marilyn monroe sister berniece
remi benali _ contributor via Getty Images

The Untold Story of Marilyn Monroe and Her Secret Sister

History

| LAST UPDATE 05/02/2022

by Hayden Katz

One of Hollywood's most famous faces managed to keep a major secret during her life. Little did fans know Marilyn Monroe had a long-lost sister. Here's a closer look at the life she once led behind closed doors.

Norma Jeane

When Gladys Baker was 24 years old, she gave birth to a baby girl whom she named Norma Jeane Mortenson, better known as Marilyn Monroe. But back in 1926, the future Hollywood actress went by her given birth name.

marilyn monroe norma jeanemarilyn monroe norma jeane
Silver Screen Collection / Contributor via Getty Images

Growing up, Marilyn was kept in the dark about who her father was or anything else regarding her family. The only person she had in her life was her mother. But unfortunately, Gladys wasn't always in the best position to be raising a young girl, which left led to Marilyn being placed in a foster home as a baby.

Her Rocky Childhood

For many years during her time in the public eye, Marilyn admitted that she was raised in an orphanage which led to many of her fans believing she had no living birth parents. And while the latter wasn't exactly true, the Hollywood star did have an unstable childhood.

marilyn monroe childhood biomarilyn monroe childhood bio
Hulton Archive / Stringer via Getty Images

Throughout her childhood, she often moved in and out - from her being with her mom to living with various foster families. At some points, she was even sent to go stay with her pals or her mom's friend, Grace Goddard, after Gladys was sent to a psychiatric ward.

Advertisement

Six Years Earlier

For six years, Gladys spent her days inside the walls of the hospital, which gave her plenty of time to reflect on her life. Back when her daughter, Marilyn, was born, she recorded on her birth certificate that she was her only child… but that wasn't the total truth.

marilyn monroe young careermarilyn monroe young career
Donaldson Collection / Contributor via Getty Images

In 1919, Gladys gave birth to her firstborn daughter, Berniece Baker Miracle. At the time, she was still married to her then-husband, Jasper, with whom she also shared a son named Jackie. But instead of staying and raising the two youngsters, Gladys picked up and left them with Jasper.

Advertisement

She Received A Letter

All those years of reflecting made Gladys decide to reach out to her long-lost daughter, Berniece. So she picked up a pen and paper and started writing a letter. After she had explained the situation, Gladys mailed the letter all the way to Kentucky, where her then-19-year-old was living.

marilyn monroe letter sistermarilyn monroe letter sister
Silver Screen Collection / Contributor via Getty Images

In the envelope, many secrets were finally uncovered - not only did she admit to being her birth mom, but Gladys also revealed that Berniece had a 12-year-old sister named Norma (Marilyn), who was living in Los Angeles. The note changed Berniece's life forever… but she almost didn't receive it.

Advertisement

The Truth Uncovered

After marrying a man named Paris Miracle, Berniece was going about her normal day-to-day life when her father, Jasper, approached her with news that would cause her life to do a 360. "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.

marilyn monroe sister berniece marilyn monroe sister berniece
Remi BENALI / Contributor via Getty Images

"Your stepmother and I talked about it. We decided it's your letter." Of course, Berniece was curious as to what contents would be behind the already opened letter. She soon learned that the many unanswered questions she had throughout her life would finally be answered. 

Advertisement

A Painful Past

Marilyn wasn't the only one of Gladys's children whose upbringing was filled with uncertainty and pain. As a kid, Berniece lived with her dad, brother, and her stepmom. But sadly, her stepmom was a harsh woman who took nearly all of Jasper's attention away from his two young kids.

marilyn monroe family childhoodmarilyn monroe family childhood
Silver Screen Collection / Contributor via Getty Images

But luckily, for the majority of her childhood, Berniece did have her brother, Jackie, by her side. Yet unfortunately, that didn't last too long. When he was 14 years old, Glady's son tragically passed away, leaving his sister with no one except for her distant father and aloof stepmom.

Advertisement

The Only Memory

All throughout her life, Berniece wondered who her real mom was. Because Berniece had information about who or where she was, the teenager assumed that just like her brother, her birth mom had passed away. The only thing she knew about her was what she looked like.

marilyn monroe mom orphanmarilyn monroe mom orphan
Silver Screen Collection / Contributor via Getty Images

On top of a dresser in her childhood home was a framed photo of Gladys - but that was the only thing she had. Or at least that's what she thought… after receiving the insightful letter, the 19-year-old learned that she now had a long sister living in the City of Angels. And nothing would ever be the same again.

