Sunday, 5 August 2012

Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Marilyn's death, I have uploaded the first 7 pages of my book, 'Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed,' (New edition) and included them here.  These pages are taken directly from my original manuscript, so may have a few words different from the published pages, but not enough to drastically change the story.  If you like what you read, the links to order the book are provided below.

Chapter One
The Lady With the Red Hair

Marilyn Monroe’s mother - Gladys Pearl Monroe - was not a happy child.  She was born on 27th May 1902, to Della and Otis Monroe, and together with her brother, Marion, spent her first few years constantly on the move.  When she was seven years old her father died within the confines of the California State Hospital for the mentally ill, and although it was later revealed that the cause was syphilis of the brain, his relatives believed he’d died insane, hence beginning a legacy of fear that would haunt the entire family.

By 1910 Gladys was living with her mother, brother and ten lodgers at 1114 East 10th Street, and by 1912, Della had married Lyle Arthur Graves, a switchman who had once worked with Otis.  The marriage was short-lived, and the two eventually divorced in January 1914 when Lyle moved to Ohio, where he later remarried.  Della too was on the look-out for new adventures and by 1916, had sent her son Marion to live with a cousin in San Diego, while she moved with Gladys to a boarding house at 26 Westminster Avenue, Venice, Los Angeles.

Shortly afterwards Della met and fell for Charles Grainger, a widower who worked in the oil industry.  He had been working in Rangoon since April 1915 and had arrived back in the States on 19 July 1916, just months before he met 40 year old Della.  She wished to live with him at his home at 1410 Carrol Canal Court, but Gladys’ disapproval and Grainger’s reluctance to take on the judgmental offspring put a spanner in the works and Della was left wondering how she could rid herself of her fourteen-year-old daughter.  She didn’t need to wonder long, however, as along come Jasper Newton Baker, who, despite being twelve years her senior, courted Gladys and shortly afterwards made her pregnant.  This of course gave Della an instant reason to rid herself of the teenager; insisting the pair marry on 17 May 1917 and even swearing Gladys to be eighteen years old, when actually she was just shy of her 15th birthday.

Della was then free to move in with Grainger, while Gladys and her new husband lived at 1595 21st Street, while he worked as a hotel manager at 219 South Spring Street.  Eight months after the wedding, Gladys bore Baker a son called Robert Jasper (aka Jackie or Kermitt), and several years later a daughter named Berniece Gladys.  The marriage was not a happy one, and by 1920 both Gladys and Baker were broke and living at 343 Fifth Avenue with Baker’s eighteen-year-old brother Ardry, a concessionaire at the amusement park. 

Jasper believed Gladys to be an unfit mother, and evidenced their son, Robert who once almost lost an eye when Gladys left some broken glass in the trash.  Then on another occasion the Bakers were arguing in the front seat of their car, whilst Robert managed to open the door in the back, falling from the seat and severely injuring his hip in the process.  It would be unfair to blame Gladys directly for Robert’s problems, but Jasper never forgot the incidents: “Your mother was a beautiful woman”, he told Berniece, “but she was also very young, too young to know how to take care of children.”

Baker was also known to beat his wife, and on one occasion whilst visiting relatives in Kentucky, he took offence to her spending time in the company of one of his brothers; beating her across the back with a bridle until she bled.  Terrified of her husband, Gladys finally filed for divorce in 1921, and during divorce proceedings, (in which she claimed they were married one year earlier in order to cover-up the fact that she was pregnant); she disclosed that Baker had called her vile names, had beaten and kicked her and had caused ‘extreme mental pain, anxiety and humiliation, as well as to suffer grievous bodily pain and injury.”  The divorce became official in May 1922 but this was not the end of the drama, as during one fateful weekend, Baker decided he no longer wanted his children in the care of Gladys, and snatched them out of California to live a new life with his mother in Kentucky

Gladys was understandably devastated by this turn of events, and spent all her savings trying to get her children back.  She went to Kentucky and begged Baker’s sister for help.  However, instead of gaining assistance, Gladys found herself banned from visiting her daughter, and unable to take her son who had been admitted to hospital to try and fix his ongoing hip problems. 

