Early life of Marilyn Monroe

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Birth certificate of Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortensen on 1926.

Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926, in the charity ward of the Los Angeles County Hospital.[1][2] According to biographer Fred Lawrence Guiles, her grandmother, Della Monroe Grainger, had her baptised Norma Jeane Baker by Aimee Semple McPherson.[1] She obtained an order from the City Court of the State of New York and legally changed her name to Marilyn Monroe on February 23, 1956.[3]

Her mother[edit]

Marilyn's mother, Gladys Pearl Monroe, was born on May 27, 1902, in Porfirio Díaz, Mexico, now Piedras Negras, to Otis Elmer Monroe and Della Mae Hogan.[4][5] The family returned to California where Gladys' brother Otis was born in 1905. Suffering from syphilis that had invaded his brain, Otis Elmer Monroe died on July 22, 1909 in Southern California State Hospital in San Bernardino County.[6] Gladys married Jasper Baker, a native of Kentucky, in May 1917 then they had two children, Robert Kermit Baker (born January 24, 1918 - died August 16, 1933) and Berniece Baker (Miracle) (born July 30, 1919). Both children were born in Los Angeles.[7][8] After Gladys and Jasper divorced, Jasper kidnapped the children and moved to Kentucky, where he had been born, according to Miracle's book My Sister Marilyn. Gladys moved there to be near her children, but later returned to Los Angeles. Her son died aged fifteen from kidney failure as a result of tuberculosis of the bone[9] without ever seeing her again; however she managed to reunite with her daughter many years later. On Marilyn's birth certificate, she claimed both of her elder children were deceased and her husband, a baker named "Edward Mortenson," resided in an unknown residence.[10] Gladys died on March 11, 1984, in Gainesville, Florida, aged 81 years.

Her father[edit]

Marilyn's biological father remains unclear. After Gladys returned to Los Angeles, she married Martin Edward Mortensen (1897–1981) on October 11, 1924.[11] They separated on May 26, 1927, and they divorced on August 15, 1928. Martin's father, also named Martin Mortensen, was born in Haugesund, Norway on February 8, 1861, and had emigrated to the United States in 1878 where he married Stella Higgins on October 10, 1894 in Vallejo, California, and their son was born there.[12]

Norma Jeane's biological father was probably Charles Stanley Gifford, Gladys Baker's shift foreman at Consolidated Film Industries where Baker worked as a film cutter, but her daughter's birth certificate lists Baker's second husband, Martin Edward Mortensen, as the father.[13] Although Mortensen separated from Gladys after her daughter's birth, some biographers speculate he may have been the father.[14] In an interview with Lifetime, James Dougherty, Monroe's first husband, said Norma Jeane believed that Gifford was her father. Whoever the father was, he played no further part in Monroe's life.

Foster parents[edit]

Unable to persuade her mother Della to take Norma Jeane, Gladys placed her with foster parents Albert and Ida Bolender of Hawthorne, California, where she lived until she was seven years old. Albert was a postman while Ida devoted herself to raising her one son, housekeeping, foster-parenting and being a Protestant. In her autobiography My Story, Monroe states she thought Albert was a woman. The Bolenders raised other foster children as well, but of all of them, Norma Jeane remained in their care the longest. She was 14 months old when Della, her maternal grandmother, died of myocarditis and too young to remember the death, but was told of it as she grew up by her foster parents, mother and Grace McKee. Gladys took Norma Jeane for outings or picnics when she visited her. One of Monroe's earliest memories was of St. Mark's Plaza. For years, Norma Jeane retained a striped parasol Gladys bought her. Ida Bolendar stated, referring to Norma Jeane, Gladys "paid her board all the time," and Monroe 'was never neglected and always nicely dressed."[15]

One day, Gladys announced that she had purchased a house. A few months after they had moved in, Gladys suffered a nervous breakdown. In My Story, Monroe recalls her mother "screaming and laughing" as she was forcibly removed to the State Hospital in Norwalk. According to Monroe, Gladys' brother, Marion, committed suicide via hanging upon his release from an asylum, and Della's father did the same in a fit of depression.

Norma Jeane was declared a ward of state, and Gladys' best friend, Grace McKee (later Goddard) became her guardian. After McKee married in 1935, Norma Jeane was sent to the Los Angeles Orphans Home (later renamed Hollygrove), and then to a succession of foster homes, as her mother could not look after her.

The Goddards were about to move to the east coast and could not take her. Grace approached the mother of James Dougherty about the possibility of her son marrying the girl. They married weeks after she turned 16, so that Norma Jeane would not have to return to an orphanage or foster care.


  1. ^ a b Marilyn Monroe's Official Web site .::. Biography
  2. ^ "Marilyn Monroe - MSN Encarta". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. 
  3. ^ Harding, Les (24 August 2012). They Knew Marilyn Monroe: Famous Persons in the Life of the Hollywood Icon. McFarland. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-7864-9014-1. 
  4. ^ "Mexico, Coahuila, Civil Registration, 1861-1998 Image Mexico, Coahuila, Civil Registration, 1861-1998; pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-22285-39565-26 - Familysearch.org". Retrieved April 11, 2015. 
  5. ^ Social Security Death Index showing "Gladys Eley, last residence Gainesville, Alachua, Florida, Born: 27 May 1900, Died: Mar 1984, SSN issued by Oregon (Before 1951)"
  6. ^ California Death Index (on microfilm) 1905-1929 on vitalsearch-ca.com showing "Otis Monroe, age 44, died 22 July 1909. San Bernardino County"
  7. ^ *California Birth Index showing Berniece and "Hermitt" [as listed].
  8. ^ " 1920 Census Sheet 12A, Dwelling 95, Family 95, Precinct 5, Venice, Los Angeles Co, California showing "Jasper N Baker, 31 b KY; Gladys 18 b Mexico; Hermit 1 11/12 b CA; Berneice 2/12 b CA; Audry, brother, 18, b KY
  9. ^ Robert Kermit BAKER (1918 - 1933) in Geni.com [retrieved 26 May 2014].
  10. ^ Spoto, Donald (2001). Marilyn Monroe: The Biography. Cooper Square Press. pp. 13–14. ISBN 978-0815411833. 
  11. ^ "Birth of Marilyn Monroe Shown to Be Legitimate". Associated Press date=February 13, 1981. February 13, 1981. Retrieved 2007-07-21. Eighteen years after Marilyn Monroe's death, the widely held belief that the movie star was born illegitimate has been disproved. Authorities say they have found copies of her birth certificate at the home of a dead man they believe was her father. Martin Edward Mortensen, 85 years old, died on Tuesday, apparently of a heart attack, Lisle Ford, a Riverside County coroner's investigator, said. He said that he had found copies of Monroe's birth certificate at Mortensen's apartment, as well as marriage and divorce papers for Mortensen and Gladys Baker, Monroe's mother. The birth certificate states that Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jean Mortensen on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles. Her father is listed as Edward Mortensen, address unknown, age 29. Monroe died in Los Angeles on August 5, 1962, apparently a suicide from an overdose of barbiturates. 
  12. ^ World War I Draft Registration Card showing "Edward M Mortensen, born 26 February 1897, in Vallejo, California; Gas Fitter for LA Gas & Electric Corp, father born in Norway, mother Stella; registered in Los Angeles County, California 5 June 1918."
  13. ^ Les Harding They Knew Marilyn Monroe: Famous Persons in the Life of the Hollywood Icon, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012, p.2
  14. ^ Tilden, Imogen (June 1, 2001). "Marilyn Monroe". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  15. ^ Spoto, pp. 18-20.