marilyn monroe sister secret
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An Inside Look at the Life of Marilyn Monroe’s Secret Sister

Stories

| LAST UPDATE 06/23/2022

By Lia Thomson

Although she spent the majority of her life being in the public eye, most fans never knew that Marilyn Monroe had a long-lost sister until she was already gone. Here's the story of Monroe's family secret.

Meet Norma Jeane

In 1926, Gladys Baker had given birth to her baby girl at just 24 years old. While later on in her life, that child would go by Marilyn Monore, at the time, her given name was Normal Jeane Mortenson.

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For a long time, it was just Norma (Marilyn) and Gladys because the whereabouts of the baby's father were unknown. The future actress had little information about where she had come from, and she couldn't really ask her mom. Instead, she spent her childhood alone or in foster care as her mother was unfit to raise a child.

Bumpy Upbringing

Marilyn's childhood was unsteady - that wasn't a secret. When she became a famed star, she revealed that as a youngster, her days were spent behind the walls of an orphanage. Because of that, fans thought that she had grown up with no parents… but that was only partially accurate.

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Marilyn would go back and forth from living with Gladys to living outside of her home. Occasionally it would be in a foster home, but her go-to place was at her mom's friend's house, Grace Goddard. She was there for a long time after Gladys was sent to a psychiatric ward.

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Years Later

Gladys had spent nearly 6 years at the institute. That gave her a lot of time to not only think about what Marilyn was doing all alone in the outside world, but she was also spending those many long days reflecting back on her life and the choices she made.

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Donaldson Collection / Contributor via Getty Images

Gladys had reported on Marilyn's birth certificate that she was her first born child… even though that was a lie. In 1919, she gave birth to Berniece Baker Miracle with her ex-husband Jasper. The reason she was no longer with Berniece and Jasper was that she abandoned them, along with her son, Jackie.

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The Letter

It had been years since Gladys saw Berniece, but all that time thinking about her past made the mother of three wanna reach out. So she decided to write the truth down and send the letter to her long lost daughter. The note explained everything. And before she knew it, it was mailed off to Kentucky.

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The then 19-year-old Berniece had no idea what she was about to uncover when she opened up the envelope. She would learn about her birth mom and also discover that she had a 12-year-old sister living in Los Angeles. This information turned her life around for good - but she almost didn't get to read it.

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Learning The Truth

Berniece had moved out of her childhood home, where she lived with her dad and her stepmom, after marrying Paris Miracle. Yet her mail was still being sent to the house, meaning Jasper received it first. "I don't know if I ought to give you this or not. At first, I thought I would never show it to you," he said about the letter.

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Remi BENALI / Contributor via Getty Images

"Your stepmother and I talked about it. We decided it's your letter." Thankfully Berniece was able to get her mother's note because only after reading it did she finally get many answers to questions she had her whole life. Who knows what would have happened had Jasper hidden the letter...

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Painful Memories

It wasn't always easy growing up with Jasper. He had married a woman when Berniece was younger, and let's just say it was the smoothest childhood for her. Unfortunately, her stepmom was a cold woman who kept Jasper too occupied to care for his two kids.

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Thankfully Berniece didn't have to endure the hardships on her own, as her younger brother Jackie was there with her. That was, until he was 14 years old when he shockingly passed away. Now she was left all alone with her standoffish dad and her spiteful stepmother.

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One Memory

Ever since Berniece was a young girl, she had many questions about who her real mom was and where she could be. The only information she had was one picture frame that sat on a dresser in her house. All she knew was what Gladys looked like - but not who she really was.

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As she grew up, she started to tell herself that maybe her mom had passed away, and that's why she never reached out. So when she finally received that letter that held the truth inside, she was in disbelief at the news. Especially the fact that she had a long-lost sister on the other side of the country.

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Signed, "Your Sister"

While Berniece was eager to learn about Gladys, she couldn't get the thought of Marilyn (who was Norma Jeane at the time) out of her head. So she decided to send a letter to her then 12-year-old sister. Along with the letter, Berniece included a picture of herself so that the preteen knew what her big sis looked like.

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Marilyn was just as happy to learn of her new sibling, so of course, she quickly wrote back. Following the footsteps of her sister, Marilyn added a photo of herself. And from there, they continued to send each other envelopes back and forth. Their bond became so strong that after each letter, they signed it "Your sister."

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Supportive Sister

For so long, both Marilyn and Berniece felt alone when it came to dealing with the many hardships in their life. So to know that they had each other now was something they could have never imagined. Their relationship blossomed. And Berniece was set on helping her little sister find a new home.

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The older sister tried to contact other family members who could possibly lend a helping hand. Berniece was doing all she could to give Marilyn a more stable household - all while also trying to get Gladys released from the psychiatric institute. Despite her efforts, things didn't work out the way she hoped.

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From Ms. to Mrs.

Although the two blonde sisters lived miles apart, they remained close throughout the years. No matter what, they updated each other on their life events. For instance, when Marilyn got engaged to James Dougherty at 16, Berniece was one of the first people to know.

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It seemed like everything was working out well for both of the girls. They were both so happy to finally have a good relationship with someone in their family. But suddenly, things took a turn for the worse when the war began. Marilyn was worried her new husband would be drafted.