Advertisement

"Your Sister"

Quickly after learning about Marilyn, who at the time was still going by Norma Jeane, Berniece wrote her 12-year-old sister a letter. Inside the envelope, she also added a photo of herself so that Marilyn would have a better idea of who she was talking to.

marilyn monroe secret sistermarilyn monroe secret sister
Getty Images / Staff via Getty Images

And in return, Marilyn did the same thing. With every letter they mailed to one another, more and more questions were asked about each other's lives. They grew close as they continued staying in contact, and with each letter, they signed off with "Your sister." 

Advertisement

A Helping Hand

After both girls had spent so many years dealing with family hardships, it was uplifting to know that they had each other. In fact, their relationship was so good that it even inspired Berniece to help her younger sister, who was still living with Gladys' friend.

marilyn monroe bio careermarilyn monroe bio career
M. Garrett / Contributor via Getty Images

For backup, Berniece tried to reach out to other family members who may have been able to help out the two blonde sisters. Her goal was to get Gladys out of the psychiatric institute while simultaneously helping Marilyn find a more stable household. But sadly, she wasn't successful.

Advertisement

Becoming "Mrs."

Over the years, the two girls stayed in touch, updating one another when major events occurred in their lives. For example, when Marilyn got engaged to James Dougherty when she was 16, one of the first people she told was her older sister. After they were wed in 1942, Marilyn started getting used to her new job as a housewife.

marilyn monroe married husbandmarilyn monroe married husband
Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer via Getty Images

Things were looking good, and Berniece was ecstatic to finally have the close-knit extended family she had always dreamed of. But things took an unexpected turn when the war began to get heated. The newlyweds began to grow concerned that Dougherty would be recruited to serve in the army.

Advertisement

Staying In Touch

The tensions of World War II were strong - but that never stopped Marilyn or Berniece from updating each other through their letters. In 1944, Berniece told her sister that she and her husband had decided to move from Kentucky to Detroit. Throughout her move, she sent Marilyn many pictures.

marilyn monroe husband WWIImarilyn monroe husband WWII
Mario Tama / Staff via Getty Images

The future actress kept all the photos to share with friends, but despite the sister's bond, they hadn't yet met in person. "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 in one letter. 

Advertisement

Reunited At Last

Finally - 6 years after they learned about each other's existence, the two sisters got to meet each other in real life. The same year Berniece moved, her 18-year-old sister, Marilyn, bought a train ticket. And before she knew it, she was on her way to Detroit.

marilyn monroe sister berniecemarilyn monroe sister berniece
Donaldson Collection / Contributor via Getty Images

While Berniece and her husband were worried they wouldn't be able to spot her at the station, they later realized how wrong they were. "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," the then 25-year-old recalled.

Advertisement

The Aftermath

Instantly the two girls clicked, nonstop talking about their life and upbringing as they made their way up to the city. The time they spent together was sacred, and they bonded more than they had ever before - even spilling secrets they hadn't told anyone.

marilyn monroe sister reunitedmarilyn monroe sister reunited
Getty Images / Staff via Getty Images

They had so much in common, especially their looks. While Berniece had brown eyes and Marilyn was blue, the rest of their features made it look like they were twins! "We couldn't stop staring at each other," Berniece remembered. "We had the same dark blonde hair with a widow's peak, the same mouth, but our eyes were different."

Advertisement

“Part of Me Is a Little Afraid”

Of course, during the long-awaited visit, the two sisters discussed one of their biggest similarities: their neglectful mother. Marilyn confessed that the last time she saw Gladys was in the psychiatric institution 10 years prior. The then 18-year-old admitted that she even wished she hadn't gone to see her mother that day…

marilyn monroe mom gladysmarilyn monroe mom gladys
ullstein bild / Contributor via Getty Images

Marilyn told her big sister that their mom 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.” Despite the hardships they both had with Gladys, they still loved her. Little did they know she would later be back in both their lives.

Advertisement

Making Up for Lost Time

While many facts were uncovered during their first time together, there was so much for them to share. So they continued visiting each other. During one of the trips, Marilyn confessed that she was jealous her sister had a father because she herself had never known her's.

marilyn monroe family mommarilyn monroe family mom
Silver Screen Collection / Contributor via Getty Images

But Berniece quickly explained her turmoil childhood and that she and her dad didn't have a good relationship. That was eye-opening for the teenager to learn. Being with her sister helped Marilyn realize many things. For example, during the first trip, she decided that modeling was her dream.

