Marilyn Monroe was raised for a short time in an orphanage and she often told the press that she had no living family. Due to the star’s wishes for privacy, fans around the world had no idea that she had a sister for many years. After Monroe’s death, Berniece Miracle broke her silence and told the world about the sister that she loved dearly.
Berniece Miracle didn’t know that she had a sister for many years. It wasn’t until Miracle was nineteen years old that she received a letter from her estranged birth mother who wrote about her sister named Norma Jeane, a girl seven years younger than Berniece. This fact shocked her and started a relationship that would last for the rest of the starlet’s life.
Marilyn's Birth Name Was Norma Jeane
Marilyn Monroe, the actress, model and singer who rose to fame in the 1950s, was born in June of 1926. She was born Norma Jeane Mortenson in Los Angeles, California to Gladys Baker, who at the time was 24. And for the first many years of her life, Monroe didn’t know much about her extended family, or even if she had any other family at all.
Her Life Was Unsteady From the Start
Norma Jeane, as Monroe was called then, lived periodically with her mother until she was ten years old. Her early years were happily spent enjoying the simple pleasures of childhood, but by the time she reached ten years of age, trouble started to dismantle the happy life she knew as a child. And by her teenage years, she needed to reach out to her extended family for help.
Norma Jeane Lived In Foster Homes For Years
Monroe was placed into a foster family shortly after her birth, and her living situation was always changing. After living with her mother for a few years, it became clear that Gladys was not mentally stable enough to care for her daughter, so Monroe was sent away to live with a friend of her mother’s named Grace Goddard. It was during this time that Monroe first made contact with her long lost sister.
Her Sister Berniece Lived in Kentucky
Berniece Baker grew up in Kentucky, far away from the California sunshine. She enjoyed dancing to the swing music of the ‘30s and ‘40s and she often found herself in trouble with her teachers at school for disrupting lessons. She spent her early years with her brother, Jackie and her father and step-mother, but she always had questions about her birth mother, who she only ever saw in a photo kept on her dresser.
Her Mother Left the Family With No Forwarding Address
Berniece was born in 1919, seven years before her mother Gladys would give birth to Norma Jeane. And in that time, Gladys Baker had cut all contact with her ex-husband Jasper, and their two children, Jackie and Berniece. Baker wrote on Monroe’s birth certificate that she had no other living children, further cutting ties with the family she had fled from. But this wouldn’t be the end of her relationship with her estranged daughter.
Both Girls Lived in Unhappy Households
Berniece Baker and Marilyn Monroe had more than just a maternal line in common; both girls grew up in households that often were fraught with turmoil. After Monroe’s mother left her care to receive treatment in a state ward for her mental illness, she was sent to various orphanages and never found much comfort in this routine. Baker’s household was similar in feeling; after Gladys Baker left her father, he remarried to a stern woman who was much older than himself and he didn’t have much affection to spare for his children.
She Wasn't Aware That Her Mother Was Still Alive
Berniece grew up with a brother, who sadly passed away at the age of fourteen. She then spent the rest of her teenage years not thinking much about her birth mother, often believing that she must have passed away. It was not until Berniece was nineteen and ready to get married that she thought about her mother again.
A Letter From a Family Member Came in the Mail
When Berniece was nineteen, shortly after she married her husband Paris Miracle, her father came to her door with a letter. According to Berniece, “He said, “I don’t know if I ought to give you this or not. At first I thought I would never show it to you. Your stepmother and I talked about it. We decided it’s your letter.“ The envelope he handed me was already open.” And it was from this letter that Berniece first learned that she had a younger sister named Norma Jeane.
Her Mother Had Written to Ask For Assistance
The letter was from her mother, who told her daughter that she had a twelve-year-old sister named Norma Jeane. Along with this information, Gladys included an address where she could write to her sister. At the time of writing this letter to her daughter, Gladys had been hospitalized for about six years and wasn’t the current care-giver of her daughter Norma Jeane, who at the time was living with a family friend. This letter answered so many questions for Berniece, who immediately set out to make her first contact with her sister.
Berniece Made Contact with Her Long-Lost Sister
In Berniece’s first letter to her sister, she sent a photograph of herself, so she was delighted when she received a letter back from Norma Jeane with a photograph of the young girl attached. Norma’s letters to her sister were sweet and full of questions about life in Kentucky, and at the end of each letter, she signed off by writing “Your sister.” After learning more about her sister, Berniece was set on trying to improve her lot in life.
Norma Jeane Needed a Stable Household
Berniece spent the next few years writing to other family members who could assist in getting her mother Gladys out of the institution she had been living in and getting Norma Jeane in a better living situation. The two sisters kept in touch through the years, but as they both grew older, they regretted that they hadn’t yet had the chance to meet in person.
