Marilyn Monroe

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Revision as of 23:16, 6 October 2008

Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962), U.S. actress, born Norma Jean Mortensen

This article should be cited as:
"Marilyn Monroe", by Will Johnson, professional genealogist, at URL:, copyright 2007-8, all rights reserved.

This page is locked, if you'd like to add or correct anything, please email me. I am available for hire to assist you to trace your family or create a biography of you or your relative. I charge $25 per hour.

This is the most complete, in-depth, and well-researched site on Marilyn's childhood online. (If I do say so myself.)

If you enjoy the research done here, consider making a financial contribution to keep research like this going.


Norma Jean Mortensen


Marilyn Monroe was born as Norma Jean Mortensen in Los Angeles County Hospital, Los Angeles County, California on Jun 1, 1926 to Gladys Pearl Monroe. Who her father was is not clear. Gladys had been married to Martin Edward Mortensen and that is the father listed on Norma's birth certificate, but Martin and Gladys had been seperated for too much time prior to Norma's birth. So either Gladys was still seeing him, even though seperated, or Marilyn's father was someone else.

Aside:The Bakers

Gladys had been married first, at a young age, to Jasper Newton "Jap" Baker and had two children from this marriage. The family is living in 1920 in Los Angeles. On a visit back to Jasper's home-state of Kentucky, Gladys supposedly had a too-close relationship with Jasper's younger brother Audrey, for which Jasper beat Gladys. When they returned to California, she filed for divorce.

Jasper returned to Kentucky where he had been born, kidnapping the children in the process. For a short time, around this time, Gladys lived in Kentucky to be near her children, but after another confrontation, she left for California, and would not see her daughter again, for twenty years. When Norma Jean was 19, she finally met her half-sister, the half-brother was already dead by this time. (see Mona Miracle's website).

Martin Mortensen

Gladys next married to Martin Edward Mortensen (b 1897) on 11 Oct 1924 in Los Angeles, but seperated from him after several months, moving in with her good friend and co-worker Grace Atchison McKee, a divorced woman who was also working at RKO. It's been reported that Martin was looking for a "good Christian woman" and Gladys was a bit too much of a party animal for him.

Norma Jean was born 1 Jun 1926, Gladys' divorce from Martin was not completed until 1927, but they were apparently seperated for some time before this, and Gladys was possibly dating other men, as reported by a few biographers. One theory is that Norma's real father was a married man named Stanley Gifford. Allegedly, Marilyn's mother told her this, but so far this statement is uncited.

Shelley Winters who was at one time Marilyn's roommate relates this story
"Marilyn told us how she had recently gotten a man's name from that orphan asylum. Her mother had listed a Mortensen as her biological father. The night she had finished The Asphalt Jungle, after the wrap party...she called information in some place like Whittier, got the man's phone number and called it....She was convinced that this man was her biological father, and she explained to the man who she was....A drunked male voice responded, 'Listen you tramp, I have my own family, and I don't want anything to do with Hollywood bums. Don't you ever call me again." And he hung up.

The Bolenders

When Norma Jean was a baby, her mother placed her in a child-care situation with Albert and Ida Bolender, apparently because Gladys had a hectic life-style and felt this would be a better situation for the baby. She paid them $25 a month for this. Norma's grandmother Della apparently lived nearby, but died Aug 1927. One biographer claims that Ida Bolender stated that Della "...died in a straitjacket." The truth might be a little more prosaic. In the only video interview of which I know, with Ida, she didn't say that. She did say that Della acted crazy one day and broke the window in or by their front door, and that they called the Sheriff about it.

It's also confusing that apparently Gladys was living with the Bolenders as they are all reported together, in one house in the 1930 census. Some biographers has mistakeningly suggested that the Bolenders were a "foster family", but in today's terms we would call this "full-time child care", i.e. the child is being boarded while her mother works or perhaps cats-around but not fostered. "Foster parents" are paid by the state, not by the parents of the child. And certainly not while she is living with them.

Grace McKee

When Norma Jean was young, her mother, working as a film cutter for RKO, had made enough money to afford a down-payment on a house in the fall of 1933 (see My Sister Marilyn, page 23), and took Norma to live with her there. They had only lived there for a few months when Gladys apparently had some kind of psychotic episode. She was committed at first to a psychiatric hospital, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and Grace was made both guardian of Norma Jean and custodian of Glady's estate. The house and furnishings were sold off except for a piano which was held for Norma by Grace's aunt Ana. Norma also lived off-and-on with Grace and in a few foster homes. Gladys was later transferred to Agnews' State psychiatric hospital, where she resided, when she was finally released just as WWII was ending.

