always a willing participant. The next might be more generous... maybe older, perhaps married. And there were always rewards. A thank-you and some extra spending money were expected and appreciated. But then the hurts returned when good-nights were exchanged, again reminding Norma Jeane of how her husband disappointed her. He was supposed to be loyal. There he was in the Pacific sharing his bed with a strange woman, she rationalizedâhe must have been!
Jim had always wanted to make love every day, sometimes both in the morning and in the afternoon. What was he doing tonight? Norma Jeane was certain he was enjoying another woman's sexual gifts. And the thought infuriated her. But she suppressed her anger and made excuses to go to another bar. The boredom of being alone would be squelched by being in the company of so many attentive, desirous young men. Norma Jeane liked her “treats” and carefully picked the ones who looked as though they were richer than the rest. She wanted to ensure that her performance went neither unnoticed nor unrewarded. The retaliation was part of the reward, but the bonus was comforting. Jim Dougherty was getting his just desserts. And Norma Jeane vowed she would never depend on him again.