Waiting for Robert to be released from hospital, Gladys gained temporary employment at the home of Harry and Lena Cohen, who lived at 2331 Alta Avenue, in Louisville.  There she acted as housekeeper and looked after the Cohen’s daughters, Dorothy and Norma Jean.  The family were used to having staff around the house: according to census reports, in 1920 18-year-old Effie Newton worked as a servant for them, and by 1930 they had grown to employ not only a maid but a chauffeur too.  So the arrival of Gladys in the Cohen home caused not even a stir, and her presence and departure were all pretty uneventful.  Later rumours would surface that Gladys caused many ‘uncomfortable’ moments in the Cohen household, but in fact so unmemorable was Gladys, that the family did not even realise she went onto become Marilyn Monroe’s mother until many years later, and long after the death of both Harry and his wife Lena.

Norma Jean Cohen’s daughter Bonnie confirmed this in 2009:   “There were no letters or stories, and we know that my grandmother, Lena Cohen had no idea that her ex-employee was Marilyn Monroe’s mother.  I knew my grandmother for over thirty years so I know this is true.  Plus this would have been good ‘family history’ information but it was never discussed; and it would have been if we had known.”

After working with the Cohen family for a short time, Gladys became disillusioned about regaining her children.  Baker had remarried and the family seemed settled, so Gladys reluctantly accepted the fact that she’d lost them; visited the family to say good bye and then disappeared from their lives.

On her return to Los Angeles, Gladys obtained a job at Consolidated Film Industries, where she became friends with a colleague called Grace McKee.  The two spent quite some time together, going out dancing, having fun and gaining something of a reputation among the male employees at Consolidated. 

Whilst living at 1211 Hyperion Avenue, Gladys shocked everyone when on 11 October 1924, she suddenly married Martin Edward Mortensen, a 27 year old divorcee who worked as meter man for the Los Angeles Gas and Electric Company.  He was in love with his new wife, but it was not reciprocated; she complained to friends that he was ‘dull’ and it wasn’t long before she had fallen for Charles Stanley Gifford, a 25 year old divorcee and one of the bosses at Consolidated. 

“Gifford was a real likeable guy”, remembered one friend; while another described him as “well-dressed, and always drove a pretty nice car.”  He had a dark side, however, as witnessed by his first wife, Lilian and detailed in divorce papers submitted by her shortly after they separated in 1923.  According to the papers, Gifford “continuously pursued a course of abuse, threats and intimidation calculated to harass, annoy, hurt and worry the plaintiff.”  This was just the tip of the iceberg.  Lilian said she also experienced physical injury and accusations that she was being unfaithful to him, when actually she believed that he was undertaking affairs with women where he worked, as well as taking illegal drugs.  Things had come to a head during June 1923, when Lilian alleged Gifford verbally abused her before striking her so hard on the cheek that she was “knocked against the bed post” sustaining severe bruising and pain in her side.  The divorce papers also claim that a blood clot was formed under the cheek and urgent medical attention was required to remove it.

Whether or not everything cited by Lilian was true, will never be known, but certainly the marriage had been turbulent and by the time the divorce was finalized and Gladys Baker arrived in his life, Gifford was enjoying his new-found freedom and had no plans to settle down.  Unfortunately for Gladys, she believed she could persuade him to change his mind, and on 26th of May 1925, walked out on Martin Edward Mortensen.

During the autumn of 1925, Gladys became pregnant.  It has been said that there were various men who could have been the father, including a 28 year old colleague called Raymond Guthrie.  Friends at the studio claimed that Gladys had dated blue eyed, brown haired Guthrie for several months that year and that he could very well be the father.  Raised by his aunt and uncle since a baby, Guthrie had also recently divorced and was certainly in a position to date Gladys, though all records indicate that she never considered him to be her baby’s father. 

The official ruling is that the father was unknown, though evidence suggests it was Gifford, and this was most certainly the belief of Gladys.  For instance, family letters and memories show that both Gladys and Norma Jeane named him as the father on several occasions, and in August 1961, an article appeared in ‘Cavalier Magazine’ which said: ‘[Marilyn’s] father is very much alive and residing in Southern California.  He was once connected with the movie business, although he no longer is today.’  This would certainly be a nod in Gifford’s direction, since by that time he was living south of Los Angeles and running his own dairy farm.

Gladys broke the news of the pregnancy to Gifford during a New Year’s party at the family home, presumably that of his father, carpenter Frederick Gifford who lived at 12024 Venice Boulevard.  Later as the pregnancy became obvious, it created quite a stir in the Gifford family; particularly with his sister Ethel, who lectured him intensely, demanding to know what he intended to do about the situation.  The argument culminated with Ethel telling her brother, “Look, either marry the woman or do something”, and according to relatives, Gladys was not seen at their home anymore.

