The Secret Life Of Marilyn Monroe
The scene was a small room in the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Hollywood. Marilyn Monroe, her blonde hair in disorder and her pale cheeks wet with tears, lay back against her pillows in the sterile bed and stared dully at the wall. An executive of 20th Century-Fox Studio stood before her, his face set in stern lines. He had just finished telling her that Erskine Johnson, a syndicated columnist, was prepared to blast the story to the world that Marilyn’s mother, who had been believed dead since Marilyn’s infancy, was alive and living in Hollywood. Unless, of course, Marilyn could come up with some satisfactory explanation of her deceit.
Marilyn didn’t speak for a long time. Nor did she look at the studio man. She just lay quietly facing her own conscience and turning over in her mind the big lie she had been living, and the background she had felt made the lie necessary. It was a sad moment for her. But she knew as she lay there that she would at last have to speak the truth, forget her own unhappiness and make a straightforward statement. She would have to explain why she had created the fiction she had been giving to the press and her bosses ever since she started in the movies. She sat up and sipped a drink of water to relieve the awful dryness in her throat.
“It’s true,” she said at last. “My mother is alive—and I’ve known it all along.”
Because of this incident MODERN SCREEN feels the time has come to bare the complete facts of Marilyn Monroe’s life, which we present herewith for the first time.
Marilyn Monroe was born in the Los Angeles County General Hospital, June 26, 1926, which makes her not 23, but 26 years of age this summer. Her mother, a casual film lab worker, who has been employed by both RKO (then Radio Pictures) and Columbia Studio, was; herself, 24 years old when Marilyn was born.
Marilyn’s mother’s name was Gladys Pearl Monroe and she was a native of Mexico. Her father was Edward Mortenson, who was a baker by occupation. It is’ apparent that at the time of the birth Edward Mortenson was estranged from Marilyn’s mother, for the birth record states that his whereabouts, on June 1, 1926, were unknown. Although Mortenson was only 29 years old at the time, there is no known record of his ever showing up again, so he may be presumed to be dead. There is no proof, however, that he was killed in an automobile accident as has been panics in Marilyn’s official studio biography.
Gladys Monroe had borne two children prior to the birth of Marilyn. One, a girl, died at a very early age, and the other, a boy, is still alive. He is an invalid, it is reported, and not aware of his relationship to the glamorous star. Because his mother’s original name was no doubt of Spanish origin, it is evident that Gladys Monroe was married to another man before Edward Mortenson, and that his name was Monroe. It has only been during her motion picture career that Marilyn has used the name Monroe. Before trying Hollywood she used her legal name, Norma Jeanne Mortenson most of the time, but did, on occasion (as in early studio biographies) call herself Norma Jeanne Baker. The only clue to the reason for this lies in the fact that on her birth certificate the name Baker appears as her father’s trade. Marilyn may have picked it from there.
Not long after Marilyn Monroe was born, her mother fell ill of a nervous ailment and entered a state hospital for treatment. She has been confined to this or other hospitals for most of the time during the past 25 years, being released from time to time as her condition improved. When it became apparent that Gladys Monroe would be unable to care for her infant daughter, the child was given to a foster mother, Grace McKee, who is now Mrs. E. L. Goddard, to be raised as her own. No record of a formal adoption has been uncovered, but there is evidence that Mrs. Goddard and Grace McKee are the same person because when Marilyn was signed to a contract by 20th Century-Fox for the first time, on September 5, 1946, Grace McKee appeared before the Los Angeles Superior Court as Marilyn’s legal guardian. It must have been established at that time that Grace McKee had some legal standing as guardian, otherwise the court would not have approved her signature on Marilyn’s contract. And Mrs. E. L. Goddard has been identified as the woman signing the papers with the studio.
An odd facet of this contract, by the way, is that the signature of a guardian was not necessary. According to California law, a girl of 18 who is married is emancipated insofar as the making of contracts is concerned . . . and on September 5, 1946, Marilyn Monroe was still married to James Edward Dougherty. It is not relevant that she was separated from her husband at that time, so the signature of the legal guardian might well have been intended to hide the fact of her marriage from the studio and public. Or it might have been to hide the fact that she was 20 years of age. If the studio today believes that Marilyn Monroe is 23, as her official biography indicates, it might have believed on September 5, 1946, that she was 17, which would have made the approval of a guardian and the courts necessary.
Evidence available at this time seems to substantiate the major portion of Marilyn Monroe’s story of her many foster homes.. Records of Los Angeles County’s foundlings and displaced children are not available for any number of reasons, so it is, therefore, impossible to check and confirm the exact number of homes Marilyn Monroe lived in and the names of the people she stayed with. It was possible; though, to confirm that Marilyn’s “adoptions” were not all handled through official channels. She was taken care of by some families for short periods of time as a kindly service to the guardians properly charged with her. As a matter of fact, in the absence of public records in the matter, it is not too certain that Marilyn was ever actually a county ward, except, of course, in the sense that, being a semi-orphan, she came under the legal jurisdiction of the county officials.
Many people have been kind to Marilyn Monroe in her life. While she was never close to more than a handful of her benefactors, she has at least been given the love and friendship of as many folks as most of the rest of us. Mrs. Goddard has been her first and foremost friend. She has, throughout her life, been at hand when Marilyn needed her. She has kept her secrets and substantiated Marilyn’s stories about the deaths of her mother and father publicly, whenever it was necessary.
