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A decade ago, when Jennifer Tritz attended high school, actress Angelina Jolie lit up the big screen, singer Mariah Carey delivered huge hits and Madonna still shined red hot.
But when Tritz decided to dress as a celebrity for a dance, she picked someone who had been dead for decades — Marilyn Monroe.
Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of Monroe's death. The blonde, breathy-voiced actress remains a Hollywood icon, but not just for people around during the height of her fame or years soon after.
She pulls major fans from a crowd that learned about Monroe's era in history class — people in their 20s and 30s.
Some became fans as teens because they identified with Monroe's insecurities. Others appreciate how Monroe embodied sensuality and sexiness with a curvy, natural-looking body. Some simply love her durable, high-octane celebrity earned by hard work — one the Kardashians and other instant celebrities will never match.
Young people can find plenty of ways to connect with Monroe, who made more than two dozen films, married baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and died of a drug overdose in Los Angeles at age 36.
They can watch the TV series “Smash” about a Broadway musical based on Monroe's life. They can catch the 2011 film “My Week With Marilyn,” which covers the real-life shooting schedule of a 1957 Monroe comedy.
They can dial up “The Seven Year Itch” and other Monroe movies on Netflix. They can choose from dozens of books about her life, including new ones hitting the shelves.
At stores and online, her image is on everything from T-shirts and posters to martini glasses and iPhone cases.
Chuck Murphy, owner of a California company that licenses photos of Monroe, said young fans are keeping her image alive in part by scooping up items with her likeness.
“The youth are the ones driving (it),” he said.
Tritz, 28, first heard about Monroe when she was about 10. A cousin owned a calendar with photos of Monroe, and told the blond-haired Tritz she looked like the actress.
Tritz was intrigued.
She looked at the Monroe calendar. The actress was beautiful, glamorous — but who was she?
“I was really curious,” she said.
Tritz asked her parents about Monroe and they gave her library books about the actress. She began watching Monroe's films like “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “Bus Stop” and “Some Like It Hot.”
Monroe's acting style impressed Tritz, who started performing on stage at age 10 and acts in local theater. She loved Monroe's comic timing and how she could also tackle drama.
Tritz, who works for a nonprofit insurance association, said her Monroe fascination grew in junior high.
She knew from books that Monroe felt misunderstood and insecure. Tritz, dealing with all the typical junior high drama, felt the same sometimes.
“She had this fragility,” Tritz said.
Lisa Crockett, a professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said many aspects of Monroe's life could appeal to young women, including her struggle for acceptance.
“That is a real feeling among teens,” said Crockett, who specializes in adolescent development. “They really tend to see themselves as unique in some ways.”
Crockett also said Monroe's curvy body type could appeal to young women frustrated by today's rail-thin fashion models and slim actresses on screen.
Bailey Carlson of Omaha said Monroe's figure helped her accept her own body.
Carlson, 24, remembers as a teen spotting photos of Monroe, her full hips highlighted by form-fitting dresses. She thought Monroe's body looked more like her own than the slim figures of stars like Julia Roberts or Jennifer Aniston.
Carlson bought posters and pictures of Monroe and hung them up in her bedroom. She'd buy a Monroe calendar every year.
“I wanted to surround myself with (a woman) I looked like,” said Carlson, who works for a local insurance company and performs in community theater.
Shannon Laux of Omaha also was drawn to Monroe in part because of her natural shape.
“Her size was double-digit,” said Laux, 31, “But her appearance was amazing.”
Adam Tyma, assistant professor of communication and culture at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said Monroe's half-century of fame is another draw.
In today's era, when TV reality shows like “Jersey Shore” grind out flimsy celebrities, someone like Monroe stands out, he said. Young people who read about Monroe realize she earned her lasting fame through film success, not just famous photos like the one of her wearing a billowing white dress.
Even for young people, he said, there can be nostalgia for the Hollywood of Monroe's time.
“A celebrity was someone you could look up to and want to become,” Tyma said.
Leanne Carlson, 32, has admired Monroe since she was 10 or 11.
She's a physician assistant who also acts and has performed as a Monroe impersonator. This fall she will star in the Omaha Community Playhouse production of “Legally Blonde.”
Her mother exposed her to Monroe and the two watched her films and talked about her life.
Monroe's success, despite growing up fatherless, living in orphanages and facing other struggles. has always impressed Carlson.
“She had a ton of tenacity,” she said. “She is the ultimate female icon.”
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A timeline: The making of an icon
June 1, 1926
Norma Jeane Mortenson is born in a Los Angeles hospital. The woman who would become one of America's most glamorous icons spent her early life in foster care, bouncing from family to family.
June 19, 1942
Mortenson marries Jimmy Dougherty, a member of the U.S. Merchant Marines.
Mortenson goes to work in a munitions factory in Burbank, Calif., where a U.S. Army photographer, David Conover, shoots a picture of her at work. Conover encourages Mortenson to pursue modeling.
Mortenson and Dougherty divorce. Mortenson signs her first movie contract, dyes her hair blonde and begins using the name Marilyn Monroe.
Monroe first garners wider attention for her small role in “Asphalt Jungle.”
Monroe lands first starring role in “Niagara.”
Monroe marries famed New York Yankee baseball player Joe DiMaggio. They divorced later that year.
Monroe stars in “The Seven Year Itch,” in which her iconic dress photo is taken.
Monroe moves to New York City to study acting at the Actors Studio. She marries playwright Arthur Miller in June.
Monroe earns a Golden Globe nomination for “Some Like It Hot.”
Monroe finishes her last complete film, “The Misfits.”
Aug. 5, 1962
Monroe is found dead. The coroner rules her death an overdose suicide.
Sources: Internet Movie Database, biography.com