Gladys Pearl Monroe Baker, a pretty, fragile divorcee, was Norma Jeane’s mother. She was born in 1902 in Mexico to American parents. Sadly her mental illness left her utterly unable to care for the little girl. Norma Jeane entered several foster homes beginning with her first year of life. She lived for seven years with an English couple named the Ida and Albert Bolender. They provided a safe haven for Norma Jean but Marilyn recalled a very sad incident with Ida. She claimed that one day she called Ida”mommy” to which the woman snarled, “don’t you call me mother! I’m not your mothery!” Since Ida Bolender was the only mother the child had ever known, this surely must have confused and nearly destroyed the little girl. She then asked about Albert. Was he her father? The answer again was “no”. Imagine little Norma Jeane’s feelings about being disowned by the people she’d thought were her family. Marilyn repeated this story to an interviewer and it was a story she told to friends many times. Clearly the pain of Ida’s rejection still stung in her memory.
Norma Jeane began her stay with the Bolenders when Gladys began working full-time shortly after Norma Jeane’s birth in an effort to make ends meet. Gladys dutifully paid $25.00 a month for her baby’s care. Norma Jean saw her mother mostly on the weekends. She took the child on outings but remained a disturbing figure in Norma Jeane’s life. Strangely, neither Gladys nor the Bolenders told the child that Gladys was her mother. The Bolenders were Christian Scientists and devoutly religious, like Norma’s mother. They were extremely strict with Norma Jeane and their adopted son Lester, because they believed that a strong moral and religious background would benefit the impressionable little girl throughout her life. In spite of denying Norma Jeane’s relation to them, the Bolenders offered to adopt Norma Jeane and return with her to England. From inside the mental institution, Gladys said no. She must have been unable to completely part with her daughter even though she couldn’t mother the child herself.
After the Bolenders left Norma Jeane entered a succession of foster homes, rarely living with Gladys. Gladys actually managed to purchase a small white house for herself and Norma Jean near Hollywood Bowl. The most prized furnishing in the house was a white baby grand piano. Gladys and Norma Jeane lived there with the child for perhaps three months then poor Gladys had to return to the hospital, vanishing forever behind the dark curtain of mental illness. So used to abandonment was Norma Jeane that when Gladys finally announced Norma Jeane was leaving with a new family the little girl simply went and packed her belongings, without any reaction whatsoever, The child was used to a transient lifestyle. She belonged to no one and never placed too much trust in a sense of security or family after the Bolenders left for England. Although she wasn’t to blame, Gladys created a severely “un-mothered” child, providing the early source of Norma Jean’s loneliness and insecurity.
Gladys had an unhappy history of her own. Her own mother, Della Monroe, was also diagnosed as mentally ill, her diagnosis being manic-depression, or bipolar disorder as it is known today. Della’s experiences as a little girl were possibly as traumatic as that of Norma Jeane. However Della was fortunate enough not to enter into foster homes and she had a father, Otis, who didn’t abandon the family. He too suffered from manic-depression. Several people in the Monroe family tree were diagnosed either as manic-depressive or schizophrenic. All three people in Della’s little family suffered from mental illness. The household must have been chaotic at times. Eventually Norma Jeane would have a half-brother who would also be diagnosed as manic-depressive. Mental illness stalked Norma Jeane her whole life. J. randy Taraborelli, in his book The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, claims that Marilyn showed signs of schizophrenia, inherited from her mother Gladys, and that she began hearing voices probably in her late teens. No one in Marilyn’s life ever mentioned that Marilyn heard voices, including those closest to her, such her three husbands, close friends, her sister, the Strasbergs (with whom Marilyn lived occasionally), the Greene family (again, with whom Marilyn sometimes stayed), in-laws, boyfriends, co-stars, doctors, employees, or her guardians. These are the people who knew her best and not one of them said Marilyn heard voices. Ever. While Marilyn did suffer from bi-polar disorder and the serious depressions that come with it, she did not have schizophrenia. There is simply no evidence to support this claim. Most definitely Taraborelli has no medical documentation to support his allegation of schizophrenia yet he was able to get a publisher to put this book on the shelves. And we wonder why there are so many Marilyn rumours.
Before the birth of Norma Jeane, Gladys had two other children by her first husband, Jasper Baker, a boy and a girl. Norma Jeane never knew her half-brother and sister although she met with her half-sister when the two were adults and Norma Jeane had long become Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn was curious about her sister and the meeting went well but she felt no emotional connection to the woman. When Gladys and Jasper divorced he took their children and moved to a different state.Gladys followed him, wanting to be near her children but the stress must have proven too difficult. After four months she left and returned to Los Angeles. . Norwegian immigrant Martin E. Mortenson was Gladys’ second husband, whom she had walked out on after four months of a dull marriage. He was rumored to be a baker who died in a motorcycle accident in 1929. Marilyn didn’t accept him as her father.
