Editor's note: James Dougherty died in August 2005. Below is one of the last as-yet unpublished interviews with the man who was Norma Jeane (Mortenson) Baker's first husband. Baker was better known as Marilyn Monroe.
Today, Aug. 5, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of one of cinema's greatest icons, Marilyn Monroe, who was found dead in her Hollywood bungalow amid a cascade of pills.
Purportedly dead from an overdose, Monroe's untimely death at age 36 sparked a controversy that would reach the highest offices in the land, those of President John F. Kennedy and his younger brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy.
Fifty years ago this summer, Marilyn Monroe's infamous pool pictures were published in Life magazine, taken from her last film, "Something's Got to Give." That "something," it turned out, was the fragile actress herself.
The real story of Monroe was not what was visible, but the inner scars she carried for a lifetime. Insecure and tormented, Marilyn Monroe, The Sex Goddess bore little resemblance to Norma Jeane (Mortenson) Baker, The Woman. She was decidedly not, in today's parlance, "comfortable in her own skin."
James "Jimmie" Dougherty of Sabattus was Monroe's first husband. In 1996, he talked about his marriage and the illusion that was their relationship.
Dougherty was a career cop, and was proud of that, having served with the Los Angeles Police Department.
He was prouder still, it seemed, to be Norma Jeane's first husband. The more he talked, the more apparent it became that his story was indelibly connected to Monroe's.
Even though he worked the Black Dahlia murder case, and a number of other famous LAPD cases, he remembered little about the details of that work. He had, after their divorce, lived in the shadow of Marilyn Monroe and couldn't seem to go beyond the self-authored script of an idealized version of a marriage that didn't survive war and separation.
The story was always Marilyn; his work solving crimes shelved into his past.
Dougherty told his story about boy-next-door meeting girl-next-door, their wartime marriage, and genuine love for each other. It is also the story of searing separation and star-struck fantasy.
He spoke wistfully of the woman (girl, actually) he had married at 19, she just two weeks past her 16th birthday. It was a circumstance Marilyn Monroe would later liken to an arranged marriage.
It was 1942, and the former football star of Van Nuys High School, Jim Dougherty, pulled up to the school's entrance. Muscular and handsome with a rough-and-ready attitude, he tried to look nonchalant as two 15-year-old girls wiggled and giggled their way into his car. It wasn't his idea to play taxi — quite the contrary.
He begrudgingly agreed to give Bebe Goddard and Norma Jeane Baker a lift home to his next-door neighbors, Doc and Grace Goddard. Wards of the state of California and the charges of the Goddards, the girls were well-known to the Doughertys.
The family, an all-American clan of Irish lineage, had toughed it out through the Depression by making their own bullets and shooting game in the California hills. Times were lean and bullets were precious. The Doughertys brought their prey down on the first shot.
Norma Jeane's high-pitched laugh floated through the car as she squeezed into the front seat next to Dougherty. The high school grad pretended not to notice the kittenish thing beside him, bubbling about something and calling him "Jimmie." He was, after all, out of school, working and draftable. She was just a kid.
But unbeknownst to the young man, a plan was being hatched between Mrs. Goddard and Mrs. Dougherty, and the center of that plan was "little" Norma Jeane, who was born to Gladys Mortenson on June 1, 1926. Her biological father was, well, one of several possibilities.
In and out of mental hospitals, Gladys Mortenson lost Norma Jeane to the California foster care system. Norma Jeane became a ward of the state, and Doc and Grace Goddard were appointed her guardians. When the Goddards learned they were being transferred to West Virginia, a question arose: what to do with Norma Jeane?
The answer? Wouldn't it be nice if we could get Norma Jeane and Jim together, schemed Mrs. Goddard and Mrs. Baker.
The web began to weave in the form of a Christmas dance. The Goddards dispensed with subtleties: Why don't you ask Norma Jeane? She'd love to go.
Shucks, thought Dougherty. He considered himself a man and now was being asked — told, actually — to take this curly-haired cutie to a grown-up dance. He'd give the kid a break ... and she wound up giving him a heartthrob. In June of 1942 they were married and the Goddards were en route to West Virginia.
Life took on a nice stride for the newlyweds, according to Dougherty. Their home life waxed poetic: She tried cooking, with some degree of success; she liked to cook peas and carrots together because they "looked pretty" that way. The new Mrs. Dougherty would buy little things in department stores to decorate their apartment.
But World War II was looming closer, and Dougherty was growing increasingly uncomfortable as he watched his buddies, fellow workers and relatives answer the patriotic call. He also knew his draft number was coming up, so he enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
But the real combat was at home. Norma Jeane became so hysterical at the prospect of Dougherty pulling anchor that he went down to the Navy the next day to tear up his form.
