Norma Jean – the Unwanted Foster Child
She spent the first half of her life as Norma Jean (Jeane) Mortenson -Baker and the last half as Marilyn Monroe, a woman divided into two distinctly different, tragic identities. In her glamorous years as Marilyn, few people knew about her life as Norma Jean. Her early life began as unhappily as Marilyn’s ended. Gladys Baker,was Marilyn’s mother, an attractive woman of Irish lineage. From birth Norma Jean was a controversial figure. Gladys was a single mother, never married, a status that was socially unacceptable in the 1920s. Gladys suffered from a host of problems:
- she was a paranoid schizophrenic
- she had no husband or father to her child
- she made a scant living as a film cutter in Los Angeles
- she had little family support as Norma jean grew up
- she was frequently hospitalized as a result of her illness
Although Gladys’ mother, also suffering from a mental illness, seemed to be involved in Norma Jean’s early life, evidence of her ongoing involvement is scant. When Gladys went in and out of psychiatric institutions Norma Jean’s grandmother was nowhere to be found. Most likely she too was hospitalized. The illnesses suffered by both her mother and her grandmother instilled a life-long fear in Marilyn that she too would go mad and have to be institutionalized.
Little Norma Jean was sent to 12 foster homes, an orphanage, and a boarding house where, like many foster children, she was sexually abused on a number of occasions. So unstable was her life that at 5 years old when her mother told her she had to go to yet another foster home, Norma Jean simply packed her suitcase and waited patiently for someone from Children’s Services to arrive. A transient life was simply a part of Norma Jean’s existence.
The psychological effects on children raised in foster homes is devastating. Foster parents often use children to access the monthly foster child fee meant to feed and clothe the child, in order to maintain a drug and alcohol habit. Pedophiles become foster parents for obvious reasons. Even after a foster child reports abuse to Children’s Services the child is either left in the abusive home or placed in another foster home that is equally traumatizing. Norma Jean’s abusive childhood would one day plague the glamorous Marilyn Monroe, rendering her incapable of forming long-term, healthy relationships.
By the age of 16, in 1942, Norma Jean met and married James Dougherty , a 21-year-old sailor was lived beside Grace Goddard, a family friend who generously fostered Norma Jean for several years after Gladys was re-admitted to a hospital. When Grace and her family decided to move out west, Grace made the difficult decision to leave Norma Jean behind. Norma Jean was given the option of either re-entering an orphanage or marrying Jim. Naturally Norma Jean chose marriage and she became a teenage bride. The marriage was troubled from the beginning. The honeymoon was over after only a few months when Jim became involved with an ex-girlfriend and beauty pageant queen, a relationship that hurt Norma jean very deeply. Even as a wife her life remained unstable and unpredictable. She remained an outsider and this time, within her own family.
Good-bye Norma Jean
Eventually Jim went overseas and within a short period of time Norma Jean Dougherty became a model for mens’ and womens’ magazines and an actress in several commercials including Royal Triton Oil for automobiles and Coca-Cola. She dyed her hair blonde and chose the stage name Marilyn Monroe. When Jim returned home on a leave, his wife simply handed him divorce papers and asked him what he thought of her new name. “It’s very pretty,” was all he said. She was 20 years old. It was the last time they saw each other. In interviews years later Dougherty is quoted as saying “I never knew Marilyn Monroe. I was married to Norma Jean. I wasn’t married to Marilyn Monroe. She was a glamorous movie star. I didn’t know her.” It would seem that very few people did.
Marilyn participated in many commercials and photo shoots, and finally was contracted by 20th Century Fox for a very small role in a musical called “Scudda-Hoo, Scudda-Hay”. She appeared in a short scene that was cut from the final film. Marilyn was used for a brief cameo in another film and this too was spliced out of the final production. Not long after 20th Century Fox chose not to renew her contract and Marilyn found herself out of work. During this time Gladys lived with the 23-year-old Marilyn in an effort to live a normal life outside of a psychiatric hospital. Marilyn often returned home from photo shoots wondering if neighbors had had to summon police and an ambulance for her unstable mother. Thankfully it never happened. One afternoon Marilyn found her mother with her suitcase packed, sitting at the top of the stairs. She told Marilyn she wished to return to the hospital permanently and that was the last time she and Gladys had any contact with one another. Another meaningful relationship was permanently severed in Marilyn’s life.
