Eat, Pray…Marilyn!

Written by Allison Relyea (Perfectly Marilyn Monroe)

Featured image of Marilyn in 1946, not on her wedding day.

Recently, a viral video went around on TikTok accusing Marilyn fans of being insensitive when visiting her at the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park because her funeral service wasn’t of her religion; it lacked a proper Jewish ceremony. Naturally, I became very frustrated. Not only because a video insulted me and other Marilyn fans, but also known as Marilynettes, received over 1.1 million views, but even more so with the – as always – lack of correct information being spread.

Marilyn converted to Judaism when she married Arthur Miller, but had a long history of other religions up to that point. She was born Norma Jeane Mortenson to Gladys Baker on June 1st, 1926. I often include “later baptized as Baker” when writing out her birth name because, in all of her school records and official forms, she went by Baker. For the purposes of this article, which I was so kindly asked to write, it’s an important first fact about the little girl’s future with religion, a topic that as she grew up was as tumultuous as her life was.

IDA AND ALBERT “WAYNE” BOLENDER & RELIGIOUS BEGINNINGS

During her seven years, little Norma Jeane lived under the devout religious Bolender family. She was brought to church twice a week by Ida and Wayne and attended Sunday school along with her foster brother and sisters. 

When she was six months old, the little tot was baptized at the Four-Square Gospel Church in Hawthorn, Los Angeles, as Norma Jeane Baker. Gladys had two children prior to Norma Jeane with her ex-husband, Jasper “Jap” Baker, and since Norma Jeane’s father was absent she wanted all of her children to have the same last name. 

The Bolender’s lived by their religion; punishments and daily activities were heavily influenced by that. But Norma Jeane had her mother’s spirit, feisty and rebellious.

After being told things like going to the movies, drinking, appreciation of the body were sins, she couldn’t help but wonder. She loved to play-act, and reenacted radio shows she’d heard on the Bolender’s radio.

During an interview with Time magazine in 1956, she famously said, “I dreamed that I was standing up in a church without any clothes on, and all of the people there were lying at my feet on the floor of the church, and I walked naked, with a sense of freedom, over their prostrate forms, being careful not to step on anyone.”

After her life with the Bolender’s, she returned to her mother’s home. Gladys, a Christian Science (no relation to Scientology) spent evenings teaching her about God. Marilyn later recalled trips to church their chicken for lunch afterwards. One of the few happy memories they had. As Gladys’ mental health deteriorated, she was eventually institutional and Norma Jeane was off to another family home and even an orphanage for a period of time. Each time little moved, her religious practices changed, as well.

In 1951, she told Louella Parsons:

“When I was little, you see, I went to the Sunday School and church that the family with whom I lived belonged. If they were Methodist, I was a Methodist, and if they were Baptists, I was a Baptist. I had no choice in the matter.”

ANA LOWER & CHRISTIAN SCIENCE

At twelve, Norma Jeane found a home with Ana E. Lower, the aunt of her mother’s best friend who not only took her in but loved her. “She was kind and gentle,” Marilyn later said. Ana told her things like, “Live each day and take things as they come. Face everything, worked hard at the things you want to accomplish, and you will have nothing to fear…”

Ana had worked as a Christian Science Practitioner at her church and encouraged her to look for answers and relief in religion. Marilyn struggled with her mental health since she was a child, and as the years followed (a teen marriage and divorce, modelling career, bit roles in film) Marilyn still suffered. Ana proposed she return to church and turn to God for comfort.

MARRIAGES & CONVERSION

When she married Joe DiMaggio in 1954, the two were wed in City Hall in San Francisco as opposed to a catholic church where Joe belonged. The church refused to acknowledge his divorce and second marriage, so a church wedding was out. But in 1956, when Marilyn met Arthur Miller, religion came into account in a much bigger way.

After she and Arthur were engaged, she began taking lessons in Judaism and working towards her conversion with Rabbi Robert Goldberg of New Haven, NY. “I want to be a Jew as soon as possible,” she told him. “I want it now before we go to England. I want to be married again, in the temple.” 

Modern Screen magazine covered her entire conversion in their November issue. This excerpt helps give insight into her state of mind surrounding the subject:

Dinner over, they carried the dishes into the kitchen. “Let me help,” Marilyn begged, and Mrs. Miller handed her a towel. Drying the dishes, listening to the chatter, she was supremely content. The arm her hostess put around her when they went back into the living room, the smile Artie’s father turned in her direction when she wandered over to the bookcase to look at the titles, – they all seemed natural, homey, right. “You never wanted to move?” she asked. 

