Who was Gladys Baker? Marilyn Monroe's mom tried to kidnap her from foster care, accused her of ruining her life

Marilyn had a difficult relationship with her mother, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and which made her depressed, mentally unstable and unfit to care for her daughter


                            Who was Gladys Baker? Marilyn Monroe's mom tried to kidnap her from foster care, accused her of ruining her life
Marilyn Monroe on the beach as a toddler with her mother Gladys Baker, circa 1929 (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

When Marilyn Monroe attained the status of an iconic starlet, her fans got curious to find out about her family and friends, including the woman who gave birth to her. For years the model-turned-actress claimed she never knew her mother and instead was an orphan who spent her childhood bouncing between different foster homes - a claim that made her image a tragic one. However, this was far from the truth.

In 1952, a gossip columnist discovered that Marilyn’s mother was actually alive and working at a nursing home in a town outside of Los Angeles, according to All That Is Interesting. Gladys Pearl Monroe, who also went by Gladys Pearl Baker, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, which made her depressed and mentally unstable and unfit to care for her daughter, who went by the name Norma Jeane Mortenson at the time. In the Reelz documentary 'Marilyn, Misunderstood,' which premieres on Sunday, March 14 at 8 pm ET/ 5 pm PT, the "other Monroe" is explored - someone who was hugely impacted by her mother's condition her entire life. 

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Who was Marilyn's father?

Having lost custody of her two older children, Bernice and Robert, to her abusive ex-husband John Newton Baker, whom she married when she was 15, Gladys was determined to keep Marilyn by her side. Although she briefly married a man named Martin Edward Mortenson and separated some months later, it is not known whether he fathered Marilyn. Gladys did insist for years that her father was a Consolidated Studios co-worker named Charles Stanley Gifford. 

Gladys Baker holds her infant daughter Norma Jeane, the future film star Marilyn Monroe (1926 - 1962), 1926. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Gladys could barely make a living with her low-paying job, which was made worse by her mental disorder. As a result, On June 13, 1926, 26-year-old Gladys Baker brought two-week-old Norma Jeane Mortenson to the foster home of Ida and Wayne Bolender in Hawthorne, California. Marilyn finally had a secure and stable home. She grew close to her foster brothers and sisters as well as her foster mother who ran a disciplined household. Even her birth mother visited often, and when Marilyn was old enough, she would occasionally take her for sleepovers to her apartment in Hollywood.

Gladys tries to kidnap Marilyn

However, Gladys grew increasingly jealous of her daughter's foster mother. “The truth was that Gladys had a problem watching Ida raise her child,” said Mary Thomas-Strong, who knew Monroe’s first foster family. “She was a professional mother, in a sense. She wanted to have her way with Norma Jeane, and it was hard for Gladys to be on the sidelines.”

In the book 'The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe,' by J. Randy Taraborrelli, the author says that Gladys showed up at the Bolenders' one day and demanded to take her three-year-old daughter home. She locked Ida out the back door and attempted to run off with Monroe stuffed in a duffel bag. However, the foster mom succeeded in thwarting the attempt.

American actress Marilyn Monroe (1926 - 1962), circa 1950. (Photo by L. J. Willinger/Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

After Gladys' requests to adopt Monroe were rejected, Ida decided that Marilyn should be reunited with her birth mother when she was seven years old. However, before that could happen, in 1934, Gladys suffered a nervous breakdown during which she allegedly brandished a knife while claiming that someone was trying to kill her. She was institutionalized at the state hospital in Norwalk, California, and Monroe was placed under the guardianship of her mother’s friend, Grace McKee, who also worked in the film industry.

Marilyn was sexually abused

However, everything worked out for the best as it is alleged that if it weren't for McKee’s influence Marilyn Monroe would have never found the inspiration to become a movie star. “Aunt Grace would say things to me like no one else would ever talk to me,” Marilyn said of her legal guardian. “I felt as whole as a loaf of bread nobody’s eaten.” However, during her stays at different foster care homes, she was sexually abused as a child and one of her abusers was McKee’s husband.

For the rest of her life, there was a love-hate relationship between Marilyn and her mother. Following her divorce from her first husband, 21-year-old James Dougherty, Gladys was released from San Jose’s Agnews State Hospital and went to live with her daughter for a few years, even as Marilyn continued to make a name for herself in Hollywood as a budding model. However, her mental instability continued. 

American actress Marilyn Monroe (Norma Jean Mortenson or Norma Jean Baker, 1926 - 1962). (Photo by Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In 1946, Gladys declared that she would be moving to Oregon to live with her Aunt Dora but instead ended up marrying a man named John Stewart Eley, who secretly had another wife and family in Idaho. When Marilyn tried to warn her mother against him, her mother lashed out at her, claiming that her daughter was seeking revenge against her. “That’s how much [Norma Jeane] hates me,” Baker allegedly told Grace McKee. “She’ll do anything to ruin my life because she still believes I ruined hers.”

Did Marilyn suffer like her mother before death?

Despite her traumatic childhood, Monroe maintained a connection with her mother and also sent her a monthly allowance. Before her tragic death in August 1962, Marilyn was suspected of suffering the same mental health issues as her mother. Her behavior became erratic which has led many to speculate that she may have inherited her mother’s condition, but never received an official diagnosis.

Marilyn left her mother an inheritance of $5,000 a year that was to be drawn from a $100,000 trust fund. A year after her daughter’s death, Baker escaped from Rockhaven by climbing out of a small closet window, although she was later located by the police and returned to the institution. Gladys died of heart failure in 1984.

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