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.
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.
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.
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 is featured twice in the latest issue of UK nostalgia magazine Yours Retro (with Elizabeth Taylor gracing the cover.) Firstly, a portrait of the young Norma Jeane (signed ‘to my dear sister,’ Berniece Miracle), in a feature about autograph hunters; this article also mentions the sale of a baseball signed by Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio for almost $60,000 in 2011 (see here.) Secondly, Marilyn’s so-called ‘snake costume’, designed by Travilla for Bus Stop and seen again on Leslie Caron in The Man Who Understood Women (1959), in the regular Film Buff column.
All About Eve features in a spread about ‘Oscar’s First Ladies.’ And the rise to fame of Diana Dors, labelled ‘Britain’s answer to MM’, is also profiled in this issue – but the comparison is unfair to both women, whose talents were on a par yet very different.
Paul Donnelley, author of Pocket Essentials: Marilyn Monroe (2000), has written a list of trivia for the UK’s Daily Star, in advance of what would be Marilyn’s 93rd birthday this Saturday, June 1st. Here are a few selections…
“Marilyn was born in Los Angeles as Norma Jeane Mortenson. She was not named for fellow blonde bombshell Jean Harlow despite numerous reports to that effect – when Marilyn was born, Harlow was only 15 and at least two years away from her film debut.”
“Marilyn’s half-sister, Berniece Miracle, will celebrate her 100th birthday on July 30. Her half-brother, Robert, died in 1933, aged 15.”
“Marilyn has a reputation for being promiscuous but she was choosy about who she bedded. Groucho Marx confessed he spent $8,000 wining and dining her, trying to get her into bed but was unsuccessful. Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures, tore up her contract because she wouldn’t sleep with him.”
“In 1953, the town of Monroe, New York changed its name for one day to Marilyn Monroe, New York in tribute to Marilyn.”
In my latest post for the Julien’s Legends auction, coming up on June 13-14, I’m taking a look at the fan mail, plus letters and greeting cards from friends and family, received (and kept) by Marilyn over the years. (You can read my previous posts, on the How to Marry a Millionaire bathrobe and the photos of Manfred Kreiner, here.)
UPDATE: I have now added the total bids to each item.
“An invoice from Southdown Kennel in Roxbury, Connecticut, for boarding and food for Hugo, the lovable basset hound owned by Marilyn and then husband Arthur Miller. The invoice is dated from November of 1958, and is addressed to Mrs. Arthur Miller. Dates specified for boarding of Hugo are July 4-10, July 28-August 5, August 22-24, and August 27-October 30. Also listed is ‘1 case beef’ at a cost of $11.50.” (SOLD for $512)
“A handwritten letter from a young child, undated, reading, ‘Dear Marilyn, How are you? Daddy and mommy saw you. I wish I could of. I am writing you to see if you rember (sic) me. First you saw me playing on the grass at Chaire’s house and then at Patty’s. I went to East Hampton and I got a new bike. It is beautiful.’ The letter is signed Emily Hedda Liss. The letterhead reads ‘Mrs. Joseph Liss, 445 East 68th Street, New York, New York,’ indicating Emily is likely the young daughter of television writer and editor Joseph Liss.” (UNSOLD)
“Two greeting cards sent to Marilyn from fans with get well wishes. One card’s handwritten inscription reads, ‘To a wonderful actress. My best wishes to you. Palma Urso, 1958.’ The other is simply signed, ‘Judy Bawber.’ (UNSOLD)
“A two-page handwritten letter from a fan by the name of Pete Monti, dated June 1, 1959, in which Monti expresses his love and admiration for Marilyn. Passages from the letter read, ‘…every year I send you a gift with my address on the present for you to answer, and tell me if you liked it, but you never answered it. I think the reason for that was because you never received the gifts,’ ‘…I have been a fan of yours since 1950, I even have every book that ever came out with your picture in it,’ ‘there is only one thing I would like you to do for me…is to win the Academy Award for best actress of the year, to show them in Hollywood that your (sic) a real good actress. Everybody tries to imitate you, but they can’t…there is only one Marilyn Monroe, and that’s you.’ The letter is signed, ‘Yours Truly, Pete Monti.’ A photo of Monti in formal attire, together with a female companion, is stapled to the letter. Included also is a typed response to this letter, dated June 19, 1959, reading, ‘Miss Monroe has asked me to thank you most kindly for your birthday remembrance and good wishes. She appreciates your thoughtfulness very much.’ The letter is signed ‘Yours sincerely, Secretary to Marilyn Monroe.’ The letter was likely prepared by May Reis, Monroe’s secretary for several years.” (UNSOLD)
“An undated birthday card to Marilyn from Evelyn Moriarty. Moriarty was Monroe’s stand-in on three films: Let’s Make Love, The Misfits, and Something’s Got To Give.” (SOLD for $750)
“An undated birthday card to Marilyn from Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder. Snyder was Monroe’s makeup artist from her very first screen-test in 1946 and also for most of her films and public appearances, and even photo shoots.” (SOLD for 5,760)
“An undated birthday card to Marilyn from Augusta and Isidore Miller, the parents of Marilyn’s third husband Arthur Miller. The handwritten message from the Millers reads, ‘And Lots of Mazel + Brucha, Love Mom + Dad.’ In Yiddish this phrase means ‘happiness and blessing.'” (SOLD for $640)
“An undated birthday card to Marilyn from ‘Grace + Daddy,’ the latter being Ervin ‘Doc’ Goddard. Grace’s handwritten note in the card reads, ‘We couldn’t love you more if you were our real daughter.'” (SOLD for $768)
“A handwritten letter to Marilyn and then husband Arthur Miller from Marilyn’s half-sister Berniece Miracle, postmarked April 28, 1960. The letter reads in part, ‘My! How I would love to hear from you and all about what you are doing. I see where Arthur has written a movie, The Misfits. When will the filming start? Hope it’s a big success.'” (SOLD for $1,875)
