The man who married Norma Jean

I never thought that a move to Maine from Boston would lead to me writing about Marilyn Monroe. But in 1990, not long before I left my second tour with UPI, I heard that Marilyn Monroe’s first husband was living in Sabattus, not far from Lewiston. I found him, got in touch, and he was very friendly and willing to talk. Here is the story that resulted.


SABATTUS, Maine (UPI) – Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller may remember Marilyn Monroe, but James Dougherty thinks back to a schoolgirl named Norma Jean, who ended their marriage to become an actress, sex symbol and national obsession.

In 1943, the woman who was to become the nation’s favorite blonde bombshell was still Norma Jean Mortensen. She married Dougherty – her first husband – in their home town of Van Nuys, Calif.

He was 21. She had just turned 16.

“I never knew Marilyn Monroe and I don’t claim to have any insights about her to this day,” Dougherty said. “I knew and loved Norma Jean.”

A former Los Angeles police officer, Dougherty, 68, retired to Maine 11 years ago. He is married to his third wife, Rita, a Maine native.

His relationship with Norma Jean began casually. She attended Van Nuys High School and he sometimes walked her home after class.

“I had graduated from high school and I was working at Lockheed,” he said. “The war hadn’t started yet. Norma Jean was going to high school and I was taking her home, but I was going with a girl up at Santa Barbara High School, going up there on weekends.”

Norma Jean was 15 at the time, living with a foster family in Van Nuys because her mother had been committed to a mental institution. Her foster mother was a good friend of Dougherty’s mother. The two mothers began talking about a marriage between Dougherty and Norma Jean when the foster family began thinking about moving to another state.


Jim Dougherty and Norma Jean Mortensen on their wedding day

“They wanted to move back to Virginia, and they couldn’t take Norma Jean,” Dougherty said. “She would have gone back to an orphanage or another foster home, so her foster mother suggested I marry her.”

“I thought she was awful young, but I took her to a dance. She was a pretty mature girl, and physically she was mature, of course. We talked and we got on pretty good.”

Dougherty continued to see Norma Jean for the next year, giving up on the girl in Santa Barbara. A year later, the two were married.

The young couple lived in a Sherman Oaks apartment for a while and then moved back to Van Nuys, . I World War II, Dougherty joined the Merchant Marine and was assigned to teach sea safety on Catalina Island, off the California coast.

“She (Norma Jean) was just a housewife,” Dougherty said. “We would go down to the beach on weekends, and have luaus on Saturday night. She loved it over there. It was like being on a honeymoon for a year.”

Then Dougherty was sent overseas. Norma Jean got a job and moved in with Dougherty’s mother in Van Nuys.

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In the 70s, shortages were in the news

Many people remember the gasoline shortages of the 1970s, but not everyone may remember the other shortages during those years, at least some of which were traceable to the petroleum shortage. Not enough petrol meant rising gas prices and correspondingly higher prices on everything from food to manufactured goods. Anytime a “shortage” surfaced it was worth writing about. But who could have predicted a shortage of canning jars?



BANGOR, Maine (UPI) – And now, inflation fans, comes the Great Can Shortage.

If you thrilled to your chilly, oil-less house last winter, if you shuddered with excitement while waiting in line at your neighborhood gas station last spring, and if you quivered when meat prices went out of sight last summer, you’re just going to scream with pleasure when you try to put up those green beans from the garden this fall.

Walt Haueisen, , New England distributor for Ball Brothers Co., canning supply manufacturers, says there’s an acute shortage of canning jars this year, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better, in Maine and elsewhere.

Sound familiar?

Haueisen said the company, one of the nation’s largest, had to put strict allocations on production a year ago because of shortages in the tin plate industry.  And because the rising cost of food caused many people to plant gardens this year, the demand for canning jars has sharply increased.

“The garden upsurge in the past several years has greatly increased demand,” said another spokesman for Ball Brothers, Vern Schranz. “There are people gardening and canning now who wouldn’t have dreamed of it before.”

There are other reasons for the shortage. Soda ash, used in manufacturing the glass jars, is now used by soap companies because they can no longer use phosphates. And commercial production of the jars gets priority over the manufacture of jars for home use.

ball jar picJars can be used year after year. But the glass rings and rubber seal rings must be replaced each time they are used, and guess what Ball Brothers has coming out of their ears?

“Right now we have more jars than lids,” Haueisen said. We sent a limited supply up to Maine Monday. Priorities there are based on the amount purchased in past seasons.”

“No state has delivery priorities but you will find many more vegetable gardeners in Maine than, say, Massachusetts,” he said.

Retailers in Maine have reported that they sell out of the canning jars hours after they arrive. And the price has gone up from around $1.50 to as high as 42.75.

The alternative to canning is freezing, but many people don’t own freezers. And besides, there have been reports of shortages of freezer bags this year.

“The only real alternative to canning is freezing, but several stores have even reported slight shortages of freezer bags,” said Mary Ellen Cunningham, home economics extension agent for Penobscot County. ”Also, if a family has no freezer, there is that expensive initial purchase.”

The result of all of this is that some of the vegetables planted in home gardens this spring will either be eaten fresh or left unharvested.

“If I can’t find jars and lids,” said one Maine gardener, “I’ll have to start giving my crops away.”