Uncovering An Untold Bond: Marilyn Monroe’s Intriguing Connection With Her Lesser-Known Sister

By: Olawale Ogunjimi | Last updated: Aug 07, 2023

At 19, Berniece Baker Miracle received a life-changing letter from her estranged birth mother, Gladys Baker. The letter from this woman she barely knew revealed an incredible truth. What could it be? Berniece had a 12-year-old half-sister, Norma Jeane, famously known today as Marilyn Monroe.

The news was a revelation for both sisters, allowing them to establish a relationship that lasted until Marilyn’s early death in 1962. However, Marilyn kept her sister a secret from the public for many reasons. Sit back, relax, and let’s uncover the secrets that remained a mystery for decades!

Marilyn Told Everyone She Was an Orphan: Revealing Her Mysterious Family History

In case you didn’t know, Marilyn spent some of her childhood in an orphanage. This made most people believe she had no living family members.

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However, that was far from the truth. It was after Marilyn’s death that Berniece revealed their connection to the world. As it stands, it was Berniece who selected her sister’s casket and burial dress, a testament to the sisterly bond they shared. But was there something more to their relationship? Let’s find out!

The Hidden Life of Norma Jeane

Before becoming the famous Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jeane Mortenson was a poor girl living in the palls of a complicated family history.

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Like Norma, Berniece was in the dark about her younger half-sister’s existence for the first 19 years of her life. Born in 1926 to Glasys Baker in Los Angeles, Norma knew nothing about her sister. She spent her early years living with her mother, and by age ten she was placed into a foster home.

The Kentucky Connection: A Shocking Link Between Marilyn and Berniece

Marilyn’s uneasy childhood was a result of unstable living situations. Gladys, her mentally unstable mother, couldn’t care for her and so, she sent her to live with a friend of hers, Grace Goddard.

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It was during this time that Marilyn discovered the existence of her half-sister. While Marilyn lived in the City of Angels, Berniece grew up as a wild child in Kentucky, dancing to the swing music of the ‘30s and ‘40s.

The Woman in the Photo

Growing up, Berniece was known for her wild antics and causing uproars in class. Her family included her brother, Jackie; her father, and his wife (her stepmother). But Berniece always had a feeling of emptiness and wished she knew more about her birth mother.

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All Berniece had was a single photograph of her mother, displayed on a dresser in her home. Born seven years before her half-sister, she spent years wondering why her mother abandoned her. During those years, Gladys cut off all contact with her ex-husband, Jasper, leaving him to care for Jackie and Berniece alone.

More Than Just a Mom in Common: Berniece and Marilyn’s Shared Childhood Turmoil

Gladys Baker went to great lengths to erase traces of Berniece’s existence. She even went as far as listing Marilyn as her only child on her birth certificate, thus cutting her off from her extended family.

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Interestingly, Berniece and Marilyn had a lot in common beyond sharing the same mother. Both girls grew up in wild homes, struggling to find love and strength amidst the chaos. After Gladys left Marilyn to receive care for her mental illness, Marilyn was sent to various orphanages.

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An Unbalanced Household and a Sister's Surprise

As a child, Berniece knew too well the feeling of instability. Aside from her father’s affection toward his new life, her brother’s untimely death also added to her grief.

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After years of not hearing from (or about) her birth mother, she assumed she had also passed away. Berniece was 19 and was about to get married when a letter arrived. The sender? Her estranged mother.

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Dear Berniece, You Have a Sister

19-year-old Berniece was about to marry the love of her life, Paris, when her father handed her an old letter. Initially, he didn’t want to give her.

The letter had been written years ago by her estranged mother, confessing she has a younger half-sister, Norma Jeane. The news was shocking to Berniece, who did not know her mother’s past. As she kept reading, she realized how her mother had kept this secret from her her entire life.

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Hospital Confession Reveals a Sisterly Bond

For Berniece, the letter and the news it contained answered many queries. Aside from the news, Gladys also provided an address Berniece could use to write letters to her sister.

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She didn’t need to think it over—she wasted no time to reach out to her newly found sister. Finally the questions that had haunted her for years would be answered. She put pen to paper to begin their sisterhood journey.

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A Bond Formed Through Letters

Although Berniece and Marilyn grew up worlds apart, they formed a lifetime bond through the letters. In Berniece’s initial correspondence, she included her photo. Marilyn did the same in her reply.

