Inside Marilyn Monroe's Relationship History

Marilyn Monroe is undeniably one of the most iconic of icons. If you Google "sex symbol," a photo of Marilyn Monroe appears. But for all her association with the term, she claimed to never really see herself that way, and it has even been speculated that she fits into what would now be known as the asexual spectrum. Writing in her memoir "My Story," she said, "Why I was a siren, I hadn't the faintest idea. There were no thoughts of sex in my head. I didn't want to be kissed, and I didn't dream of being seduced by a duke or a movie star. The truth was that with all my lipstick and mascara and precocious curves, I was as unsensual as a fossil. But I seemed to affect people quite otherwise."

She did, however, seem to be interested in romance and had relationships with a variety of people throughout her sadly shortened life. Not only was she married three times, but she also had several other brief liaisons as well as a few on-again, off-again affairs. Let's take a closer look at Marilyn Monroe's relationship history.

James Dougherty

Due to her mother's psychiatric health issues, Marilyn Monroe (then Norma Jean Baker) spent much of her early childhood in a foster home, and as a teenager was living with a family friend, Grace Goddard, according to Biography. When Goddard was looking to move away, she suggested that her neighbor, 20-year-old James Dougherty, who had been casually dating 15-year-old Monroe, marry the future starlet. "We decided to get married to prevent her from going back to a foster home ... but we were in love," Dougherty explained, via the Los Angeles Times. Monroe was 16 when they got married in 1942.

The relationship began to fall apart when Dougherty went overseas on a merchant marine assignment. Back home, Norma Jean was well on her way to transforming into Marilyn Monroe after beginning a modeling career. When she was offered a contract with 20th Century Fox, there was only one thing standing in her way: her marriage with Dougherty. Many Hollywood contracts at the time required women to be unmarried, so Monroe sought a divorce from her long-distance husband. Unwilling to continue in the relationship without the security of marriage, he signed the divorce papers and separated himself from the woman who would someday become a legend. "I never knew Marilyn Monroe, and I don't claim to have any insights to her to this day ... I knew and loved Norma Jean," Dougherty told United Press International (via Los Angeles Times).

Charlie Chaplin Jr.

After the newly divorced Norma Jean Baker became Marilyn Monroe and started her career in Hollywood, she began dating eligible young men around Tinseltown. One of them was the silent movie star Charlie Chaplin's son, Charlie Chaplin Jr. According to the book "Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe" by Anthony Summers, the "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" star briefly dated Chaplin, who was an actor struggling to make ends meet at the time. Monroe was allegedly still a bit of a "country girl" who didn't gain the approval of Chaplin's mother. According to Summers, Chaplin ended the affair when he caught Monroe in his brother's bed. Whether that particular story is fact or fiction, the two allegedly remained friends for the rest of their lives.

Chaplin gave a different and simpler explanation for the end of his brief liaison with Monroe in his biography, "My Father, Charlie Chaplin." He explained, "Marilyn Monroe started going to the top fast, and it was the duty of her studio publicity department to keep her name in the papers by dating her here and there with other eligible young men. So she and I drifted apart, and I haven't seen her for years."

Robert Slatzer

Writer Robert Slatzer claimed to have had an on-again, off-again relationship with Marilyn Monroe that lasted for years. According to "Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe" by Anthony Summers, they met in the lobby of 20th Century Fox right before Monroe became a massive star. "I think we had an instant affection towards each other ... For me there was something magic about her, different from the other girls the talent men at the studio would fix you up with. I don't know, I think I can say I loved her from the first time I saw her."

Later in life, Slatzer was known for writing books about Monroe. In one, he claimed that they were married for three days in 1952. Whether or not it actually happened has been debated for years. According to The Los Angeles Times, the marriage could never be confirmed. Slatzer wrote in his book "The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe" that the marriage was the end of their relationship. "During this period I'd come to understand how Marilyn felt. She was happy with me, but not happy being married to me ... Our relationship was strained — nothing like it had been before we were married -– and I finally decided that it had to come to an end," he explained. The 1991 movie "Marilyn and Me" was based on the alleged romance.

Milton Berle

Despite the fact that she was 18 years his junior, Milton Berle asked Marilyn Monroe out when they first met on the set of "The Ladies of the Chorus" in 1948. "I made a date with her and I took her out. I was in between marriages so it was okay and we went around and we had a lot of dinners and everything." Berle went on to say that the real-life Monroe was nothing like how she was portrayed on film, even going so far as to say that she was a tomboy. "She liked to dress in slacks, no makeup or anything. She wasn't that glamorous," he said in an interview with Larry King. According to him, she also liked junk food and had a wonderful sense of humor.

