Gladys Pearl Baker: The Tragic Life of Marilyn Monroe’s Mother

Gladys Pearl Baker: The Tragic Life of Marilyn Monroe’s Mother

Written by Alison Lurie, In Celeb, Published On
March 27, 2024

In Short

  • Gladys Pearl Baker, a single woman with paranoid schizophrenia, struggled with Marilyn Monroe until her sudden death.
  • A writer saw Marilyn Monroe’s mother at a nursing home near Los Angeles in 1952.
  • Paranoid schizophrenia did not help Gladys Pearl Monroe’s connection with Monroe.
  • Since the mother and daughter were close, the diva felt obligated to leave her a substantial legacy following her 1962 death.

Despite her fame, Marilyn Monroe suffered from tragedy, mental illness, and family struggles. Many have written about Marilyn’s struggles, but few mention her mother, Gladys Pearl Baker. Gladys’s life was a maelstrom of failed marriages, painful deaths, and years of mental illness. Despite all odds, Gladys gave birth to one of history’s most famous ladies. Gladys Pearl Baker’s tragedy shaped Marilyn Monroe’s life, as this article explores her remarkable life.

Gladys Pearl Baker profile Details

Popular As Gladys Pearl Monroe
Age 82 years old
Zodiac Sign Gemini
Born May 27, 1902
Birthday May 27
Birthplace Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico
Date of death (1984-03-11) Gainesville, Florida, U.S.
Died Place Gainesville, Florida, U.S.
Nationality Mexico

The Early Years of Gladys Pearl Baker

On May 27, 1902, Gladys Pearl Monroe was born in the Mexican town of Porfirio Díaz, located directly across the border from Texas, as Gladys Pearl Baker. Her father, Otis Elmer Monroe, was a painter by trade who painted railway wagons in addition to canvases. Her mother, Della Mae Monroe, was a midwife. The Monroe household struggled initially, even though their jobs should have given them a steady income. Otis’s struggle with drinking and mental illness made matters worse for the family, who moved around a lot.

Otis’s unknown disease caused him to weep, become furious, and even have convulsions. It wasn’t until much later that he was finally diagnosed with severe neurosyphilis, a diagnosis that would not have stopped his rapidly declining mental state. Della would go on to tie the knot twice more before settling down with a man she never legally married. Gladys relocated with her mother during these turbulent times, bearing the suffering caused by her mother’s succession of boyfriends.

The Numerous Unions in Gladys Pearl Baker’s Life

Gladys Pearl Baker
Credit – Getty Images

Divorce and Marriage: A Reoccurring Theme

Gladys Pearl Baker would often find love—or at least marriage. The men in her life were also far from innocent in these failed marriages, which were frequently linked to the paranoid schizophrenia she was alleged to have suffered from.

Jasper Baker: The Original Spouse

Gladys, who was only 14 years old, got her mother to sign a fake document at 18, allowing her to get married. Jasper Baker, her first husband, was a 25-year-old with a reputation for having violent drunken outbursts.

Though their marriage was brief, Jasper and Gladys had two children: Jackie and Berniece. In 1921, a judge granted their divorce due to mistreatment, and Gladys and her kids were briefly free of Jasper’s influence. This reprieve, though, was only temporary, for Jasper quickly abducted them and brought them to Kentucky. After a brief stay in the Bluegrass State, Gladys was compelled to return to California, where she worked as a negative film cutter and hoped to regain custody of her children one day.

Martin Edward Mortensen: A Firm but Unsatisfying Partnership

After enduring so much turmoil, Gladys should have been drawn to Martin Edward Mortensen, a divorced man with a steady life and career whom she met in 1924. Gladys and her new spouse married in the same year, but she soon became disinterested in him. Gladys moved back in with Grace, her previous flatmate, and the couple’s marriage was formally divorced in 1928.

Charles Stanley Gifford: Marilyn Monroe’s father

Charles Stanley Gifford and Gladys never got married, yet their connection would most influence Gladys’s life. Gladys found out she was expecting her third child ten months after she separated from Martin, even though she was still legally married. She did not know if the child’s father was Martin or if she had had personal relations with her employer, Charles. On the birth certificate, she put Martin’s name. However, DNA tests carried out in 2022 established that Gladys’s third child, a young girl who would eventually be baptized as Norma Jeane Baker, known as Norma Jeane Mortenson, and eventually become the renowned Marilyn Monroe, had Charles Stanley Gifford as her biological father. Unfortunately, Marilyn Monroe would never get to meet her birth father.

John Stewart Eley: The Last Dysfunctional Couple

Gladys got married one last time in her life, much later, after her world had been flipped upside down multiple times. She married John Stewart Eley in 1949, and he had alcoholism, just like her father and previous husband. The worst aspect of Gladys’ brief marriage was learning that Eley had already wed someone else, making their union invalid from the beginning. As a result, Gladys promptly filed for divorce.