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Keeping Close

There were many things changing for the two girls, thanks to the tensions of the war. Yet somehow, they still manage to continue sending letters back and forth. In one of them, Marilyn learned that Berniece and he husband were going from Kentucky to Detroit.

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Throughout the move, Berniece sent her little sister numerous pictures that Marilyn kept. But still, the two had yet to see other in real life. "I know that once you get here, you wouldn't want to leave, at least that's what most people say. And I do want to see you all very much, and I know Mother would too," Marilyn wrote.

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Finally Reconnected

After 6 years had passed since Berniece learned about her sister's existence, the two finally got to meet face to face. It was a long time coming. But finally, at 18 years old, Marilyn hopped on the train and was on her way to see her sister at her new home in Detroit.

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Donaldson Collection / Contributor via Getty Images

Berniece and her husband were nervous that it would be hard to find Marilyn at the train station - but they couldn't have been more inaccurate. "There was no chance of missing her! All the passengers stepping off [the train] looked so ordinary, and then, all of a sudden, there was this tall, gorgeous girl," Berniece remembered.

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Nearly Twins

From the second they met, they were inseparable. As Berniece's husband drove them back to the city, the two sisters had so much to catch up on regarding their childhood and their families. With each new story, their bond grew even more. There were even some never-before-told secrets spilled!

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It wasn't just their upbringing that they had in common, but also their looks. They could be mistaken for twins, except Berniece had brown eyes, and Marilyn had blue. "We couldn't stop staring at each other," Berniece recalled. "We had the same dark blonde hair with a widow's peak, the same mouth, but our eyes were different."

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"A Stranger To Me"

Out of everything they had in common, the topic they talked about the most was their absent mother. Marilyn admitted to her big sister that the last time she had seen Gladys was 10 years before at the psychiatric institute. She said it wasn't a good visit and wished she hadn't even gone.

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The future Hollywood icon told Berniece that their mother was “really a stranger to me. Almost as much a stranger as she is to you. Part of me wants to be with her... part of me is a little afraid of her.” Nevertheless, the two girls had love for Gladys. And a few years later, they would finally all be reunited.

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Catching Up

The successful visit to Detroit was the first of many more to come. Every once in a while, a different sister would make the journey to see the other. Each time, new things would be uncovered. At one point, Marilyn even admitted she was jealous of her sister, who got to grow up with a father.

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Berniece immediately corrected Marilyn telling her she and her dad had a troubling relationship. Marilyn was astonished at what she was hearing. Spending time with her sister taught her many things and made her realize things about herself - such as coming to the conclusion that she wanted to model.

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A Star Is Born

The first time Marilyn was photographed was when she was working at a defense plant on the assembly line. The photos were so jaw-dropping that they were handed to a modeling agency. No surprise, they were eager for Marilyn to sign with them. This was an exciting step for her - but there was something in her way.

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Marilyn's husband was not on board with her plan to model. Luckily though, she didn't let that stop her from pursuing her dream. She worked hard until, eventually, she was offered a job in Hollywood. Unfortunately, her agent soon warned her: the higher-ups in the industry wouldn't be too thrilled with her marital status.

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Bye Marriage, Hello Modeling

It was hard to hear that having a husband could hinder her career since the studios were unwilling to hire a married woman. But Marilyn knew in her heart what the right decision was. Her goal was to be a successful actress in LA - and that was what she chose in the end.

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Marilyn arrived at the decision that she would divorce him. The papers were officially signed and filed back in 1946 after she had spent four years with Dougherty. Now she could finally be able to go out and pursue her dream of being a Hollywood star.

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Just The Start

After becoming single, the networks in Hollywood were now relieved that Marilyn wouldn't ever ditch them to focus more on her married life. They were finally ready to give her a chance to meet with those in charge at Twentieth Century Fox studios...

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With her talent and looks, they were instantly impressed with Marilyn. Almost immediately, she was given a screen test with the studio head Darryl Zanuck, who gave her a job offer. She signed a 7-year contract that offered her $75 dollars/week. But before hitting the big screens, he had her prep for half a year.

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Becoming Marilyn Monroe

After getting her foot in the door, the actress decided that her birth name wouldn't do well in the industry. That was when a worker at the studio, Ben Lyon, suggested using the name "Marilyn." Monroe came later, which was her mom's maiden name. And thus, the legendary star was born.

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Things were looking good for Marilyn, both in he professional career and in her personal life. By 1947, she had already secured her first role in the movie Dangerous Years. And her relationship with Berniece was still strong. The only downfall was her mom disapproved of her job choices - but she didn't let that affect her.

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Family Reconciliation

Despite her mother's objection to Marilyn acting, things in their family looked better than ever. After many years since reaching out to Berniece, Gladys was finally going to be reconnected with her eldest daughter. Berniece went from Detroit to Los Angeles for the reunion.

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The three gals were at last together. During their trip, they drove all throughout the City of Angels. After all, they had many years to make up for. They spoke about Marilyn's new job, and Berniece quickly realized that her sister was on the right path. No matter where they went, all eyes were on Marilyn. She was a true star.

