James Dougherty

First husband of Marilyn Monroe

Wednesday 10 July 2013 03:40

He married a childhood sweetheart when she was 16 and no one in the world, aside from their families, knew who they were. The bride became arguably the most glamorous Hollywood star ever to appear on the silver screen. He remained probably the world's least famous husband of a most famous film star.

Only in his later years, after retiring from a 25-year career as a Los Angeles police detective, did James Dougherty begin publicly to acknowledge a youthful marriage that lasted only four years before ending in divorce. He had three wives in his life. His first was Norma Jean Baker, later to become Marilyn Monroe, the Hollywood icon who went on to marry Arthur Miller, the playwright, and Joe DiMaggio, the baseball player.

Jim Dougherty was a 20-year-old aircraft worker in Van Nuys, California when he started dating his teenage neighbour Norma Jean. The wedding took place on 19 June 1942, less than three weeks after her 16th birthday. In 1944 Dougherty left to sail the oceans as a merchant mariner and his young wife took a job in a factory. There she was spotted by a photographer documenting the war effort. When Dougherty returned home, he found a changed woman with a changed name. The couple divorced in June 1946 and Marilyn Monroe signed a contract with 20th Century-Fox.

That Dougherty was discreet for most of his life about his famous ex-wife was in part out of deference to the two other women he subsequently married. But after marrying his third wife, Rita, Dougherty became more open about talking about his first love, and in 1976 he published The Secret Happiness of Marilyn Monroe. In 1997, he said of his former wife: "I love her, but I'm not in love with her. There's a lot of difference between loving someone and being in love." That year, Dougherty published a memoir, To Norma Jeane With Love, Jimmie (following her own spelling of her name), and in 2004 appeared in the documentary Marilyn's Man.

Dougherty admitted that he had followed every turn in the life and career of Monroe. When they first met, he said, her "plans then were to be a homemaker". He said that he had helped his young bride develop the persona of Monroe that would make her so famous - and so desirable to so many men - and that it was the studios who had forced her to divorce him because he was too ordinary.

David Usborne

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