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Marilyn’s curiosity about her sister was met with Berniece’s eagerness to say much about herself and their shared family history. Every letter had the signature, “Your sister,” and the more they wrote, the more they discovered similarities beyond bloodline. Determined to make up for the lost time, Berniece reached out to other family members who could help.

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Still Connected by Pen and Paper

Despite years of likeness, both sisters had yet to meet in person. Berniece had hopes of improving their family situation by getting Gladys out of the hospital and getting Marilyn a better life.

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Meanwhile, Marilyn got engaged to Jim Dougherty at the age of 16. The couple was wed in 1942 when Jim was 21 years old. The young couple moved to Santa Catalina Island, where Jim joined the Merchant Navy. Despite her newfound happiness, Marilyn didn’t forget Berniece.

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Marilyn Begins Settling Into the Housewife’s Life

Berniece was excited to hear about her sister’s new life as a homemaker and wife, despite never having met in person. Marilyn’s letters were filled with updates on her domestic happiness, including her love for cooking and caring for their dog.

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Nothing lasts forever, they say. That was certainly true for Jim and Marilyn, as shadows of world conflict dominated their happiness. As the conflict raged on, the couple feared that Jim would be recruited into the military. The sister’s bond was also tested as they faced different uncertainties.

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Keeping in Touch During the World Conflict

As the conflict progressed, families were forced to make hard decisions. For Berniece, it meant leaving Kentucky and relocating with her family to Detroit. But even with the distance, Berniece kept Marilyn in the loop as to her welfare.

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Marilyn also kept her sister updated about her life, including the fear of Jim’s recruitment into the military. Marilyn proudly showed every photo Berniece sent to her neighbors and visitors. Through it all, they grew healthier. Little did they know fate was about to bring them together in a way they never imagined.

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The First-Ever Photograph

Through their letters, both sisters looked forward to the day they would finally meet. In one of Marilyn’s letters, she expressed her wish for her family’s visitation and how she knew they would never leave when they arrived.

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Sadly, as the conflict progressed, their plans were put on hold. At that time, Marilyn worked as a glue sprayer at a defense plant. Her hard work earned her a certificate for excellence. It was also during this job that she had her first-ever photograph taken for a magazine. Little did Marilyn know she was now one step closer to fame and success.

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From Glue Spraying to Modeling

The on-the-job photos were sent to the owner of a modeling agency, who offered to sign Marilyn. She accepted the offer and was thrilled about her new career. But her marriage suffered as a consequence.

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With a profitable career on the horizon, she resigned from her job at the factory. When Marilyn’s modeling career took off, it brought a new type of instability to her life. The good news, though, was that it would soon bring her face-to-face with her beloved Berniece.

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The Memorable Meeting of Two Sisters

Separated by distance, but connected by heart, the two pen pals finally met in 1944, when Marilyn was 18 and Berniece 25. Marilyn took the brave step to travel to Detroit to visit Berneice and Paris at their home.

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Marilyn used Jim’s allotment money to buy the train ticket Initially, Berniece and Paris feared they might not recognize Marilyn. Surprisingly, their worries disappeared as they spotted Marilyn, recognizing her from the photos.

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There She Was

As she got off the train, Berniece couldn’t help but marvel. There she was, beautiful Marilyn, tall and elegant in a cobalt blue wool suit and a heart-shaped hat.

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Berniece was hit by how stunning her sister looked, and how different she was from everyone else at the station. The sisters couldn’t take their eyes off each other. Alas, they were together in the flesh after all these years.

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The Uncanny Resemblance

The resemblance between the sisters was uncanny, with the same dark blonde hair, widow’s peak, and mouth. The only disparity was their eye color—Berniece’s eyes were brown, and Marilyn’s were blue like their mother’s.

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As they explored the city, they shared stories of their childhoods and even uncovered new ones, like how their mother had used a dresser drawer as a crib for Marilyn.

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Two Sisters and the Mother They Never Knew

As the two sisters made up for lost time, their conversation took a swift turn with their mother. Berniece showed Marilyn the single photo that she had of their mother.

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Marilyn also revealed she last saw Gladys in a mental institution decades ago. She admitted to Berneice that she almost wished she never visited Gladys at all. Overall, their reunion was bittersweet as they thought of the past and battled with their complicated feelings.

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More Than Just DNA: Sisters United by Dance and Destiny

Aside from discussing their mother, the sisters spoke of their shared passions. There was a piano that Marilyn adored, which her mother gifted her when she was a child. She also showed Berniece her tap-dancing routine she once performed in a talent show.

