Catalina Island News

Marilyn Monroe Exhibition at the Catalina Island Museum

Catalina Island Museum

Before She was Marilyn: Marilyn Monroe on Catalina Island is the first major exhibition documenting the year Marilyn Monroe lived on Catalina Island. Although a brief period that is often ignored by historians, this candid and often disturbing exhibition brings to light documentary evidence and photographs that reveal the pivotal importance of this period in understanding the troubled psychology of a woman who would become an icon of popular culture.

Born to an emotionally unstable mother who was often institutionalized, uncertain of her father’s identity, shuffled off to live with relatives and in a succession of foster homes, the early life of Norma Jeane Baker was tragic. To escape the miseries of yet another foster home, she – along with the boy’s own sympathetic mother -- convinced a reluctant neighbor boy, James Doughtery, to marry her. She was only sixteen. The danger was real, and biographers speculate that the young Norma Jeane had been sexually abused, possibly as early as 12 years of age.

After graduating from high school, Jim Doughtery entered the Merchant Marine at the height of World War II, and took his young wife with him when stationed on Catalina Island during 1943.

Through diary entries, letters and photographs that have never before been assigned to Marilyn Monroe’s life on the island, the exhibition reveals a playful, even girlish Norma Jeane Doughtery. Indeed, the young girl is, as she would suggest in letters, liberated from the anguish of a tormented childhood.

Far from the sophisticated “blonde bombshell” who later entered into a secret liaison with a U.S. President, the exhibition probes deeply into a woman who, by her own admission, did not feel married and enjoyed playing with neighborhood children until called home late in the evening by her husband.

Possessing a radiant smile that would serve her well in the future, she can be seen on the island’s beaches, rowing with girlfriends and posing before the island’s most famous landmark, the Avalon Casino. But she remained “a lonely girl with a dream,” and only months after leaving Catalina Island, she was discovered by a photographer whose remarkable photographs launched a film career that continues to be one of the most compelling in American history. 

This remarkable exhibition will be on view from August 6 through October 31 at the Catalina Island Museum.

Opening Reception for Before She Was Marilyn

The Catalina Island Museum invites you to join us for the Opening Reception for Before She Was Marilyn: Marilyn Monroe on Catalina Island on Saturday, August 6th from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. Tickets are free for members of the museum and $5.00 for the general public.

The Catalina Island Museum is located on the ground floor of Avalon’s historic Casino, and is open 7 days a week, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.