“No, we thought of it once or twice. We could afford it now; Artie makes a good living, my husband is all right. But you know – you get close to your neighbors, you see the same people for twenty years, your children grow up in these rooms, you belong to the temple – why should you leave? For a fancier neighborhood with fancy strangers? You understand?”

“Oh, yes,” Marilyn said. She understood. 

When they said goodnight finally and walked down the block to Arthur’s car, she held his arm, looking about her. Down the block, she could see the outline of a temple. Here and there a porch light gleamed faintly on a mezuzah nailed to the door jamb – a sign, put up by the residents, that they were Jews, obeying the commandment to keep the word of God nailed to the entrance of their homes that they might remember it always. Inside the mezuzah, Artie’s mother had said, was a tiny scroll beginning with, “Thou shalt love the Lord…” 

“It all comes back,” she said slowly, “to being Jewish, doesn’t it?” 

Arthur took his pipe out, “All what?” 

“Knowing who you are. Being content. Everything.” 

He grinned. “Well, a lot of people who aren’t Jewish know who they are and they seem pretty happy.”

“I suppose.” She was silent for a while. “But your family – they say they aren’t religious, really. But still – it’s always there, being Jewish – a sort of constant beauty in the background.”

Modern Screen, November 1956

She and Arthur officially married in a courtroom as she and Joe did, in White Plains, NY, on the evening of June 29th, 1956. Up until then, she had been studying with Rabbi Goldberg during her journey to Judaism. Since she had an upcoming trip to London, England, where she was to film The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), the process moved quicker than anticipated.

On the morning of their wedding day, July 1st, Arthur assured Marilyn she did not have to go through with the conversion if she didn’t want to. He reminded her they were legally married and anything more wasn’t necessary, but Marilyn insisted. Like she explained above, there was a desperate feeling of belonging, stability, and something to connect her, Arthur, and their future children – security and comfort.

Her mentor’s daughter, Susan Strasberg, recalled Marilyn saying:

I believe in everything a little, and if I have kids, I think they should be Jewish. I can identify with the Jews. Everybody’s always out to get them, no matter what they do, like me.

The viral TikTok accuses thoughtlessness in regards to Marilyn’s conversion, yet Marilyn herself continued to practice her Christian religion not only after the Miller divorce but during the marriage as well. She continued celebrating Christmas and even, according to her sister’s book, My Sister Marilyn: A Memoir of Marilyn Monroe made pork! 

In November 1962, Louella Parsons published the following:

Marilyn on taking the Jewish faith: “It is the faith of someone I love very much. If it has made such a fine person of him, it will make him happy if I believe as he does. But I’ll always love Christmas in my heart.”


As it may be evident, Marilyn’s association with religion often came from others and, if it isn’t already evident, she struggled with that. For someone who rarely felt she belonged anywhere, or had the care or guidance of a parental figure, or a higher power, religion was almost absent from her life when not under the influence or suggestion of another. Of course, this isn’t a criticism of how Marilyn chose to practice her religion; after all, that’s what it was. Her choice. However, the burden certainly isn’t on her fans. Or Joe DiMaggio, another named accuser in the TikTok video.

MARILYN’S BURIAL & LEGACY

Marilyn’s funeral was non-denominational, which means it was non-religious. The funeral was planned and headed by Joe DiMaggio; the two had reconnected not long after her divorce to Arthur Miller and they remained the very best of friends. The two celebrated Christmas together just eight months before her death, so any accusation that Joe was “insensitive” or “abusive” for not having the funeral to be of a Jewish tradition is unfair. Did Joe know? Did Marilyn care?

Marilyn’s sister Berniece and business manager Inez Melson were very close to Joe during the process following Marilyn’s death. Inez said ”I knew Marilyn didn’t want a memorial service.” Inez selected the guest list, saying she wanted no one from the film industry.

Berniece knew Marilyn’s religious background – from childhood into adulthood – she was still in contact with her mother and those from their past, is Berniece going to be unfairly mislabeled as well? Joe and Inez’s actions were in no way decided by him without any thought or consideration from others.

