Gladys Pearl Baker: The Mother of Superstar, Marilyn Monroe

The tragedy of Marilyn Monroe’s life was once hidden behind the glitz and glamor of her time in the spotlight. 

These days, we’ve learned to look a little deeper and see just how tragic and tumultuous her life was. Was this fate singular to Marilyn, or did it run in the family? 

Gladys Pearl Baker, born May 27, 1902, was the mother of Marilyn Monroe and a tragic figure in her own right. Her life included a string of failed marriages, devastating loss, and mental struggles that would haunt her for decades. 

Despite all of that, Gladys managed to live a long life and gave birth to one of the most famous women of all time. In this article, we’ll look a little deeper into Gladys’s mysterious life, and how it shaped Marilyn by the end. 

Gladys holding a baby Norma Jeane

Gladys Pearl Baker’s Early Years

Gladys Pearl Baker was born Gladys Pearl Monroe in the town of Porfirio Dìaz, Mexico, just across the border from Texas. Her mother was Della Mae Monroe, and her father was Otis Elmer Monroe. 

Otis worked as a painter, both of pictures and railway cars, and Della worked on and off as a midwife. Despite these jobs, which should have been plenty to keep the family afloat, there were struggles in the Monroe household from the very beginning. 

The family moved quite often. Otis was suffering from terrible alcoholism, which only exacerbated his mental illness. 

He would rage, cry, and even have seizures from his mysterious condition until finally he was given a name for what ailed him–severe neurosyphilis. It was too late to save Otis’s mind.

Della would marry two more times, and eventually move in with a man who she never actually wed. Gladys moved with her mother every step of the way, even though all of the men her mother linked herself to would make the young girl miserable. 

The Many Marriages of Gladys Pearl Baker 

Gladys Pearl Baker would find love, or at least marriage, many times in her life. Her failed marriages would be blamed on a lot of things, not the least of which was the paranoid schizophrenia that Gladys was said to have suffered from. 

Despite this illness, the men were nowhere near innocent of these failures, either. 

Jasper Baker

At only 14 years of age, Gladys had her mother sign a paper giving her permission to marry. The paper was fraudulent, claiming that Gladys was 18, but no one was any of the wiser. 

So with that, she was permitted to marry Jasper Baker. He was a 25-year-old known for being a violent drinker. 

Jasper and Gladys would have two children together, Jackie and Berniece, but divorce soon followed. A judge granted the separation on the grounds of abuse in 1921. For a short time, Gladys and the children were free of Jasper. 

Until he kidnapped them and took them to Kentucky. After a brief stint in the bluegrass state, she was forced to return to California, where she worked as a negative film cutter, and dreamt of the day she could get her children back. 

Martin Edward Mortensen 

By 1924, Gladys met the divorced Martin Edward Mortensen. Although he had been married before, Martin had a stable life and job, which should have appealed to Gladys, who had lived through so much upheaval. 

The two were married that same year, but unfortunately, Gladys quickly became bored with the man. She moved back in with her previous roommate, Grace, and Martin and Gladys were officially divorced by 1928.

Charles Stanley Gifford 

While Charles, Gladys’s boss, and Gladys were never married, her relationship with him might have been the most impactful one of her entire life. 

10 months after leaving Martin, while still technically married, Gladys discovered she was pregnant for a third time. She had been sleeping with Charles and wasn’t sure which man was the father. 

While she put Martin’s name on the birth certificate, genetic testing done in 2022 confirmed that Charles Stanley Gifford was the true father of Gladys’s third child. 

This child just so happened to be Norma Jeane Mortenson, who was later baptized as Norma Jeane Baker. 

But that isn’t the name most of us know her by. We know her best as Marilyn Monroe, and Marilyn Monroe would never get the chance to meet her biological father.

Baby Norma Jeane, from Modern Screen.

John Stewart Eley

Much later, after her life had been turned upside down again and again, Gladys married one more time. The man’s name was John Stewart Eley, and she married him in 1949. 

Like her first husband and her father before that, Eley was an alcoholic, and Gladys soon filed for divorce. The worst part of this short-lived marriage was that when Gladys filed for divorce, she discovered Eley had already been married to another woman. 

Their marriage had been illegitimate all along. 

Gladys Pearl Baker and Marilyn Monroe

Gladys had lost her first two children to their father and wanted terribly to keep little Norma Jeane with her. Life was hard for a single mother, though, and soon she was dropping Norma Jeane off to a foster family arranged by Della. The baby was only two weeks old. 

The foster parents, Ida and Wayne Bolender of Hawthorne, California were strict but fair. Gladys was able to come and visit her little girl, and did so frequently. 

Each time, she grew more and more distressed by how much her daughter was bonding with her foster family. This distress marked one of the earliest signs of Gladys’s mental illness that would plague her for the rest of her life. 

When Norma Jeane was 3, Gladys came for another visit, but this time it was different. She shoved Ida out the back door of her own house, locked it, and tried to abscond with baby Norma Jeane. Ida stopped the prospective kidnapping, but things would never be the same. 

Gladys with Norma as a toddler. Images

At 7, Norma Jeane was returned to her mother, but Gladys was on a downhill trajectory. 

In 1933, tragedy struck Gladys two-fold: she learned that her son Jackie had died in Kentucky from kidney disease, and then that her grandfather had hanged himself. Finally, the last straw came when the studio Gladys worked at shut down.

She had a mental breakdown, having to be hauled off by police and committed. Gladys was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. She would remain at the state hospital in Norwalk for years. 

Once released, she tried to mend the relationship with her now-adult daughter, and the two briefly lived together. Like most things in Gladys’s life, this situation did not last.

Norma Jeane was now going by Marilyn Monroe. She had a modeling and acting career that was about to take off into the stratosphere. 

For years, Marilyn would be forced to lie to the media and say that her mother was dead. Hollywood’s new darling couldn’t possibly be connected to a schizophrenic mother. Despite this, Marliyn provided her mother with a stipend and kept semi-regular contact with her. 

When Marilyn tragically passed, she left her mother a large sum of money. This might be proof that despite their tumultuous relationship, little Norma Jeane always loved her mother. 

Gladys would spend time after Marilyn’s death living with her older daughter Berniece between stays in Camarillo State Mental Hospital. Gladys Pearl Baker was 81 when she died on March 11, 1984, in the retirement home where she had spent her final years. 


How Marilyn Monroe’s Childhood Was Disrupted by Her Mother’s Paranoid Schizophrenia-Tim Ott

Marilyn Monroe’s Biological Father Revealed in Documentary ‘Marilyn, Her Final Secret’-Elsa Keslassy

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