This sad pattern developed in Marilyn’s life, where people entered it, then abruptly left again. Marilyn was to find few stable partners or friends throughout her life. Sporadic relationships were partly the result of Marilyn’s mental illness, at that time known as manic-depression, now known as Bipolar Disorder. Life with a mentally ill person, as Marilyn herself had learned, was difficult. Another affect Marilyn suffered was that of Attachment Disorder, brought about by her many infrequent stays in foster homes. Children who are continually uprooted develop the inability to bond with others and learn to protect a fragile identity by remaining emotionally distant, even within intimate relationships. This may have accounted for Marilyn’s lifelong sense of loneliness and her three divorces from the time she was a young child until her death at the age of 36.
Success in Film
Eventually 20th Century Fox renewed her contract. Through her agent Johnny Hyde, Marilyn secured a bit part in a film called The Asphalt Jungle, a movie that was key in establishing her acting career. Her second notable role was All About Eve, a vehicle starring Bette Davis, where Marilyn had only a walk-on role. However, at 20th Century Fox, a little fan mail trickled in. She played the role of a “gilda girl” in the film Ladies of the Chorus. In it, she sang a song entitled “Every Baby Needs a Da-da-daddy,” a song that referenced her little girl sexiness. Unable to ignore the thousands of Marilyn fan mail letters that were now arriving weekly at Fox, Marilyn was given the role of Lorelei Lee, a showgirl in the blockbuster film, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, with Jane Russell. The film catapulted Marilyn into stardom. From then on, she headlined all of her movies, many of which were significant box office successes. One notable project, Niagara featured Mariyn in an interesting film noir, one of the best roles she ever played. Not surprisingly, it was a box office hit.
Her most successful film commercially was the farce Some Like it Hot with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemming, two well-established actors of the time. Although the film was another box office success, Marilyn detested her role, a girl named Sugar Cane, who was so naive as to not recognize two men dressed as women. Regardless of what the film did for her career, Marilyn saw it as an insult that attributed to her “dumb blonde” image and after viewing it once, the film was never again mentioned in her home.
In spite of the glamour and the success, Norma Jean remained very much a part of Marilyn’s life. Marilyn made several suicide attempts during her early years as an actress, and eventually became addicted to sleeping pills and other prescription medications. In a sad echo of her mother’s experience Marilyn frequently entered psychiatric hospitals. She was extremely insecure about her acting ability and even her iconic looks. She spent hours observing her body in front of a mirror, certain she found flaws and signs of aging. At the age of 36, Marilyn claimed in an interview “gravity catches up to all of us.” In Marilyn’s case, it never did.
In 1953 she met Joe Dimaggio. They entered into a tumultuous relationship for 2 years until he finally convinced his dream girl to marry him. Marilyn was only 28 when they married and her career was just beginning. From the start, it was a questionable union. Joe was a retired baseball hero and he saw Marilyn as the wife who would join him in his quiet, golden years. Fromm Marilyn’s perspective, she was only 28 when they were wedded and her career was at its peak. An independent career woman, she had no intention of leaving it. There were rumors that he hit her when she arrived on stage sets with bruises on her arms, The two were constantly at odds with her Hollywood career, particularly when Marilyn posed in the unforgettable publicity film stunt in New York City for The Seven Year Itch, where her white sundress flew up over her head as she straddled a subway grating. Joe attended the publicity stunt, seething at the 50,000 fans who roared with glee every time they caught a glimpse of her white panties and beautiful legs. Finally, his temper shot, Joe left and returned to their hotel room where the couple engaged in a row about the photo shoot. Nine months after they wed, Marilyn and Joe divorced. Joe later commented “it’s no fun being married to an electric light.”
In 1954 Marilyn met John F. Kennedy for the first time. They were introduced by Hollywood film producer Charles Feldman. She was only a starlet and he was a senator, not yet a contender for the presidency. They had a brief dalliance then went their separate ways for several years. How they met remains a mystery. It is possible that Kennedy’s cousin Peter Lawford, who happened to be Marilyn’s neighbor, arranged for the two to meet although this is unproven. Their sexual attraction was immediate, but at this point, Marilyn was too focused on her career to become intimately involved with Kennedy.