With Marilyn’s own lack of request, a non-denominational actually seems quite fitting and, in my opinion, respectful. Now, the private service was located inside of a church, but how different is that from Marilyn celebrating Christmas in ’61? Or even during her marriage when she supposedly was following the Jewish faith. After her divorce from Arthur, there is little evidence to suggest she continued to do so. Some have claimed she tried to convert back to Christian Science but was denied. I haven’t found definitive evidence of that.

These unanswerable questions should give no merit to anyone sixty years later to call us fans enablers to that kind of “abusive” and “insensitive” behaviour. After all, isn’t it just as harmful to make unfounded claims with a lack of research?

It seems that viral content – whether it be a TikTok video, a post on Instagram, even a new article or segment on television – always stems from some sort of inaccuracy. In my (very happily) decade long experience in the Marilyn community, I’ve come across this far too many times. This is what I’ve concluded: it is much easier to spin a web of lies and conspiracies than it is to write about and advocate for the truth. Why? Because Marilyn lived a hundred years in her thirty-six here with us. The woman who died young lived a long, long, beautiful life filled with so much and the research of that is tedious, it’s not easy. Ten years in the making and I’m still learning and discovering new pieces of her life, and I love every minute of it. So, to sit and watch Marilyn constantly be the basis of a conspiracy punching bag to meet the criteria for some kind of agenda is exhaustive, and quite frankly, at this point, boring. Her life was anything but, so let’s not diminish what was by creating what wasn’t.

Marilyn requested Somewhere Over the Rainbow to be performed at her funeral, a place I think she knew she would be. If someone were to tell her in 1962 that if she suddenly passed away, millions of people would still miss her sixty years later, I imagine she would not believe it. So, in whatever way we would like, I think if we said a small prayer for her, and she knew how many of us visited her with love, bringing gifts, and our hearts, tears would softly fall from her baby blue eyes.

And with that, here’s a quote from Gladys Baker, who wrote to a mutual friend, Inez Melson, not long after Marilyn’s death:

“My Dear Friend Mrs. Melson; I am very grateful for your kind and gracious help toward Berniece and myself and to dear Norma Jeane. She is at peace and at rest now and may our God bless her and help her always. I wish you to know that I gave her (Norma) Christian Science treatments for approximately a year; wanted her to be happy and joyous.” 

Marilyn Monroe: The Icon, The Legend… The Mother

Written by Allison Relyea (Perfectly Marilyn Monroe)

Labels – people loving putting labels on each other…

Marilyn Monroe said those very words to reporter W.J. Weatherby in 1961. And by that time, she had several trademarks of her own: icon, movie star, sex symbol, cheesecake… wife, daughter, and sister. But never mother.

During the decades since her death Marilyn’s distressed fertility journey has been under scrutiny. Yet what is rarely talked about is just how far she went to be a mother and what she chose to endure as a result of her endometriosis.

A DESIRE FOR A FAMILY

Marilyn was born Norma Jeane Mortenson to a single mother on June 1st, 1926. From foster homes to an orphanage to living with family and friends, she seldom had the ideal mother-figure. As she aged, she yearned more and more for a child, to give a son or daughter what she herself had never received: a loving family and a stable upbringing.

“Someday I’d like to have a baby,” she told a reporter for the Deseret News in 1951. “But right now my career comes first… that’s the way I can express myself best.” And Marilyn did just that. She was unbreakable in the years to come, with successful films like NiagaraGentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry A Millionaire and more. 

Still, her dream to be a mother was always there. Both Jane Russell and Lauren Bacall, who worked with her in 1953, recalled the famed blonde asking questions about their families and gushing about one of her own someday.

SURGERIES

From as early as her first few periods, Marilyn’s excruciating menstrual cramps foreshadowed a lifetime of surgeries, difficulties in getting pregnant, and tragic miscarriages. Her contracts even stated she did not have to work while menstruating. However, due to stress, etc., these cramps sometimes lasted for weeks—even up to a month—as her costar Robert Mitchum, from River of No Return (1954), recalled. 

Diagnosed with endometriosis, Marilyn had a painful life ahead of her. In 1956, her mentor’s daughter recalled an intimate conversation, when asked why she doesn’t go through with a hysterectomy, which would have alleviated most – if not all – of her sufferings. Marilyn simply responded that she wished for children. It’s worth mentioning that she chose to sustain a lifetime of pain for the opportunity for a child.

In 1952, she met baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. They dated for two years before marrying in San Francisco. A rocky nine-month marriage never resulted in a pregnancy, though the couple longed for a baby.