“A grouping of correspondence to Marilyn from Anne Karger, including three telegrams wishing Marilyn a happy birthday. One telegram is dated June 2, 1957. Interestingly, the other two telegrams are both from 1961, one is dated May 31, and the other is dated June 1. Also included is an undated holiday card with greetings for Christmas and the new year. Anne was the mother of Fred Karger, whom Marilyn fell deeply in love with near the start of her film career. It is widely reported that she had wanted to marry Karger. While the relationship ultimately didn’t last, Marilyn remained very close with his mother. Anne was one of a very few guests from Marilyn’s inner circle who was invited to her funeral.” (SOLD for $1,152)
“A grouping of correspondence to Marilyn from John Moore, including a Western Union telegram dated May 31, 1961, which reads, ‘Wish you were here to celebrate it. Love you.’ This message is likely in reference to Marilyn’s birthday, which was on June 1, the day after the telegram is dated. Also included, an undated, hand-signed Christmas card, and a note that likely accompanied a bouquet of flowers with a message that reads, ‘Will you be my Valentine? John Moore.’ Moore was a fashion designer, interior decorator and close friend of Marilyn’s. He worked for Talmack, and designed many of Marilyn’s clothes; including the gown she wore during the private wedding ceremony in which she married Arthur Miller. He also assisted Marilyn in redecorating the apartment she and Miller shared on East 57th Street in New York City.” (SOLD for $384)
“A one-page handwritten letter to Marilyn from poet and friend Norman Rosten, apparently while he was vacationing in the Arctic Circle. The letter reads in part, ‘This bar of chocolate and paperclip were both bought in this Eskimo village north of the Arctic Circle! Who says the world isn’t round? It’s too round!’ The actual chocolate bar wrapper is affixed to the letter using the aforementioned paperclip. Also included is the original envelope, postmarked January 27, 1959, addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Miller at 444 East 57th Street, New York, NY.” (SOLD for $640)
“An undated, handwritten note from Joseph M. Schenck to Marilyn, reading simply, ‘Dear Marilyn, I am with you. I know you are right. Joe Schenck.’ Schenck was co-founder of 20th Century Pictures in 1933. When his studio merged with Fox Film Corporation in 1935, Schenck was named chairman. He was an important figure in Marilyn’s early career.” (SOLD for $625)
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.'”
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. (Click on thumbnails below to enlarge)
“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.
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 Pointabout Marilyn.
Marilyn: The Legend, published by Hors Collection, is a large format work, prefaced by another myth of cinema, Brigitte Bardot.
The French actress reports that she only met Marilyn once (in October 1956, in London, according to Henry-Jean Servat). But ‘she seduced me in 30 seconds, it emanated from her a graceful fragility, a mischievous sweetness, I will never forget,’ writes Brigitte Bardot.
Henry-Jean Servat, who made the American star his subject of university thesis, wrote his book with a passionate pen.
Marilyn Monroe at 20 (Au Diable Vauvert editions), tells the very difficult beginning of a starlet named Norma Jeane … But the young Norma ‘does not give up’ and continues, despite the vicissitudes, to display ‘the smile and optimism of youth,’ writes Jannick Alimi.”
Mona Rae Miracle, daughter of Bernice Miracle and niece of Marilyn Monroe, has spoken to The Mirrorabout 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.'”
NPR takes a look at Marilyn’s will. Made in 1961, it remains controversial, and it’s rumoured that she had wanted to change it in the weeks before her death.
“Monroe grew up in an orphanage and foster homes. She had no relationship with her father, and her mother spent most of her adult life in mental institutions. In her will, the actress set up a trust to care for her mother until she died; left money to her half-sister, who Monroe didn’t even know existed until she was 12; and made bequests to a poet friend and his wife (she loved poetry, and even wrote some herself) and to others she trusted.
According to Anthony Summers, who wrote a best-selling Monroe biography, the people named in her will got to know her as a real person who loved children, animals and cooking.
‘They took Marilyn under their wings,’ he says. ‘They gave her uncomplicated privacy and companionship.’
Monroe also left a bequest to her psychoanalyst, Marianne Kris.
‘She felt that [Kris] was very helpful and sympathetic,’ says Sarah Churchwell, author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe. ‘She found that [Kris] was starting to help her understand what it was that she was going through.’
After Kris died, her portion of the estate was transferred to the Anna Freud Centre in London, which is dedicated to working with children with mental health problems. Churchwell says Monroe would have approved.
‘That would have made her really happy,’ Churchwell says. ‘She did want to do good, and she wanted to feel as if she had accomplished something.’
But Monroe left the bulk of her estate to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg. He and his wife, Paula, also one of her acting coaches, were like surrogate parents to Monroe. When Strasberg died in 1982, his second wife, Anna, inherited the Monroe estate and eventually hired CMG Worldwide, a company that specializes in managing the estates of dead celebrities, to license Monroe products. That’s when the actress started making big money.
Several years and a variety of lawsuits later, Strasberg sold what remained of the Monroe estate to a new company, Authentic Brands Group, or ABG, for an estimated $20 to $30 million. Strasberg remains a minority partner in the deal.”