Who was James Dougherty, Marilyn Monroe's first husband?

Netflix's Blonde has intrigued viewers across the world, but one relationship that isn't explored in the film is Marilyn's first marriage to James Dougherty

Norma Jeane Baker (left), future film star Marilyn Monroe (1926 - 1962), with her first husband, Merchant Marine James Dougherty (1921 - 2005) and a friend, circa 1943
(Image credit: Future/Getty Images)

Blonde, the new Netflix film based on the 2000 novel of the same name written by Joyce Carol Oates has topped the charts upon its release, with viewers intrigued by the powerful portrayal of the actress's troubled life. 

Netflix's Blonde launched on Friday, September 23 and has remained at the top of the Netflix film charts. The film stars Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe and reveals to viewers more about the tragic life of Marilyn Monroe. 

The film explores Marilyn's relationship with her estranged father Charles Stanley Gifford, as well as her turbulent marriages. But one relationship that isn't explored in the film is her first marriage to police officer James Dougherty, leading those with an interest in Marilyn's backstory to question who Marilyn's first husband was and why their marriage failed. 

Who was James Dougherty?

Marilyn Monroe with her first husband police officer James Dougherty on their wedding day

Marilyn Monroe with her first husband police officer James Dougherty on their wedding day

(Image credit: Getty Images)

James Dougherty, formerly an American police officer, is most famously known as the first husband of actress Marilyn Monroe. James married Marilyn Monroe, or Norma Jean as she was known then, when she was just 16 years old - long before she became a Hollywood starlet. 

“I never knew Marilyn Monroe, and I don’t claim to have any insights to her to this day,” he told United Press International in 1990, according to reporting from the LA Times (opens in new tab). “I knew and loved Norma Jean.”

The pair met when James was 20 years old and working the night shift at Lockheed Aircraft. His family had lived next door to Grace and Doc Goddard, who were fostering Norma Jean at the time. 


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“They wanted to move back to [West] Virginia, and they couldn’t take Norma Jean,” James said in the United Press International interview. “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.

“We decided to get married to prevent her from going back to a foster home," he explained, before adding, "but we were in love."

How long were James Dougherty and Marilyn Monroe married? 

The couple were married for just four years, divorcing in 1946. 

Soon after the couple were married, James enrolled in the Merchant Marines and left to serve in the Pacific. Marilyn began her career as a model and actress, signing with the agency Blue Book Model Agency, then landing a contract with 1946. That same year, the couple divorced.


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While the reason behind the split isn't confirmed, reports have speculated that her marriage stifled her dreams of making it in Hollywood. 

According to the biography Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon, James would have preferred Marilyn to quit her career as an actress when he returned from serving in the Pacific - but Marilyn wasn't ready to give up her career.

What happened to James Dougherty? 

After the divorce, James went on to marry again and had three daughters, but this marriage also ended in divorce in 1972. James joined the LAPD in 1974, working as a detective, and married his third wife. 

He retired in 1974 and moved to Maine, where he then wrote and published two books detailing his marriage to Marilyn, or Norma Jean as he knew her, entitled, The Secret Happiness of Marilyn Monroe and To Norma Jean With Love, Jimmie.

James passed away on August 15 2005 at 84 years old in in San Rafael, California from complications of leukemia, according to reporting from Los Angeles Times (opens in new tab).

Lauren is the former Deputy Digital Editor at woman&home and became a journalist mainly because she enjoys being nosy. With a background in features journalism, Lauren worked on the woman&home brand for four years before going freelance. Before woman&home Lauren worked across a variety of women's lifestyle titles, including GoodTo, Woman's Own, and Woman magazine.