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.
She Had Daddy Issues
Here’s something I still find hard to believe — it’s 2015 and we have NO CLUE who Marilyn Monroe’s father was. As I said, Gladys was never very mentally stable and likely didn’t know who fathered her baby so she put Martin Mortensen (her ex-husband) on Norma Jeane’s birth certificate but they had separated long before Gladys became pregnant.
She once showed Norma Jeane a photo of a mustachioed man, identifying him as Charles Stanley Gifford, and said that he was her real father. (Gifford’s family vehemently denies this to this day.) Young Norma Jeane thought he resembled Clark Gable and began to fantasize that HE was her dad.
Now the really sad part. In 1960, Marilyn filmed her final completed movie “The Misfits” and co-starred with none other than Clark Gable himself. Imagine after years of fantasies that this guy could be your dad and suddenly you’re shooting a movie with him. It would be pretty weird, right?
Well, this was also one of the more tumultuous points in Marilyn’s life and production on the movie was hell. She was sick a lot and notoriously late, making the cast and crew stressed out beyond belief. The film DID end up getting finished, but 10 days after shooting wrapped Clark Gable had a massive heart attack and died.
The kicker? His widow stated the “eternal waiting” during the film was what killed him. She didn’t name Marilyn but you knew who she was throwing shade at. So not only did Marilyn never know who her father was, she believed herself responsible for the death of the one man she had considered a father figure. Ouch.
Her Iconic Scene Preceded A Nightmare
Everyone knows it. The classic photo of Marilyn, beautiful and beaming, standing on a subway grate as a rush of air blows the billowy white skirt up around her legs. She looks perfect. She looks happy. You’d never expect what that shot cost her.
Playing “The Girl” in Billy Wilder’s “The Seven Year Itch”, Marilyn was shooting a scene on location in New York City. On 52nd and Lexington, 5000 onlookers watched, hooted, and applauded as the crew filmed. One of those onlookers was Marilyn’s husband, baseball great Joe DiMaggio. He was not pleased.
DiMaggio, a staunch Catholic, stood by fuming while powerful movie lights shone through the TWO pairs of panties Marilyn had worn for modesty. He felt something that was his was on display and it infuriated him. After the scene was shot, DiMaggio and Marilyn went back to the St. Regis Hotel and what followed was a fight so intense that hotel guests alerted management, worried that “someone was getting badly hurt”.
Natasha Lytess was Marilyn’s acting coach and she claims this was not the first incident of violence between Joe and Marilyn. In the room adjacent, Natasha knocked on the door of the DiMaggio’s suite and shouted, “Is everything okay in there?”
The next day, Marilyn was seen to have bruises on her shoulders and back. The studio hairdresser covered them with makeup.
Less than a month later, Marilyn filed for divorce. And, in a cruel twist of fate, the footage filmed that caused DiMaggio so much outrage? It was deemed unusable due to the noise of the crowd and had to be reshot off-location on a soundstage in LA.
“Marilyn Monroe” Was An Act
Despite all the photos of her winning smile, Marilyn was a profoundly sad person. This makes sense when you think about it — the most desired woman in the world and she couldn’t find happiness with a man. Incredibly famous and her own mother didn’t know who she was. Desperate to have a family and unable to maintain a pregnancy. But back then, before social media and reality TV, the public had no idea about how Marilyn was struggling because the most important part of her image was projecting a happy, sexy starlet.
She considered “Marilyn Monroe” to be another person. Truman Capote, a good friend, once recounted a lunch where Marilyn disappeared to the bathroom and was gone so long he went looking for her. He found her staring in the mirror. When he asked what she was doing, she responded, “Looking at her.”
Susan Strasberg recalled a moment while she and Marilyn were walking through New York City. They’d been relatively unbothered most of the day; no one seemed to notice the blonde bombshell in public, which Susan found odd. Suddenly, Marilyn turned to Susan and said, “Do you want to see me be her?”
Susan said, “She seemed to make some inner adjustment, something ‘turned on’ inside her, and suddenly — there she was — not the simple girl I’d been strolling with, but ‘Marilyn Monroe’. Now heads turned. People crowded around us.”
In this day and age, I don’t think there’s a comparison for Marilyn Monroe. Of course celebrities have certain images to maintain but I can’t imagine literally being two different people: yourself and what the world wants to see. One of the most heartbreaking things said about Marilyn came from the director of “The Seven Year Itch”, Billy Wilder:
Her “Suicide” Makes No Sense
Okay, everybody’s aware that Marilyn’s death has long been rumored to have been murder rather than suicide. I’m not saying you don’t know that. What I’m saying is that you don’t know WHY it looks so much like murder. Here’s a few of the oddities surrounding Marilyn’s death:
- Hours before her death, she spoke with Joe DiMaggio Jr., who noted she sounded “cheerful and upbeat”.
- She was discovered by her housekeeper Eunice Murray, who was never able to keep her story straight. Murray changed the timeline the night of Marilyn’s death multiple times and was found washing sheets at 4am when the police arrived.
- Despite the 40 pills in her stomach, police noted there was no water glass on the nightstand next to her pill bottles. Marilyn was known to gag even when swallowing pills WITH water. Later, a glass was discovered on the floor near the bed — police claim it wasn’t there when they arrived.
- The pathologist who performed her initial autopsy wanted to do further testing, specifically to see HOW the pills entered Marilyn’s system. When he requested her organs, he was told the toxicologist had already destroyed all her organs. The pathologist then asked to see slides of the organs and photos showing the unusual bruising on her body and was told they had “disappeared”.
While I don’t exactly prescribe to the idea that Marilyn was killed by the Kennedys, I firmly believe something strange happened surrounding the circumstances of her death. Not to say her troubled past doesn’t add up to suicide… but there’s just something fishy about the whole thing.
Marilyn’s Death Rocked The World
The day she died, Marilyn was the front-page story all over the globe. People simply couldn’t believe someone so beautiful, successful, and seemingly happy would kill themselves. Remember that whole “carefully crafted image” thing I covered earlier?
It was reported in the New York Times that suicides spiked in the week after her death, hitting a record high of 12 in one day in New York City alone.
Marlon Brando noted that in the days following the announcement of her death, Hollywood felt slow and sad. He’s quoted as saying, “Everybody stopped work, and you could see all that day the same expressions on their faces, the same thought: ‘How can a girl with success, fame, youth, money, beauty… how could she kill herself?’ Nobody could understand it because those are the things that everybody wants, and they can’t believe that life wasn’t important to Marilyn Monroe, or that her life was elsewhere.”
After their divorce, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn had remained friends. She famously made him promise that if she died before he did, he would bring her flowers. True to his word, DiMaggio had roses delivered to her grave three times a week for 20 years. His last words when he himself passed away in 1999 were “I’ll finally get to see Marilyn.”