If Norma Jeane Dougherty had never become Marilyn Monroe: Interview with Marilyn Monroe’s first husband
By Darla Miller, Knight News Writer – The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) May 20, 1976
SAN JOSE, Calif. — If Norma Jeane Dougherty bad never become Marilyn Monroe — the greatest sex symbol of all time — today she might be a contented, matronly housewife living a leisurely life of retirement in Arizona.
“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,” says Marilyn’s first husband. “But stardom, movies, notoriety all changed that.” ‘
For years, Dougherty has lived comfortably out of the spotlights the world turned on Marilyn Monroe and seemingly everyone whose life she touched. He has been the dark comer of her world which in every other respect has been public property.
But now Dougherty has purposefully emerged from the shadows to tell his story of their once happy young life together, partly to set the record straight before the myths about them become too entrenched to be changed.
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.
It has so little to do with his life today it is like thumbing through a tattered book of memories — or running an old home movie in his mind.
Their story began on the eve of World War II. Jim Dougherty was the handsome, popular student body president at Van Nuys high school. Norma Jeane was the girl next door.
At first, he didn’t think seriously about her. After all, he was five years older. She was just a kid.
By the time Dougherty was 21, Norma Jeane was a pretty 16-year-old woman. She was enormously attracted to him, and he had long since stopped thinking of her as a kid.
On June 19, 1942, they were married.
At first, she seemed satisfied with her life as the wife of a Lockheed Aircraft worker. He remembers her as security-conscious, eager to please, a good wife who someday dreamed of having her own family.
“When we were married and I was with her, she had security. She needed that. Norma Jeane needed someone to be a father, mother, brother and husband to her — and all at different times,” says Dougherty. “I think she was most happy when we lived on Catalina Island — it was like an extended honeymoon.”
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.
As their marriage fell apart, Norma Jean’s career came to life. She landed good modeling jobs that widened the gap between them. When he came home on leave, Dougherty recalls she had less time for him.
The time finally came to choose between her career and him. She did — and the marriage was over.
On that day in 1946 when Dougherty brought Norma Jeane the divorce papers, he found her deliriously happy.
That same day, the studio that had signed her as a starlet gave her a new name — Marilyn Monroe.
Marilyn Monroe’s first husband, James Dougherty, waxes nostalgic
From People magazine – May 31, 1976
“She would have been 50 this June,” said James Dougherty as he gazed at a likeness of his former wife, Norma Jeane Mortenson, during a visit to San Francisco’s Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf.
“If I hadn’t gone into the Merchant Marine during World War II, she would still be Mrs Dougherty today.” [They were married from 1942 to 1946.]
But their marriage, the first for both, lasted only four years.
Afterwards, Dougherty became a Los Angeles cop, remarried and had three children. Norma Jeane (16 when the pair wed) metamorphosed into Marilyn Monroe.
“Our life was idyllic, sexually and otherwise,” claims Dougherty, who has written a book about it. (Norma Jeane thought differently.)
Now retired and living in Mohave, Arizona, Dougherty has no Pygmalion desire to bring this waxwork version back to life.
“I only ever knew Norma Jeane,” he says. “I never knew Marilyn Monroe.”
Always Norma Jeane, from Marilyn Monroe’s first husband
An excerpt from James Dougherty’s book, To Norma Jeane, With Love, Jimmie
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 part of a family, to belong to someone forever, someone who would love her always and would not leave her. I promised her I never would, and I kept that promise.
It’s been over five decades since Norma Jeane and I were 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 16th year in 1941 [otherwise reported as 1942] when we exchanged our vows and promised to love each other until our deaths.