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The Untold Truth of Marilyn Monroe’s Long-Lost Sister

Zoe Browning The Tea /

Up until the 1990s, even the most dedicated fans of Marilyn Monroe had no idea that she had a long-lost sister… until she shared her story. Here's a closer look at the blonde bombshell, like we've never seen her before.

Gladys & Norma Jean

In 1926, a 24-year-old woman named Gladys Baker gave birth to a beautiful baby. Gladys named her child Norma Jean Mortensen, but the little girl would eventually go by a different name: Marilyn Monroe.

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Young Marilyn had a rocky childhood - though she loved her mother, her guardian wasn't always fit to raise her. Gladys also never revealed who the girl's birth father was, so when times got tough, her daughter was unfortunately placed into a foster home.

A Difficult Upbringing

As Marilyn grew older and gained fame and success in Hollywood, she was careful not to give too much away about her early life. Though she publicly admitted she had grown up in what was essentially an orphanage, she never clarified whether she had a living birth parent.

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But there was no denying her childhood had been a struggle. She spent her early life moving from house to house, whether it was with different foster families or even friends of her mother. In fact, when Gladys was admitted to a psychiatric ward, young Marilyn went to live with her friend, Grace Goddard.

Another Child

Gladys spent six years away from the outside world, and her time in the psychiatric ward was often spent ruminating on her past and her children. That’s right - as it turned out, Marilyn was not Gladys' only child, though she had no idea all those years ago.

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Marilyn’s birth certificate marked her as an only child, but 6 years before her birth, her mother had welcomed another daughter into the world. Her name was Berniece Baker Miracle, the product of Gladys’ first marriage to her husband, Jasper. They also had a son, an older boy named Jackie.

Gladys Writes A Letter

Gladys eventually left the marriage along with her two children. And now, so many years later, she found herself thinking of the ones she had left behind. And so she wrote a letter to her long-lost daughter Berniece, who was now a 19-year-old living in Kentucky.

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She told the girl that she was indeed her birth mother (as it was unlikely Berniece had any memories of her) and even shared the news about her younger sister Marilyn (then known as Norma), who was just 12-years old at the time. But getting the letter to Berniece wasn’t as easy as expected.

The Moment of Truth

That's because it ended up in her father, Jasper's hands first. It wasn't until he approached Berniece and her husband, Paris Miracle, that she found out her mother had tried to contact her. "I don't know if I ought to give you this or not," Jasper revealed. "At first, I thought I would never show it to you."

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He pressed on, telling her, "Your stepmother and I talked about it. We decided it's your letter." Berniece couldn't believe what she was hearing. She had spent so much of her young life wondering about her mother, and she wasn't sure what she'd find when she read this letter.

Further Struggles

Sadly, all of Gladys’ children had experienced a painful childhood - even the ones she didn’t raise. When Berniece was very young, her father remarried, and she and Jackie soon found that their father had very little time left over for his own children.

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Despite the rift that had grown between Berniece, her father and stepmother, she still had her brother by her side for most of it. But tragically, Jackie passed away when he was just 14 years old. And for the years following, Berniece felt completely isolated and abandoned.

A Single Memento

Naturally, Berniece had always wondered who her birth mother was and why she left. Her father rarely talked about Gladys, if ever, and the young woman had always felt that her mother's absence left a hole in her life. It didn't help that she knew virtually nothing about the woman.

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In fact, the only thing she knew about Gladys was what she looked like. For some reason, Jasper had kept a single framed photo of Gladys on a dresser drawer when they were growing up. And up until she received the unexpected letter, it was the only memento she had of her mother.

Her Sister

Though the letter was shocking enough, what was most shocking of all was the revelation that Berniece had a sister - 12-year-old Marilyn, who lived in Los Angeles and still went by the name Norma Jean. Without a second thought, Berniece tracked down her sister's address and wrote to her.

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And lo and behold - young Marilyn was ecstatic to learn of her older sibling and quickly sent a response. Communication between the sisters was established, and over time they began writing to each other regularly, learning more and more about the sibling that neither knew they had.

Supportive Siblings

Unsurprisingly, after years of struggle and tragedy, both girls took comfort in the knowledge that they had each other. As time went on, they developed a close bond, and Berniece couldn't help but feel responsible for her young sister, who was still living with their mother's friend.

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Sadly, Grace Goddard’s home was not a stable one, so Berniece did what she could to help. She contacted family members who might be able to take Marilyn in and even worked to have Gladys released from the psychiatric hospital where she was still living. But it just didn’t work out.

Married at 16

Despite this failure to get Marilyn into a better situation, the sisters continued to write to each other, sharing all of the most important parts of their lives. And in 1942, when Marilyn became engaged to a young man named James Dougherty, she wasted no time sharing the news with Berniece.