Marilyn Monroe and Gladys Pearl Baker: An Unbreakable Bond

Gladys wanted to keep her young daughter, Norma Jeane, forever, but single motherhood swiftly overpowered her. When Norma Jeane was two weeks old, Gladys placed her with Della’s chosen foster family. Hawthorne’s foster parents, Ida and Wayne Bolender were fair yet firm. Gladys visited her daughter often, but her heart grew closer to her foster family. This anxiety was one of Gladys’s early signs of her lifelong mental illness. Gladys saw Norma Jeane again at three years old, but her behavior changed radically. She tried to take Norma Jeane after shoving Ida out the back door and locking her house. Ida prevented the kidnapping, but Gladys and the Bolenders’ friendship was irreparably damaged. Norma Jeane returned to her mother at seven, but Gladys’s life was falling apart.

Gladys’s Depressive Episode and Dedication

Tragic events occurred in Gladys in 1933: first, she heard that her son Jackie had passed away in Kentucky from kidney illness; second, she discovered that her grandfather had hanged himself to death. The studio where Gladys worked closing was the last straw. These terrible blows overwhelmed Gladys, and she experienced a mental breakdown. The police arrested her, sent them to a state hospital in Norwalk, and gave a paranoid schizophrenia diagnosis. Gladys would spend years in an institution. Gladys tried to rebuild her relationship with her adult daughter after being freed, and the two lived together for a short while.

Nevertheless, this living arrangement did not survive, as did most things in Gladys’s life. Thanks to her quick ascent to stardom, Norma Jeane, who went by Marilyn Monroe on stage, was about to become a household name as an actress and model. She would have to pretend to the public for years that her mother had passed away since Hollywood’s newest favorite could not be connected to a deranged parent. Marilyn nevertheless gave her mother a stipend and saw her semi-regularly.

When and how did Gladys Pearl Baker die?

Heart failure killed 81-year-old Gladys Pearl Baker on March 11, 1984. She was in Gainesville, Florida, at a retirement facility. Gladys left San Jose’s Agnews State Hospital in 1946 with paranoid schizophrenia. She married electrician John Stewart Eley in 1949 and lived with him for three years until his heart infection killed him. In Eagle Rock, California, she worked at Homestead Lodge Nursing Home. Gladys was hospitalized at Glendale’s Rockhaven Sanitarium after Eley’s death.

Gladys was discovered unconscious in her Rockhaven room with her left wrist cut. However, she recovered. According to sources, Gladys wrote Monroe constantly appealing for her release from the place. Gladys refused schizophrenia medications because they conflicted with her religious beliefs. “Gladys was convinced that Rockhaven doctors were poisoning her food due to her intense mental illness. She wrote her children that she needed to be freed soon or, as she told Berniece, ‘I would very definitely die in here from all of the poison,'” J. Randy Taraborrelli writes in The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.

Monroe and Gladys parted ways in July 1962. Gladys said she just needed prayers when her daughter requested her to take meds. “You’re such a good girl, Norma Jeane,” Gladys said to Monroe before he left, according to Taraborrelli’s book.

Monroe left her mother a $100,000 trust fund to receive $5,000 annually, but legal and financial complications delayed the payment until 1977. Gladys escaped Rockhaven in 1963 but was found at Lakeview Terrace Baptist Church, 15 miles away. She was sent to Camarillo State Mental Hospital.

In summary

Gladys Pearl Baker’s life was a dreadful tapestry of heartache, failed marriages, and mental illness. Despite her struggles, Gladys gave birth to Marilyn Monroe, a 20th-century icon. Marilyn’s popularity and fortune overshadowed her mother’s sufferings, but Gladys’s tale shows that even the most significant stars can overcome adversity. Her difficult path, which will always be tied to that of her famous daughter, shows the human spirit’s resilience and a mother’s love.


What was Marilyn Monroe’s connection with Gladys Pearl Baker?

Paranoid schizophrenia complicated Marilyn Monroe’s connection with her mother, Gladys Pearl Baker. Monroe felt obligated to her mother despite the obstacles.

What affected Gladys Pearl Baker’s friendship with Marilyn Monroe due to paranoid schizophrenia?

Paranoid schizophrenia affected Gladys Pearl Baker’s friendship with Marilyn Monroe. Despite communication issues due to mental illness, the mother and daughter were close.

Did Marilyn Monroe help her mother financially?

Marilyn Monroe was close to her mother, Gladys Pearl Monroe, and left a large legacy following her 1962 death. This financial assistance shows their deep relationship despite Gladys’ mental illness.

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