Not long after just after their divorce announcement, Marilyn had a gynaecological operation to relieve chronic pain caused by her endometriosis. Joe was by her side every day.

Marilyn leaving Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in November 1954

Was this surgery planned pre-divorce? Were they having infertility struggles? Likely, though it’s more likely we will never know.

“I STILL WANT LOTS OF CHILDREN”

After her divorce from Joe, Marilyn still had hopes she would one day have a family and did not give up hope for a baby stating, “I still want lots of children.”

When she married famous American Playwright Arthur Miller during the summer of 1956, it seemed like half a dozen children could still be a possibility.

There has been speculation of pregnancy in 1956 while she was in London, England, during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl.

In the book, Milton’s Marilyn, a 4-6-week pregnancy was recorded by a doctor. It had also been reported by Irving Stein (Marilyn Monroe Productions lawyer) who told Milton Greene. The pregnancy ended in a September with a miscarriage. Arthur who had been in New York visiting his children said, “It’s absolute rubbish. There’s not a word of truth in it.”

During her marriage to Arthur she sought out fertility treatments but it wasn’t until June 1957 she learned she was expecting.

“We knew of a section in Roxbury, Connecticut, which we thought was perfect,” Marilyn told Peer J. Oppenheimer in 1960. “It was near Arthur’s former home. And we knew that in New York there would be no problem while the baby was small. As he or she grew older, we could spend a lot of time in places like Central Park.”

During that summer whilst gardening Marilyn experienced incredible pain. An ambulance was called and she was taken to hospital.

Heartbreakingly, an ectopic pregnancy squashed all of her dreams that were finally coming to fruition. She was in the hospital for about 10 days before she left, still glowing but with a heartbreaking smile on her face. Confidently Marilyn stated she would try again. The New York Times reported it was her first confirmed pregnancy following several rumours. She spent the remainder of the year in mourning. 

TRYING AGAIN

During the fall of 1958, while filming Some Like It Hot, Marilyn was pregnant once again. The pregnancy was high risk from the beginning. She was told by her doctor that if she didn’t stop drinking or taking her barbiturates (for insomnia, depression, and anxiety) her baby would be in great danger. 

When not working, she put herself on bed rest. Filming was stressful enough when, due to exhaustion, she collapsed. Understandably she was worried she suffered a miscarriage. She was relieved when she discovered she hadn’t.

When she arrived back in New York, she was determined to take care of herself and carry the baby to full term.

Devastatingly, that December, she suffered yet another miscarriage. It was her last attempt at becoming a mother. “I just couldn’t stop in the middle of the picture,” she told Peer J. Oppenheimer in 1960. “I had agreed to do the film. I had a responsibility to my co-workers.”

After both pregnancy failures, she attempted suicide. She was revived by doctors after Arthur found her nearly in a coma. “Alive, bad luck,” were her exact words when friend Norman Rosten visited her. 

In 1959, Marilyn told Motion Picture magazine, “I can think of no happiness greater than motherhood.”

That year, underwent more another surgery to correct her endometriosis. This operation was to unblock fallopian tubes and remove scar tissue. The surgery was unsuccessful in giving her the ability to carry a baby to term. With the little strength she had left, she still managed to say, “I haven’t given up hope,” to Louella Parsons in 1960.


THE 1960 “PREGNANCY”

Concluding with 1959, brings us to 1960; a year that has been repeatedly stated she was pregnant, once again.

In the 1950s, a fan group called The Monroe Six had formed. One of their members was Frieda Hull, an employee of Pan American Airlines, who never married or had children herself, had taken several photographs of Marilyn over the years and befriended her as merely a passionate fan. Their relationship never went beyond the streets of New York.

Marilyn with 5 of the Monroe Six

When she passed away in 2014, a collection of her photographs was found and sold by Tony Michaels, her neighbour, claiming to be a close friend of Hull.

Likely to increase the sale of the photographs, Michaels told a story that Hull disclosed to him Marilyn was pregnant in the photographs taken on July 6th, 1960.

Hull herself stated she would never use her “friend” Marilyn as a profit or commodity. At the same time, Marilyn was very private, especially when it came to her fertility, and it is highly unlikely that both Marilyn would share a pregnancy, that is speculated to have been the result of her affair with Yves Montand, with a fan. At the same time, it is highly unlikely Hull would have shared such an intimate fact with Michaels. The story was sold to the Daily Mail Online, a somewhat famous editorial that is notorious for scandals and inaccuracies.