Berle wrote in his autobiography, "She wasn't out to please me because I might be able to help her. She made it clear that what happened between us happened because she liked me. And I liked her. We didn't pretend that our affair was a big thing. It was just part of something nice between us. And after a while it was over." Many years later, they starred together in the 1960 movie, "Let's Make Love."

Natasha Lytess

The relationship between Marilyn Monroe and her acting coach, Natasha Lytess, has long been speculated to be more than just a professional one. Monroe lived with her acting coach for several years, and it has been theorized that they were in a romantic relationship. According to the Daily Mail, Lytess claimedd in a 1962 interview that the movie star would often walk around the house in her birthday suit: "She was always naked in the house. Six or seven or eight hours ... she was naked all day long! And I'm not exaggerating!" Reportedly, when actor Ted Jordan asked Monroe if they were sleeping together, Monroe said, "Why not? ... Sex is something you do with people you like. What could be wrong with a natural act?"

The extent to which their relationship was romantic might never be known, but it can be said with certainty that Lytess helped Monroe blossom into the actor she became and was a near and dear friend. According to Louis Banner's book, "Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox," Monroe once told photographer Anthony Beauchamp, "Miss Lytess made me free. She gave me inner balance and made me understand life. I owe everything to her." Many Monroe biographers have speculated throughout the years that Monroe had more than a few lesbian encounters, per HuffPost.

Joe DiMaggio

When Marilyn Monroe met Joe DiMaggio, one of the most famous baseball players of his time, an unlikely romance sparked. The Yankees legend reportedly asked a mutual friend to set him up with the "Some Like It Hot" star. Monroe was surprised to find that she enjoyed the athlete's company. "I expected a flashy New York sports type and instead I met this reserved guy who didn't make a pass at me right away ... He treated me like something special," Monroe said, according to "Marilyn Monroe: The Biography." The couple married in 1954.

But it didn't take long for their marriage to take a dark turn. Reportedly, he demanded that she give up her Hollywood lifestyle and expected her to be a housewife entirely devoted to him. She reportedly told her friend Brad Dexter, "I'm extremely unhappy ... I married Joe with love. I thought I was going to have a good life. I thought we were going to have a decent marriage. I thought we were going to have a relationship as a husband and as a wife. And all the things that are entailed in a good marriage. And I've discovered that the man is absolutely obsessed with jealousy and possessiveness," (via PBS). Monroe divorced him after only nine months of marriage, citing "mental cruelty," per Biography.

Elia Kazan

Elia Kazan was one of the biggest directorial names in Hollywood in its golden era of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, per Britannica. He had married his classmate, playwright Molly Day Thacher, in the 1930s, and she was still his wife when he strayed and had an affair with one of the biggest movie stars of the day, Marilyn Monroe. He confessed about the affair in a 1955 letter to Thacher, published in "The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan." In the letter, he goes into detail about Monroe's personality, writing, "She is nothing like what she appears to be now, or even appears to have turned into now. She was a little stray cat when I knew her ... She is not a big sex pot as advertised. At least not in my experience."

He had no regrets about his time spent with "The Seven Year Itch" star. "I'm not sorry about it ... I'm awful sorry I hurt you. I am human though. It might happen again. I hope not, and I have resisted quite some other opportunities ... If you don't like what I say and feel it necessary for your own sense of honor to divorce me, divorce me," he wrote. His wife never did divorce him over the infidelity; Kazan and Thacher stayed married until her death in 1963, per The New York Times.

Arthur Miller

In the midst of Marilyn Monroe's affair with Elia Kazan, he introduced her to the man who would someday become her final husband, Arthur Miller. Monroe and Miller met in 1950, but Miller was married at the time and lived in New York City. It would be another four years before they met again, when Monroe moved to The Big Apple in 1955. Once reunited, they embarked on an affair and soon Miller filed for divorce from his wife.

Monroe reportedly once claimed that Miller was the only man she had ever really loved. He clearly felt just as strong. In one love letter from Miller, he gushed with statements like, "I am near tears this minute at the miracle you are to me. How happy I will make you!" and "Since the hour we met, I knew there was something in you that I must have or die." But eventually their marriage became strained with him being accused of Communism amidst the Red Scare, as well as her multiple miscarriages and drug and alcohol abuse. By the time they worked together on "The Misfits," which would be her final film, their relationship was reportedly beyond repair. They divorced in 1961. Monroe said of their marriage, "I wasn't sweet all through. He should love the monster, too ... I put Arthur through a lot, I know. But he also put me through a lot," via Biography. Monroe died in 1962, a little over a year after their divorce, and Miller did not go to the funeral.