Shunned by the Gifford family, Gladys then tried to gain sympathy from her mother, who by this time was living on her own at 418 East Rhode Island Avenue, while Charles Grainger was now working overseas.  Della acknowledged disgust that her daughter was once again pregnant with an illegitimate child, and then sailed off to South East Asia on 20th March in order to visit her husband.

When Gladys gave birth on 1st June 1926, she had hoped Gifford would accompany her to the hospital.  She was greatly disappointed, however, as he purposely stayed away, refusing to have anything to do with her or the child.  Gladys perhaps wouldn’t have been shocked by this had she known that in 1922, when his wife Lilian gave birth to their son Charles Stanley Jr, Gifford took her to the Lomashire Hospital, excused himself immediately and walked out of the building. 

Knowing that Gifford was to play no part in the child’s upbringing, Gladys reluctantly decided to get on with her life.  She named the child after the little girl she had looked after whilst in Kentucky and for respectabilities sake, also gave the surname of her former husband, hence naming her Norma Jeane Mortenson.  (She added an e to Norma Jean and changed Mortensen to Mortenson on the birth certificate.)  Shortly afterwards she changed her mind and declaring that both she and her daughter would be known by the surname of her first husband, Baker.

Shortly after the little girl’s birth, perhaps feeling mild curiosity or a pang of guilt for the way he had treated her in the past, Gifford asked Gladys if he could see the child.  His plea fell on deaf ears, however, and she refused point-blank to let him have anything to do with her.  “He felt the mother had been unfair”, remembered Gifford’s minister, Dr Liden.  “She had cut him off and didn’t allow him to see the child.” 

On leaving hospital, Gladys took Norma Jeane to her apartment at 5454 Wilshire Boulevard, but it was only a matter of days before she made a trip to East Rhode Island Avenue to deposit her child at number 459, the home of the Bolender family. 

Ida and Wayne Bolender lived across the road from Gladys’ mother Della, on a two-acre plot of land in Hawthorne; an agricultural area, dominated by lots of space, dairies and farms.  A postman for many years, Wayne and his wife had applied to become foster parents just before the depression, and continued for the next 35 years, happily opening their home to any child who needed their help. 

Contrary to popular belief, Gladys did not immediately abandon her child with the Bolenders; instead she moved in with the family and left Norma Jeane in their care while she commuted to and from her job in Hollywood.  “Mrs Baker was with me”, Ida later told Cavalier Magazine.  “She stayed in Hollywood when working nights as a negative cutter and stayed with me while working days.”   However, the long journey and the responsibility of single-motherhood soon became too much for Gladys, and she ultimately took the decision to move back to her old life. 

Leaving her baby behind, Gladys moved in with her friend and colleague, Grace McKee and the two shared a space at the Rayfield apartments at 237 Bimini Place.  Going from the quiet seclusion of the Bolender home to this colourful apartment block must have been something of a thrill for Gladys.  But in spite of now living the life of a single girl once again, she didn’t give up on her daughter and always paid $25 a month to the Bolenders for her care.  She also often stayed at the weekend, involving herself with family life, and later showed up on the 1930s census as a ‘boarder’ in the Bolender home.  “[Norma Jeane] was never neglected and always nicely dressed”, said Mrs Bolender.  “Her mother paid her board all the time.”

On 15th August 1926, Della sailed from Hong Kong and arrived in San Francisco on 8th September.  On her return to East Rhode Island Avenue, she was introduced to her grand-daughter for the first time, though she never developed much of a bond with the child; seeing her as more of a sin than a joy.  Sick with malaria and often delusional, she made her feelings quite clear just months later when she was caught trying to smother the child with a pillow.  She was immediately banned from the Bolender home, but Della still tried to gain access to Norma Jeane as Ida Bolender later recalled:  “She did come over one day for no reason I know of.  She just broke in the glass of our front door and I believe we called the police.”

For Della, this sequence of events was the beginning of the end and she soon found herself admitted to the Norwalk Mental Hospital, suffering from Manic Depressive Psychosis.  She was never to leave the hospital, and when she passed away, Della Monroe Grainger contributed to the legacy of mental illness, which had begun with the death of her husband.

