NYT: Marilyn Monroe Was a Real-Life Rosie the Riveter in WWII

Thursday, 05 Jun 2014 01:53 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Before she became one of the world's most famous movie stars, Marilyn Monroe worked 10 hours a day building small remote-controlled, pilotless planes — the predecessor to today's drones.

During World War II, when Monroe was 18-year-old Norma Jeane Dougherty and the wife of a United States merchant seaman assigned overseas, she worked for $20 a week at the Radioplane company in Burbank, Calif., reports The New York Times.

Today's more sophisticated drones, since the 9/11 attacks, have been used against targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan to combat terrorism. Back in the 1940s, the drones Monroe helped build were initially intended for U.S. Army and Navy anti-aircraft gunners, who used them for target practice to perfect their skills.

At least at one point during World War II, however, the Allies used drone warfare. During the D-Day summer of 1944, under the code name Operation Aphrodite, Allied forces packed radio-controlled bombers with explosives and guided them into the air by pilots, who ejected from them before they reached their targets.

Navy aviator Lt. Joseph Kennedy Jr., the older brother of the late President John F. Kennedy, was killed during one of the drone missions.

Back home, the then-Norma Jeane Dougherty worked to inspect and spray parachutes, even after her mother-in-law, who got her the job, warned her that the fumes would ruin her hair and her health.

The job, though, may have started Dougherty's rise to stardom in a way. She won a $50 war bond after she was chosen as "queen" of the company picnic.

Later, she posed with a propeller and a Radioplane ID for a photograph in color by Pvt. David Conover of the Army’s First Motion Picture Unit in Culver City, Calif., who was assigned to shoot some "Rosie the Riveter" publicity pictures.

The image, along with others like it, helped bring fame to Dougherty, who soon changed her name to Marilyn Monroe.

And the pictures also gave Monroe another link to the future — the officer who assigned Conover to take the photos was Capt. Ronald Reagan, The Times reports.

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