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At just 16-years old, Marilyn was a settled housewife, and she and Berniece were closer than ever. Things were truly looking up for the two young women. That is until the US became even more embroiled in the war, and it was looking likely that Dougherty would be enlisted.

Keeping Contact

Tensions were running high across the country, and it was hard for many Americans to think of anything else. Fortunately, Marilyn and Berniece never lost touch, continuously sharing life updates with one another, including the news that she was moving from Kentucky to Detroit with her husband.

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By this point, many will be surprised to learn that after all those years and countless letters, the two sisters had never actually met. "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.

Finally Reunited

By now, 6 years had passed since Berniece had reached out to her little sister, and Marilyn wasn’t a lost little girl anymore. She was 18 years old, so Berniece bought the young woman a train ticket to Detroit. The sisters were finally going to meet each other - in the flesh.

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Berniece and Paris drove to the station, and for a moment, they wondered if they'd be able to find her. There was no need to worry. "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 recalled.

What Next

To the relief of both of them, the sisters bonded immediately, talking about everything under the sun. Finally, after all those years, they were able to bask in each other's company. As the only sibling they had, it was a deeply special moment for both of them.

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But one thing did leave them nearly speechless - the girls looked close to identical, with the exception of their eye color. "We couldn't stop staring at each other," Berniece said. "We had the same dark blonde hair with a widow's peak, the same mouth, but our eyes were different."

“A Little Afraid”

The longer they talked and the more they shared, it was inevitable that the conversation would eventually lead to the person who had bought them together - their troubled mother, Gladys. In Marilyn’s case, she had not seen her mother in 10 years - when she was first sent to the psychiatric institution.

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And even all those years ago, she had not really wanted to see the woman who brought her into the world. For Marilyn, 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.”

An Unbreakable Bond

During that first meeting in Detroit, Marilyn and Berniece only strengthened their sisterly bond further, through so many shared conversations and secrets. And from then on, the two women began to visit each other more regularly and share more. One particular conversation involved their fathers.

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Marilyn couldn’t help but feel jealous that Berniece had grown up with a father, since she had never known hers. But Berniece wasted no time telling her sister the truth - that she had a strained relationship with her father and his wife, assuring the teenager that the grass wasn’t always greener.

Marilyn Is Born

Something else Marilyn shared with her sister was her ambition to become a model. And she was already well on her way. A photo taken of her on an assembly line had been passed along to a modeling agency, and she was quickly signed to them - although her husband was not happy with her career choice.

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Young Marilyn chose to push on anyway, eager to break into the modeling industry and to see where things would take her. Soon enough, she was edging her way into Hollywood with the potential to become an actress. The only problem? She was about to be given a painful ultimatum.

Divorce & A Dream Job

Her agent at the time bluntly told her that having a husband might make things complicated, as some directors wouldn’t want to hire her. She had to make a decision - stay with her husband, who had already objected to her Hollywood dreams, or leave him behind to pursue a career in acting?

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After some thought, she knew what had to be done. And in 1946, she swiftly filed for divorce, and she and her husband signed the paperwork. She was free and single and ready to launch what would turn out to be one of the most iconic careers in Hollywood history.

Heading to Hollywood

By now, Marilyn was able to assure her agency that she had no spouse who could potentially get in the way of her work, so she was granted a meeting with executives at Twentieth Century Fox. Very quickly, the execs recognized her potential, and the charismatic young woman was given a screen test.

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Once she screen-tested successfully, she was introduced to Darryl Zanuck, the head of the studio, who signed her to a 7-year contract with a salary of $75 a week. But they still had to prepare her for the big screen, so Marilyn was quickly signed up for a 6-month regiment of acting, singing, and dance lessons.

Putting Her Name on the Map

Back in those early days, she was still known as Norma Jeane. But the studio quickly informed her that she was going to need a stage name with more of a ‘star’ quality. One of the studio higher-ups, a man named Ben Lyon, eventually suggested the name "Marilyn." It fit her perfectly.

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She chose her mother's maiden name, Monroe, to complete it. And in 1947, the beautiful young woman was given her first role in the film Dangerous Years. Though her mother didn't approve of her career choice either, she still had a close bond with her sister. The future was looking bright.

Family Gatherings

And it wasn’t just her career that was going from strength to strength. Not long after filming, Berniece joined Marilyn in Los Angeles. The two sisters were going to visit Gladys. For the first time since she was a baby, Berniece was going to meet her mother.

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Once all three were reunited, the girls took their mother all around Los Angeles, updating each other on their respective lives and enjoying each other's company. Both Berniece and Gladys were acutely aware of Marilyn's rising star power - she turned heads wherever she went, and she had a desirable Hollywood career… for now.

Trouble Strikes

All that changed around the time her sister visited LA. Marilyn loved Berniece and was desperate to have her sister close by. So she went into the Fox studio and lobbied to get her sister a job in the industry. To her dismay, not only was her bid rejected, but she herself was fired.

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It was a troubling turn of events, but Marilyn knew she had to bounce back quickly if she wanted to keep her career trajectory going. It wasn’t the end of the world, and she quickly got in contact with a few other studios. And in 1948, she was signed to Columbia Pictures.

Icon Status

Talk about playing a reverse card! After a short stint with Columbia, Fox had returned to Marilyn's doorstep, asking her to return to the studio. Around this time, the young starlet was thrust into the public eye, and she was suddenly a hot commodity in Hollywood.

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Back in Detroit, Berniece and Paris were thrilled for Marilyn and proud of her sister's success. But it soon began to take its toll, particularly when strangers began knocking on their door, asking to meet the blonde bombshell. It was becoming untenable. Marilyn knew she had to do something.

“She Gave Out Fake Stories”

Marilyn realized how difficult things were becoming for her sister and brother-in-law, thanks to her newfound star power. So when Hollywood reporters began asking about her background, Marilyn told them she had no living family members. In her eyes, it was the only way to remove Berniece from the spotlight around her.

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“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.”

The Perfect Ruse

Once they realized there was no way to reach Marilyn through family, fans began to speculate much less on her private life and focus on her film roles instead. But there was one catch - in order to maintain the facade, Berniece would never be able to speak openly about her sister, even with friends.

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Over time she had some difficulties with her newfound code of silence. "At times, I was tempted to correct some of the misperceptions about Marilyn and her background," Berniece confessed. But she didn't want Marilyn to "lose trust in me. I wanted to be a source of love and support for her."

Her Final Moments

As the years went on and Marilyn became one of the most recognizable faces in America, she still managed to maintain a close and supportive relationship with her sister. And in 1961, when the actress had to undergo surgery, Berniece planned to be right by her side.

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"Finally! We're together again!" Marilyn had exclaimed when her sister arrived in New York. Berniece was concerned about all of the pills her sister was taking, but Marilyn waved her worry away. "I need my sleep," she said simply. If only Berniece had known that she would never see her sister alive again.

Hollywood Loses an Icon

She heard the terrible news on August 4th, 1962, the day that Marilyn tragically passed away. She was just 36-years old. Her death was labeled an accidental barbiturate overdose, but even 6 decades later, many still believe that the overdose may have been intentional.

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And, of course, it was Berniece who was left the most heartbroken. When they reunited all those years ago, she could never have known it would end like this. "I don't think I have been quite the same since," she said sadly. "I chose her casket and decided on the pale green dress she wore."

Questioning The Narrative

But Berniece wasn't quite ready to jump on the bandwagon of speculation regarding her sister's death. "It could have been an accident because I had just talked to her a short time before," she told one interviewer. "She had so many things to look forward to… she was so happy."

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After Marilyn's passing, her sister saw no reason to keep hiding the truth of their relationship. After revealing their connection, Berniece's daughter Mona Rae said that "Many writers approached my mother. But she didn't trust their motives and couldn't know whether the hours she devoted to the project would only bring more grief."

Remembering Marilyn

Eventually, Berniece felt that it was time to tell the world about Marilyn Monroe - through the eyes of someone who had an incomparable relationship with her. “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 shared.

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It took more than 4 decades before Berniece finally published My Sister Marilyn: A Memoir of Marilyn Monroe. But people around the world were desperate to hear what the bombshell's sister had to say. It seemed to be the most unique perspective of Monroe that had been written up until that point.

Setting the Record Straight

Though we should note that Berniece did not actually write the memoir: instead, her daughter Mona (who was coincidentally a professional writer) wrote it for her, while using anecdotes and quotes from Berniece. Some Marilyn fans were skeptical, accusing Mona of using Marilyn and Berniece’s relationship to launch a career.

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But Mona hit back, saying, "I had developed my [writing] career without reference to Marilyn. I wasn't eager to link my career to Marilyn. But Mother wanted to set the record straight." Berniece 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."

Behind Closed Doors

When one's a world-famous star, many people like to think that they really know the public figure that they adored. But by sharing her memories of her sister, Berniece hopes to show that there was a much deeper side that hadn't been revealed. "Marilyn showed me how to put my best knee forward," she gushed.

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"I want... fans to see the human Marilyn behind the public image," she concluded. And though Berniece would pass away herself in 2014, she managed to achieve just that. She showed fans that beyond the glitz and glamour, the scandals, and the tragedies - Marilyn was a living, breathing human, just like the rest of us.