She’s immortal. She’s legendary. She’s beautiful. And you don’t know the first thing about her.
That’s my favorite quote of Marilyn Monroe’s — and yes, she actually said it. She was referencing the character of Sadie Thompson from the play “RAIN”, a role she wanted to play desperately. I find the quote powerful because it’s not only something that resonates with me personally, but one must wonder if Marilyn was revealing something about herself as well… whether she knew it or not.
Marilyn is an icon. A goddess worshipped via Tumblr posts and collectible memorabilia. Yet I find it fascinating that someone so much a part of American culture is so misunderstood. Nearly everything you’ve heard about her is likely misrepresented, exaggerated, or a flat-out lie.
You know those quotes plastered across t-shirts, coffee mugs, Facebook pages? She didn’t say half of them. Was she ever considered “plus-sized”? Nope, her supposed size 16 was in UK sizing, making her a size 8 at her heaviest. But she was a dumb blonde, right? Please. She was extremely well-read and owned a huge collection of literary works, you jerk.
As someone who’s spent many years learning about Norma Jeane Baker, I wanted to share with you some of the more tragic facts about the woman who called herself Marilyn Monroe.
Her Mother Was Mentally Ill
The reason a lot of people aren’t aware of Marilyn’s mother, Gladys Baker, is pretty simple: her agent didn’t want anyone to know. Upon making it big in Hollywood, Marilyn was told not to speak of her institutionalized mother because it would cast her in a bad light. Instead, if asked about her mother, she was supposed to say she was dead.
Norma Jeane spent her childhood transitioning from foster homes and orphanages as Gladys was simply unfit to take care of her. When she was 7 and living with a couple called the Bolenders, Gladys showed up one day to “take her home”. Ida Bolender refused, knowing Gladys was out of her mind, and tried to keep Norma Jeane away from her. But Gladys moved fast, dragging Ida into the front yard and locking her out of her own house.
The Bolenders got Norma Jeane back and Gladys disappeared for a while. When she returned, she seemed more stable and had purchased a house, so Norma Jeane went to live with her mom again. Back and forth, back and forth. Poor kid.
Marilyn said she treasured the time she had with her mother but it ended abruptly and violently; in 1934, after a series of psychological tests that really did no good — basically, they said “You’re insane, sorry about that, get out” — Gladys was found on the ground by her best friend Grace McKee. Grace recalled, “She was lying on her back, staring up the staircase and saying, ‘Somebody’s coming down those steps to kill me.'”
In her memoir, Marilyn remembers her mother “screaming, laughing” as the police came and took her to yet another mental hospital. She was finally diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and committed indefinitely at age 32. She would spend most of her life institutionalized, and Marilyn would spend most of hers desperately craving approval from a mother who couldn’t even recognize her.