Evidently shortly after Grace married her last husband Ervin Silliman Goddard (1904-72), she sent Norma to the Los Angeles Orphans' Home from September 1935 to June 1937. Whatever caused this displacement must have later been corrected, as Grace took Norma back out of the orphanage at the end of this time.

Much later, at the time that Shelley Winters and Marilyn were roommates, the were just coming out of the Circle Theatre and Marilyn was staring at a building across the street. She whispered, "That's the orphan asylum I lived in most of my life. That's where my foster parents would ship me back to when they decided they didn't want my anymore."

Aside:The Goddard's

Clara Grace Atchison was born in Montana, she first married Reginald Evans, then John Wallace McKee. She was a co-worker of Marilyn's mother Gladys. Sometime after her divorce from McMcKee, she and Gladys roomed together for a while. After Gladys psychotic breakdown, Grace became both the guardian of Marilyn and the custodian of Gladys estate. By 1936, Grace at that time a film librarian, had married to Ervin Silliman "Doc" Goddard (1904-72) who that year states his occupation as "actor"; they are living in Los Angeles. It's possible they seperated, as in 1938 and also in 1940, Grace is registered, without him, at the home of her Aunt Ana Lower, while Ervin is registered elsewhere.

Norma Jeane "Marilyn" lived off-and-on with Grace, sometimes while Grace was married to Ervin. Norma also lived in foster homes and an orphanage as well. It was during her last time living with Grace that Norma was encouraged to marry her then-boyfriend James Dougherty. By 1950 Grace and Ervin are back living together in Los Angeles. Ervin died in 1972 in Ventura County, I'm not yet sure when and where Grace died, but she is apparently buried near Marilyn.

First marriage

When Norma Jean was 15 she began dating 20-year-old James "Jim" Dougherty. Doc's company was holding its Christmas dance Dec 1941, and Grace asked Jim who used to be their neighbor, to be Norma's date (see My Sister Marilyn, Page 39).

Grace and Ervin were about to move to "...Huntington, West Virginia where Doc was being transferred..." (Interview with James Dougherty, 1964), and encouraged Norma to marry James Dougherty. Norma Jean married James on 19 Jun 1942 in Los Angeles. James died in 2007, but just before his death, he wrote a book about his marriage to Marilyn Monroe. James and Norma moved to Catalina Island where they were living in 1944 and where "Jimmie" trained for the merchant marine. While he was away with the merchant marine, in the fighting during World War II, Marilyn took a job working at the Radioplane factory in Burbank, and moved in with his parents. It was at this job on 26 Jun 1945 where she was first commercially photographed for an article in YANK magazine.

After encouragement from Grace, Norma and her half-sister Berniece (Baker) Miracle, began writing to each other and finally met when Norma was 19. Working together and with the help of "Glady's aunt Dora Graham in Oregon", they finally got Gladys released from Agnew's State psychiatric hospital. (This site states that Dora was Della's sister.) Gladys lived in Oregon for about a year with Dora, then came to Los Angeles and lived with "Aunt Ana Lower" (Grace's aunt), and at times apparently with Grace and Ervin as well.

Back to Marilyn

From that point forward, Norma started getting gigs for modeling. She and James drifted apart and finally divorced. James later became a gun instructor for the Los Angeles Police. In 1964 he gave an interview which is now posted on YouTube.

Although she was to take the stage-name "Marilyn Monroe", she did not legally change her name to "Marilyn Monroe" until much later, while in New York.

Marilyn's last movie was The Misfits where she starred opposite Clark Cable and Montgomery Clift in a movie about the chance meeting of three societal misfits.

Marilyn died in her home in Brentwood, Los Angeles 5 August 1962 of an apparent drug overdose.

