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.'”

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.