Marilyn spent her life searching for a family, not just a father. Her first foster family, the Bolenders, kept her for 7 years. They wanted to adopt little Norma Jeane but from inside the mental institution, Gladys refused to let her go. At the same time the Bolenders had made it clear to Norma Jeane that she wasn’t their child. “I’m not your mother!” Ida Bolender insisted to the little girl. A family yes, but only a shaky one. One day violence entered Norma Jean’s life when Della Monroe arrived at the Bolenders, breaking the glass on their front door in an attempt to access the little girl. All too soon the Bolenders left little Norma Jeane behind when they departed for England. However the Bolenders could be very protective of their little charge. The Bolenders request to adopt Norma Jean must have frightened the unstable Gladys. One day, Gladys visited the Bolenders and demanded they return Norma Jeane to her. Ida refused. Gladys pulled Ida into the yard, then quickly ran back to the house and locked herself in. Several minutes later, she walked out with one of Albert Bolender’s military duffel bags. To Ida’s horror, Gladys had stuffed a screaming Norma Jeane into the bag, zipped it up, and was carrying it out with her. Ida charged toward her, and their struggle split the bag apart, dumping out Norma Jeane, who wept loudly as Ida grabbed her and pulled her back inside the house. Eventually in 1933, Gladys bought a house and brought Norma Jeane to live with her. A few months later, Gladys began having mental episodes that would plague her for the rest of her life. In My Story, Marilyn recalled her mother “screaming and laughing” as she was forcibly removed to the State Hospital in Norwalk.
Norma Jeane would eventually have 13 foster brothers and sisters. She attempted to attach herself to a number of foster families over years but some of the homes must have been kinder than others. In an interview with Richard Meryman, an interviewer for Life magazine, Marilyn recalled she had a foster-mother who spent hours in the morning driving around making deliveries for her home business. Norma Jeane was forced to drive around with her and she recalled getting “so car sick.” Most foster children speak of being in the foster system as a sense of not belonging to anyone, never knowing when they will be uprooted and moving to yet another foster home. There is no sense of permanence, especially when these children find good foster homes. It just seems to be how fate plays out for a foster child. Marilyn remembered that many foster families temporarily took her in but returned her after the summer. “They’d had enough of me,” she recalled with a bitter laugh.
Once she reached her teens Norma Jeane was taken in by Grace Doddard (nee McPhee), a good friend of her mother’s. Gladys was happy with the situation but it didn’t last more than two years and Norma
Jeane was again uprooted. It was Grace who told the child that someday she would become a movie star. Grace was captivated by Jean Harlow, and would let Norma Jeane wear makeup and take her out to get her hair curled. They would go to the movies together, forming the basis for Norma Jeane’s fascination with the cinema. When Norma Jeane was 9, McKee married Ervin Silliman “Doc” Goddard in 1935, and sent young Norma Jean to the Los Angeles Orphans Home (later renamed Hollygrove). Marilyn recalled when she was forced into the institution she had to be dragged in “kicking and screaming”, protesting “I’m not an orphan!” Marilyn never forgot this traumatic experience. She later stated her real life was at the movies and inside her head, where she could make her own boundaries.
While at Hollygrove, several families were interested in adopting her; however, Gladys’ refused the adoption. In 1937, Monroe moved back into Grace and Doc Goddard’s house, joining Doc’s daughter from a previous marriage. Due to Doc’s frequent attempts to sexually assault Norma Jeane, this arrangement did not last long.The Doddards moved and they decided they “had enough children”. Supposedly Doc’s sexual assaults were the real reason Grace considered placing the teenager back into an orphanage. Instead they were able to marry off 16-year-old Norma Jeane to 20-year-old Jim Dougherty.
Mrs. Jim Dougherty
Finally it appeared that Norma Jeane had her own family and this one lasted for four years before Marilyn sought a divorce to pursue a modelling career.When Dougerty was shipped overseas, Norma Jean lived with Mrs. Dougherty, her mother-in-law. This was as close to being part of a family as living with the Bolenders had been.
After divorcing Dougherty, Marilyn accepted Gladys, who wished to live outside the hospital and seek a more independent life. There were days when 23-year-old Marilyn suffered increasing anxiety, wondering what she would find when she returned home from work. One day, Marilyn found Gladys with her suitcase packed sitting at the top of the stairs. She informed Marilyn she wished to return to the hospital; this was probably a relief to Marilyn. It was the last time Gladys attempted to live outside the hospital. Marilyn’s early life was an ongoing experience of instability, mental illness and a sense of feeling unwanted. Her experiences set the stage for her ongoing loneliness as a grown woman, even as the glamorous and incredibly successful Marilyn Monroe.
