Searching for Marilyn’s Scottish Roots

Marilyn by Sam Shaw, 1957

The search for Marilyn’s Scottish ancestors, first reported here, is still in progress, as Steven McKenzie writes for BBC News.

“The actress’s mother, Gladys Pearl Monroe, had ancestral links to Scotland, according to Clan Munro USA. It believes that an ancestor of Monroe, an alternative spelling of the Scottish surname Munro, was a Highlander banished to America in the 1650s.

Free DNA tests are available, but there has been a lower uptake than expected. The association’s genealogy committee said it was ‘surprised’ more Scots had not taken up the offer of the free test kits, but remains hopeful they will be forthcoming.

The society has already successfully tracked down and tested a living descendant of Monroe’s great grandfather. The results were compared to the others in its Munro DNA Project, a database of hundreds of samples provided by Munros living all over the world whose family trees have been studied.

The project includes the descendants of Munros from Easter Ross in the Highlands, also the fifth US president James Monroe and Scots soldiers who were imprisoned and then banished to the American colonies after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Worcester was the last battle of the English Civil Wars and involved thousands of Scots combatants.

The association said the YDNA test already done had shown that the Hollywood actress was a descendant of one of those soldiers, said to be a Highlander whose family came from Aldie, near Tain, in the Munro clan’s Easter Ross stronghold.”

Marilyn at Julien’s: Childhood and Family

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

3DC9A6D3-CF1E-4181-8538-4834B9DE9310-8579-000004F33661C49E_tmp

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.

4472772A-2020-4CBC-94F5-63835F29B1C0-8579-000004F30B40F6E6_tmp

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.

CC7BAFF3-9429-4426-A50D-BDC74C23D7BB-8579-0000050A23AFAF23_tmp

“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.

1473E492-B467-453A-B38F-D33715C6EBE3-8579-000005061FE3D0DC_tmp

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.

Marilyn’s Family Tree

Graphic by Sergio Serrano for Marilyn Mexico
Graphic by Sergio Serrano for Marilyn Mexico (click on photo to view at full size)

Juliana Szucs has written a fascinating article about Marilyn’s ancestry – from Mexico to the American Civil War, and early Indiana pioneers – for Biography.com.

Gladys: Portrait of Marilyn’s Mother

tn-gnp-me-yamada-20160519-001

Marilyn Monroe was one of the world’s most photographed women, but her mother Gladys, who suffered from severe mental illness, was a more shadowy figure. In an article for the Los Angeles Times, Katherine Yamada reveals how Louie Deisbeck of the Glendale News-Press, who died in January this year, captured a rare image of Gladys Baker Eley as a 60 year-old on the run from Rockhaven Sanitarium in July 1963.

gladys63

“Less than a year after Monroe died, the 60-year-old Eley fashioned a rope out of two uniforms, climbed through an 18-inch-square closet window and lowered herself to the ground. After climbing over the wire mesh fence surrounding the property, she began walking.

Twenty-four hours later, she was discovered some 15 miles away in a church on Foothill Boulevard. She had spent the night in the church’s utility room, sitting near the water heater to keep warm.

The minister who found her called the police; they were soon followed by Glendale News-Press photographer Louie Deisbeck and a reporter.

Deisbeck, who had been with the newspaper since 1957, had many contacts in the city.

Glendale photographer Louie Deisbeck
Glendale photographer Louie Deisbeck

‘Police and firemen contacted him all the time in those days, they knew to call him directly at home,’ his son Rusty said in a recent phone interview.

Deisbeck was met at the church by two female police officers. ‘It was real hush hush,’ his son recalled.

After he got the photo — the first taken of Eley in more than 20 years [although several family photos of Gladys were taken in the late 1940s] — Deisbeck raced back to the News-Press, leaving the reporter to get the story.

The police officers told the reporter (who did not get a byline in the July 5, 1963 article) that Eley stated she wanted to get away from the sanitarium and practice her Christian Science teaching. After determining that she was unharmed, they returned her to the sanitarium.

