This story first appeared in the May 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
For Marilyn Monroe, 1952 was a career-changing year. At 26, after a series of B movies, she finally landed a featured role in Howard Hawks‘ Monkey Business. THR described her as a “delight for several reasons only one of which is a polished comedy portrayal.” But that same year also brought a revelation that shook Monroe’s image as a happy blonde bombshell. She had told the press she was an orphan raised in foster homes and that she had never known her parents. (This led to five women claiming to be her mother.) However, a Hearst gossip columnist revealed that her mother, Gladys Pearl Baker (nee Monroe), an RKO film cutter who’d had “a nervous breakdown,” was living in a state mental hospital in Norwalk, Calif. In fact, though Gladys had been in and out of mental hospitals with bipolar disorder, by then she had begun working in an Eagle Rock nursing home.
Says J. Randy Taraborrelli, who wrote The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, upon which a Lifetime miniseries (premiering May 30) is based: “The poor woman was telling people she was Marilyn Monroe’s mother, and no one believed her. Over the years, the two of them did slowly develop a relationship.” Monroe was 36 when she committed suicide in 1962; in her will she left her mother $5,000 a year from a $100,000 trust fund. Gladys lived primarily in Florida until her death at 82 in 1984.