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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Floating across the Atlantic

As I’ve said, Maine was very fertile ground for strange and unusual stories (and strange and unusual people, as well). But no story was stranger than when Richard Branson came to a Maine ski lodge to begin a transatlantic flight to Europe in a hot air balloon.  Branson’s balloon lifted off at a little after 4 in the morning and, even though the clipping indicates that this happened in July, I remember being pretty cold as we all huddled in the pre-dawn darkness on a mountain at the Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Carrabassett in 1987. We all thought the balloon may have been doomed when two large propane tanks clattered to the ground just as the balloon lifted off.  Branson’s adventure was successful, and this story (and others) appeared in newspapers across the country.



CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine (UPI) – The Virgin Atlantic Flyer, shoved along by the jet stream, soared past the old distance record for hot air balloons Thursday, just nine hours after lifting off from a Maine ski resort on a first-ever transatlantic trip to Europe.

The huge black-and-silver balloon carried its two British pilots, Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand, past the old record at around 27,000 feet, an altitude that allowed the balloon to take advantage of the jet stream while avoiding bad weather at lower altitudes.

A spokesman for the ground crew back in Maine said the balloon had been sailing along at 100 miles per hour or more since takeoff. The old distance record of 907 miles was surpassed in around nine hours, 18 hours less than the time necessary to set the old record.

ImageBut neither Branson nor Linstrand appeared too interested in the new distance record which they set just after 1 p.m., nine hours after the balloon left the ground at 4:15 a.m.

“There is a lot of ocean out there, the machine is complex, the weather forecasts are complex, and a lot of things can go wrong,” said Bob Rice, the project’s meteorologist. “They want to fly 3,000 miles, so 900 miles doesn’t mean that much.”

Branson told the ground crew by radio the flight was going smoothly, but said he was frightened at one point when he spotted a vapor trail near the capsule.

“When we arrived at 27,000 feet we hit very cold weather,” Branson said. “There was an enormous cloud behind us that created a massive vapor trail, and for a moment I thought the balloon was on fire.”

It wasn’t the only frightening moment for the two balloonists. As the giant silver-and-black balloon lifted off , two of the 12 large propane fuel tanks surrounding the pressurized capsule fell off and a cluster of sandbags failed to let go as planned.

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Covering the news media

Writing about the news media was one of my beats when I worked for a business newspaper in Tampa. It was fun and an interesting coverage area, but even in the mid-1990s the print business was in decline. That made for some uncomfortable stories, and also for some uncomfortable news business executives. They didn’t like it when reporters would write negative stories about them. I could always count on a ringing telephone the day after writing a story about a newspaper that was less than glowing. This story was about the Tampa TRIBUNE, a newspaper that has been in second place to the St. Petersburg TIMES (now the Tampa Bay TIMES) over on the other side of Tampa Bay. The Tribune is still hanging on, but its future is cloudy.

Arthur Frederick
Staff Writer

A team of Pennsylvania-based consultants has been hired to study the nooks and crannies of the Tampa Tribune, and is searching out ways to cut costs and boost efficiency.

Publisher Jack Butcher said the move was simply a matter of the newspaper business trying to catch up with other industries.

“The word that comes to mind is `archaic.’ Every other industry did this eight or 10 years ago,” Butcher said. “We are trying to make our company more productive and more customer-friendly — what just about any company in America has to do to survive.”

But to some Tribune news staffers, the study is little more than a cover for the further elimination of jobs which has been rumored at the paper for some time.

Tribune managers won’t discount the possibility of layoffs. But they say the study is really aimed at finding more efficient processes which will improve news reporting, and make the paper stronger and more competitive.

“This is an ongoing process that probably will take at least six or seven more months,” said Michael Kilgore, the Tribune’s promotion director and chief spokesman. “We aren’t looking at money to be saved or people to be employed. We’re looking at processes. We’ve told our employees that in some departments we might need fewer people, and in others we might need more.”

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