Deisbeck’s photo earned front-page coverage in many newspapers.

‘That was the most famous picture he ever did,’ son Rusty said. ‘He sold it to magazines and newspapers all over the world.'”

Save Rockhaven: Campaign Launches

rockhaven1

A campaign to save Rockhaven, the pioneering women’s sanitarium where Marilyn’s mother Gladys lived for fifteen years, has been launched – and you can help, reports Immortal Marilyn. For updates, visit the Friends of Rockhaven page on Facebook.

When measuring practical considerations versus historic interest, politicians might want to consider the tale of Marilyn’s former San Fernando Valley home – dubbed the ‘Dougherty House‘ – as its demolition in 2015 has prompted a campaign for councilman Paul Krekorian to be recalled, reports LA Curbed.

Rockhaven Sanitarium at Risk

rockhaven6Following the controversial demolition of the ‘Dougherty House‘ in June, Danny Jensen reports for LAist that another Marilyn-related location – the former Rockhaven Sanitarium, where her mother Gladys was a resident from 1953-67 – is also the focus of controversy.

“The future looks uncertain for L.A.’s oldest sanitarium, which was originally built as a humane mental health facility for women in Los Angeles county.

The Rockhaven Sanitarium in Montrose opened in 1923 as an alternative to the grim treatment offered to women in many mental institutions at the time. And now the group Friends of Rockhaven is hoping to save the historic site, after preservation plans by the city of Glendale fell apart and developers proposed other uses, according to the L.A. Weekly. Home for a time to some of Hollywood’s early notables—including Billie Burke who played Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard Of Oz and Marilyn Monroe’s mother—the 3.5 acre property was nicknamed the Screen Actor’s Sanitarium. The mental health facility was first developed by early feminist Agnes Richards and features small cottages where residents lived.

Richards helped women escape from the cells of mental wards throughout California and across the country, offering Rockhaven as a refuge from places where they were commonly abused and mistreated. The aging property includes 15 buildings that are a mix of Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival styles, which feature names like the Rose Cottage and the Willows. The sanitarium was designed to be a serene, landscaped complex for healing, rather than an intimidating, American Horror Story-style institution. The interiors of the buildings have remained largely untouched for years.

In 2008, Glendale bought the property for $8.25 million from Ararat Home of Los Angeles, which had used the site for nursing care for the elderly since 2001. The city had hopes to develop Rockhaven into an historic park with a community center and library, but after the recession hit, the plans fell apart. When Glendale’s plans fell though, developers then set their sights on Rockhaven with a variety of plans that included home for female veterans, an all-girls’ school, and condos. But the city put the brakes on those plans when the Friends of Rockhaven argued that they would compromise the site’s historic architecture and legacy.

The Friends of Rockhaven has now organized as a nonprofit corporation is looking to raise money to turn the property into a publicly accessible park. They also hope to obtain California Historical Landmark status for the Sanitarium. But considering Glendale spends $50,000 a year to maintain the property, there are more than a few hurdles for the group to get past. The city also just agreed to let the Crescenta Valley Water District tap a well beneath the Sanitarium to provide water to about 1,200 homes in the area.”

rockhaven8

rockhaven7

In a related article for LA Weekly, Liana Aghajanian explores Rockhaven’s unique history.

“Beyond its ornate entry gate and picturesque transom windows sit the sanitarium’s largely untouched rooms — the walls of the dining room, sitting rooms and bedrooms still lined in peeling floral wallpaper, sofa sets neatly arranged, Murphy beds at the ready. Family photos lie on a table; a dressy coat hangs abandoned.

[Mike] Lawler, who was raised by a single mother and has four daughters, sees Rockhaven as a monument to women’s dignity, a mental health industry game-changer that must be saved.

He belongs to Friends of Rockhaven, whose president, Joanna Linkchorst, wants to ensure the site is preserved as a public space. Her love affair with the sanitarium began on her first visit.