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A Situation Emerges

It was an amazing trip for the sisters and their mom. So when it came time to say goodbye to Berniece, Marilyn was devasted. All she wanted was her sister to be by her side. The actress tried to get Berniece a job at Fox studios, but they rejected her. And to make matters even worse, they fired Marilyn.

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She was in disbelief at what had just happened, but her strength pushed through. Marilyn knew this was one small bump in the road, and there would be a million more doors to open down the road. Thankfully she was right. And in 1948, Colombia Pictures signed with her.

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It-Girl Status

Her work with Colombia Pictures stunned fans. But even more so, it wow-ed Marilyn's former studio, Fox, who eagerly wanted her back. All of a sudden, every major network in Hollywood was wishing and praying that this fresh-faced blonde bombshell would work with them.

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Marilyn was booking gigs left and right, and her fan base grew into the thousands. It was all incredible for her. But eventually, the attention from the public became overwhelming for the new star. They even found out about Berniece and knocked on her door. It was all getting a bit too much for the sisters.

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Lying To The Public

The media attention led to Marilyn making one of the hardest decisions of her life. While she adored her sister more than anything, she knew it was best to keep her a secret from the world. That's how the story of her being an orphan with no family came to be.

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The lie was meant to protect her sister. “She gave out fake stories about her background through her public relations people,” Berniece confessed. “She thought that she could preserve my normal life and my family’s and that she could protect our mother’s privacy by giving false leads to the press.”

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Perfect Diversion

Now that everyone was less interested in Marilyn's family drama, they were able to really focus on her talent. The attention was now placed on the movies and work that the blonde icon was doing in Hollywood. It was all working: Her idea to keep Berniece safe was working.

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"At times, I was tempted to correct some of the misperceptions about Marilyn and her background," Berniece confessed, yet she knew it was important for Marilyn to stay private. And she never wanted her sister to "lose trust in me. I wanted to be a source of love and support for her."

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The Last Trip

It never mattered what Berniece or Marilyn had going on in their lives - ever since they were first introduced, they never let go. For years, they kept each other updated through letters and visits. So when Marilyn discovered she needed to undergo surgery in 1962, her sister was already on the way to New York.

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Keystone / Stringer via Getty Images

"Finally! We're together again!" Marilyn yelled when she saw her big sis. Berniece was also happy, though she couldn't help but be worried when she saw how many pills Marilyn had been taking. "I need my sleep," the blonde bombshell explained. Sadly it was going to be the very last time the two ever saw each other.

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Goodbye Marilyn

Tragically, Marilyn passed away in August of 1962. And the news spread like wildfire. Everyone was in shock that the 36-year-old was gone for good. Many pondered what could have happened? According to experts, it was a barbiturate overdose, but many had theories that the star took her own life.

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Fans were heartbroken - but Berniece was devastated. "I don't think I have been quite the same since," she admitted. And while nearly no one knew about her existence, she was the one who dealt with everything after Marilyn's passing."I chose her casket and decided on the pale green dress she wore."

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More Than Meets the Eye

Fans and media were buzzing over rumors spreading about what really happened to Marilyn. But Berniece couldn't stand the gossip. "It could have been an accident because I had just talked to her a short time before," she disclosed. "She had so many things to look forward to... she was so happy."

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When Berniece finally came out about who she was, the outlets were eager to talk to her. Her daughter, Mona Rae, explained, "Many writers approached my mother." But her mom "didn't trust their motives and couldn't know whether the hours she devoted to the project would only bring more grief."

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Coming Clean

And that was when Berniece and her daughter decided to write a tell-all. The focal point of the book was Berniece and her sister's bond. "We grew up feeling abandoned, and, though both of us were told we were pretty and talented, we still needed courage and strength. We got that from each other," she gushed.

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Ron Galella / Contributor via Getty Images

It took a long time for the memoir to finally come together. But finally, in 1994, My Sister Marilyn: A Memoir of Marilyn Monroe was released. Instantly people ran to buy the book that gave them an inside look at Marilyn's secret life. It was a whole new side of the actress that no one had seen before.

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Getting The Facts Right

The majority of the memories detailed in the memoir were from the perspective of Berniece. But her daughter Mona who was a writer, was the one who wrote them out. "I had developed my [writing] career without reference to Marilyn," Mona defended her writing abilities.

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The daughter of Berniece also clarified. Mona soon added, "I wasn't eager to link my career to Marilyn. But Mother wanted to set the record straight." Marilyn's sister was tired of "read[ing] too many accounts of her life and ours so filled with errors that they present a woman I hardly recognize."

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Never Forgotten

Despite thousands of fans and friends thinking they knew her true identity, Berniece's novel showed that there was a side to the Hollywood star no one had seen. In her heart, she was a family girl. Mona recalled the lesson her aunt taught her, "Marilyn showed me how to put my best knee forward."

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Throughout her eventful career filled with drama and distress, Marilyn was determined to keep her family close. "I want... fans to see the human Marilyn behind the public image," Berniece confessed. Sadly, in 2014, Berniece also passed away. But, no matter what, the bond of these sisters will live on forever.

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