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Marilyn Monroe and Mental Illness

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Marilyn Monroe, her given name Norma Jeane Mortenson, was born on June 1, 1926. The name Norma Jeane Mortenson was baptized as Norma Jeane Baker (Bio True Story, 2012). When Marilyn was born, during the 1920’s, single parenting was not regarded highly. Marilyn’s mother, Gladys Mortenson, named Marilyn after Norma Tallmadge, famous actor during the mid- 1920’s. Marilyn was born with no father figure in which to influence her life. Marilyn’s birth certificate lists Edward Mortenson as the father, of which he was Gladys’ second husband, biographers have since agreed that Norma Jeane’s father was actually Stanley Gifford. Gifford abandoned Gladys upon learning of the pregnancy (Bio True Story, 2012).

Norma Jeane never had the pleasure of knowing her father, and Gladys her mother started showing signs of mental illness early in the actress childhood. Gladys was eventually placed into a mental institution. During Norma Jeane’s childhood, she spent the greatest part in foster care or orphanages. In 1937, a close family friend and her husband took care of Norma Jeane for a period of approximately 3 years. When The Godard’s were transferred due to Doc Goddard’s job in 1942, they could not afford to take Norma Jeane with them (Bio True Story, 2012). Norma Jeane had no desire in which to return to the orphanages or foster care, her only option left was marriage. In June of 1942, Norma Jeane Mortenson married her then boyfriend Jimmy Dougherty. Jimmy was a member of the merchant marines, whom was sent to the South Pacific shortly after the marriage. Jimmy returned in 1946, to find that his wife had carved out a career as a model (Bio True Story, 2012).

According to Doll (1998-2012), When Norma Jeane was a child, she had asked her mother about a portrait hanging on a wall, of a handsome man, with a thin moutache, Norma’s mother susposedly replied that it was the actress father. Gifford, the man of which Norma Jeane’s mother had the reported affair with was known to have had the same moustche. During Norma Jeane’s childhood she was known to have fantasized that she was the daughter of Clark Gabel, she had often told school mates that her father was a famous Hollywood actor (Doll, 1998-2012). It is known that Norma Jeane never did formally meet the man whom she thought was her biological father, Gifford (Doll, 1998-2012). Doll (1998-2012), “When she was a teenager, she tried to speak with him by telephone. She identified herself as “Norma Jeane, Gladys’s daughter,” but the party on the other end of the line simply hung up.” (Para. 7).

It is easy to underestimate the significance of the stories surrounding Norma Jeane’s early life, yet it appears that she felt a profound sadness at never having known her father. This alone left an emotional scare. The conflicting stories the fantasies about who her father was, is a mere representation of her attempts to put her early life into presepective, in spite of a dim past (Doll, 1998-2012). Unfortunately these attempts were not enough to for the actress, it is noted that shortly before her death, Norma Jeane filled out an official document, witnessed by her personal secretary, where the father is listed as “unknown” (Doll, 1998-2012). Family History of Mental Illness

Norma Jeane’s mother had a documented history of mental illness. Both of her parents, Otis and Delia Monroe were found to have lived out their later years in mental institutions, Norma Jeane’s uncle, Marion Monroe, was also found to have suffered from paranoid schizophrenia (Doll, 1998-2012).

It is believed that more than likely Norma Jeane’s mother suffered from manic depression, yet others have presented a diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia as well. What is known is that during the 1930’s and 1940’s, if an individual were to suffer from manic depression, they were given the ultimate diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia, with this in mind, it does clear up any discrepencies as to Norma Jeane’s mothers actual diagnosis. Regardless of the exact diagnosis, it is known that Norma Jeane had a fear of genetic mental health problems throughout her entire life (Doll, 1998-2012). Whatever the exact nature of Gladys’s disorder, Marilyn had a morbid fear of genetic insanity throughout her life. Though manic and schizophrenic disorders have a tendency to run in families, this does not necessarily mean that Marilyn inherited an emotional disorder. It is just as likely that her early life of deprivation and insecurity accounted for her later psychiatric problems.


Bio True Story. (2012). Marilyn Monroe biography . Retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/marilyn-monroe-9412123?page=2 Cries for Help. (1962). Time, 80(07), 78.
Doll, S. (1998-2012). Marilyn Monroe’s Early Life. Retrieved from http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/marilyn-monroe-early-life.htm Frost, J. (2011). Movie Star Suicide, Hollywood Gossip, and Popular Psychology in the 1950s and 1960s. Journal Of American Culture, 34(2), 113-123. doi:10.1111/j.1542-734X.2011.00768.x

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