The duo has led tours through the sanitarium, a sprawling and serene complex that housed around 125 residents at its peak and is, they say, one of the most endangered historic spaces in the Los Angeles area.

In a bid to save the facility, in 2008 Glendale bought the property for $8.25 million from Ararat Home of Los Angeles. But now, city officials sound almost tongue-twisted about its status.

‘We do not have the ability to go and either try to realize what was kind of nebulously described and envisioned for that site, but at the same time we can’t simply divest in the property because of the expectations of a number of the stakeholders have,’ says Glendale city manager Scott Ochoa. ‘So we’re in this position where we’re floating somewhere between the ceiling and the floor.’

Former Glendale city councilman John Drayman led the city effort to preserve Rockhaven as a historic park or library, saving it from demolition. But no funds were appropriated beyond the acquisition price, Ochoa says. After the recession, the idea of reviving the site fizzled, and so did Drayman’s influence — he was convicted last year of embezzlement, perjury and filing false tax returns.

‘Rockhaven lost all momentum,’ Ochoa says.

Linckhorst has joined forces with Lawler, former head of the Historical Society of Crescenta Valley and author of Murder and Mayhem in the Crescenta Valley, and an expert on the stories of the region. Lawler says the sanitarium’s own story began in the 1920s when Richards came to the Crescenta Valley — then famed for having the healthiest air quality in the United States — with six patients and some chickens. Richards was bent on helping her charges escape cells in mental wards throughout California and the nation where women were commonly abused.

Rockhaven quickly earned the nickname the ‘Screen Actors Sanitarium’ thanks to its famous clientele such as Burke; Broadway actress Peggy Fears; Babe Egan (front woman of Babe Egan’s Hollywood Redheads); and Monroe’s mother, Gladys Pearl Baker, who slipped away from Rockhaven several times while Marilyn paid $250 a month for her care.

At the end of the 1920s, when Richards wanted to expand her sanitarium, she was met with opposition from the community. One resident accused Richards of being unfit to run it. The flinty nurse sued the resident in a $100,000 slander case and won, although she was granted just $500 in personal damages.

‘This land was purchased with the promise that it would be a park,’ Lawler says. ‘If [the city] won’t create a park there, like they said they would, then we’ll do it ourselves.’

But with Rockhaven owned by Glendale, which spends about $50,000 a year to maintain the site, a number of bureaucratic issues stand in the way, and it’s not clear what the group’s next move should be. For now, the city has agreed to give them time to look for independent funding.

‘We’re certainly aware that it’s there, and we’re trying to find solutions for it — it’s not something that anybody is going to forget about,’ says Glendale city council member Laura Friedman.

Rockhaven stands as a hopeful feminist symbol of humanity during inhumane times — one that may or may not survive the wrecking ball.”

rockhaven1

rockhaven4

Marilyn’s May Magazine Madness

pride italy may 2015

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.

closer may 2015

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.)

Tales from Rockhaven, and Sister Aimee

rockhaven5

Writing for the Glendale News-Press, Katherine Yamada looks at the stories of three famous women who stayed at Rockhaven Sanatarium, where Marilyn’s mother Gladys lived for fifteen years. Other patients include actresses Billie Burke, Frances Farmer, and Josephine Dillon – best-known as the first wife of Clark Gable. Yamada promises a future article about Gladys, and also mentions Aimee Semple McPherson, the woman rumoured to have baptised Norma Jeane.

Susan Sarandon Cast as Gladys in ‘Secret Life’

susan-sarandon

Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon will play Gladys Baker, Marilyn’s ill-fated mother, in Lifetime’s upcoming adaptation of J. Randy Taraborrelli’s The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, according to the Hollywood Reporter. It is set to be filmed in Ontario and Los Angeles, reported GlobalNews.ca earlier this week.

Taraborrelli focused heavily on Marilyn’s relationship with Gladys, although some of his claims have been disputed (more details here.) Gladys was previously played by Sheree North (in the 1980 TV movie, Marilyn: An Untold Story) and Patricia Richardson (in Blonde, the 2001 mini-series based on an eponymous novel by Joyce Carol Oates.) As Gladys was only 24 when Marilyn was born, I would hope that Sarandon – now 68 – will be playing her in later life.

