To Norma Jeane with Love, Jimmie

The sensitive touching story of Jim Dougherty's 16-year-old bride and their four-year marriage before Norma Jeane's Hollywood transformation to Marilyn Monroe

By Jim Dougherty,

as told to LC Van Savage
with photographs by Joseph Jasgur
see more at the fan club


 It's been more than three decades since the phone rang in my home before dawn that Sunday. I’d been used to phones ringing at all hours because of my years of working on the Los Angeles Police Department, but there was something about this particular ring. I sat up, completely awake, as if I’d been up for hours. I turned and looked at the phone and some thing of some part of me deep and below pressed down and flat. A quick, drenching chill flashed through me and I shuddered. I watched my hand as if it were not mine as it reached for the receiver and it was cold and hard against my ear. I knew I did not want to hear the words that would come through it, the words I’d always known were one day coming.

I recognized the voice. It was my good friend from the Los Angeles Police Department, Sergeant Jack Clemens, and I did not hear him when he told me they’d found her dead in bed. I did not hear those terrible words coming from my old friend going straight into my ears and my heart, and yet there they were, expected, dreaded, and his voice was clear and I knew. I knew Jack was finally saying them because I’d always known someone would say them to me someday. I can’t say why I knew, but I did. I thought the hearing of them would be easier, rehearsed over the years in my mind as they had been. And yet when Jack finished speaking, a smashing numbness collapsed me inside, outside, my eyes, my hearing, my belly, and I could not breathe, or see or hear.

Suicide they told me later. But no. She would never have done that. Not her. I turned and looked down at my wife Pat. She stared up at me from the pillow, her eyes wide, questioning.

“Say a prayer, “ I said, my voice breaking. “Norma Jeane is dead.”

To the world, she was and always will be Marilyn Monroe, but to me, she was Norma Jeane Baker who happily became Norma Jeane Dougherty, taking my name because she so desperately wanted to be a family, to belong to someone forever, someone who would love her always and would not leave her heart. Again. I promised her I never would, and I kept that promise, and never did.

 It's been over five decades since Norma Jeane and I have been together. The years haven't in the least diminished my memories of that glowing, sweet child-woman I still love so dearly. I am not ashamed to say here or to the world that my eyes fill when I speak of her and our too-short time together. I see Norma Jeane nearly every day, and not just in my dreams and thoughts. She is everywhere I look; on posters, sweatshirts, T-shirts, mugs, life-sized cutouts propped in doorways, calendars. She is in every store I go into, seen every day on television, in every library, in thousands of books, tapes, and movies. I hear her recorded voice, so different from the high pitched sweet little child voice she had when we were married, but they made her lower it. Ah, but after all, she was only a little girl when we married. Norma Jeane was just two weeks into her l6th year in 1941 when we exchanged our vows and promised to love each other until our deaths.

 And so Norma Jeane's gone, but she left long before she died. In a very short period of time, just a couple of years, Norma Jeane Dougherty, born a Gemini (the Twins) willingly became absorbed and taken over by the Marilyn Monroe twin. It wasn’t a “good twin bad twin” theory, and really I don’t pay that much attention to all that star and planet stuff, but there were two people within my beloved Norma Jeane and the Marilyn part of her was the stronger and more convincing. Settling down with me, a man who would probably not make a lot of money and who wanted a bunch of kids and a happy simple life, couldn’t really compete with what she perceived as a wildly glamorous life with lots of money, cars, homes, and of course, the adulation of the world. But I have never for one single day forgotten the Norma Jeane part of Marilyn Monroe and I know absolutely it’s true that the world has never forgotten the Marilyn part of Norma Jeane.

I’m older now and as my life winds down, I find myself yearning to tell Norma Jeane about all the joy she gave to me. And it wasn’t as if I hadn’t realized it was happening all the while it was happening; I knew. I knew I’d been given something unique in my life, I was well aware that other men had wives they adored, but something always told me my wife was different, that she’d “stepped out of the line” as they say, that she had a certain aura or quality—it’s hard to define even today---and I always told her these things that back then. I remember.

But today I wonder; did I tell her often enough? Did I let her know she was my very world? That I adored her heart, respected her mind and worshiped her beauty? I wonder if she believed me back then. She’d smile and thank me, sometimes her beautiful eyes filling with tears when she listened to me say those things, but was she able to believe me? Were my words of love I said to her just too late? Had the poison already seeped into her mind? Had she been abandoned so often that she could no longer see herself as beautiful? Had she been abandoned so often that she finally came to believe it must be her fault, that she was so ugly and so bad no one could possibly want her?

I’ve had so much time to think about those things; time that came after the hurt had healed and I’d gotten on with my successful and very happy life. As the years passed, I’ve found myself wanting to ask her “why, Norma Jeane? Why did you leave me? We were so happy. We loved each other so dearly. You told me that so often. We told each other.”

