What Blonde Made Up About Marilyn Monroe’s Life

Blonde wallows in the most tragic aspects of Marilyn Monroe’s life

If you believe Blonde, Marilyn Monroe never had a moment’s happiness in her all-too-short life.

Not that you should believe Blonde, featuring an Oscar-nominated performance by Ana de Armas as the indisputably tragic bombshell.

Though it draws from true, well-chronicled events, many of them caught on camera, Blonde is not a biopic. Rather, the NC-17-rated movie is based on the best-selling 2000 novel of the same name by Joyce Carole Oates, who described the work as “a radically distilled ‘life’ in the form of fiction.”

“It’s a dream film about Marilyn Monroe,” writer-director Andrew Dominik explained in a Netflix interview. “It’s about the image as much as the person. She’s grappling with, and we’re grappling with, the image of her life.”

It’s unlikely anyone is sitting down these days to watch or read about Monroe expecting a feel-good story. But Blonde is trauma on parade, the horrors of her life cranked up to 11 as the film plumbs the ways the consistently underrated actress was exploited, violated and abused while simultaneously becoming one of the most enduring stars in Hollywood history.
But such was the point the source material was trying to make.

“Dominik has captured the disjointed and distorted hallucinatory reality of the novel with an unflinching feminist eye—nothing sentimental here, nothing ‘feel good,'” Oates wrote in an essay included with Blonde’s production notes, “but something much more valuable, and deserving of respect in the vast collective mind of popular culture: a true, raw, painfully honest being, an exposed soul, not a pop star entertainer but one of us, transformed.”

Knowing she hadn’t signed up for a fairy tale, De Armas called getting to play Monroe “a gift,” telling The Hollywood Reporter at the 2022 Venice Film Festival, “She was all I thought about. She was all I dreamed about. She was all I could talk about. She was with me. And it was beautiful.”

And to her credit, Monroe is certainly all we could think about as well after watching Blonde. Here we’ve untangled the real from the “radically distilled.”

Did Marilyn Monroe Ever Know Who Her Father Was?

Blonde: The gaping wound in Marilyn Monroe’s life is her father’s absence. Norma Jeane Mortensen’s soon-to-be-institutionalized mother Gladys Baker (played by Julianne Nicholson) tells her that her dad is a powerful man in the motion picture business. The star is never able to enjoy watching her films for fear this man—whoever he is—would mistake his daughter for the bombshell on screen. She also breathily calls husbands Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller “daddy,” her tone veering between intimate affection and delusion, her go-to state being a little girl desperate for love and approval.

Once she’s a full-fledged movie star, she starts receiving letters from someone claiming to be her father. Finding out that one of her former lovers was sending the letters all along is a final blow as her life skids to its premature end on Aug. 4, 1962.

Real life: On a positive note, the cruel ruse was an invention. But the screen siren never did know for sure who her father was, and she certainly had no relationship with him.

As seen in the film, Baker really did give her daughter a photograph of a handsome man who resembled Clark Gable and told her he was her father. She wouldn’t share his name.

Baker’s first husband was Jasper Baker, who took off with their two children, Robert and Berniece, after she filed for divorce in 1921. (Berniece, who died in 2014, wrote the 1994 book My Sister Marilyn.) Monroe was also known as Norma Jean Baker (she preferred to spell her middle name with no “e”)—but the man listed as Norma’s father on her birth certificate was Baker’s second husband, Edward Mortensen.

The man in the photo, meanwhile, was Charles Stanley Gifford, the not-quite-divorced night supervisor Baker first met in 1923 while working as a negative cutter at Consolidated Film Industries.

Baker married Mortensen, who offered stability, in 1924 but left him after four months. She resumed her affair with Gifford in May 1925. That relationship was over by Christmas, and the following June, Baker placed her days-old daughter in the care of neighbors and returned to work. (Mortensen and Baker divorced in 1928 and he died in a car crash the following year.)

It’s unclear just how Monroe discovered Gifford’s existence. But per Anthony Summers‘ 1985 book Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, the actress drove out toward Palm Springs with gossip columnist Sidney Skolsky in 1950, telling him they were going to visit her dad. They parked near a farmhouse. When Monroe came back to the car, Skolsky recalled, she told him her “son-of-a-bitch” father had said to her, “Listen, Marilyn, I’m married, I have children. I don’t want any trouble.”

And yet Skolsky couldn’t say for sure whether she had talked to anybody. Numerous friends had heard Monroe say different things about her father over the years, including that he was dead. Keith Badman‘s The Final Years of Marilyn Monroe recounts her going out to Palm Springs with her drama coach, Natasha Lytess, and Lytess saying that Monroe called her purported dad from the road, and that’s when he told her he had a family and couldn’t see her—but he would call her.

In fact, per Summers, two weeks after their road trip, Skolsky started to recount his adventure with Monroe and Lytess stopped him to say she’d had the same adventure.

Her romance with young Chaplin ended when he found Monroe tucked into bed with his brother Sydney, but they remained close friends for the rest of her life, James told Goddess author Summers.

She met Robinson through Chaplin, James said, and they had a fling while she was making 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and he was trying to make it as an actor. (A few years later Robinson was a cowboy in her movie Bus Stop and the assassin hiding in the cake in Some Like It Hot.)

“We three men were a sort of trio,” James recalled, “and Marilyn saw us all occasionally, together or separately, for the rest of her life. They were all depressive, Marilyn, Charlie and Eddy, and they would hunt each other down when things were bad…But Charlie and Eddy were suicidal, more so than Marilyn. They couldn’t make it on their own, and they couldn’t deal with their famous names. Sometimes it was Marilyn who literally kept them alive.”

As a boy, Chaplin witnessed his parents’ nasty custody battle and he ended up raised primarily by his mother, Lita Grey, the second of his father’s four wives. He died of a pulmonary embolism at 42 in March 1968. Robinson suffered a fatal heart attack at 40 in February 1970.

Author Profile

Stevie Flavio
Film Writer

Email https://markmeets.com/contact-form/

Leave a Reply