Norma Jeane’s First Screen Test and the Road to Divorce

Jim and Norma Jeane Dougherty at the Cocoanut Grove in March 1946

Norma Jeane Dougherty’s marriage to Jim Dougherty had been strained since he began serving overseas as a Merchant Marine and she pursued a modelling career against his wishes. By early 1946 she was seriously considering a future in movies, but the studios refused to hire married starlets.

Jim later claimed that Norma Jeane wanted to stay married in secret, but he refused. After a final attempt at reconciliation in March, Norma Jeane filed for divorce. Her screen test for Twentieth Century Fox was filmed 74 years ago today, on July 19th.

In later years, Marilyn would dismiss her first marriage as a youthful mistake, perhaps because she resented Jim speaking to the press about her. In 1984, Dougherty once again reminisced about their four years together in a UPI interview.

‘She was like two completely different people. I knew Norma Jean [sic], not Marilyn Monroe. Norma Jean was reserved, devout. The vulnerable part carried over to Marilyn and that’s what hurt her. I look at Marilyn just like everybody else does,’ he says. ‘The girl I knew was Norma Jean.’

‘It was a long time ago,’ Dougherty said of the marriage. ‘I don’t think we ever stop loving a person completely once a relationship has ended. But I was writing her out of my life within a couple months of the separation — you have to bounce back.’

On occasions when news about Marilyn Monroe is resurrected — such as new speculation about her death — he gets letters and phone calls sometimes from as far away as South America. ‘Something will happen and it will blossom and I’ll get calls,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t bother me to talk about it — it’s a part of my life. If people mention it, I don’t mind.’

Dougherty said his second wife, whom he divorced in 1972, felt ‘like she had to compete with Norma Jean, even though she was far ahead because she gave me three beautiful children.’ So he never saw Monroe movies in the theaters when they came out. ‘I destroyed all my letters from Norma Jean — hundreds of them. I don’t need them for a memory but I probably could have built a house for what they are worth.’

‘I’ve seen some of her films on television — I think she was a good actress, that’s what she wanted to be thought of,’ he said. ‘I really liked the one with Jane Russell (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes).’

He said his third wife, Rita, a Maine native who he married in California in 1973, isn’t bothered by his first marriage and encouraged him to write a book about it to correct ‘inaccuracies by other authors.'”