Marilyn’s weight fluctuated during early 1960; another side effect of endometriosis is bloating. She was heavier than her 115lbs she had been most of her adult life, but only up to 140lbs. You can read more about her battle with endometriosis here.

The rumour of pregnancy in 1960 seems small compared to the never-ending rumours of abortions over the last several decades. 

In 1984, Dr Leon Krohn told a BBC producer, “The rumours of her multiple abortions are ridiculous. She never had even one. Later there were two miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy requiring emergency termination, but no abortion.”

Marilyn was an enigma throughout her life and continues to remain a mystery. Her character, as free and beautiful as she was, harboured many pains. Rumours of abortions come from un-reputable sources like Robert Slatzer and Norman Mailer. These sources, if we’re speaking of “labels”, don’t deserve the one of the author. Especially since they have been continued by various biographers and even a close friend of Marilyn’s – who later retracted. 

If Marilyn had had an abortion early in her career, I don’t feel comfortable speculating or putting words in her mouth giving a reason as to why, but no such surgery was ever recorded at any time or in the years to come as per her medical records.


ABORTIONS

Numerous rumours of abortions and that she gave birth in her teens have been called out by unscrupulous people over the last two decades.

Several old Hollywood actresses had abortions during their youth, including Jane Russell, a co-star and good friend of Marilyn’s. Her back-alley abortion resulted in infertility. Yet Jane’s sexuality and character isn’t pulled between the ends of the earth to degrade her worth as a woman or an actress, and it absolutely shouldn’t. Yet Marilyn, who hasn’t been proven to have had one, always is.

Marilyn’s label as a sex symbol comes with conspiracies involving sex, drugs, and alcohol because it fits the narrative the media has written for her. The lack of drawn attention for less known stars who have as much, dare I say, scandal, as Marilyn comes with their lack of sex appeal. There is no intent to pin Marilyn against other Hollywood women or judge their actions, but the prolonged dig at her sexuality in the form of abortions, sex, and affairs immortalize her as nothing other than that: a label for sex. It fictionalizes a Marilyn that has never existed.

Over the course of her life, doctors and friends suggested she get a hysterectomy. Again, she opted not to. A conscious effort. The physical pain of menstrual cramps, and even an ectopic pregnancy and miscarriages, could not — and did not — compare to the depths of her emotional pain of knowing she would never carry a baby to term.

The subject of abortion, giving up a child, infertility, and miscarriages are sensitive and highly personal to each individual. To make Marilyn Monroe the punching bag for so many conspiracies is despicable and inexcusable. 

In an effort to help keep these allegations at bay, another is that Marilyn had a child during the 1940s/early 50s and gave the baby up for adoption. This is once again not true.

And since her death, several women have come out as “Marilyn’s long-lost daughter.” Marilyn’s niece, Mona Rae, debunks this hearsay on her website: “[Her] gynaecologist certified that Marilyn never gave birth. We get mail from many women — and occasionally men! — who fantasize that they are Marilyn’s offspring. Some are scams to solicit money via the internet.” 

There is seldom an explanation as to why these tales exist. None. None whatsoever, which makes the job of a researcher and fan that much harder. It’s just as difficult to pinpoint the origin, and yet that is why we continue to fight for those whose voices can no longer be spoken. It feels appalling to have to dispel rumours about supposed abortions and “secret births” of children. 


To conclude on a happier note, below are a list of my favourite quotes in which she talks about children and motherhood:

Marilyn on why she’d be a good mother: 

Because I know how lonely a child can be without real love.

Marilyn to Louella Parsons, 1953.

I know how I’d feel if I had children. I’d want to be with them every minute. I’d never want them to feel I didn’t love them more than anything else in the world. If I ever have a little girl, I think I’ll be a wonderful mother to her, because I’ll remember all the things I used to wish would happen to me.”

Marilyn Monroe to Isabel Moore, 1954.

I’m going to have a lot of children, and I am getting great experience now with Arthur’s two. They were with us most of the summer. I’m a very good step-mother, but they are two very nice children, and we have a lot of fun together.

Marilyn Monroe to the Star Tribune, December 1957.

The thing I want more than anything else? I want to have children. I used to feel for every child I had, I would adopt another.

Marilyn Monroe to George. Barris in 1962.

With her babies now, Marilyn can safely rest as our mother, watching over her thousands of sons and daughters who protect her as nothing less. ♡