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.
By ARTHUR FREDERICK
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.
“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.