Marilyn, Ralph Roberts and the Missing Coat

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Marilyn arrives in London, 1956

Today, items from Marilyn’s wardrobe sell for thousands – millions, even. But as Hap Roberts – nephew of Marilyn’s masseur and close friend, Ralph – tells the Salisbury Post‘s Mark Wineka, the  Burberry trench-coat which she gave him is now lost.

It’s not clear exactly which coat this was – but Marilyn wore a trench-coat during her time in England, while filming The Prince and the Showgirl – and again for a scene in Let’s Make Love (1960.)

In one interview, Ralph claimed that Marilyn picked it up from Arthur Miller’s home in Roxbury, Connecticut after their divorce, but she decided to give it to Ralph when she found it smelled of another woman’s perfume. (This is odd, because in her own account of the same visit, Marilyn’s half-sister Bernice Baker Miracle said it was a fur coat, and that MM gave it to her dog, Maf, to sleep on.)

“Roberts became Monroe’s official masseur in 1959, and for the last three-plus years of her life, during her various romantic entanglements, Ralph would give her massages daily, becoming a close confidante and friend to Monroe.

Together, they ran errands, ate meals, attended parties and took plane trips across the country between New York and California.

Toward the end of his life, Ralph Roberts returned to Salisbury and lived in a little house off Parkview Circle, not far from Hap’s offices with Statewide Title. They would meet every afternoon around 4 p.m. to talk, and every Sunday at 5 p.m. Ralph would show up at Hap and his wife Annette’s house for martinis.

Ralph Roberts always brought his Sunday New York Times with him and would leave the newspaper with the couple so they could read it later. Once, Roberts carried with him an art deco martini set Monroe had given him.

Roberts also possessed a box of chandelier crystals Monroe had collected. The actress thought the crystals carried healing properties, and in the years after her death, Ralph sometimes would hand them out as gifts to friends.

Ralph Roberts died April 30, 1999, at age 82. About a month later, Hap and his cousin Claudette began the somber task of cleaning up and going through their uncle’s house. They noticed a woman’s Burberry trench coat in the closet and figured it was a friend’s coat, left at Ralph’s house in the past.

They placed it in the things going to Goodwill.

About a month later, Hap found a list of Marilyn Monroe items Ralph had inventoried. On the list was ‘Burberry trench coat.’

Hap could only ease the heartache of having given away the coat by thinking to himself  that ‘at least it’s keeping somebody dry and warm and Ralph would like that.'”

Marilyn’s ‘Twin’: Lester Bolender

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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.

Michelle Morgan wrote about their early years together in MM: Private and Undisclosed.

“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.

Photo by Jackie Craig
Photo by Jackie Craig

French Authors Celebrate Marilyn

 

The French literary world continues to celebrate Marilyn, with two more new books just published. Henry-Jean Servat has just released Marilyn: La Legende, his third book on the star, including an interview with her half-sister, Bernice Baker Miracle, from 1996. Meanwhile, Jannick Alimi’s Marilyn Monroe à 20 ans : Les secrets de ses débuts is now available in paperback and via Kindle. Both authors have spoken (in French, of course) to Le Point about Marilyn.

Mona Rae Miracle: ‘My Aunt Marilyn’

Marilyn and her half-sister, Bernice Miracle, 1946

Mona Rae Miracle, daughter of Bernice Miracle and niece of Marilyn Monroe, has spoken to The Mirror about her famous aunt.

“‘Norma Jean told me she was very pleased to meet me and I could tell she really was. She loved children. She would tumble about on the grass with us and the dogs and just loved it.’

It was the start of a warm bond between Mona and and her aunt, just 14 years her senior. ‘She was tons of fun,’ says Mona. ‘She could really appreciate a good joke – she was a prankster.’

‘She certainly wasn’t the dumb blonde she made out to be. She was intelligent and loved reading.’

As Marilyn’s success as an actress began to soar, Mona and her mum started to realise just how generous the star could be. ‘She’d send us parcels of clothes she didn’t want any more,’ Mona recalls. ‘What a thrill that was. We weren’t wealthy, but we had these terrific outfits.’

As Mona grew up, she turned to her aunt for advice about boys. ‘She would tell me: Just be yourself. Don’t pretend,’ she says.

And when she was found dead of an overdose of barbiturates at her home in August 1962, her niece was devastated. ‘I was 22 and in my first year of teaching. I went straight to the chapel and fell to my knees,’ recalls Mona.

Ironically, while rich and famous Marilyn’s life was cut short, hard-up housewife Berniece is still alive at 93. ‘Mother was just as beautiful as Marilyn really – and she is still very beautiful,’ says Mona Rae.

‘It is that facial structure. I am sure that Marilyn would have been just as beautiful if she had lived.'”