She Got Married At the Age of 16
When Norma Jeane was 16 years old, Berniece got a letter in the mail announcing her engagement to be married. Norma married Jim Dougherty in 1942, when the young man was 21 years of age. Dougherty joined the Merchant Navy after the young couple moved to Santa Catalina Island, which was where Norma Jeane would soon start her modeling career, leading her to become Marilyn.
She Longed to Meet Her Sister For the First Time
Berniece was happy to hear that her sister had found a man who seemed to make her happy. As a wife with a daughter of her own, Berniece was mostly ecstatic to finally have the family that she had always wanted when she was young. She continues to hear from her sister often, and is pleased that Norma seemed to revel in being a housewife by learning to cook and getting a dog, but not everything would stay so picture perfect for long.
World War II Added Stress to Their Lives
The only stress that the young couple seemed to have was a fear that Dougherty would be drafted in the near future. The advancements of World War II also put a strain on Berniece’s family, who was considering moving out of Kentucky to improve their financial situation. They move to Detroit in 1944 and continue to update Norma Jeane about their whereabouts.
Norma Jeane Was Proud of Her Family
Norma Jeane also provided her sister with constant updates. During the war, Norma lived with Dougherty in Catalina Island, where he was stationed to train for the merchant marine. Norma collected the photographs her sister sent and proudly showed them to visitors and neighbors. They often talked about finally meeting in person, with Marilyn once writing, “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.”
She Was Photographed For the First Time
During the war, Norma Jeane also started to work on an assembly line in a defense plant. She strived for perfection in her job as a glue sprayer and earned herself a certificate for excellence, much to the envy of her coworkers. It was at this job that Norma was first photographed for a magazine. These photos were later sent to the owner of a modeling agency, who soon signed Norma as a model, which eventually caused a rift in her marriage.
She Quit Her Job to Focus on Her Modeling Career
While her modeling career was burgeoning, Norma Jeane was learning what she wanted to do with her life for the first time. She soon quit her job at the factory to focus on her new career and she took on jobs as a model and hostess. It was in this unstable period of her life that she finally met her sister, who provided her with some incredible guidance.
The Two Sisters Finally Met
Norma Jeane first met her sister in 1944, when she was 18 and her sister was 25 years old. Norma visited Berniece and her husband Paris at their home in Detroit, spending nearly all of her wife’s allotment money given to her because of her husband’s position in the marines on a train ticket. Berniece and her husband were worried that they wouldn’t be able to recognize Norma in the crowded train station, but that wasn’t the case.
They Noticed a Family Resemblance
Berniece remembered the day she first met her sister, writing, “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. None of the other passengers looked anything like that: tall, so pretty and fresh, wearing what she had described, a cobalt blue wool suit and a hat with a heart shaped dip in the brim.”
"We Couldn't Stop Looking At Each Other"
When Berniece met Marilyn, who was still known by her birth name of Norma Jeane then, she noted that it was like looking in the mirror to see her sister for the first time. “We couldn’t stop staring at each other,” she wrote. “We had the same dark blond hair with a widow’s peak, the same mouth, but our eyes were different— mine are brown and Norma Jeane’s were blue like our mother’s.”
They Shared Their Deepest, Darkest Secrets
When the sisters traveled the city together, they shared stories of their childhood that they had never uttered before. Norma Jeane shared with Berniece that her mother used to use a dresser drawer as a crib when she was a baby, and Berniece shared with her the only picture she had of their mother. The meeting was bittersweet, because it reminded the older sister that she hadn’t seen in mother in person for decades.
Neither Had Seen Their Mother in Years
Norma Jeane and her sister talked about their mother at length during their first meeting. Norma herself hadn’t seen Gladys in ten years before she visited her mother at the mental institution she was living in. Looking back on that moment, Norma told her sister that she almost wished that she hadn’t visited her at all and that her memories of her mother were like a blur to her in the present moment.
They Were More Alike Than They Realized
When Norma Jeane and Berniece caught up, they also realized their similar passions. Norma adored a piano that her mother got for her when she was a child and she brought up a tap dancing routine that she had done for a church talent show. Berniece then asked her what song she danced to and when she heard that her reply was “College Rhythm” she jumped up in her seat. She had also done a dance routine to that song when she was a child, proving just how much the sisters had in common while they were hundreds of miles apart.
They Planned to Reunite With Their Mother
Norma Jeane continued to speak about their mother, saying “she’s really a stranger to me. Almost as much a stranger as she is to you. Part of me wants to be with her… and part of me is a little afraid of her.” The sisters still had so much love for their ailing mother, and they didn’t realize that she would soon be in their lives again…
Norma Jeane Was Growing Up Fast
While Norma Jeane stayed with her sister, she often cooked meals for the small family. At their home, she often cooked a side dish of peas and carrots, which she loved to mix because of their bright colors. Later in life, Berniece saw this fact repeated in many fan magazines, a fact which she was pleased to know was actually true.
