Did Marilyn Monroe’s Mom Gladys Baker Really Try to Kill Her?

Image Credit: New York Sunday News/Wikimedia Commons

Netflix’s drama film ‘Blonde’ offers a fictionalized version of the Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe’s life, exploring her relationship with her mother Gladys Pearl Baker, her second and third husbands Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, and her other romantic affairs. The biographical film also depicts the hardships Monroe faces as a child under the care of her mentally ill mother Gladys. As a mother, Gladys fails to offer a secure environment for Monroe, then known as Norma Jeane, to grow.

In a pivotal scene, Gladys even tries to kill Monroe by drowning her in a bathtub. Although Monroe escapes from her mother, the incident makes her realize the gravity of her mother’s mental illness. Naturally, the admirers of the legendary actress may want to know whether such an incident really happened. Well, here’s what we know about the same!

Marilyn Monroe’s Troubled Childhood

In the film, Gladys is an alcoholic who doesn’t take care of her daughter Norma Jeane/Marilyn Monroe well. She often scares and forces her daughter to do whatever she wants the latter to do. In a heart-rending scene, Gladys fills a bathtub with hot water and attempts to kill Monroe by drowning her in the same. Monroe manages to escape and seeks security among her neighbors. However, there aren’t any records of Gladys trying to kill Monroe by drowning her. The particular detail can be fictional, added to the narrative of the film to depict the gravity of Gladys’ mental condition and how it threatened Monroe.

Image Credit: Marilyn18/Find a Grave

Having said that, it may not necessarily mean that Gladys didn’t try to kill Monroe. Keith Badman’s ‘Marilyn Monroe: The Final Years’ indicates that Monroe’s life was indeed threatened by her mother when she was a child, citing none other than Arthur Miller, the actress’ third husband. “Her [Monroe’s] mother tried to kill her three times,” Miller told BBC in April 1968, as per Badman’s book. “Her mother was quite mad. Throughout most of her life, Marilyn often remarked how she could still vividly recall these horrific encounters,” the renowned playwright added.

According to ‘Marilyn Monroe: The Final Years,’ it wasn’t just Gladys who threatened Monroe’s life but also Gladys’ mother Della. “[…] in July 1927, her [Monroe’s] grandmother Della attempted to smother her with a pillow. For no perceptible reason, she walked over to the Bolenders’ [the foster family that took care of Monroe when she was a child] home in a state of complete undress, smashed her way in through the glass in the front door, and made an unprovoked attack on the young child,” Badman wrote in his book. Della, as per the book, was suffering from manic-depressive psychosis at the time.

Gladys (center) and Monroe (right)/Image Credit: vintage_actors/Twitter

As Miller indicated in the BBC interview, Monroe’s childhood was seemingly filled with horrific happenings. According to J. Randy Taraborrelli’s ‘The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe,’ Gladys showed up one day at the Bolenders’ house and demanded to take the then-three-year-old daughter to her home. After locking Monroe’s foster mom Ida Bolender out the back door, Gladys stuffed her daughter in a duffel bag. Still, Ida managed to thwart Gladys’ attempt to save Monroe. Around four years later, Gladys and Monroe reunited.

After the reunion, Monroe’s hardships didn’t end. When Gladys came to know about her son 13-year-old son Jackie’s death, she reportedly lashed out at Monroe for being the one to live. Gladys’ hardships only increased when her grandfather hanged himself and her workplace went on a strike. These incidents affected Gladys and her mental illness became worse. Gladys also allegedly brandished a knife under the belief that someone was trying to kill her. Monroe had to witness her mother’s aggressive behavior, which led to the diagnosis that she was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. The diagnosis paved the way for her institutionalization at the state mental hospital in Norwalk, California.

Read More: How and When Did Marilyn Monroe’s Mom Gladys Baker Die?