Because the details of Marilyn Monroe’s boarding out has been printed so many times—mostly in error—it is practical in this report to skip over most of her formative years and move to her mid-teens. At that period she was living with a Mrs. Anna Lower in Westwood; California, and attending one of the three high schools she studied at. Her life with Mrs. Lower was very happy, for it seems it was really the first “home” Marilyn ever knew, a home in which she felt equal with other kids. But something happened to break it up. Mrs. Lower was planning to move east.
Marilyn was faced with the problem of finding another permanent home. She had never been in love and has admitted to only one infatuation, a crush on a neighbor boy who today is making quite a name for himself in pictures, one Howard Keel of MGM. She had met and dated a lad named James Edward Dougherty, a shaker at the Lockheed Aircraft Plant.
Jim Dougherty says he liked Marilyn well enough, and some of their friends thought that if they married it would solve all her problems. On the 19th of June, 1942, Dougherty and Marilyn were married in Westwood and took up residence somewhere near Culver City. Shortly after, Dougherty joined the Merchant Marine and after a training period in California went to sea. They never had much of a home life, nor were they really ever terribly fond of each other. When Dougherty went away, Marilyn took a job at one of the small defense plants making parts on contract for the aircraft industry. It was then, at the age of 17, that she got her first taste of the limelight.
An army team of public relations soldiers came to the plant one day to shoot some pictures of a war plant in action. Marilyn, for obvious reasons, was chosen as the model for the worker in the pictures. They sold it to editors like hot cakes, and this sowed the seeds of discontent in Marilyn Monroe. She began to want the fame and glamor of a public life.
Dougherty, during this time, was overseas. As he tells it, he was in Shanghai when he got a Dear John letter informing him that Marilyn wanted to be free. He told a reporter some years later that it didn’t make much difference to him.
James Edward Dougherty is now a policeman on the Los Angeles Police Department. He refuses to discuss his marriage to Marilyn, stating only that he is again a married man, with a couple of kids, is very happy and wants nothing to interfere with his marriage. He lives near his station in Van Nuys, California.
With modeling proving to be a pretty tough racket, even for a girl with ail of Marilyn’s attributes, she decided to branch out into the entertainment field. It has never been publicized, but she planned to become a singer and started taking lessons in vocalizing and stage comportment from Phil Moore, the famous jazz musician who has coached many stars in stage and cafe technique. She tried hard but never got anywhere, probably because she had no musical talent. She moved to the Studio Club, a boarding house for young women just three blocks from an orphanage where she spent some time as a child. She tried to get day work in pictures, as a photographic model, and a walking dress model for clothing salesmen. It was during this period that she couldn’t pay her board at the Studio Club and posed for the now famous nude calendar which is today being distributed by the Western Lithograph Company of Los Angeles. She earned 50 dollars for this pose, and it has netted the owners a fortune.
How Marilyn Monroe got her first contract at Fox is not known. But the story that she was baby sitting at the home of a studio casting executive and invited in for a screen test is a complete fabrication. At any rate, she did go to work at 20th Century-Fox, remained under contract for a year and contributed exactly one film role, a bit in Scudda Hay, Scudda Ho, before she was dropped.
It was shortly after her first stint at 20th that Marilyn again met her mother. Gladys Monroe was improving in health and, with the approval of her doctors, had come out of the hospital. Marilyn moved in with her and they tried making a home together. But it didn’t work. They had been apart for so many years, according to friends of the mother, that they were strangers. When they went their separate ways it was for the last time, although Marilyn has helped her mother financially whenever it has been necessary.
It has always been surprising to Hollywoodites that Marilyn Monroe has never played the glamor circuit of gay night spots nor indulged in any of the quickie romances most pretty girls in the movies seem to devote so much time to. She divorced James Dougherty in Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 2, 1946, at the age of 20; the charge was mental cruelty. And since that time she has only been known to have two men in her life who could actually be called “boy friends.” One of them was Johnny Hyde, one of the most important agents in Hollywood. She was his constant companion for almost two years prior to his death in 1951. The other is Joe DiMaggio.
It has been rumored from time to time that the reason Marilyn doesn’t get around much with fellows is that she is the secret lover of a prominent motion picture executive. Even the most simple investigation proves this to be a lie and either the result of a malicious gossip or an attempt by publicity men to give her an aura of sexy mystery. Any self-respecting courtesan in Hollywood has at least three mink coats in her closet and drives a late model Cadillac convertible. These are the badges of the lady’s occupation. Marilyn Monroe has an old, small car, not even a convertible, and when she needs a fur for a premiere or some such event she must borrow one from the studio wardrobe department. No, it is not pleasant to blow up a good story, but Marilyn Monroe is an unusually straitlaced and moral young lady for any community, let alone Hollywood.
As she lay in the hospital bed at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital turning these thoughts over in her mind, Marilyn Monroe must have thought that it was a cruel twist of fate that had brought her secrets into the open. She must have dreaded facing the people of her studio and the press that she had fooled, but she need not have been ashamed.
The road before Marilyn Monroe today is well paved with good things. Love has come into her life with Joe DiMaggio. Success on the screen in better roles is assured her. And, in time, she will have all the money she will be able to use. Her mother, widowed again recently and living within five miles of the studio where Marilyn is under contract, is close if she wants to see her, and need no longer be denied. The husband of her youth is out of her life and she need have no further contact with him. The past is behind and the future bright ahead.
—BY STEVE CRONIN
(Marilyn Monroe can soon be seen in 20th Century-Fox’s We’re Not Married.)
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1954