Her Career Was Beginning to Bloom
Norma Jeane’s father had passed away before she was born, leaving her envious of her sister’s situation. But Berniece was quick to tell her sister that although she knew her father, they weren’t exactly close. The first meeting of the two girls was a monumental moment in both of their lives, and Berniece had no idea what life had in store for her sister in the coming years.
She Had a Stutter to Overcome
While Norma Jeane was visiting her sister, it became apparent to Berniece that Norma had a stutter. She often stammered through sentences and lacked confidence while speaking, but when she spoke on subjects that she knew a lot about, her stutter disappeared. This problem would soon arise again when Norma started her acting career.
She Focused All of Her Energy on Modeling
During her trip, Norma Jeane realized that modeling was a passion that she wanted to continue pursing despite her husband’s growing disapproval. Norma’s marriage to Dougherty was stable before she started working. After she became a model, she had much less free time and her expenses grew significantly, which put more of a strain on the relationship.
Her Mother Didn't Believe in Her Ambitions
Soon, Norma’s mother was released from the hospital where she had been living for years. But her mother’s progress wasn’t the most important thing on her mind. Norma was continuing to strive as a model despite issues in her relationship, which she soon deemed was not worth her time anymore.
She Filed For Divorce to Help Her Career
After four years of marriage, Norma filed for divorce from her husband Jimmy Dougherty in 1946. She did this partly because her agent told her that movie studios were reluctant to hire married women who would put their families ahead of their careers. By getting divorced, her agent was happy to send her to an interview at Twentieth Century Fox studios.
She Scored a Movie Contract At Fox Studios
After Norma’s interview, she had a screen test for studio head Darryl Zanuck, who offered her a seven year contract at Fox for a salary of $75 per week. This would jumpstart Norma’s acting career significantly and quickly. While she was under contract she spent her first six months at the studio taking classes in acting, singing and dancing, solely observing the movie making process that she desperately wanted to be a part of.
Norma Jeane Became Marilyn Monroe
Norma Jeane became Marilyn Monroe at her first meeting with Darryl Zanuck and Ben Lyon during her screen test for the studio. The name Marilyn was suggested by Lyon, who thought that Norma reminded him of Broadway actress Marilyn Miller. The last name Monroe was chosen by Norma because it was her mother’s maiden name. Neither of them had any idea then just how popular this name would soon become around the world.
She Landed Her First Film Role
While working on her career, Monroe was also taking care of her mother, who had reentered her life after she was released from the hospital. Similar to her ex-husband, her mother Gladys was also dismissive of Monroe’s budding acting career. But her harsh words didn’t stop Monroe, who soon landed her first film role in 1947.
Her Personal Life Was a Part of Her Job
Monroe’s first role was in the 1947 movie “Dangerous Years.” In the film she appeared briefly as a waitress alongside actors Billy Halop and Scotty Beckett. During this time, she also discovered that her personal life was an important part of her career, as she was frequently asked by her agents to be photographed out with other budding actors.
They Had a Family Reunion in California
Marilyn’s sister Berniece soon had the chance to meet her mother in person while on a trip to California. During Marilyn’s time off from her studio work, she took her sister, mother and niece for drives around Los Angeles. The photographs that they took at the beach together remain some of Berniece’s favorite memories of the moments that she had with her sister.
Monroe Was Always Picture Perfect
Berniece noted from the beginning of Marilyn’s career that she always stood out among her fellow actresses at the studio. She noticed that no matter what was on Monroe’s schedule for the day, she would arrive to the studio with her hair and makeup done. She spent most of her paychecks on clothes, which soon made an impression on VIPs at the studio.
She Pushed For a Job For Her Sister
Monroe even schemed during her early days at the studio to get her sister employed as an actress alongside her. Monroe snuck her sister into the gates of the studio by pretending that Berniece was a secretary at the studio. While behind the gates at Fox, her sister watched Monroe’s first screen test in awe of the beauty her sister had become.
With Happy Times Came Career Setbacks
Marilyn Monroe quickly saw her wishes come true; her divorce with her husband was finalized after a year of divorce proceedings, she had a movie contract at a major studio, and her mother and sister had finally been reunited. The joys caused by these changes in her life are soon overshadows as she faced a major setback in her career: being dropped by the studio.
Monroe Was Dropped By Her Studio More Than Once
Despite being dropped by Fox Studios, Monroe was not disappointed. During this time, she focused on honing her craft and took classes at the Actors’ Lab, an acting school in Los Angeles. Before long, Monroe was signed again at Columbia Pictures in March of 1948 before she was once again employed at Fox Studios. And thought out all of the ups and downs of her career there was one thing Monroe could count on, the support of her family.
