Happy 100th Birthday, Berniece Miracle

Berniece Baker Miracle, Marilyn’s half-sister, turns 100 years old today. (This photo, taken in 1994, showed Berniece aged 75.)

Berniece was born on July 30, 1919, to John ‘Jap’ Baker and his wife Gladys in Venice, California. She was their second child, Robert (or ‘Jackie’) having been born in 1917. Baker was sixteen years older than Gladys, who had married him aged just fifteen. The marriage was not a happy one, and in 1923, they separated. After the divorce, Baker abducted both children and returned to his hometown of Flat Lick, Kentucky. Gladys followed them there, but was unable to recover her children. She eventually returned to Los Angeles and after another failed marriage, became pregnant with Norma Jeane who was born in 1926.

In 1933, Berniece’s brother Robert tragically died aged sixteen. Two years later, Gladys suffered a nervous breakdown and would spend much of her later life under psychiatric care. Berniece, who believed her mother was dead, received a letter from Gladys in 1938 and also learned of her half-sister’s existence for the first time. The two ‘sisters’ began a warm correspondence. At nineteen, Berniece had just graduated from college and was about to marry her long-term boyfriend, Paris Miracle. Their daughter, Mona Rae Miracle, was born in 1939, and the family moved north to Detroit, Michigan.

Berniece and Norma Jeane, 1944

In 1944, Norma Jeane travelled to Detroit where she finally met Berniece in person. Two years later, Berniece – now living in Oak Ridge, Tennessee – visited her half-sister, now a successful model and aspiring actress under her new name of Marilyn Monroe, in Los Angeles.

Berniece with Marilyn, Gladys and Mona Rae in 1946

In 1951, Berniece moved to Gainesville, Florida, and would later work as a bookkeeper at the University of Florida, while Mona Rae qualified as a schoolteacher in 1957 and was married a year later.

Although the sisters stayed in touch throughout Marilyn’s rise to fame, they would not meet again until 1961, when she asked Berniece to stay with her in New York as she recuperated from gallbladder surgery. Sadly this would be their last reunion, and in August 1962, Berniece was one of the first to hear of Marilyn’s death from her ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio. She travelled to Los Angeles to help Joe and Inez Melson (Marilyn’s business manager, and legal guardian to Gladys) and attend her sister’s funeral. She and Mona Rae were among the beneficiaries of Marilyn’s will.

Berniece at Marilyn’s funeral, 1962
Berniece with her daughter, Mona Rae Miracle

In 1967, Gladys left Rockhaven Sanitarium in California, and moved to Florida to live with her daughter. A few years later, she entered a nursing home. Gladys survived until 1984, and was joined in death by Paris Miracle six years later. My Sister Marilyn, co-written by Berniece and Mona Rae, was published in 1994. It is one of the most tender and intimate books ever written about Marilyn, and an essential read for anyone seeking a truthful account of her family background.

Marilyn ‘Icon’ Vodcast Explores Childhood Trauma

The second installment of American Icon: Where Healing Meets Life, a new vodcast series from Nina Boski and Monroe biographer Gary Vitacco-Robles, will air today, May 8, at noon PST. It will be repeated at 3 pm and 6 pm; for Eastern time please add 3 hours, or 8 hours in the UK – and tune in here.

“We will be discussing a serious topic of Marilyn surviving the complex traumas of childhood sexual/physical abuse & neglect, its impact on her life, & resources available today for those experiencing the long term impact of trauma. During May as Mental Health Awareness Month, MM is helping us talk about painful & challenging issues to end stigma & start the healing journey. The three-part ‘vodcasts’ will be archived on YouTube as part of the American Icon documentary.”

‘Essentially Marilyn’ Opens at the Paley Center

The new exhibition, Essentially Marilyn, has opened at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles. Admission is free until September 30, ahead of the Profiles in History auction in October. The exhibit showcases the remarkable collection of Maite Minguez Ricart, all the way from Spain. Jackie Craig shared these photos of Monroe’s glamorous movie costumes and personal artifacts on Marilyn Remembered – you can see more here.

A number of personal items are also on offer, including several family photos inscribed by Marilyn on the reverse.

Marion Monroe (brother of Gladys) with son Jack, and mother Della

Mementos from Marilyn’s high school days

Jim Dougherty at 17 with sister Lydia Hayes, and after his marriage to Marilyn

Marilyn’s address book, and her gift to Billy Wilder

Jack Cardiff’s 1956 portrait of Marilyn, which Arthur Miller kept in his study after they married

‘Essentially Marilyn’ at the Paley Center

Essentially Marilyn, a free exhibition at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles, will be on display from August 18-September 30, ahead of a major auction at Profiles in History this October.

“A major Marilyn Monroe mystery has been solved! For years it had been debated, how did she get her name? A never before seen oversize presentation photograph inscribed by Marilyn Monroe to 20th Century Fox studio executive, Ben Lyon, answers that question.

Marilyn inscribes, ‘Dear Ben, You found me, named me and believed in me when no one else did. My thanks and love forever. Marilyn’. The photo was taken during the filming of The Seven Year Itch. This is the most important signed photograph in Hollywood history.

Fifteen costumes worn by Marilyn Monroe will be on exhibit, including her yellow and black sequined showgirl costume from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, her signature white chiffon over white satin ball gown from The Prince and the Showgirl, her patterned sequined dress from How to Marry a Millionaire and the ‘Subway Dress’ from The Seven Year Itch that was created by Bill Travilla, who made most of Marilyn’s costumes, for touring and exhibition purposes. It’s made to the exact specifications of his original 1955 design for the film.

Marilyn’s heavily hand-annotated script from 1955’s The Seven Year Itch, which gives unique insight into her artistic process.

Marilyn’s personal childhood photographs with handwritten notes, including her baby photo with the note, ‘Me when I was very small,’ another photograph with the note, ‘First boyfriend. Lester Bolender and Norma Jeane, both age 5’.

The exhibit will be framed by elegant and stunningly beautiful large format photographs of Monroe captured by her friend, famed fashion and celebrity photographer Milton H. Greene.”

Publishing News: Marilyn’s Lost Photos, and More

Limited Runs have produced a book based on their touring exhibit, Marilyn Monroe: Lost Photo Collection, featuring 21 images by Milton Greene, Gene Lester and Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder. Only 125 copies have been made, priced at $95. Hopefully it will be a high-quality product, but it still seems rather expensive for such a slim volume.

One of Marilyn’s best biographers and a friend of this blog, Michelle Morgan has recently published two new books via Lulu. The Marilyn Journal is the first in an anthology series, compiling newsletters of the UK Marilyn Lives Society, founded by Michelle in 1991. A Girl Called Pearl is a charming children’s novel – not about Marilyn as such, but it is set in the Los Angeles of her childhood, so it does have some interesting parallels, and would be a great Christmas gift for readers young and old (also available via Kindle.)

Marilyn: I Wanna Be Loved By You, an 82-page catalogue (in French) accompanying the current exhibition at Aix-en-Provence, is available from Amazon UK for £8.44.

Thanks to Fraser Penney

In the November 19 issue of Scotland’s Weekly News (with Donny Osmond on the cover), Craig Campbell picks his Top 10 MM movies. Click the photo above to read the article in full.

Finally, Marilyn’s love of Chanel No. 5 is featured in an article about favourite perfumes in Issue 3 of UK nostalgia mag Yours Retro.

Marilyn at Julien’s: Childhood and Family

Norma Jeane as a young model, photographed by Andre de Dienes

In the first of a new series, I’m looking at items from the upcoming auction at Julien’s relating to Marilyn’s family and her early life as Norma Jeane. This photo shows her mother Gladys as a child with brother Marion.

B06E2C85-4C8A-449A-B3ED-64DD4D9C6BAE-8579-000004F1AC5D85DC_tmp

He would later accompany Gladys and her baby daughter on a trip to a Los Angeles beach. However, Marion disappeared sometime afterwards, and was never heard of again. Norma Jeane would live with his wife and children for a few months after Gladys was committed to a psychiatric hospital.

23128255-9CE5-4ECD-B2BF-5EB4C6458CFE-8579-000004F3747B0C8F_tmp

Between the ages of nine to twelve, Norma Jeane collected stamps. The fact that she kept hold of the album until she died suggests it brought back calmer memories of what was often an unsettled childhood.

Ana Lower was the aunt of Grace Goddard, who had become Norma Jeane’s legal guardian after Gladys fell ill. Norma Jeane lived with Ana, a devout Christian Scientist, for two years. By then Ana was in her fifties, but this photo shows her as a younger woman.

C91DC36A-7014-447A-BD8D-E9BC97EAC994-8579-000004F2F01EAE44_tmp

Marilyn considered Ana to be one of the most important influences in her life. This letter, written while Norma Jeane was visiting her half-sister for the first time, shows that the affection was mutual.

My precious Girl,” Ana wrote, “You are outward bound on a happy journey. May each moment of its joyous expectations be filled to the brim. New places, faces and experiences await you. You will meet them all with your usual sweetness and loving courtesy. When you see your sister you will truly both receive a blessing.”

These photos of Marilyn’s first husband, James Dougherty, were found behind the portrait of Ana. He is wearing his Merchant Marine’s uniform.

By the late 1940s, Gladys had been released from hospital, but her condition quickly deteriorated.  She suffered from severe delusions, and disapproved of Norma Jeane’s ambition to act. However, there were still tender moments between mother and daughter, as this card from Gladys reveals.

“Dear One,” she wrote, “I am very grateful for all the kindness you’ve shown me and as a Loving Christian Scientist (my pencil broke) I hope our God will let me return some goodness to you with out doing myself any harm. For I know good is reflected in goodness, the same as Love is reflected in Love. As a Christian Scientist I remain very truly your Mother.”

As Marilyn’s fame grew, she tried her best to shield family members from unwanted publicity. Grace Goddard, who had retained guardianship of Gladys throughout her long illness, wrote an anxious letter to Marilyn in August 1953. Gladys had recently been admitted to a private rest-home, and Marilyn would pay for her mother’s care until she died.

Such a burden for a delicate little girl like you to hear,” Grace wrote. Marilyn, then filming River of No Return in Canada, sent her money transfer for $600. Grace, who had cancer, passed away weeks later.

Hollygrove Alumni Remembers Norma Jeane

Bill Fredendall of Eden Prairie, Minnesota was born just two years after Marilyn, and knew her as a child at Hollygrove, then known as the Los Angeles Orphans’ Home. He shares his memories of Norma Jeane in a fascinating interview with Karla Wennerstrom of Eden Prairie News.

“‘Very few people in America can say Marilyn Monroe pushed them on the swing,’ said Bill Fredendall of Eden Prairie.

‘My mother and father were divorced and my father got us kids and he evidently couldn’t care for us,’ Fredendall said. Their father, a master electrician with movie studios, put Fredendall, his brother and sister into the Los Angeles Orphans Home Society in 1933 during the Great Depression.

Both of his parents would visit the children, he said.

A 2005 Los Angeles Times story identifies Marilyn Monroe as the most famous alumna of the children’s shelter, which was founded in 1880.

‘Norma Jean Baker was 9 in 1935 when she was brought to the orphanage by an aunt. She lived in a girls’ residence hall whose windows overlooked Paramount Studios [then RKO] and framed its landmark water tower,’ the story said. Her mother ‘was mentally ill and unable to care for her.’

Fredendall said they could see the RKO Studios water tower from the home’s two buildings, which housed about 80 children, girls on one side and boys on the other. There was a play yard and hospital facilities.

The children would walk over to the studio a few times a month to watch a movie.

‘Most of kids were not orphans,’ he said, but were from broken homes.

When asked to describe life in the orphanage, Fredendall said, ‘It was marvelous.’

‘We were trained to take care of our own building and take care of ourselves,’ he said.

In the summer, the children would spend time at the beach – more time if you were a boy, he pointed out. ‘I learned to swim in the ocean,’ Fredendall said.

The location in Hollywood meant that celebrities would visit often.

Actor Pat O’Brien, who would later appear in Some Like It Hot with Monroe, stopped by and dropped off 50 cent pieces at each child’s place at the dinner table.

The sister of Oliver Hardy, half of Laurel and Hardy, was a matron at the orphanage.

‘He would come with his chauffeur and limousine packed full of presents for us boys,’ Fredendall said of Hardy.

‘I remember there was an earthquake every once in a while,’ he added. ‘We would all jump around and have fun with that.’

The orphanage was used as a setting in movies.

‘More than once, they would have a scene of a firetruck rescuing someone from the matron’s dormitory,’ Fredendall said. ‘That was very exciting for us to see.’

As for Monroe, ‘She was just Norma Jeane Baker,’ Fredendall said.

‘We sat on the radiators and looked at the front of the RKO studio, up in the sky from where we were,’ Fredendall said.

‘We could see that from the orphanage,’ he said. ‘We all wanted to be in the movies.’

Monroe was a friend of Fredendall’s sister, who was about the same age.

‘She wasn’t Marilyn Monroe in those days.’

Fredendall can’t recall when they realized that the Norma Jeane Baker they knew was the Marilyn Monroe from the movies.

‘It’s kind of always been in the family lore,’ Phyllis Fredendall said.

And the family followed her career.

Phyllis said she remembers when Monroe passed away in 1962, and her father was bereft.

‘She was a good girl,’ Fredendall said.”

Marilyn’s May Magazine Madness

Marilyn graces the cover of two magazines (at least) this month. A pin-up shot from 1952 is used to great effect in Italy’s gay-friendly magazine, Pride, with an article by Giovanbattista Brambilla (author of the fan-favourite 1996 book, MM: The Life, The Myth) inside. ‘The Shadow of Marilyn’ explores Marilyn’s complex relationship with acting coach Natasha Lytess.