Gladys must have despaired over yet another failed marriage. Quite likely, her illness contributed great stress to the union. Gladys was a very religious woman who believed in Christian Science. She felt her illness was the result of an evil she must have committed and that she was being punished for it. She wrote a letter to the doctors in a mental institution where she was confined, explaining she was in purgatory and “I helplessly pray for your help.” Norma Jeane had religion thrust upon her by both Gladys and Ida Bolender. Norma was not strongly faithful but she accepted some of the Christian Science beliefs but it was not a fixation. In fact Marilyn converted to Judaism in order to marry Arthur Miller although she described herself as an “atheist Jew.”
There is yet another possibility as to Marilyn’s lineage. Gladys and Mortenson hadn’t officially divorced by the time Norma Jeane arrived. That meant the child was not actually “illegitimate”, a scandalous status in 1926. It was more likely rumored that the child was illegitimate because her father had abandoned the family. Certainly, Gladys identified Edward Mortenson as the infant’s father on her birth certificate. Thus she named her daughter Norma Jeane Mortenson however growing up sometimes Norma Jeane referred to herself as Baker and sometimes she was Mortenson. Occasionally she spelled her name Mortensen. when Marilyn was asked by a reporter who her father was she replied that he “used to live in the same apartment building where my mother lived. He walked out and left her when I was getting born.” If this is true then it is also possible Gladys was involved with Stanley Gifford, who worked for Consolidated Film Industries, where Gladys worked as a film cutter. In that case, Gladys and Gifford were having a romantic relationship before her divorce to Mortenson. This still leaves a question mark hanging over Marilyn as to which man was her real father.
Once Gladys pointed to a picture of a handsome, dark-haired man, with a thin moustache and an easy smile. “That’s your father,” she told the vulnerable little girl. Marilyn remembered him as looking a great deal like Clark Gable and over the years she even convinced herself at time that Gable was her real father. When she wed her first husband Jim Dougherty, she became Mrs. Norma Jeane Baker Dougherty. At times, she also spelled Jean differently, with or without the “e.” This was probably unintentional. It is rumored (as so many facts about Marilyn are) that as an adult she contacted Gifford, seeking acknowledgement. His curt reply was to “contact his lawyer.” Devastated, Marilyn didn’t attempt to contact her father again.
When the Bolenders left for England Gladys was re-admitted into a hospital and Norma Jeane was sent to live with her mother’s friend Grace McKee until she. married in 1935. Gladys must have felt comfort in knowing that her daughter was in the care of a close friend. However after the marriage, Norma Jeane was sent to live for two years in the Los Angeles Orphan’s Home. We can only speculate how Gladys felt about placing her little girl into an orphanage. Norma Jeane was traumatized by the experience and throughout her life she remembered being dragged inside the building, screaming that she wasn’t an orphan. If her reaction was relayed to Gladys, it would have broken the poor woman’s heart.
Marilyn was posthumously diagnosed as having a borderline personality disorder which seems to fit her behaviour. A borderline personality usually has a mother who could not cope or has a psychotic illness. Separation or divorce in the family history is typical and also featured the absence of one parent. Borderlines tend to have abusive childhoods, particularly of a sexual nature. Marilyn sounded tailor made for this description. Certainly her unstable and tumultuous relationships, punctuated by scintillating highs and crashing lows, seems to verify the illness. Borderlines also fluctuate between psychosis and neurosis. Marilyn’s numerous hospitalizations and increasing paranoia as she aged depict her as a classic BPD.
The relationship between Marilyn and her mother wasn’t good. When Gladys entered the mental hospital permanently Marilyn would visit her mother, however the two frequently argued about Marilyn’s career. Gladys didn’t like the fact that her daughter had become involved in the Hollywood scene. She definitely disapproved of the cheesecake and nude photos Marilyn had taken. Marilyn’s career remained an issue between the two for all of Marilyn’s life. In that regard Marilyn suffered yet more rejection from her family. First, her biological father remained a mystery. Then Gladys was too ill to care for her. The final blow from her mother was her criticism about Marilyn’s career.
It was reported that Gladys fell into a deep depression when Norma Jean was 7 years old. At that time the two were living in the little white house Gladys had bought. One day she exploded in a fit of rage and frustration, most likely brought about by her schizophrenic symptoms. She attacked a friend with a knife and was forcibly hospitalized in the same institution where Della had died. Norma Jeane saw Gladys sporadically over the years until her mother was once again released from a hospital. She moved in with Norma Jeane when she was a young adult, had divorced Jim Dougherty and was attempting to make her living as a model. Once again, mother and daughter weren’t together very long. At the age of 23, Marilyn came home from work to find her mother sitting on the stairs of the apartment, her suitcase packed, ready to return to the hospital. Poor Gladys suffered from schizophrenia all of her life and would never find stability outside of a mental hospital. She and Marilyn barely knew one another. Gladys outlived her famous daughter by several decades, dying in 1984 at the age of 82. Norma Jeane was only a shadowed memory. Of Marilyn’s fame she managed to get the better of the arguments she had with Marilyn, and made the understated comment,“I didn’t approve of Marilyn’s career. I never thought it did her any good.”