Berniece Was Hounded By Marilyn's Fans
As Monroe’s fame grew, Berniece started to feel the effects of the limelight in her own life. There were several instances where complete strangers visited the apartment complex she and her husband were living in to ask questions about her famous sister. And Monroe, beginning to realize how important a private life was, tried her best to stop this from happening.
Marilyn Created Rumors to Protect Her Sister
Early on in Monroe’s career, she told reporters that she was an orphan with no parents. Despite that fact that she knew her mother was alive and well, she did this in part to keep her fans interested in her work, not her private life. Berniece noticed that less of Monroe’s fans came to her door after the rumor was spread, so she thought it was a positive thing to do after all.
She Gave False Leads to the Press
Berniece knew about the stories fabricated by Monroe, writing, “[Marilyn] gave out fake stories about her background through her public relations people. 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.”
Her Sister Never Broke Her Promise
Berniece didn’t speak publicly about her relationship with her sister until after Monroe passed in 1962. She wrote, “At times I was tempted to correct some of the misperceptions about Marilyn and her background, but I didn’t want Marilyn to lose trust in me. I wanted to be a source of love and support for her.”
Marilyn Cut Gossipers Out of Her Life
Marilyn saw anyone who shared details of her private life, no matter if they were flattering stories or not, as disloyal and she quickly broke off friendships with people who did so. When she didn’t know who to turn to she always knew that she could rely on her sister as someone who would listen without judgement.
Her Sister Was Devastated by Her Death
Today, Berniece Miracle remains one of the last living people to have personally known Marilyn Monroe, and looking back on Monroe’s death in 1962 is still devastating for her. She wrote, “I don’t think I have been quite the same since.”
Marilyn Had Loved Life, and Her Sister, Dearly
Looking back on the time just before Monroe’s death, Miracle wrote, “I had just talked to her a short time before. She told me what she had planned to do, she had just bought a new house and she was working on the curtains of the windows. She had so many things to look forward to and she was so happy.”
She Noted How Alike They Were
Berniece wrote about her connection with Marilyn, “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 also set some rumors straight in her book about her sister's life.
With the Help of Her Daughter, Berniece Wrote a Book
Berniece and her daughter Mona Rae decided to write a book about their relationship to Marilyn in the 1990s because they finally wanted their side of the story to be told. The two broke their silence long after the starlet passed away so that her fans would know the Marilyn that was only known by her family and closest loved ones.
She Wanted to Set the Record Straight
In the 1994 memoir co-written by Berniece Baker Miracle and her daughter, Mona Rae Miracle, Mona writes, “I had developed my [writing] career without reference to Marilyn; in fact, once I finished school, I never told anyone about my connection to our famous relative. I wanted to be judged on my own merits, so I wasn’t eager to link my career to Marilyn. But Mother wanted to set the record straight.”
She Doesn't Recognize the Marilyn That The World Knows
Berniece wanted to share her stories about her sister partly because, “Over the years I have read too many accounts of her life and ours so filled with errors that they present a woman I hardly recognize.” The Marilyn Monroe that she wrote about was a kind woman who put family before all else.
Marilyn's Niece Took After Her Aunt
Mona, Marilyn’s niece, also learned a thing or two from her aunt. This photo of Mona from the ‘40s shows that very well. “Marilyn showed me how to put my best knee forward. By the way, that's a classic Forties hairdo,” Miracle wrote on her website.
Marilyn’s Niece is Used to Turning Heads Too
Mona Miracle shared this photo online, writing on her website, “At age thirty, an experiment to see if blondes really do have more fun. Well! They get a head start because blonde hair lights up a room!”
The Mother-Daughter Bond is Unbreakable
Mona explained her relationship with her mother online, writing, “Our favorite activity is eating out--anywhere! Marilyn's fans enjoy meeting Berniece at book signings, saying it gives them an idea of how Marilyn would look today. I'm lucky to have such a fun pal for a mom. In her eighties she can still do a mean tap dance.”
She Celebrated Her 100th Birthday in 2019
Berniece Miracle celebrated her 100th birthday in July of 2019, and although her husband Paris passed away in 1990, she lives life with high spirits and great joy. Her decision to write a book about her experiences shed light on a side on Monroe that wasn’t known and it continues to be of interest to fans around the world.
They Both Live Privately in Florida
Today, Berniece Miracle lives in Florida, where her family resided for many years. Both Miracle and her daughter live together in Gainesville, where they both lead private lives. Their book continues to be praised for its honesty about Monroe and Entertainment Weekly wrote a review that said, “this portrait of Marilyn is irreplaceable.”