Yves Montand

At the height of Marilyn Monroe's disintegrating marriage with Arthur Miller, she sparked up an affair with her "Let's Make Love" co-star, French actor Yves Montand. Miller had actually been present in the work of the movie, helping to rewrite scenes, and the affair and his indifference to it was yet another factor in the breakdown of their marriage, according to Biography. Montand was also married at the time, though his wife, Simone Signoret, reportedly commented on the affair by nonchalantly saying, "If Marilyn is in love with my husband, it proves she has good taste. For I am in love with him, too," per the Daily Mail.

The affair ran its course in the bungalows of The Beverly Hills Hotel and became tabloid fodder at the time, per Vogue France. By the time the filming of "Let's Make Love" was wrapped, the relationship was over. He had no intention of leaving his wife, and Monroe was technically still married too. They accepted it for what it was: a brief co-star fling. 

The Kennedy brothers

Though the alleged affair between Marilyn Monroe and President John F. Kennedy has always been the stuff of legend, the reality is it was probably no more than a one-night fling. According to her close friend Susan Strasberg's unfinished memoir (via Vanity Fair), Monroe only slept with JFK once at a party at Bing Crosby's house in Palm Springs. "Marilyn loved the secrecy and the drama of it, but Kennedy was not the kind of man she wanted to spend her life with," Strasberg wrote.

On the other hand, one of Frank Sinatra's friends, Tony Oppedisano, told People that their affair was ongoing and that when she felt rejected by the president, she sought out a relationship with his brother, Robert Kennedy, as a sort of retaliation. Marilyn and Robert allegedly had a more involved affair. According to Anthony Summers' book "Goddess," Monroe had called several people in her final hours. One of those calls was with her hairdresser and friend Sydney Guilaroff, who said she had confessed Robert Kennedy had been to her house that day, that they had argued, and he had ended things with her. "She rambled on about being surrounded by danger, about betrayals by 'men in high places,' about clandestine love affairs," Guilaroff explained. Many conspiracy theories about Monroe's death suggest that it was not an accident and theorize that the Kennedys were involved.

Marlon Brando

Hollywood legends Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe first encountered one another early on in their careers. According to Brando's 1994 autobiography "Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me," he met Monroe at a party and they struck up a conversation after he accidentally elbowed her in the head. They soon became friends and then eventually more than friends. "She invited me over, and it wasn't long before every soldier's dream came true," Brando wrote. Like many of her romantic partners throughout her life, Brando claimed she was very different than the public had imagined. He added, "Marilyn was a sensitive, misunderstood person, much more perceptive than was generally assumed. She had been beaten down, but had a strong emotional intelligence — a keen intuition for the feelings of others, the most refined type of intelligence."

Monroe and Brando allegedly had an occasional romance that lasted for years. "After that first visit, we had an affair and saw each other intermittently until she died in 1962. She often called me and we would talk for hours," he wrote. According to "The Godfather" star, he had even spoken to her on the phone the week she died and they made plans for the following week. Devastated by the news of her death, Brando was convinced she did not commit suicide. He believed she either accidentally overdosed or was murdered.

Frank Sinatra

Considering how it seems every big actor during the Golden Age of Hollywood dated each other at one time or another, it's not surprising that Marilyn Monroe was also linked to Frank Sinatra, one of the most popular singers and actors of the era. But it's been debated by various biographers what the true nature of her relationship with Ol' Blue Eyes was. According to J. Randall Taraborrelli's book "Sinatra: The Man Behind the Myth," they first struck up an affair in 1954 and then reunited in the early '60s, shortly before her death. He allegedly even considered proposing marriage.

Other accounts suggest they were just close friends. Tony Oppedisano, who knew Sinatra personally, claimed they were never lovers. In his book "Sinatra and Me: In the Wee Small Hours," he wrote, "Frank felt she was too troubled, too fragile, for him to sleep with and then walk away." According to Charles Casillo's book, "Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon," it might have been more complicated. "She loved Sinatra. His confidence and power made her feel safe ... Soon the movie magazine headlines were asking: 'Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra: Is it a fling? Or is it a thing?' It was actually something in between," Casillo claimed.

Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis was a popular comedian in the 1950s and 1960s who starred in films "The Stooge," "Cinderfella," and "The Nutty Professor," just to name a few, per Britannica. Lewis, who was married to Patti Palmer from 1944-1980, had the reputation for having affairs with his co-stars, and in his own words, he was sleeping with numerous people in Hollywood, per GQ. One of his instances of infidelity with his wife was allegedly with none other than Marilyn Monroe.

Though it was a very brief fling, he revealed his affair with Monroe in a 2011 interview with GQ. It had been a complete secret up until that point. He wouldn't go into too much detail, but at 85 years old, recalled that Monroe sought emotional connections with people through affairs. "She needed that contact to be sure it was real," he said, adding that the act itself was intense. "I was crippled for a month," he joked.