Advertisement

Becoming Marilyn

Marilyn was first photographed while working on an assembly line in a defense plant. The stunning images were given to a modeling agency that decided she should sign with them. Of course, the young girl was eager to pursue a new career... the only problem was her husband disapproved.

marilyn monroe modeling youngmarilyn monroe modeling young
Sunset Boulevard / Contributor via Getty Images

But she didn't let that stop her. She continued working towards her dream job. In fact, she had become so successful that she was even able to get a foot in the door in Hollywood! Unfortunately, though, her agent explained that directors might be hesitant to hire her since she had a husband...

Advertisement

Goodbye Husband, Hello Hollywood

Marilyn was left with a decision to make. She knew she desperately wanted to become a star in Hollywood, but there were a few obstacles in her way. Not only were the movie studios unwilling to hire married women, but her husband, James, objected to her working as an actress.

marilyn monroe divorce husbandmarilyn monroe divorce husband
Silver Screen Collection / Contributor via Getty Images

Eventually, she came to the conclusion that after 4 years together, it was time to get a divorce from her first husband. In 1946, the documents were filed, and the paperwork was signed. Finally, the blonde bombshell could go off and focus on her dream profession.

Advertisement

Getting Started

Now that the agency knew for sure Marilyn wouldn't pick her family over her job, they sent her to meet with the higher ups at Twentieth Century Fox studios. Thanks to her charm and good looks, she blew them away and was quickly offered her very first screen test.

marilyn monroe acting careermarilyn monroe acting career
Getty Images / Staff via Getty Images

After meeting the studio head Darryl Zanuck, the new actress was given a 7-year contract that stated she would receive $75 a week. But of course, she wasn't on the big screen just yet. For the first half-year, she spent her time taking acting, singing, and even dancing lessons to perfect her talents.

Advertisement

Making a Name for Herself

At the time, she was still going by Norma Jeane but decided that wouldn't be a good stage name. A man from the studio, Ben Lyon, offered her the name Marilyn, and she herself picked out Monroe - her mom's maiden name. And thus, the iconic actress was born!

marilyn monroe actress careermarilyn monroe actress career
Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

Her career was shining bright - in 1947, she landed her first role in Dangerous Years. And things in her personal life were also looking good, as she and Gladys had finally reconnected after many years. Although her mom disproved of her acting career, Marilyn continued working hard.

Advertisement

Family Reunions

Luckily, her life off-screen was also thriving. Her sister Berniece traveled all the way from Detroit to Los Angeles to not only visit Marylin, but to also see her birth mom for the first time! It was so exciting that the actress asked for time off to spend with her family.

marilyn monroe family reunionmarilyn monroe family reunion
Silver Screen Collection / Contributor via Getty Images

Together the three gals drove around the City of Angels, making up for lost time. Berniece was finally able to hear all about Marilyn's new glamorous life. It didn't take long for her to notice that her younger sister was always the center of attention in every room - she had no doubt that fame and success were on the way.

Advertisement

A Sudden Turn of Events

Marilyn didn't wanna say goodbye to her sister just yet, so she attempted to get Bernice a job at Fox studios. Yet sadly, just when everything was looking up, an unexpected turn of events occurred. Not only did her sister not get accepted, but Marilyn herself was fired from the studio.

marilyn monroe actress careermarilyn monroe actress career
Donaldson Collection / Contributor via Getty Images

Of course, Marilyn was in shock at the news, but she didn't let that get her down. She knew there were other opportunities out there. And luckily for her, she was not wrong. In 1948, the blonde star was finally signed with another studio: Columbia Pictures.

Advertisement

A Hollywood Icon

Surprisingly enough, her time at the new studio didn't last long - and before she knew it, Fox wanted her to return to work with them. Marilyn started to receive major attention in the entertainment industry. Not only did she land many roles, but she also had hundreds of new fans.

marilyn monroe iconic photomarilyn monroe iconic photo
Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

While it was fun at first, the attention started to become too much when strangers started to show up at Berniece and her husband's home to ask about her famous sister. Things were getting out of hand, which led to Marilyn making a major decision in her life.