By now Marilyn had garnished an unpleasant image at 20th Century Fox for her late arrivals and disheveled appearance when she finally appeared on set. Drugs and alcohol were taking a visible toll, both physically and emotionally. She threw tantrums and had frequent absences. Marilyn’s late arrivals irked many actors and directors and it was rumored that she was unprofessional and a difficult co-star. On one occasion a stagehand called to Marilyn that it was time for her to attend the set and she responded with “go fuck yourself,” certainly not her proudest moment.
In 1951 Marilyn met and eventually, by 1956, married Arthur Miller, a very unlikely coupling. Miller was a poet, a novelist, a scholar and a playwright. He married the sex goddess of Hollywood and the two couldn’t have made a more odd couple. Her appeal was obvious; his not so much, An introvert, he was a plain man with large, black spectacles and his nose was usually in a book. Marilyn enjoyed her public forays and enjoyed attention in relatively quiet situations, such as being spotted on public streets and hounded for autographs. Miller on the other hand was just as happy to remain at home in the den of their New York City apartment or their house in Los Angeles. Like Joe DiMaggio he wanted no part of her glamorous Hollywood life. In fact, he immersed himself so completely in his work that he often refused to take his wife out to the movies or out for a romantic dinner. Rather like DiMaggio, he tried to make Marilyn into something she was not. His biggest influence on Marilyn was to insist she had the ability to become “a serious, dramatic actress,” and he encouraged her to pursue classic, difficult roles in rather obscure plays.
In an effort to pursue this new avenue Marilyn left Hollywood for several months and studied under Lee and Paula Strasberg in New York City, using a new approach called Method Acting. The Strasbergs became very involved with Marilyn’s personal life to the point where they neglected their own young daughter. The Strasberg’s questionable acting method forced Marilyn to closely examine and re-live the tragedies of her earlier life, then left her without an outlet to recover, a dangerous situation for Marilyn at this time in her life. Marilyn was unsuccessful at pursuing this type of career and eventually returned to Hollywood. Miller helped to secure an interesting role that was a slight departure from her usual “dumb blonde” image in the movie Bus Stop. The film got decent reviews and Marilyn surprised people with her acting ability.
Miller wrote a film script for Marilyn entitled The Misfits, starring Clark Gable,Montgomery Clift. He might as well have labelled it for their marriage. The film was a spectacular flop. People in cinemas laughed when at the climax of the film, Marilyn screamed at her three cowboy friends for capturing a live horse. Marilyn felt Miller’s script was an intentional bomb and she held a grudge against him for writing it. The relationship lasted a total of four years before the couple divorced. It was the longest relationship of Marilyn’s life.
In her personal life tragedy continued when, in 1958, Marilyn miscarried a child she would have had with Arthur Miller. She suffered several miscarriages during her lifetime. One possible cause was that of endometriosis, a condition where the inner lining of the womb begins to grow outside of the fallopian tubes. Marilyn suffered an ectopic pregnancy, where an embryo settled inside of her fallopian tube and had to be removed for her own safety. Marilyn had a number of abortions during her early life and it is possible that these procedures, crude as they were in the 1950s, were partly responsible for her future miscarriages. Naturally, Marilyn was devastated by her miscarriages during her marriage to Miller; the pregnancy would have been “legitimate” and Marilyn would not have birthed a baby considered “illegitimate” like herself. This may account for the numerous abortions she underwent. Marilyn would not have been able to emotionally and psychologically survive this out-dated scandal. An”illegitimate” child would trigger the unhappiness she suffered as a little girl in her many unstable foster homes.
By 1962, John F. Kennedy re-entered Marilyn’s life. It was clear that Marilyn was involved in a sporadic, sexual relationship with Kennedy. They met 8 times then he ended the affair. It was rumored she was also involved with his brother, Robert Kennedy, although there is no evidence to substantiate this claim. More likely, he was the gopher who intervened in the Kennedy-Monroe relationship at the behest of his brother. She became a part of the small, elite circle that frequented Peter Lawford’s social gatherings, including dinners and poolside parties. Marilyn was enchanted with Kennedy and why not? Not only was he the most powerful man in America, he was handsome and had great charisma, drawing many women into brief sexual affairs. Marilyn however was delusional about her involvement with the President. She certainly wasn’t the only actress with whom he was intimate. Angie Dickinson, Jayne Mansfield and Jane Wyman were also on that distinguished list. Oddly however Kennedy was rumored to be a misogynist, using them casually, and never allowing any of his women to become too intimate with him.