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Berniece was surprised because she has also performed a dance routine to the same song while growing up. It was a lovely moment as it proved how much they shared in common, despite years of separation.

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Like a Stranger: A Chance Encounter Reveals a Shared Past

The two sisters couldn’t ignore their mother’s issue. As they talked, Marilyn revealed she still felt like a stranger to Gladys. While Berniece shared her sentiments, both sisters still had a deep love for their ailing mother.

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Little did they know Gladys would soon reappear in their lives, bringing a new chapter to their shared memory. But before she showed up, they enjoyed each other’s company, uncovering connections only siblings can understand.

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Carrots, Peas, and Sisterly Love

During Marilyn’s stay at Berniece’s house, she often made her way to the kitchen to cook up a storm. One of her signature dishes was a colorful mix of carrots and peas, which according to her, reminded her of the vitality of life.

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Growing up without a father, Marilyn felt jealous of Berniece’s situation. However, Berniece was quick to reveal that her upbringing was far from perfect, and that she never experienced fatherly love.

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Breaking Out of Her Husband's Shadow

During their first meeting, Berniece couldn’t help but notice her sister’s stutter. However, when Marilyn spoke about her passion for modeling, her voice was clear.

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Sadly, this dream was a bone of contention in her marriage. Jim didn’t approve, and their relationship started to fall apart as her career took off. This turbulence made Marilyn homeless and financially unstable. But Marilyn was determined to break free from her husband’s shadow and make it on her own.

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From Divorce to Hollywood Stardom

After four years of Marriage, Marilyn filed for divorce in 1946. The decision was partly influenced by her agent.

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He warned her that Hollywood studios were reluctant to hire married women, as they often prioritized their families over their careers. Her ambition paid off, and soon she became one of the most iconic actresses of all time.

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$75 Per Week for Seven Years

After her divorce, Marilyn’s agent opened the door for her to audition for Twentieth Century Fox studios. This opportunity led to her first screen test with studio head Darryl Zanuck, who offered her a seven-year contract for $75 weekly.

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However, the modest wage didn’t stop Marilyn from following her passion for becoming a movie star. She spent her early months at the studio taking dancing, singing, and action classes. You can say she was determined to make it big in Hollywood.

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From Norma Jeane to Marilyn

The minute Marilyn Monroe walked into Twentieth Century Fox, she left behind Norma Jeane and took on the name Marilyn Monroe. In a meeting with Ben Lyon and Zanuck, Lyon suggested renaming herself Marilyn, as he thought she reminded him of the Broadway actress, Marilyn Miller.

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As for her surname, Marilyn chose it herself because it was her mother’s maiden name. Speaking of her mother, Marilyn was still caring for her mother even as her career started to take off. But like Jim, Gladys was not in favor of her career.

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Sisters and Stardom

Despite her mother’s disapproval and negative criticism, Marilyn kept her eye on the goal. Her big break came in 1947’s Dangerous Years, acting as a waitress alongside Scotty Beckett and Billy Halop.

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Meanwhile, Berniece was on her way to California to visit their estranged mother. It would be her chance to finally reunite with her. Soon, Marilyn would have to confront the past and the present simultaneously.

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Beauty, Beaches, and Bonding: A Memorable Family Affair

During breaks from the studio, Marilyn took Berniece, Gladys, and her niece for scenic drives around Los Angeles. The pictures they took at the beach together were Berniece’s favorite memories.

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Berniece always watched in awe as her sister became a Hollywood star. Her style was impeccable and it was obvious that Marilyn was destined for greatness.

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My Sister Marilyn

Berniece wrote about the deep-rooted relationship she had with her sister. She stated they felt abandoned even though they were both pretty and talented. She also disclosed they provided each other with the courage and strength they needed.

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Berniece proceeded to write a book about her sister’s life. Titled My Sister Marilyn, it was her opportunity toe set some records straight. She and her daughter, who is an author, wrote it together in the early 1990s, and it was finally published in 1994.

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Beyond the Icon: The Marilyn Monroe Berniece Knew

While the world remembers Marilyn as an enchanting Hollywood icon with an uneasy life, Berniece had a different perspective. To Berniece, Marilyn was a selfless woman who always put her family first.

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Mona, Marilyn’s niece, learned a few things from her famous aunt. According to Mona, Marilyn showed her how to put her best foot forward. So, beyond the public persona, there was a genuine Marilyn Monroe, one who was more than the sum of her tabloid headlines.

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