Advertisement

Hiding From the Truth

Instead of revealing the truth about Gladys and Berniece and all her childhood struggles, Marilyn decided to tell reporters that she was an orphan who had no living family members. This way, no one would harass her or her sister - it was a win-win, as she saw it.

marilyn monroe secret lifemarilyn monroe secret life
Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

“She gave out fake stories about her background through her public relations people,” Berniece recalled. “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.”

Advertisement

The Perfect Distraction

Rather than the public being interested in her personal life, they shifted their attention toward Marilyn's work in Hollywood. Her plan had been successful - and fortunately, her sister was on board with it. From then on, Berniece never spoke of her sister.

marilyn monroe secret affairmarilyn monroe secret affair
Archive Photos / Stringer via Getty Images

"At times I was tempted to correct some of the misperceptions about Marilyn and her background," Berniece admitted. But she knew how crucial it was for Marilyn to maintain a private life. She didn't want her little sister to "lose trust in me. I wanted to be a source of love and support for her."

Advertisement

The Final Visit

No matter what the sisters were going through, they were right there by each other's side giving support. So when Marilyn learned she needed to have surgery in 1961, Berniece quickly made her way to New York. "Finally! We're together again!" Marilyn had called out.

marilyn monroe suicide deathmarilyn monroe suicide death
Keystone / Stringer via Getty Images

During her visit, Berniece noticed that her sister was taking a lot of pills. As her older sibling, she expressed concern for Marilyn's habit, but she reassured her that it was all okay. "I need my sleep," the Hollywood star insisted… so Berniece let it go. She had no idea that would be the last time she saw her beloved sister.

Advertisement

Saying Goodbye

Sure enough, on August 4th, 1962, news that Marilyn had passed away began to spread everywhere. Her fans were in disbelief as they wondered what happened to the 36-year-old. While it was technically labeled a barbiturate overdose, many suspected that the actress might have taken her own life.

marilyn monroe family deathmarilyn monroe family death
Keystone / Stringer via Getty Images

But the person it probably hit hardest was her dear sister: "I don't think I have been quite the same since," Berniece admitted. And although no one knew that Marilyn had a sibling, she was there throughout the entire process. "I chose her casket and decided on the pale green dress she wore."

Advertisement

What Really Happened?

Berniece had a hard time believing the rumors about what really happened to the blonde beauty. "It could have been an accident because I had just talked to her a short time before," she revealed during an interview. "She had so many things to look forward to... she was so happy."

marilyn monroe death mysterymarilyn monroe death mystery
Ron Galella / Contributor via Getty Images

After coming clean about her relationship with Marilyn, the media was buzzing. Berniece's daughter, Mona Rae, recalled, "Many writers approached my mother." But Berniece "didn't trust their motives and couldn't know whether the hours she devoted to the project would only bring more grief." So she decided to do it herself. 

Advertisement

My Sister, Marilyn

With the help of her daughter, Berniece started penning a tell-all of her late sister. A major focus in the story was the bond the two shared. “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 confessed.

marilyn monroe book sistermarilyn monroe book sister
Ron Galella / Contributor via Getty Images

But it wasn't until 1994 that the book titled, My Sister Marilyn: A Memoir of Marilyn Monroe was published. The inspiring story showed the world a side of Marilyn no one had ever seen before. Many fans were eager to get their hands on it and see what the star was like - from the perspective of her own sister.

Advertisement

Clearing the Air

Although many of the anecdotes and quotes were from Berniece, the book was written by her daughter Mona as she was a writer. But before fans shamed her for trying to boost her career thanks to her famous relative she set things straight, "I had developed my [writing] career without reference to Marilyn."

marilyn monroe death sistermarilyn monroe death sister
Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

Mona later added, “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.”

Advertisement

The Legacy Lives On...

Although many of her friends and family thought they knew Marilyn, Berniece clarified that at the end of the day, the blonde actress was truly a family girl. Mona, her niece, recalled the advice she was given on her website, saying, "Marilyn showed me how to put my best knee forward."

marilyn monroe family sistermarilyn monroe family sister
Archive Photos / Stringer via Getty Images

Despite all of the drama, heartbreak, and tears surrounding Marilyn, the star harbored a special bond with her family. "I want... fans to see the human Marilyn behind the public image," Berniece recalled. Unfortunately, she, too, passed away - decades later, in 2014. Nonetheless, the Baker-Miracle legacy is bound to live on forever…

Advertisement