Primary sources for Marilyn

  • California Birth Index showing "Norma Jeane Mortenson, born 1 Jun 1926, Los Angeles County. Mother's maiden name Monroe"
  • 1930 Census Hawthorne City, Inglewood Township, Los Angeles County, California, Sheet 51B : "Albert W Bolander, head, owns home, worth $5000, married first at 34, OH/OH/OH, Letter Carrier; Edna E, wife, 42, married first at 30, NY/English Canada/England, no occupation; Lester, son, 3 9/12, CA/OH/NY; Gladys BAKER, Boarder, 27, divorced, England/England/England, Developer, Motion Pictures; Norma Jean BAKER, boarder, 63, widow, IN/OH/IN, no occupation" [ed: even though the rest of the line is bizarre, this is certainly Marilyn Monroe and her mother here living with the Bolander's]
  • 1964 Interview with James Dougherty

Primary sources for Bolender

Primary sources for Goddard

  • 1910 Census of Holland, Bell County, Texas : "Charles W Goddard 41 AR; Mary E Goddard 40 AR/AR/MS; Raymond Goddard 14 TX; Walter Goddard 8 TX; Ervin Goddard 6 TX"
  • 1920 Census of Austin, Travis County, Texas : "Chas W Goddard 50 AR/MO/AR; Ernest Goddard 50 wife AL/AL/MS; Walter Goddard 18 TX; Ervin Goddard 15 TX"
  • California Voter Registrations, 1900-1968:
    • Los Angeles City, 1936 : "Ervin S Goddard, 3107 Barbara Ct, actor, Democrat; Mrs Grace Goddard, 3107 Barbara Ct, film librarian, Democrat"
    • Los Angeles City, 1938 : "Mrs Grace Goddard, 11348 Nebraska av, film cutter, Democrat; Mrs E Ana Lower, 11348 Nebraska av, C.S. Practitioner, Republican"
    • Los Angeles City, 1938 : "Ervin S Goddard, 920 Hyperion av, director, Democrat"
    • Los Angeles City, 1940 : "Mrs Grace Goddard, 11348 Nebraska av, film cutter, Democrat; Mrs E Ana Lower, 11348 Nebraska av, C.S. Practitioner, Republican"
    • Los Angeles City, 1940 : "Ervin S Goddard, 920 Hyperion av, director, Democrat"
    • Los Angeles City, 1948 : "Ervin S Goddard, 6707 Odessa av, Democrat"
    • Los Angeles City, 1950 : "Ervin S Goddard, 6707 Odessa av, Democrat; Mrs Grace C Goddard, 6707 Odessa av, Democrat"
    • Los Angeles City, 1952 : "Ervin S Goddard, 6707 Odessa av, Democrat; Mrs Grace C Goddard, 6707 Odessa av, Democrat"
    • Los Angeles City, 1954 : "Ervin S Goddard, 6707 Odessa av, Democrat; Mrs Gladys P Eley, 6707 Odessa av, Republican"
    • Ervin S Goddard died in 1972 in Ventura County per the CADI, born in Texas.
    • Grace Goddard is registered in Los Angeles County again from 1948 to 1962. Here are a few from the CADI which might be her

Secondary sources for Marilyn

Secondary sources for Goddard

See Also

Martin Edward Mortensen

Martin was born 26 Feb 1897 in Vallejo, Solano County, California, the son of Martin Mortenson a Norwegian immigrant and his wife Stella Catherine "Katie" Higgins.

By 1917, Martin was a gas fitter working for LA Gas and Electric Company. He married Gladys Pearl Monroe on 11 Oct 1924, she left him six months later, but they were not officially divorced until 1 Jun 1927. Mona Miracle (see her website) reports that on the marriage certificate Martin lists his occupation as "meterman" and his status as "divorced", so Gladys must have been his second wife.

When Gladys became pregnant, she had supposedly been dating various men and so there is some uncertainty about exactly who Marilyn's father was. On her birth certificate, Gladys named "Martin Mortensen" as the father. It's possible she did this only so it wouldn't appear that she was sleeping around. Some biographers claim that a Stanley Gifford was Marilyn's father. But it's also possible that Gladys really did continue to have sex with Martin and that he really is Marilyn's father. If so, Marilyn would be similar to Jodie Foster in this regard. Jodie's parents were also seperated for some time, but she was also conceived by her legal father.

Martin died 10 Feb 1981 in Riverside County, California. One news report of this appears in the New York Times.