Finally, there are two major errors in Secret Life‘s synopsis: firstly, Gladys’s mother did not commit suicide; and secondly, Marilyn’s first marriage did not end because she was frigid. She divorced her husband because he disapproved of her career.

“Sarandon will portray the blonde bombshell’s mentally ill mother, Gladys Mortenson. The character is described as a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, who is the product of a mother who committed suicide as a result of her own mental illness, and a father who died of syphilitic insanity. Frequently delusional, sometimes violent, Gladys sexually adventurous in her youth but taught her daughter that sex should be avoided at all costs. Deeply devoted to Christian Science, she urges Marilyn to reject her reliance on drugs and that her salvation will be achieved by returning to the tenets of the faith. (The role of Monroe has not yet been cast.)

24 and The Kennedys‘ Stephen Kronish is on board to pen the mini, with Sherrybaby‘s Laurie Collyer attached to direct the Marilyn Monroe entry.

Here’s Lifetime’s official description of the mini: ‘Marilyn is both the personification of sex, whose first marriage ironically collapses because of her frigidity, and a fragile artist who seeks the approval and protection of men.  But after tumultuous marriages with Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, she realizes she has the strength to stand on her own. She becomes the face and voice of an era, yet wants most of all to be someone’s mother and someone’s little girl. She’s the Marilyn you haven’t seen before, the artist who, by masking the truth with an image, gives her greatest performance.'”

Revisiting Rockhaven

Southern California-based readers may be interested to know that one of the least-known, and most poignant Marilyn-related sites will be opened to the public on Saturday, April 26, at 10 am. Rockhaven Sanitarium in Glendale was in its time one of the region’s most progressive, humane clinics for women, and Marilyn’s mentally ill mother, Gladys, lived in its beautiful surroundings for fifteen years.

rockhaven4

“Founded in 1923, Rockhaven was one of many sanitariums in the Crescenta Valley. What made this business unique was Agnes Richards’ approach to treatment of mental issues by giving the patients dignified individualized care in a home-like setting. It was also run by women for women for 78 years. It began with 6 women and as the numbers grew she bought neighboring homes. Soon she built new buildings.”

Gladys Baker Eley (right) with her legal guardian, Inez Melson, at Rockhaven in 1963
Gladys Baker Eley (right) with her legal guardian, Inez Melson, at Rockhaven in 1963

This free tour has been organised by the Crescenta Valley Historical Society. Writing for Crescenta Valley Weekly in 2012, Robin Goldsworthy traced the history of Rockhaven, which closed its doors in 2001. Some of the buildings have since been sold off, but local residents have formed Friends of Rockhaven in the hope that this former sanctuary will be restored as a library or community centre.

“By far the most famous Rockhaven resident was Marilyn Monroe’s mother Gladys Baker Eley. Gladys’ relationship with her daughter was tumultuous, and undoubtedly had much to do with the instability of Monroe’s troubled life. Most likely insane, Baker put Monroe in various foster care situations, while she herself went in and out of young Marilyn’s life, spending much of her time in state mental hospitals. When the actress achieved fame, she finally faced the confusing relationship she had with her mother, and in 1952 she had her transferred from the cold Norwalk State Hospital to the more personal care of Rockhaven. Monroe’s death in 1962 rendered her mother even more unstable and several suicide attempts took place, along with several very well publicized escapes.

Gladys was a tiny woman and once managed to squeeze out of an 18-inch closet window in her room, climb the fence, and walk 15 miles to a church in Shadow Hills. Her room and that tiny closet window are still there. Monroe’s estate after her death was entirely eaten up by unpaid taxes and creditors, leaving nothing for the care of Gladys Baker. Rockhaven, to its credit, kept Baker on gratis until 1967, when her other daughter took her in.”

rockhaven

If you would like to participate, please email in advance: friendsofrockhaven@gmail.com