But of course I know why . I know that the promise of great fame, vast amounts of money, of no more worries, the glamour, the company of famous, glittering people, and above all else, the adulation of millions ---all of these were the reasons you left me. I could provide you none of them. All I had to give was a good, simple life, filled with kindness, love, children and happiness. All of these simple pleasures must have suddenly seemed terribly dull to you when you saw that big, shiny Hollywood finger crook at you and beckon you to come.

I’m getting older now and find I’m now often wishing I could speak again with my Norma Jeane, wishing I could tell her these things, to thank her even now, so long after her death, although it was the death which ultimately robbed me of the chance to thank her. But then, when I think with my head and not my heart, I know I’d never have gotten the chance to tell her this. She wouldn’t have been able to hear me anyway, once she became “her.”

I was a stranger to Marilyn Monroe. If she ever spoke of me, it was quickly. She would say she wished me happiness. That our marriage had been one of convenience. And so in time, she never spoke of me again. Marilyn Monroe did not know me although the Norma Jeane that buried so deeply within her always did. But Marilyn was someone else, a being separate from Norma Jeane, the young girl who added rainbows and laughter to my life, my whole life, during our time together certainly, but long afterward too, right until this day. I can't forget. I never want to.

Los Angeles, April 12, 1921. I was born an Aries, sign of the ram. I like that. And at times in my life I am proud to say I was that-- strong, rugged, wilderness loving, free, confrontational, and often quite vigorously in rut.

1937. This was my year. I was sixteen, my hormones were singing loudly to me and I was paying very close attention. I owned a l927 Buick, had enough money from my summer job to make good use of that car, and "good use” to young men back then (and still today) meant only one thing; dates. Girls. That's all there was and all I needed. Dates and girls were the only reasons I, or any young man, lived, then or now. Life was looking very sweet to me in l937. I was a senior in highschool, on the football team, acting and singing whenever I could, president of the student council, but oh, how I loved the girls. It was time for Jim Dougherty to howl and nothin’ was gonna hold me back!

Well, at least nothing that didn’t involve money! There wasn’t much of it, after all. My family was poor. Bu then, everybody's was back then, so that’s a statement of fact and not a plea for pity. Both of my parents, my two older brothers Tom and Marion, and my sister Billie. all worked to keep the family fed, clothed and sheltered. It's how it was done during that difficult time in our country’s history, during the Great Depression. (Old joke, but I’ve got to ask---“what was good about it?”) No one complained about his or her poorness. It was all we kids knew, after all, and we were content. We loved our lives.

I became a crack shot at a very young age. Bullets, when I was a child, were expensive and since it often fell to me to bring dinner home from the California hills, that animal or bird had to go down deader than hell with one shot and one shot only. There was not enough money for a two-bullet dinner! And even though we could not afford to waste ammunition, we were also taught that an animal must not be allowed to suffer, that when we shot, it was to be a quick and perfect kill. I learned. The ability to shoot once, straight, and accurately would serve me well all my life and especially during my years on the Los Angeles Police Department.

My father finally got a job that paid a little more than the one he’d had previously, and we moved back to California from Globe, Arizona, when I was six or seven. When the Great Depression hit, we found ourselves living in a very old car and a tent, not a terribly unusual occurrence for that time.

But finally, in the fall of l930, the entire family had actually saved enough money from picking apricots in an orchard, to rent a tiny house in Van Nuys, so tiny that two of us had to go back and live in that tent again out in the front yard. But we always ate. We always had clothes (patched and old, but clothes nonetheless) and we were a family, solid, unbreakable, and together. "Family" meant something strong and all-important to everyone back then and especially to all of us, and that sense of unified strength has stayed with me. Family, marriage and children; these are the basic reasons I exist today. And they were the fundamental reasons Norma Jeane could not stay with me.

I expect readers of my story will wonder about this, having read as so many have that Marilyn Monroe yearned so for children, so desperately desired a home and family. And this has confused me over the years too, because as you will read later, when we were newly married, she wanted children so badly, loved being a homemaker, and spoke so often about the happiness she’d found with me, living in her first real home, and planning for future babies.

But Hollywood is a seductive entity, offering temptations beyond the wildest dreams of the young actors and actresses yearning to go “out there” and “get in the movies.” It dangles money and excitement, travel and glamour in front of young eager eyes. But, when they beckoned to her, the Hollywood people told Norma Jeane she couldn’t be married, because back then young ladies only became pregnant when married, (or at least were supposed to, but didn’t always, just like today) and of course, as a young starlet, she could not be pregnant. Married women, and worse, married pregnant women, or worse, married women with children were considered no longer sexy or glamorous. They were used up, sexless has-beens, worthless and worth nothing financially, and the studios invested too much money in their starlets to allow them to get into those sorts of “situations.”

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