After the turmoil of recent days, the Bolender family tried their best to continue life in a normal way for their foster-children, Norma Jeane and a baby boy called Lester.  Born on 23 August 1926 whilst his parents, Pearl and Carl Flugel were living in a tent, Lester had come to the Bolender home after the Flugels decided they were too young to care for him.  Married for just over a week before the birth of their son, the couple handed the baby to Ida Bolender and returned to their home state of Washington, where they later had four more sons, Milton, Gerald, Robert and William.  The couple kept their first son a secret from their family, and it wasn’t until Pearl’s death in 1988 that they discovered a 1927 letter from Mrs Bolender, describing Lester’s life in California.  The now elderly Lester travelled to meet his long-lost family but unfortunately even at this late stage, one of the brothers refused to believe they were related and apparently never accepted Lester as his brother.

But back in 1926, when both Lester and Norma Jeane were just babies, they were nicknamed ‘The Twins’ and raised as brother and sister.  “They have great times together”, wrote Mrs Bolender.  “Lot’s of people think them twins.  I dress them alike at times and they do look cunning….”

Eventually the Bolender family made a decision to officially adopt Lester, and asked Gladys if they could adopt Norma Jeane too.  Gladys, having already lost two children, was appalled at the Bolender’s plans and turned them down flat.  However, they weren’t the only ones interested in the child as according to several reports, Charles Stanley Gifford also had plans to raise her.  By this time he was living on his own at 832 N Alta Vista Boulevard, and had learned that Norma Jeane had been placed in a foster home.  He contacted Gladys to tell her he intended to raise the little girl himself, but was sent away with nothing more than a scolding from his ex-lover, who had developed a deep loathing for him since her troubled pregnancy.

How Gifford thought he could possibly raise the child on his own is a mystery.  He was not listed as her father on the birth certificate, and divorce records from his first wife Lilian, show that he had been verbally abusive and distant from his other children; calling them derogatory names on many occasions.

But even if his temper was not an issue, there was no way Gladys was going to let the man she claimed to detest, raise her child.  Instead, she continued to visit her daughter at the weekends, though as Norma Jeane grew, the stopovers became more and more confusing for the child.  One day when she referred to Ida Bolender as ‘Mama’, she was immediately put in her place.  “The woman with the red hair is your mother”, explained Ida, though this did not end the confusion.  “But [Wayne] is my daddy”, exclaimed Norma Jeane; “No”, replied Ida.  After that, the child became afraid to call anyone mummy or daddy, as not even Gladys referred to her as a daughter.

As for her father, Gladys told Norma Jeane that he had been killed in a car crash either before she was born or when she was a young baby – the story differing according to Gladys’ mood at the time.  Her story was cruel but contained a kernel of truth, as in 1929 she was told that the man she had named as Norma Jeane’s father – Martin Edward Mortensen - had been killed in a car crash.  Unknown to Gladys, it later transpired that it was a completely different person who had died, and her ex-husband was actually alive and well and living in California.  For his part, Mortensen added to the confusion by years later claiming to friends that he was Norma Jeane’s real father, but in reality, it is extremely unlikely – and certainly not the belief of Marilyn or her mother.

At irregular intervals, the young child would travel to her mother’s home in Hollywood, and stare quietly at a photo of Charles Stanley Gifford, which hung on the wall despite Gladys’ claims of hatred towards him.  Gifford bore a striking resemblance to Clark Gable, and from that moment on, Norma Jeane always thought of the actor as something of a surrogate father.  Unfortunately, looking at the photo was the only thing Norma Jeane enjoyed about her visits to her mother, who was so uptight that she would often chastise her for turning the pages of a book ‘too loudly’.  As a result the child spent most of her time hiding in the closet, waiting to be taken back to the Bolender’s house.

Gifford, meanwhile, was living just miles away at 3014 Chesapeake Avenue, in a house that he jointly owned with none other than Raymond Guthrie, the Laboratory Technician whom Gladys had dated in 1925.  How the two men ended up buying a home together is a mystery, and we can only imagine the interesting conversations that could have occurred within those four walls.  The two shared the house for several years before Guthrie moved on, but Gifford was to stay put throughout Norma Jeane’s childhood, and well into her first marriage.  It is not known if he ever tried again to gain access to his daughter, but if he did, Gladys kept very quiet about it, and never discussed it with Norma Jeane.

Taken from 'Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed' (UK title) and 'Marilyn Monroe: Private and Confidential' (USA title).  (c) Michelle Morgan, 2012.  All rights reserved.

To order please visit Amazon:

No comments: