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.)
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.
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.
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.
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,” Anawrote, “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,” shewrote, “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,” Gracewrote. Marilyn, then filming RiverofNoReturn in Canada, sent her money transfer for $600. Grace, who had cancer, passed away weeks later.
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.
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.)
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.
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.”
Some interesting Marilyn-related items are featured in the upcoming Icons and Idols auction at Julien’s, set for November 9th. My favourites are these Korea photos, taken by Daryl Mitchell, who served in the Korean War from August 1952 to August 1954 as ‘Senior Still Photographer’ of the 101st Signal Battalion.
This photo of Marilyn holding a fan was probably taken during filming of Niagara in 1952. The photographer is not named, but it seems to came from the same occasion when Marilyn posed with Robert Slatzer (who went on to write several books about their controversial relationship, though some believe he was a fantasist.)
Born in 1926, Lester Carl Bolender was placed in foster care at an early age. Albert Wayne and Ida Bolender, who later adopted Lester, also cared for a little girl also born that year.
Norma Jeane Mortenson, or Baker, was the grand-daughter of Della Monroe Grainger, a neighbour of the Bolenders in the quiet suburb of Hawthorne, just outside Los Angeles.
Norma Jeane stayed with the Bolenders until 1933, when she moved in with her mother, Gladys. Her first seven years were probably the most stable of her childhood, and she and Lester were very close. The Bolenders had wanted to adopt Norma Jeane as well, but Gladys wouldn’t allow this.
They were nicknamed ‘the twins’: and after seeing this photo of Lester as a young man at FindaGrave.com, it’s clear he was strikingly handsome in later life. And like Marilyn, he would also experience rejection when he finally discovered his true origins.
“Born on August 23, 1926 whilst his parents, Pearl and Carl Flugel, were living in a tent, Lester had come to the Bolender home after the Flugels decided they were too young to take care of him. Married for just over a week before the birth of their son, the couple handed the baby to Ida Bolender and returned to their home state of Washington, where they later had four more children…The couple kept their first son a secret from their family…the elderly Lester travelled to meet his long-lost family but unfortunately, even at this late stage, one of the brothers refused to believe they were related and apparently never accepted Lester as his brother.
But back in 1926, when both Lester and Norma Jeane were just babies, they were nicknamed ‘the twins’ and raised as brother and sister. ‘They have great times together,’ wrote Mrs Bolender’ [in a 1927 letter to the Flugels]. ‘Lots of people think them twins. I dress them alike at times and they do look cunning…’
…For Norma Jeane, there were many happy times with the Bolender family, and she would often find herself at nearby Redondo Beach, or climbing the apple tree outside her bedroom window, with Lester in tow. The two would drag blankets up to the branches in order to make a fort, while in the yard, the chickens, rabbits and goats would go about their business, oblivious to the antics above.”
Interestingly, Lester’s wife was called Jean Adair – a name once favoured by the aspiring actress, Norma Jeane, before she became Marilyn Monroe instead, according to My Sister Marilyn, the 1996 memoir of her half-sister, Bernice Baker Miracle, and her niece, Mona Rae Miracle. In one chapter, Bernice describes attending a meeting with Ben Lyon, who helped Norma Jeane win a contract at Twentieth Century-Fox in 1946:
“Actually Mr Lyon had not yet decided on a last name for her, but Marilyn was definitely to be her first name. Mr Lyon said, ‘Marilyn likes the sound of Adair. She wanted to be Jean Adair. But perhaps we’ll use Monroe. That’s a family name and the two M’s would be nice.'”
Is it just an uncanny coincidence, or did Norma Jeane want to be named after Lester’s wife? We don’t know whether Lester stayed in touch with Norma Jeane, or when he married – although there may have been some contact, as Ida Bolender had attended Norma Jeane’s wedding to Jim Dougherty in 1942.
Lester Bolender died on Christmas Day, 1999 (followed by Jean in 2008.) They are buried together at Forest Lawn Memorial Park – also known as Cypress Memorial Cemetery – in Orange County, California.
Immortal Marilyn staffer Jackie Craig visited Lester’s grave last weekend to pay her respects, and shared this photo. You can view the whole set here.
Marilyn’s graduation photo, taken at Emerson Junior High in 1941, has sold for £990 at Omega Auctions in Stockport, near Manchester, reports BBC News.
Can you spot Norma Jeane in there?
“The 8in x 24in (20cm x 60cm) photo from 1941 was sold by a man who had bought it from one of Monroe’s classmates.
It was taken at the Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High School in Los Angeles.
Karen Fairweather, of Omega Auctions in Stockport, said the only other photo from the event had fetched £15,000 because it boasted Monroe’s signature.
The photograph, which sold to an online UK bidder, had belonged to one of the actress’s classmates called Barbara Chapbaum, who had it signed by several of her friends but not the future Hollywood legend.
A collector from the North East of England bought it off Ms Chapbaum several years ago and has now sold it.
At the time of the photograph, Monroe, then aged 15, was a brunette whose real name was Norma Jeane Baker.”
Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed, has posted some interesting findings on her blog about Marilyn’s mother, Gladys Baker, and her friend Grace McKee’s life in Los Angeles during the 1920s.
“One of the things I loved, was when I discovered a news article about the Rayfield Apartments, where Gladys moved to with best friend Grace McKee, shortly after Marilyn’s birth. The apartment block was situated at 237 Bimini Place and was fairly colourful – something that probably attracted the fun-loving Grace and Gladys.
I discovered a story that took place around about the very time the women lived at the Rayfield, about a couple called Mr and Mrs Simpson, who also lived in the building.
Apparently the couple had had a big fight, and afterwards Mr Simpson took the unprecedented decision to phone the police, claiming that he had just murdered his wife.
Officers swarmed the block and began interviewing the ‘murderer’ Mr Simpson, but were shocked when Mrs Simpson – the murdered woman – walked into the apartment. They interviewed her too and she of course denied all knowledge of ever being murdered by her husband!
Why Mr Simpson took it upon himself to phone the police and admit to killing a woman who was still alive and well is a mystery, but I always wonder – were Grace and Gladys at home when all this was taking place? Something tells me if they were, they most likely very much enjoyed the scandal going on just yards from their apartment!”
Another irony about this tale is that one of the songs from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – later cut from the movie – was called ‘When the Wild, Wild Women Go Swimmin’ in the Bimini Bay.’