Primary sources for 2

  • 1910 Census of Los Angeles County, California showing "Katie Keller, Head, 37, married 7 years ago, mother of 2, 2 living, b MO/Ireland/Ireland, occuation: Colla.... Laundry; Earl Mortenson, son, 14, b CA/Norway/MO; Edward M Mortenson, son, 13, b CA/Norway/MO"
  • World War I Draft Registration Card showing "Edward M Mortensen, born Feb 26, 1897, in Vallejo, California; Gas Fitter for LA Gas & Electric Corp, father born in Norway, mother Stella; registered in Los Angeles County, California Jun 5, 1918."
  • California Voter Registrations, 1900-1968 (hosted at
  • California Voter Registrations, 1900-1968 (hosted at
    • Los Angeles City, 1934 showing : "Martin E Mortensen, 1716 Washington Way, R[epublican]"
    • Los Angeles City, 1936 showing : "Martin E Mortensen, 12 Ave 28, meterman, R[epublican]"
    • Los Angeles City, 1942 showing : "Martin E Mortensen, 3012 Wellington rd, service man, D[emocrat]"
    • Los Angeles City, 1944 showing : "Martin E Mortensen, 3515 S Bronson av, gas man, D[emocrat]; Mrs Madaline E Mortensen, 3515 S Bronson av, aircraft, D[emocrat]"
  • California Death Index showing "Martin Edward Mortensen, born Feb 26, 1897, died Feb 10, 1981, Riverside County, California. Mother's maiden name Higgins"

Secondary sources for 2

  • Martin Edward Mortensen in the New York Times. Stating that the one who died in 1981 in Riverside, is the same one who was married to Marilyn's mother. "... found copies of Miss Monroe's birth certificate at Mr. Mortensen's apartment, as well as marriage and divorce papers for Mr. Mortensen and Gladys Baker, Miss Monroe's mother....The birth certificate lists the father as Edward Mortensen, age 29."

Gladys Pearl Monroe

Gladys was born 27 May 1902 in Porfirio Diaz, Mexico (now known as Piedras Negra), daughter of Otis Elmer Monroe and his wife Della Mae Hogan. Gladys married May 1917 to Jasper Newton "Jap" Baker. They had two children: Robert Kermit "Jack" Baker born 24 Jan 1918 who died at age 14 and Berniece Inez Gladys Baker born 30 Jul 1919. Both children were born in Los Angeles County, California and the family is living in Los Angeles in the 1920 census. Berniece Baker would later marry Paris Miracle and their daughter Mona Miracle has writen a book about Marilyn Monroe.

Sometime, probably shortly after this census, Jasper and Gladys went to Kentucky for a visit where Mona relates an incident related to Jasper's younger brother Audrey (see [1]). When they returned to California, she filed for divorce on 20 Jul 1921 in California. Her divorce was granted May 1922; Gladys being granted custody of the two children.

Jasper married again and moved back to Kentucky where he had been from, kidnapping the two children and taking them with him (see [2]). It's not yet clear to me if he married again while in California, or after his return to Kentucky. His new wife was named Maggie (see Mona Miracle's website). For a short time, Gladys lived in Kentucky, but after another confrontation, she left for California, and would not again see her daughter for twenty years. Gladys would never see her son again, he died when he was a teen-ager. When Norma Jean was 19, she finally met her half-family (see Mona Miracle's website).

Gladys married on 11 Oct 1924 to Martin Edward Mortensen, she left him five months later to move in with her good friend Grace Atchison McKee who was divorced. But, Gladys and Martin, were not officially divorced until 1 Jun 1927. Gladys' daughter Marilyn Monroe was born in Los Angeles County Hospital, Los Angeles County, California on Jun 1, 1926 as "Norma Jeane Mortensen" to Gladys Pearl Monroe. On her birth certificate, her father is listed as "Martin Mortensen" even though her parents had been divorced for over a year.

Gladys was evidently in and out of various sanitariums for part or most of her life. Mona Miracle reprints a note from her mother Berniece which says (see [3]): "Next I wrote mother's Aunt Dora in Oregon...Eventually Aunt Dora got Mother released from Agnews State Hospital in San Jose". Dora was apparently Della's sister, here she appears to call her "Aunt Dora Graham".

Gladys was released in 1945 ([4]), on the condition that she live a year with her aunt Dora Graham in Oregon. She studied Christian Science and became very interested in trying to heal people without medicine. She dressed in white, like a nurse and started taking housekeeping jobs while living in Oregon. Her Social Security Number was issued by Oregon sometime before 1951. But in 1946, before her year was up, Gladys decided to fly down to Los Angeles and started living with Aunt Ana Lower (not her real aunt, but rather the Aunt of Grace McKee) (see [5]).