The same thing happened with the National Guard.
He finally resolved to join the Merchant Marine. He could contribute to his country and, at the same time, test common wisdom that enlistees got more furloughs.
He broke the news to his wife, and the night he parted was the worst one of his life. Dougherty braced himself as his ship pulled away, torn apart by the sight of his weeping wife on the wharf.
Norma Jeane Baker Dougherty and her beloved collie, Mugzy, moved in with her in-laws. Dougherty had a lot on his mind when he made these quick arrangements, none the least being competition for his wife's attention on the home front.
The young bride settled into life with Mugzy and her mother-in-law, but she soon became bored and asked the elder Mrs. Dougherty to help her get a job. Before long, Norma Jeane was working for a firm called Radio Plane that sent up remote controlled airplanes for target practice. She was assigned the DOPE room where she applied stiffening agents to planes. The future actor Robert Mitchum was also working there.
The job was noble but boring, until a war photographer sent a stringer to the plant to document the war effort. David Conover's camera — and eye — were well-trained, and both fell on curly-haired Norma Jeane, smiling widely while priming. The camera clicked and the rest is history.
So were the Doughertys as a couple.
It was a crushing blow to the young Merchant Marine stationed in the Pacific Theatre. Norma Jeane's divorce papers were served on her husband on the Yangtze River, not exactly around the corner. But, 54 years later, he still attributed the end of their marriage to separation, not stardust.
Dougherty would never let go of his belief that war was the reason for the end of his marriage, the corollary being that had he been there for her, she would not have felt desperately abandoned.
On his next furlough home in the wake of the divorce papers, he went to see his soon-to-be ex-wife at the apartment she had just moved into with, of all people, her unstable mother. Dougherty didn't know which bothered him more, their divorcing or finding Gladys splayed out on the bed.
He was headed out the door when he reached across the table for his car keys.
Now it was Norma Jeane's turn to panic.
"Oh, Jimmie, I need the car for my modeling jobs," she pleaded.
Dougherty looked at her incredulously, he remembered. His wife had just called it quits but she still wanted to use his car?
It was one of the many contradictions he would come to see in her as he followed her career that magnified larger than life on the silver screen. He would see or talk with her occasionally in the years to come, and noted the changes that transformed Norma Jeane into Marilyn Monroe, Monroe being her mother's maiden name and Marilyn her grandmother's middle name.
But it wasn't just the name change that gave Dougherty pause. One day out of the blue, he got a call from Marilyn. His sister had written an article about her for a magazine and she called Dougherty about it. Her characteristically high-pitched voice was low and breathy. He did not recognize her at first.
"Norma Jeane, is that you?"
"What are you talking like that for?"
"They make me talk like this," she said, "they" being the studio. "They say I show too much gum when I talk and smile, so I have to pull my lower lip down and talk like this."
He noticed her laugh was not as hearty either. As he hung up the phone, he thought about what he'd heard. The studio had molded her into its image like a demon fashioning a vulnerable Eve.
Dougherty steadfastly maintained that he never knew his young wife wanted to be an actress, a revelation that seemed to blindside him. Yet other family members knew the depths of her dreams.
Early on Aug. 5, 1962, Dougherty was awakened by the steady ring of his telephone.
"Did you hear the news, Jim?" asked a fellow officer. "Norma Jeane was found dead in her bed. It looks like suicide. I'm real sorry."
Jim never believed that she meant to take her life. He was convinced until his death that her reliance on pills to get through the day and more pills to get through the night intersected tragically on that night.
He could not bring himself to believe otherwise. As Norma Jeane reinvented herself as Marilyn Monroe, in some ways Dougherty spun his reality as well, believing he had a wonderful marriage. His was an idealized version of the story and, he, like Marilyn, worked hard on presenting an image to the world.
His view was to keep her the way he had her in his mind, a mythologizing of the way life could have been, and not necessarily the way it was.
Two different realities, two different people, two different grooves. And to Dougherty's credit, he kept much of their marriage private when he could have exploited elements in a hot bestseller. And Monroe once said that of her three husbands, "Jimmie" was the kindest to her.
Dougherty also married three times. His third wife, Rita, was still a pretty, petite blond at 70 years old.
Dougherty said Marilyn would have looked much like Rita had she lived.
Call it part of the myth.
In 2001, James Dougherty's book, "To Norma Jeane with love, Jimmie," was published by BeachHouse Books. Days before his interview with Karen Lemke, he had traveled to Japan, a revered guest of that country because of his link to Marilyn Monroe. Lemke is an associate professor of education at Saint Joseph's College and the author of "Downeast Detective."