Netflix’s ‘Blonde’ recounts the events in the life of Marilyn Monroe, though with a heavy dose of fiction. It begins with her childhood, where her troubled upbringing is brought into focus, which gives context to the problems that persist for Monroe throughout her life. The complicated relationship with her mother and the perpetual absence of her father create a void, and she tries to fill it with other relationships, especially when it comes to the men in her life.
Often times it seems that had Monroe received a good and caring environment as a child, things might have turned out differently. If this makes you wonder how Monroe spent her childhood and if she grew up as an orphan, then here’s what you should know about her.
Was Marilyn Monroe an Orphan?
Marilyn Monroe was born on June 1, 1926, to Gladys Pearl Baker and Charles Stanley Gifford. As per reports, her father was never in the picture as he’d already been married when he had an affair with Gladys. While her mother never approached Gifford for help in raising their daughter, she was completely unprepared, both mentally and financially, to raise Monroe. Weeks after she was born, Gladys placed her daughter in foster care, where she was brought up by Albert and Ida Bolender. Here, the young Norma Jeane lived for seven years, with her mother visiting her on weekends.
At one point, her foster parents expressed the desire to adopt her, but Gladys didn’t want to give her up. In 1933, Gladys took Monroe with her to Hollywood, where she lived in a house shared with George and Maude Atkinson. In 1934, Gladys’ mental breakdown resulted in her being committed to a hospital, and she remained institutionalized for the rest of her life. Following this, Monroe became a ward of the state. When asked about her parents, Marilyn Monroe once claimed that she was an orphan and never knew her parents.
In an article in Modern Screen magazine, Monroe wrote: “Before I was born, my father was killed in an automobile accident during a business trip to New York City. A short time later, my mother became critically ill, and while I was still too young to know- much about what was happening, I became an orphan.” At this time, her mother was alive and living in Norwalk, California. Her identity came to light when a Hearst gossip columnist tracked her down. As for her father, Monroe tried to get in touch with him, but Gifford maintained his distance from her. It wasn’t until a DNA test in 2022 that Gifford’s identity as Monroe’s biological father was confirmed to the world.
Was Marilyn Monroe Adopted?
With her mother out of the picture, Marilyn Monroe was placed under the care of the Atkinsons, with whom she lived for the next year or so. In 1935, she briefly lived with Grace Goddard, Gladys’s best friend. But soon after, Grace packed her bags and left the child at the Los Angeles Orphans Home, where she spent her next year. In 1937, Monroe moved back in with the Goddards, with Grace becoming her legal guardian. A few months later, Monroe was once again uprooted from her living situation and moved around to live with some relatives of her mother or Grace.
By 1938, Monroe moved in with Ana Lower, Grace’s aunt. Here things stabilized for a while. But when Lower suffered health problems and was rendered unfit to take care of the young girl, Monroe found herself back with the Goddards. Around a year later, in 1942, Grace’s husband, Doc Goddard, received employment in West Virginia. At the time, Monroe was barely 16, and according to the law, she could not be taken out of the state.
With the Goddards gone, she would have to be sent back to an orphanage. However, neither Monroe nor Grace wanted that. So, when Monroe turned 16, she was wedded to their neighbor’s son, James Dougherty, who was 21-years-old at the time. Having constantly moved in and out of foster homes and orphanages, Monroe said, as revealed by the Netflix documentary, ‘The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes’: “I’m not calling myself an orphan. I was brought up a waif. Yeah, I was never used to being happy.”
Knowing exactly how it feels not to be able to grow up in a proper home, Monroe took up the cause for children living in a similar situation. In 1955, actress Jane Russell founded the World Adoption International Fund (aka WAIF), and Monroe soon became a part of it. According to Anthony Summers’ ‘Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe,’ working with WAIF “marked the beginning of Marilyn’s active interest in children’s causes, one she would maintain until she died.”