At some point before 1953, Gladys married a Mr Eley, perhaps while she was living in Oregon. Toward the latter part of her life, she moved, or was moved to Florida where as "Gladys Eley" she died Mar 1984 in Gainesville, Alachua County, Florida.

Primary documents for 3

  • 1910 Census of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California showing "Della M Monroe, Head, 33, Widow, mother of 2, 2 living, born Missouri (Father Illinois, Mother Illinois); Gladys P, daughter, 8, born Mexico (father born Indiana); Marion E, daughter, 5 born California. Keeper of a Rooming House."
  • Social Security Death Index showing "Gladys Eley, last residence Gainesville, Alachua, Florida, Born: 27 May 1900, Died: Mar 1984, SSN issued by Oregon (Before 1951)"

Secondary sources for 3

Martin Mortensen

Martin Mortensen was born about 1860/1 in Norway. He immigrated to the United States in 1880, possibly to Missouri. By 1900 he is married to Stella Catherine "Katie" Higgins" and they are living in Alameda County, California with two sons: Earl aged 4, and Martin aged 3.

Primary documents for 4

  • World War I Draft Registration Card showing "Edward M Mortensen, born Feb 26, 1897, in Vallejo, California; Gas Fitter for LA Gas & Electric Corp, father born in Norway, mother Stella; registered in Los Angeles County, California Jun 5, 1918."

Stella Catherine Higgins

She was born 1871/2 in Missouri. She married by 1900 to Martin Mortensen, a Norweigian immigrant. They lived in Alameda, California. She married by 1930 to a Mr. Frank. She was widowed by 1930 and living with her divorced son in Los Angeles County, California.

Primary sources for 5

  • World War I Draft Registration Card showing "Edward M Mortensen, born Feb 26, 1897, in Vallejo, California; Gas Fitter for LA Gas & Electric Corp, father born in Norway, mother Stella; registered in Los Angeles County, California Jun 5, 1918."
  • California Death Index showing "Martin Edward Mortensen, born Feb 26, 1897, died Feb 10, 1981, Riverside County, California. Mother's maiden name Higgins"

Otis Elmer Monroe

Otis Elmer Monroe was born in 1874/5 in Indiana. He married Della Mae Hogan and they had two children: Gladys Pearl Monroe on May 27, 1902 in Porfirio Diaz, Mexico (now known as Piedras Negras) and Otis Marion Elmer Monroe in 1905 in Los Angeles, California.

Otis died 22 Jul 1909 in Southern California State Hospital, at least one biographer claiming that he was suffering from syphillis which had invaded his brain.

Primary sources for 6

Della Mae Hogan

Della Mae Hogan was born in 1877/8 in Missouri, possibly in Barry County, the daughter of Tilford Hogan (1851-1933) and Charlotte Virginia "Jennie" Nance. Della married Otis Elmer Monroe in 1900/1 probably in Missouri; and they had two children: Gladys in 1902 in Mexico, and Otis in 1905 in Los Angeles. Otis Sr. died in 1909 in Los Angeles. Della married secondly Lyle Arthur Graves 7 Mar 1912, they divorced Jan 1914. Della married thirdly Charles W Grainger (1875-1953) between 1918 and 1920. Charles had a son Oliver Arthur Grainger (b 1899) from an earlier marriage. Della died Aug 1927 possibly in or near Venice, California where she had been living. One biographer stating that she died at Norwalk State Hospital during treatment for manic depressive psychosis. However Mona Miracle implies that she had delusions associated with malaria (see [6]).

Della died, aged 51, and was buried next to her first husband. The funeral arrangements, according to Mona Miracle were handled by Della's daughter Gladys.

Primary sources for 7

  • World War I Draft Registration Cards showing : "Charles William Grainger, resident of Santa Paula, Ventura County; born 24 Dec 1875; Oil Well Driller for Associated Oil Company of Lost Kills, Kern County; nearest relative [Olive Atwood Grainger is crossed-out and overwriten is] Bert Grainger of Santa Paula; registered 12 Sep 1918"
  • California Death Index, 1940-97 online at showing : "Charles William Grainger, born 25 Dec 1875 CA, died 10 Dec 1953 Los Angeles County; mother's maiden name Boyne"

Secondary sources for 7

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