In the US, celebrity weekly Closer (no relation to the UK mag) makes Marilyn their cover girl from the third time in a year. Inside, an article about her fractured relationship with her mentally ill mother, Gladys, ties in with Lifetime’s upcoming mini-series, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (to be broadcast stateside on May 30-31.)

Richard Anderson Remembers Marilyn

Although best-known for his role as Lee Majors’ boss in The Six Million Dollar Man, Richard Anderson’s career dates back to the golden age of Hollywood. Born in 1926, he made his movie debut in 1947 – just like Marilyn Monroe. Anderson would later appear in Bus Stop, a TV series based on Marilyn’s 1956 movie. But as he reveals in a new book, Richard Anderson – At Last…, their first encounter occurred long before she appeared before a camera.

“Part of my job as Commissioner of Safety at University High was to sit at the east gate to make sure that the students had a pass to come to school and leave.

One day, I was eating a 15-cent lunch of egg salad sandwich and my favourite dessert – sherbet.

Sitting there eating raspberry sherbet, the east gate door opens and in walks this lady. Blonde with everything else that counts. She gave me a big smile, and I stopped eating.

‘How are you?’ she murmured.

‘I’m fine now,’ I said…

From the east gate to the main building is a long, long walk. She smiled her beautiful smile and then slowly moved away – very slowly – I watched the way she moved until she was out of sight. What a walk. I was transfixed. I also wasn’t hungry anymore…

Moreover, I forgot to ask for her pass!

I would later learn that her name was Norma Jeane Mortenson. But she will be forever be known to all as…Marilyn Monroe.”

Anderson was also a student at University High School, volunteering for the Commissioner of Safety post in 1941. Norma Jeane’s first boyfriend, Chuck Moran – whom she dated that year – was a University High student, although at the time of their relationship, Norma Jeane attended Emerson Junior High.

In September 1941, while living with Grace Goddard and her family, Norma Jeane enrolled at Van Nuys High. But in February 1942, after Grace’s husband was promoted to a post in his native West Virginia, fifteen year-old Norma Jeane returned to live with Ana Lower, and transferred to University High. By June, she had left school to marry Jim Dougherty.

Norma Jeane was not yet a blonde at this time, although she could be described as ‘California blonde’ (because her hair lightened in the sun.) But Anderson’s story rings true. By the late 1940s, he was a member of the Actors Lab in Los Angeles, recalling that Marilyn and John Garfield were also regulars.

He also recalls seeing Marilyn, now a major star, in the Fox Commissary with her Monkey Business co-star Cary Grant and director Howard Hawks. Grant went to the trouble of introducing her to Anderson. However, she recognised him instantly.

This story is also believable, as Marilyn never took even the smallest kindness for granted. Anderson writes that he was on loan to Fox for A Life of Her Own (starring Lana Turner), but that film was made at MGM in 1950, two years before Monkey Business.

Behind the Scenes of ‘Icon’

Gary Vitacco-Robles, author of this year’s outstanding, two-volume biography – Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe – has been interviewed by Bill Biss for Edge Media Network. In the article, Gary reveals his starting point for this mammoth project:

“EDGE: It’s interesting that the very first chapter you wrote was on her film ‘Niagara.’ How did you happen to begin there?

Gary Vitacco-Robles: ‘Niagara’ was a film-noir done in color that had a lot of symbolism in it. Also, I thought it was a great depiction of post-war fear of sexuality and about women’s emerging sexuality. There was so much to deal with and that was kind of on the level that I wanted to explore Marilyn’s life. The movie was considered so scandalous at the time. I thought it gave me a lot of dimensions. Her films would be the anchor and I would just thread between the films what was going on in her personal life.”

Having worked as a psychotherapist for over 20 years, Gary used his professional expertise to build a nuanced portrait of MM:

“I’m really not aware of a mental health professional writing about Marilyn. Her story is just so right for that. There’s these armchair psychologists… mostly men are writing about Marilyn and they are very misogynistic. They will believe any speculation that maybe she was very sexually promiscuous, but then they’ll completely dismiss any information that she was an abuse survivor. That appalled me. You can’t really tell Marilyn’s story without talking about childhood abuse.

Now, we know so much about complex trauma and she was a survivor of complex trauma and that accounts for so much of her life. It just puts everything in place. People want to judge her or they don’t look at her life in the context of that. This is a woman who suffered from a mood disorder, horrible childhood abuse and still was able to make it, become successful and inspire people. The fact that she had a tragic ending does not dismiss the fact that she was incredibly resilient.”