Marilyn Monroe's Most Famous Lovers: Truth vs. Rumor

From John F. Kennedy to Jerry Lewis, a look at Marilyn Monroe's great loves and rumored flings

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Marilyn's Epic Love Life: Fact vs. Fiction

Portrait Of Marilyn Monroe
Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

Over the years, Marilyn Monroe's love life has become as shrouded in mystery and legend as the circumstances of her death in 1962.

As her good friend and photographer Sam Shaw, who himself was rumored to be her lover, once said, "If Marilyn slept with every guy that claims he was with her, she would have never had time to make any movies."

Read on for more on the most famous men (and women) linked to Hollywood's greatest sex symbol.

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Jim Dougherty

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Monroe was 16 years old and still known as Norma Jeane Baker when she married Dougherty, a classmate at Van Nuys High School, in 1942.

Their relationship began to disintegrate when Dougherty joined the Merchant Marines and she began modeling. They were divorced by 1946.

“If I hadn't gone into the Merchant Marines during World War II, she would still be Mrs. Dougherty today," he told PEOPLE in 1976.

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Charlie Chaplin, Jr.

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Rumor has it that Marilyn had an affair with the legendary star's son, Charlie Jr, in 1947. The relationship allegedly ended when Charlie caught Marilyn in his brother Sydney's bed.

Chaplin makes reference to the affair in his 1960 autobiography, and Anthony Summers mentions the relationship in his book Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe.

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Milton Berle

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The comedian and Monroe first met on the set of Ladies of the Chorus in 1948. Although he was officially dating film star Adele Jergens at the time, Berle himself claimed to have had a brief affair with the young actress.

Berle, the first superstar of the TV era (and, according to Truman Capote and showbiz lore, famously well-endowed), also starred with Monroe as himself in the aptly titled film Let's Make Love in 1960.

“Marilyn was on the climb in Hollywood, but there was nothing cheap about her," he wrote in his autobiography. "She wasn't one of the starlets around town that you put one meal into and threw into the sack. Maybe she didn't know exactly who she was, but she knew she was worth something. She had respect for herself. Marilyn was a lady."

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Natasha Lytess

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She met Lytess, her beloved drama coach, when she signed a short contract with Columbia Pictures in 1948. The duo would become nearly inseparable both on and off set over the next seven years, sparking rumors of a relationship.

Monroe's dependence on Lytess grew so intense that she began refusing to film scenes without her coach nearby. Eyebrows were further raised when the actress moved into Lytess's home to prepare for her role in 1952's Don't Bother to Knock.

While the nature of their relationship remains a mystery, Lytess was openly hostile to Monroe's male suitors, especially Joe DiMaggio.

“She was a great teacher, but she got really jealous about the men I saw. She thought she was my husband!" Monroe once said of her teacher. They eventually parted ways in 1956.

As for rumors of other lesbian affairs, such as with Barbara Stanwyck and Marlene Dietrich, Monroe seemed to put the issue to rest in her 1954 autobiography. "A man who had kissed me once had said it was very possible that I was a lesbian because apparently I had no response to males — meaning him," she wrote. "I didn't contradict him because I didn't know what I was ... Now, having fallen in love, I knew what I was. It wasn't a lesbian."

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Elia Kazan

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Kazan, one of Hollywood's all-time great directors, admitted to having a brief affair with a young Monroe while he was married to playwright Molly Thacher.

In recently unearthed private letters to Thacher, Kazan confessed to sleeping with the actress, saying "I'm not sorry about it."

He added, "I'm not ashamed at all, not a damn bit, of having been attracted to her. She is nothing like what she appears to be now, or even appears to have turned into now. She was a little stray cat when I knew her."

Kazan was a close friend of Monroe's future husband Arthur Miller, and also referred to Joe DiMaggio in his letters to Thacher, saying the ballplayer beat up Monroe "several times."

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The Kennedy Brothers

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Cecil Stoughton/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Monroe's most infamous rumored affairs were with President John F. Kennedy, and later his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Some have even suggested that her relationship with the two men played a role in her untimely death.

Rumors of an affair were spurred in part by her sultry “Happy Birthday” performance for the commander in chief at his 45th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, just months before her death.

Monroe's biographer James Spada told PEOPLE in 2012 that while he doesn’t believe there’s any proof that the Kennedys were responsible for Monroe’s death, “it was pretty clear that Marilyn had had sexual relations with both Bobby and Jack.”

Read more about the alleged affair here.

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Joe DiMaggio

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AFP/Getty

She was “like a good double-play combination,” the baseball great DiMaggio told a friend after he and Marilyn Monroe were introduced on a blind date in 1952.

Six months into retirement, he saw the 26-year-old actress, in the words of Monroe biographer Donald Spoto, as “a beautiful blonde showgirl who might double as a devoted mother and homemaker.”

Monroe, who also longed for a home and children, was surprised by the famous ballplayer. “I expected a flashy New York sports type, and instead I met this reserved guy who didn’t make a pass at me right away,” she wrote. “He treated me like something special.”

They married on Jan. 14, 1954 in a quiet ceremony at City Hall in his native San Francisco. But problems began to arise as DiMaggio, accustomed to being the biggest star in the room, became bothered by his wife's skyrocketing fame.

The couple divorced that October, nine months after their wedding. Monroe later said her now-infamous billowing skirt scene in The Seven-Year Itch was the final point of contention: “He said .. exposing my legs and thighs, even my crotch -- that was the last straw."

Yet they remained close friends, and for 20 years after Monroe’s death, DiMaggio sent roses to her grave three times each week.

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Marlon Brando

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Perhaps the two most famous actors of their generation, Monroe and Brando were rumored to have briefly dated in 1955, after her divorce from DiMaggio and before her relationship with Arthur Miller.

Brando escorted Monroe to the premiere of The Rose Tattoo (pictured) and the two remained friendly until the end of her life.

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Arthur Miller

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Monroe would later say it was love at first sight when she met the author and playwright in 1950 on the set of As Young As You Feel.

The duo did not reconnect until 1955, until after she had divorced DiMaggio and moved from Hollywood to New York City. They began secretly dating and were married in 1956.

"We're so congenial, This is the first time I've been really in love. Arthur is a serious man, but he has a wonderful sense of humour. We laugh and joke a lot. I'm mad about him," she said in 1956.

At first, Monroe flourished away from Hollywood in a more normal life. She began cooking, cleaning and taking care of Miller's children, who all loved spending time with her. But when Monroe went back to work on The Misfits, written by Miller, their relationship began to crumble.

Monroe's drug addiction caused problems on set and at home, and shortly before the flim's premiere in 1961, she and Miller divorced after five years of marriage. Just 19 months later, Monroe fatally overdosed.

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Frank Sinatra

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The Blonde Bombshell and Ol' Blue Eyes briefly dated after her divorce from Arthur Miller.

After her split from the playwright, Monroe stayed at the crooner's house for a time after moving back to Los Angeles. The romance cooled off by 1961, when Sinatra proposed to Juliet Prowse, but the two remained friends until her death.

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Jerry Lewis

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John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The late comedian claimed to have had a secret love affair with Monroe during a candid interview with GQ in 2011.

First, Lewis insisted that Monroe's affair with Kennedy never happened, saying, “I’m telling you what I know. Never! And the only reason I know is because I did. Okay?”

When the interviewer reacted with disbelief, Lewis assured the story was true, saying that Monroe used sex like he used to humor: “She needed that contact to be sure it was real.”

So what was the affair like? “It was … long,” he said, smiling ruefully. “I was crippled for a month.” Another pause, he quipped, “And I thought Marlene Dietrich was great!”

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