Marilyn, however saw their affair as more than sexual. She was so disillusioned as to believe Kennedy would leave his wife, Jackie Kennedy, an icon in her own right, and that she would become first lady. She even contacted Jackie at the White House with her future intentions, infuriating the first lady and ending the relationship with Kennedy and Marilyn. When Marilyn intruded this closely into his personal life Kennedy severed the relationship and he did so abruptly: he disconnected his personal phone line in the White House and refused to return Marilyn’s increasingly frantic messages.Naturally, Kennedy’s intention was to end the relationship. The President of the United States was gravely concerned with his public image. Marilyn wouldn’t let go and he used Robert to drive a wedge between them. It was around this time that the disillusioned Marilyn supposedly made another suicide attempt.
Happy Birthday Mr. President
By now Marilyn was coming to the end of her career and the end of her life. Although she was the wealthiest actress in Hollywood Marilyn purchased a small, unassuming house on Helena Drive, a beachfront property. A Latin inscription was carved over the doorway that in English translated into the ominous phrase “my journey is over.“Ironically her final, unfinished film was titled Something’s Got to Give. Marilyn’s many absences, coupled with her famous appearance at third Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962 for the President’s 45th birthday, cost her her job. Fox also claimed she drifted through her scenes in a depressed, drug-induced state. Her agent urged her to embark on a PR project of photo shoots and interviews, which she did. Her anger and depression often revealed themselves during some of these interviews. She was particularly angry at the way Hollywood studios had treated her for 15 years. Her final photo shoot with Bert Stern eventually bore the sad title “The Last Sitting.” It was a questionable project where Marilyn rolled around in white sheets and wore seaweed over her shoulder on the beach, her hair mussed, wearing scant make-up, They weren’t her most flattering pictures.
The night of August 4th 1962, will always remain a mystery. Somewhere around midnight, Marilyn said good night to her housekeeper, Eunice Murray, a woman Marilyn disliked who was hired by Marilyn’s psychiatrist, Dr. Greenson. Marilyn had become very paranoid by this time and believed Greenson hired Eunice to keep an eye on her. Marilyn was also Anna Freud’s patient, the daughter of Sigmund Freud. It has been argued that psychoanalysis was a therapeutic process that further damaged, rather than helped the movie star.
She took an overdose of 40 Nembutal capsules, a prescribed sleeping pill. She contacted her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph S. Greenson at his home and requested more drugs stating she had misplaced her pills. He was unconcerned about his patient’s odd request. Marilyn couldn’t be in danger since she couldn’t find her Nembutal. Marilyn telephoned a friend named Jeanne Carmen who lived across the street, asking her to come over and share pills as they often did but Jeanie refused. Finally, Marilyn called Peter Lawford who answered the phone. She uttered her last words, “say good-bye to the President and say good-bye to you too, because you’re a nice guy.” Lawford listened then hung up the phone and returned to his dinner party. Lawford may have been the one who called Marilyn inviting her to dinner and the actress responded in a slurred voice.
For some reason Eunice tried to enter Marilyn’s room, claiming that the phone cord snaking beneath her door alarmed her, although this was a regular occurrence. Eunice however insisted that when Marilyn retired for the evening she took the telephone to another room and covered it with pillows so it couldn’t disturb her when it rang. When she couldn’t open Marilyn’s locked door she contacted Greenson who told her to go outside the house, use a fire poker to part the curtains over Marilyn’s bedroom window and look through the bars at his patient. Eunice did so and found Marilyn sprawled on her bed, very still with the phone receiver in her hand. When Eunice reported this to Greenson, he left the opera he attended and drove to Marilyn’s home. It was now the very early hours of August 5, 1962. Greenson used the same fire poker to smash the window and climb into Marilyn’s bedroom. He later stated, “I saw from across the room that she was no longer living.” He checked for a pulse then contacted police and an ambulance. It was too late., Later Greenson claimed that Marilyn was “a poor soul I tried to help but failed.”
