On June 1, 1926, Norma Jeane Mortensen entered the world to little fanfare, an unstable mother, and an absent father. Soon after her birth, her surname changed to Baker (her mother went by the name Gladys Monroe Baker, having become separated from Martin Mortensen before her pregnancy), she was placed in foster care.
Gladys and Norma Jeane Baker
By most accounts her early years were happy, spent in the care of loving foster parents, with sporadic visits with her mother. Then, in 1933, Gladys removed her from her foster home, and brought her to live with her in a small Hollywood apartment. When it soon became apparent that this new arrangement was unsuitable for a child, Gladys had her placed in another foster home. Later that year, she managed to purchase a home through a New Deal program, and moved Norma Jean and her foster parents into it with her. Unfortunately, this new arrangement was short lived, as Gladys' mental health deteriorated greatly during this time. By the end of 1934 she had been committed to a sanatorium, and Norma Jeane became a ward of the state, under the guardianship of her mother's good friend, Grace McKee. The remainder of her childhood was spent in and out of orphanages, until, in 1942, at the age of 16, she married James Dougherty to avoid having to go back. It is from here that her story becomes much more well known.
James and Norma Jeane Dougherty
On a personal note, I, like virtually anyone who has inhabited this earth since her rise to stardom, have always been aware of Marilyn Monroe. My love of the mid-century lifestyle, movies made during the studio years, and fashion in general have educated me pretty well on all things Marilyn. I will even admit to being thrilled when, during my platinum blond phase, some of my friends took to calling me Marilyn. But it wasn't until recently, when I started reading about her in more depth than I ever had previously, that I have come to truly respect the young woman who survived that challenging childhood to become the star that was Marilyn Monroe.
I want to say thank you to Cherie, who blogs at Fabulous Girls Wear Vintage and is the one woman show behind Shrimpton Couture, for reminding me that today is the anniversary of Norma Jean's birth. Cherie is right; there is a lot of talk about Marilyn Monroe every year when the anniversary of her death rolls around, but not so much on this day. I think that it is important that we recognize that regardless of the fact that we may be able to quote Marilyn's lines in every movie, recognize every dress, and recite facts about every facet of her life, we will never get close to an understanding about her until we recognize that little girl, standing beside her all the while, just wishing for someone to make her feel safe.
If you are interested in further reading, dear readers, I am currently enjoying The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli. The June 2012 issue of Vanity Fair, dubbed The Marilyn Issue, is what first captured my interest, and the archived articles on their site are also excellent.
Thanks for reading!