The years passed. From time to time Marilyn adopted other families as her own. When Marilyn fled to New York City to study Method Acting with the Strasbergs, she lived with Milton and Amy Greene in their Connecticut suburb and 150 year old home. It was the most idyllic time of Marilyn’s life. She was able to live without expectations on her time or image. “She got up when she wanted to, she contributed, she made her own bed, she washed her own dishes, she would take long walks in the woods by herself,” She seldom did her hair or wore makeup as photographs show.Her surrogate family gave Marilyn the self-esteem she needed to build her career. From the Connecticut house Marilyn eventually gave a live interview with the program Person to Person explaining her wish to act more serious roles. However Marilyn’s association with the Greenes was limited. Her current husband Arthur Miller disapproved of the time she spent with Milton and the time she spent away from him working on her new production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions Inc. Miller offered Marilyn an ultimatum: either the Greenes had to go or he would. Marilyn chose her husband and the bond with the Greenes was severed. Although Marilyn had her own small family in Miller, yet another familial-type bond ended with the Greenes and the dissolution of her production company.
Marilyn eventually worked with the Strasbergs in the Actors Studio. She sought training in her acting through Method Acting. Marilyn was enthusiastic, working hard although, as usual, she was late to her classes. As she had with the Greenes Marilyn adopted the Strasbergs as her next family. This relationship would last until the end of her life. Paula and Lee Strasberg took Marilyn into their home sometimes at the expense of their own daughter, Susan. One night Susan heard her father singing a lullaby to Marilyn in another bedroom to help her sleep. Marilyn worried that Susan’s brother might feel left out so she gave him a present. Such behaviour was typical of Marilyn. It was difficult for her to give of herself emotionally so she gave materials instead.The Strasbergs sent Susan away to Paris ostensibly to offer Susan independence, but in reality to have more uninterrupted time with Marilyn. Susan didn’t hold a grudge against the actress. She knew Marilyn was fragile and in need of a family. However her parents’ constant attention to Marilyn and their neglect of herwas an emotional burden Susan carried with her for years.
Eventually Susan published a book in 1991 entitled Marilyn and Me: Sister, Rivals, Friends. In an interview on Susan stated “I sometimes think a mark of success is someone who is herself with eveyone…and Marilyn was like that. She had no pretentions. Marilyn didn’t give a damn about…I mean, I think what Sinatra gave her was some earrings, she threw them on the floor of her closet.” Susan denied that Marilyn was a victim “because she was a very ambitious, strong, manipulative woman and did it well enough to make her own production company.”
Mrs. Robert Slatzer
Slatzer was a studio producer who has tried for decades to convince the public that he and Marilyn had a quickee marriage and divorce one weekend while she was filming on the set of Niagara. During this time Slatzer and DiMaggio were competing for Marilyn’s hand in marriage. Slazter swears it was Marilyn’s idea to get married and they drove to Mexico and were wed. However upon their return Daryl Zanuck, of 20th Century Fox, insisted it be dissolved for PR reasons (can’t say that I blame him). The two did as Zanuck demanded and returned to Mexico to have the marriage dissolved. Slatzer stated Marilyn insisted they burn the marriage certificate, a convenient means of not having to provide evidence of their “marriage.” The evidence Slatzer has to prove he and Marilyn were wed consists of a handful of photographs taken on the set of Niagara. If this marriage did happen, Marilyn was seeking yet another husband, her own family, in the form of Robert Slatzer.
Mrs. Joe DiMaggio
When Marilyn married baseball great Joe DiMaggio she secured for herself yet another, temporary family. Joe Jr., DiMaggio’s son was very fond of Marilyn and the two enjoyed a reasonably close relationship. Once again, Marilyn’s very public career proved to be an obstacle in her marriage: Like Miller, DiMaggio also issued her an ultimatum but Marilyn stood her ground and the marriage ended.Although devastated by the dissolution of the union, Marilyn was used to temporary families and family break-ups. Rejection and loneliness were old companions. It wasn’t long before Marilyn found solace in her next film project. DiMaggio not so much.
Mrs. Arthur Miller
Of all the men she married, the most unlikely (except Slatzer if you believe his ridiculous account) was Arthur Miller. Marilyn had entered a stage in her life when she wished to explore a more dramatic side of her acting ability. Miller took that woman seriously. Naturally Marilyn was attracted to him for that reason, and his intellectual influence was compelling. Marilyn believed Miller would help her become a “serious, dramatic actress” as she referred to herself. Miller wrote the script for the movie The Misfits, giving Marilyn the role of Roslyn, a divorcee searching for love and family (naturally a mirror of Marilyn). Miller frequently humiliated Marilyn in public, referring to their sex life. In private, he browbeat her, making her feel inferior. Finally, Marilyn had enough of this torture and she divorced Miller.
Dr. Ralph Greenson was Marilyn’s psychiatrist for the last two years of her life. After working unsuccessfully with her using psychoanalysis for several months, Greenson used the unorthodox approach of welcoming Marilyn into his home and treating her like family. He encouraged his children to treat her like a sibling. He was her surrogate father and his wife her surrogate mother. he described Marilyn to a colleague as a “lonely orphan.” I don’t know how many months the arrangement went on for but ultimately, it failed.
In the end, Marilyn died alone. She tried and failed to build families during her lifetime but her childhood left her ill-equipped to maintain long-term relationships. Doubtless her lack of familial ties added to her inability to survive her life as Marilyn Monroe. Or Norma Jeane.