Jack Clemmons recalled that it took several minutes to straighten out Marilyn’s body and remove the telephone receiver from her hand, due to advanced rigor mortis, so it could be placed on a stretcher and removed from the house. He noticed her hair was dried and “frazzled, with all those treatments,” and that in the end “we all come to that.” The need to wrestle Marilyn’s body into a straight position adds to the controversy surrounding her final hours. The first stage of rigor mortis occurs approximately one hours after death, regresses and the body becomes flexible again. Then the final, advanced stage of rigor mortis sets in within approximately one half-hour to one hour after the body has become flexible, depending on a number of factors. The question often asked by critics is why did it take so long for Eunice Murray to contact Dr. Greenson, since it is believed she contacted him around midnight? And why did it take the length of time it did for police and ambulance to be notified and arrive at the scene? These are questions that will never be answered.
PIn the morgue, when the sheet was pulled back from Marilyn’s body, a pronounced silence fell over the doctor and assistants, each one feeling that this young woman should be able to get up off the table and walk out the door. On August 5th, 1962 at 4:25 a.m. Marilyn Monroe was officially pronounced dead by Dr. Thomas Noguchi, of the Los Angeles County Coroners office . Noguchi listed Marilyn’s death as an overdose of barbiturates, and a “probable suicide” a term that has created ongoing controversy. However, in medical terms probable doesn’t refer to the possibility of a homicide. Noguchi’s assessment implied that the body couldn’t be analyzed as suicide with absolute certainty, due to other physical and medical factors. This isn’t entirely unusual in suicides. Many suicides have been deemed probable or possible depending on the condition of the body when it is discovered, the person’s psychiatric history, witness statements, and other factors.
Noguchi claimed he conducted a full, careful examination of Marilyn’s remains including an extensive exam of her vaginal area, looking for signs of a syringe injection and examining her rectal area to discover whether she’d received a forced enema. He found no signs of either intrusive acts. A forced enema in particular would have been easy to identify, since it would have involved bruising and possible tearing in the anal area. Theorists argue with this conclusion, stating Eunice Murray may have accidentally administered a fatal enema to Marilyn. Rumors surrounding her death includes the suggestion of murder by the mafia, the Kennedy’s, accidental overdose, or suicide. On the now defunct Geraldo Rivera talk show, a police officer named Jack Clemmons, insisted Marilyn’s death couldn’t be a suicide since none of the Nembutal capsules were found in her stomach and that 40 Nembutal pills couldn’t possibly be digested by the time of her death.
However this claim has been disputed in a documentary entitled “Unsolved History – The Death of Marilyn Monroe.“ In the documentary a scientific experiment is created using a glass receptor to represent Marilyn’s stomach, and an acid equalling the strength of stomach acid. 40 Nembutal pills, enough to kill several people, were dissolved in the simulated stomach and it was found they were indeed fully digested within mere minutes. The experiment satisfied the question as to whether Nembutal capsules had to remain in Marilyn’s stomach at the time of her death in order for her to commit suicide. Clearly, they didn’t. Others claim that it was impossible for Marilyn to ingest 40 pills at one time, yet after years of pill-popping, Marilyn was in the habit of easily ingesting a mixture of several pills at once. So strong was the mixture of pills she took evening during the day, that she often fainted when she emerged from her Brentwood home into the strong California sunlight.
Marilyn Monroe’s Legend
To this day Marilyn Monroe remains a tragic figure. She is the ultimate blonde bombshell, a highly intelligent woman viewed incorrectly as a dumb blonde, a woman with few long-term relationships, a lonely, vulnerable girl seeking love and the father figure she never had, a suicidal woman suffering from manic-depression, a vulnerable, abused foster child, and a woman divorced three times who never found stability in a successful relationship. The incredible fairy tale of an unknown girl who worked her own way into fame captivates us and fuels the desire of many young women who travel to Los Angeles every year, conveniently ignoring the tragedy of Marilyn’s life, vainly seeking her lasting legend.