Marilyn Monroe Grew up in Foster Care — inside Her Relationship with Mom and Tough Childhood
Sex-symbol and movie star Marilyn Monroe's past was far from glamorous. The most desired woman in the world had been abandoned as a child.
To this day, Marilyn Monroe is one of the greatest movie icons of all time, the woman every man wanted and every woman envied, but inside the blond bombshell huddled a little girl with a tragic childhood, Norma Jean Baker.
Norma Jean was just 2 weeks old when her mother, Gladys Baker, first handed her over into foster care. For the rest of her life, Norma Jean would look for reassurance that she was wanted in the adulation of audiences, and in the eyes of men.
As Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jean had a unique opportunity to reinvent herself for the studio PR machine
WHO WAS GLADYS BAKER?
It was the Roaring Twenties, a time of Jazz and gin and wild living. The world was plunging into a new era of licentiousness, and women were freeing themselves of corsets and moral restraints.
Reinventing themselves as the Jazz Baby, women were smoking, dancing, and rouging their knees. Among them was Gladys Baker. At 26, she was twice divorced, a cutter at a film studio --Consolidated Film Industries -- and pregnant.
LEAVING NORMA JEAN
Gladys gave birth to her third child on June 1, 1926, and named her Norma Jean. She was determined to keep her baby, but within days, she was overcome by the daunting challenge of being a working single mother.
Although Gladys would always insist that Norma Jean's father was a work colleague, Charles Stanley Gifford, this was never confirmed. Nor did he, or any man, step forward to claim the relationship, even when she became the screen goddess, Marilyn Monroe.
A distraught Gladys sought her mother Della Monroe's help, and she arranged for her neighbors, a devout childless Christian couple, Ida and Wayne Bolender to take the baby. It is telling that Della showed no interest in helping her daughter raise her child, and promptly departed on a trip to India.
Gladys handed her 2-week-old daughter over to the Bolanders, who agreed to foster her alongside the other children they had already taken in. Ida devoted herself to the newborn, and years later, Norma Jean would describe her years with the Bolanders as the happiest in her life.
KEEPING IN TOUCH
Gladys was determined to keep in touch with her daughter, and she would visit little Norma Jean regularly. When she realized that the Bolanders wanted to adopt Norma Jean, Gladys was distraught.
She had already lost her first two children: Jackie and Berniece, abducted by her abusive first husband. She was determined she would not lose Norma Jean. In her desperation, she showed the first signs of her incipient instability.
Norma Jean was three, and Gladys visited her at the Bolanders' and demanded that Ida hand her child over. When Ida demurred, Gladys shoved her out of her own back door and locked her out. She then stuffed her daughter into a duffel bag and attempted to run away with her.
Fortunately, her attempt was foiled, but from then on Ida watched the interactions between mother and daughter with a wary eye. As Della Monroe's neighbor, Ida was aware that she too was becoming deranged, and her main concern became protecting Norma Jean.
GOING HOME TO MOM
When Norma Jean was 7, Ida finally agreed to allow an apparently stable and grounded Gladys to take her daughter home. Gladys had purchased a house and took in actors and actresses as boarders, providing herself and Norma Jean with a home and a steady income.
It looked as if Gladys and Norma Jean would finally have the stable family life they both craved when disaster struck. In quick succession, Gladys learned that her maternal grandfather Tilford Hogan had committed suicide, and her 13-year-old son Jackie had died of kidney disease.
The twin tragedies pushed the already-fragile Gladys over the edge. She ranted at the shocked Norma Jean, telling her she should have been the one to die, not Jackie. The horrified 7-year-old watched her mother taken away by the police.
Gladys was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and institutionalized. Little Norma Jean, having been taken away from the only family she had ever known -- the Bolanders -- was now alone. Legal guardianship of the 7-year-old was attributed to a friend of her mother's Grace Goddard.
For the next few years, Norma Jean was shunted between Goddard's home and her mother's sister-in-law. The already-traumatized child suffered yet another betrayal -- she was sexually abused by one of Goddard's friends.
Faced with the occurrence, Goddard promptly handed the bewildered Norma Jean over to the Los Angeles Orphans’ Home. She was placed with Ana Lower, Goddard’s aunt, who took in Norma Jean and showered her with the love she craved.
Her contact with her mother was intermittent, as Gladys battled her inner demons. At the age of 12, Norma Jean finally discovered she had a sister, and the two women would correspond for the rest of their lives.
MARRIAGE AT 16
In 1942, Norma Jean married one of Goddard's neighbors, James Dougherty. Norma Jean dropped out of high school and became a housewife. Just months after the US entered WWII, Goddard became a merchant marine and was stationed in the Pacific.
Norma Jean moved in with her in-laws and took a job at a munitions plant. It was then that she was "discovered" by a documentary photographer visiting the plant to gather morale-boosting footage. He was entranced by Norma Jean -- then a brunette -- and encouraged her to seek work as a model.
Norma Jean was taking the first steps in her new career when Gladys was released from San Jose's Agnews State Hospital. Norma Jean and Gladys moved in with the ailing Ana Lower. Norma Jean, whose career was taking off, started divorce proceedings -- neither of which Gladys approved.
BECOMING MARILYN MONROE
Norma Jean signed a contract with 20th Century Fox and became Marilyn Monroe. Gladys announced she was moving to Oregon to live with an aunt -- but she never got there. En route, she married a man who already had a wife and family in another state.
As Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jean had a unique opportunity to reinvent herself for the studio PR machine. Yes, she had grown up in foster care -- but that was because her mother and father were both dead, not because her mentally unstable mother abandoned her.
Marilyn was a budding star when Gladys' husband died, and she returned to Los Angeles. She arrived manic and out of control, and her daughter was forced to call the police and watch once again as her mother was strapped to a gurney.
THE SKELETON IN HER CLOSET
Over the next few years, Marilyn became Hollywood's biggest star, and it wasn't long before someone dug out the truth about Gladys. The mother of the world's most popular actress wasn't dead -- she was insane and confined in an institution.
A FEARFUL LEGACY
But Gladys left her mark on her daughter in yet another way. The insecure Norma Jean self-medicated with drugs and was haunted by the fear that she would lose her sanity, just like her mother and grandmother.
In 1961, after admitting to suicidal thoughts, Marilyn was committed to the Payne Whitney Clinic. Her stay was brief, and though she declared herself cured, a year later she was to seek a Thorazine prescription from her doctor.
DEATH OF A LEGEND
Just months after she stood before the nation and sang Happy Birthday to President J.F. Kennedy, on August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her bed of a barbiturate overdose.
The golden girl who had enchanted America and the world on screen was gone. She was just 36, and at the height of her fame.
To this day, 57 years after her passing, Marilyn Monroe is the mythical screen goddess that inspires successive generations of actresses and is a worldwide cultural phenomenon.
Gladys showed few signs of grief when informed of Norma Jean's passing and was to outlive her tormented daughter by 22 years, dying in a health care institution in 1984.