Was Marilyn’s Mom Gladys Really an Alcoholic? What Was Her Mental Illness?

Image Credit: Malcolm James/Find a Grave

Netflix’s period film ‘Blonde’ is a semi-fictional exploration of the life of legendary Hollywood actress and icon Marilyn Monroe. Directed by Andrew Dominik, the film offers a heart-rending depiction of Monroe’s hardships, then known as Norma Jeane, as a child, mainly due to the alcoholism and mental illness issues of her mother, Gladys Pearl Baker.

Upon witnessing her mother’s startling actions, Monroe seeks security among her neighbors. Gladys, meanwhile, gets admitted to a mental hospital as well. Since the film depicts Gladys’ life as a mother in detail, the viewers may want to know more about her apparent alcoholism and mental illness. If that’s the case, you are at the right place!

Was Gladys Really an Alcoholic?

In the film, Gladys relies on alcohol to deal with her hardships. The absence of Monroe’s unrevealed father and the struggles with her undiagnosed mental illness lead her to alcohol for comfort. During the 1933 Griffith Park Fire, Gladys drives into the dangerous region with Monroe under the influence of alcohol to see her daughter’s father. Gladys’ attempt to kill Monroe by drowning her in a bathtub also seemingly happens under the influence of alcohol. However, in reality, Gladys might haven’t consumed such an enormous amount of alcohol as the film depicts.

Image Credit: Marilyn18/Find a Grave

There are unreliable reports that suggest Gladys was an alcoholic. Since they weren’t published by credible sources, we cannot claim that Gladys was an alcoholic. None of Monroe’s major biographers or biographies describe Gladys as an alcoholic, which indicates that she might have consumed alcohol but not to the level of being an addict. Donald Spoto, a renowned biographer, described Gladys as someone who led a “restless, nomadic life” in his book ‘Marilyn Monroe: The Biography’ but there isn’t any information concerning Gladys’ supposed alcoholism in the same.

What Was Gladys’ Mental Illness?

Even though Gladys’ alleged alcoholism may not be an accurate detail, one thing ‘Blonde’ gets right about Monroe’s mother is her struggles with her mental illness and her eventual admission to a mental hospital. In reality, Gladys was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. As per reports, she also lived with bipolar disorder. As a child, Monroe grew up with the Bolenders, the foster family that took care of Gladys’ daughter.

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

When Monroe was 7, she reunited with Gladys as they moved into a new home near the Hollywood Bowl. However, the deaths of Gladys’ 13-year-old son Jackie and grandfather and the strike that went on at her workplace affected Gladys severely. In 1934, she reportedly started to behave aggressively, kicking and screaming shockingly. In the same year, she also allegedly brandished a knife under the belief that someone was trying to kill her. The police eventually got involved, and Gladys ended up at the Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California. Monroe intermittently visited her mother as well.

Around the time Monroe separated from her first husband James Dougherty, Gladys got released from San Jose’s Agnews State Hospital. She then married John Stewart Eley in 1949. When he died three years later, Gladys’ condition worsened and she eventually got admitted to Rockhaven Sanitarium in Glendale, California. During Gladys’ stay at Rockhaven, her condition worsened severely. “[…] with her [Gladys’] mental illness affecting her intensely, she’d become firmly convinced that the doctors at Rockhaven had been poisoning her food,” J. Randy Taraborrelli wrote in his book ‘The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.’

“Gladys wrote to her daughters that she needed to be released very soon or, as she noted to Berniece, ‘I will most certainly die in here from all of the poison,’” To comply with her religious teachings, Gladys also refused to have medicines prescribed to control her schizophrenia, which further worsened her state. Still, Gladys outlived Monroe by 22 years and lived till March 1984, when she passed away at a retirement home in Gainesville, Florida.

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