Written by Jason Kennedy, a second cousin of Marilyn Monroe’s and his wife Jennifer Jean Miller who also wrote Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio: Love in Japan, Korea, and Beyond, the book Marilyn Monroe Unveiled: A Family History promises to give fans an intimate look at the star as she really was. The 382 page book strives to unravel the myths behind one of America’s most beloved icons.
Did you know you were related to Marilyn growing up?
Jason: Yes, I knew that some family relationship existed growing up according to my father. Due to a divorce and other issues, I was separated from my mother from an early age. In 2011, I found my mother and grandmother, and they explained the exact connection.
Did your grandmother ever speak much of Gladys?
Jason: Yes, my grandmother remembered going over to Gladys’s house and Gladys and Norma Jeane coming over to their house as children and young adults in Los Angeles. There are even some memories of having had contact in Portland Oregon as well.
From the best of your knowledge what was Gladys like as a person?
Jason: Both Gladys Monroe and Grace McKee Goddard (who was her best friend for many years) have been somewhat described by relatives as sort of “Thelma and Louise” type of characters. This isn’t to say that they both weren’t responsible adults. We have much evidence to the contrary that demonstrates they both were responsible in many aspects of their lives. Nonetheless, they were both independent woman who certainly carved their own paths in life. I think, as a result of the publishing of our book, Marilyn Monroe Unveiled: A Family History, we may find more information becoming available that may offer some early insight into Gladys’s personality and the events that happened in Los Angeles when she became ill.
What was it about Marilyn that first drew you to her?
Jason: I never had that much interest in “movie” stars or performers in general, although I do like Harrison Ford and most anything Science Fiction. Nonetheless, it was kind of out character for me to be interested in cousin Marilyn Monroe. But after doing some intense research into her life, I knew something was very wrong. It was a feeling that consumed me and literally changed the direction of my life. Her story and her family story needed to be told.
Jennifer: I picked up a book about Marilyn one weekend when I was visiting my father’s apartment (my parents divorced when I was very young), when I was about eight-years-old. It was Norman Mailer’s book, which is chock full of amazing photos. I had seen Marilyn many times before in pop culture, especially since I was born in New York (actually in the same hospital complex where she had been wrongly incarcerated at Payne Whitney), and spent time there frequently even after my family moved from the city. She seemed so alive in her photos, and I began to cry when I learned that she had died. I couldn’t believe that someone so beautiful and angelic could have died. From there, my interest in her grew. My father also worked with Hal Berg, when both were photography professors at FIT, and I was able to get to know Hal as a child. I learned from my father that Hal had photographed Marilyn and was totally amazed. It was something that just a year or two ago we discussed on Facebook and former students of Hal’s were thrilled to learn, as it was something they didn’t know about him, as he only shared this with colleagues. But Hal’s photos of Marilyn were exquisite and ones I’ve always liked of her.In addition to being married to Jason and her second cousin removed by marriage, and someone really into genealogy (I’ve always been interested in tracing family history, but have been formally doing so for about 20 years, online and pursuing it in genealogy libraries), we learned that I am distantly related to Marilyn too through my maternal grandfather’s maternal grandfather (if that makes sense, lol…my second great-grandfather). He was a distant relative of Marilyn’s grandmother Della Hogan. I learned this in 2012, before Jason and I met in person and while I was exploring some family roots on my side. Though the connection is distant, it was wild still and has brought my admiration of her even more full circle, as I realize there is a reason I’ve been on this path. I’ve always protected Marilyn, even as a young girl when even an adult would insult her, I would defend her memory. I realized something very special about her even then and didn’t know at that time the connection was beyond someone I related to…there’s a genealogical bond that connects us both now by our distant relation and now through marriage (not uncommon in the U.S. by the way or for that matter likely anywhere in the world…in 2011, Harvard Scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. shared that Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick are distant cousins themselves, 10th cousins. Kyra is also related to Marilyn reportedly, and I know from genealogy tracings I’ve done, Kevin is related to Marilyn too. My distance to Marilyn is currently tracked further apart than Kyra’s and Kevin’s to one another and my relation to Jason is even more distant).
What do you admire about her most?
Jason: The obvious is her on screen personality and unique and classy appearance. Under the surface, Norma Jeane really wanted to be good at her profession and I admire her fortitude to want to be better, but unfortunately that drive took her to a very evil place.
Jennifer: For me, there are so many things that I admire about Marilyn, it would be hard to pick. What I do love is her sweet demeanor. When I’ve talked to those who knew her, that’s one of the first things they would tell me. I was blessed to speak to a lady who was one of Marilyn’s neighbors in New York. The two used to enjoy tea and conversation together, and did so before Marilyn married Arthur Miller, and then after that, their tea times ceased. Marilyn was known to remain very low-key, even as a celebrity, and could walk unnoticed through the city. Additionally, when neighbors did notice her, especially up in Sutton Park (which for those unfamiliar with the city it is the lovely park overlooking the Queensboro Bridge, by Marilyn’s two former residences on Sutton Place and East 57th Street), they tended to allow her that anonymity to relax in the park. For those who knew her, the most remarkable quality was innate sweetness. The woman who I talked to, in fact was shocked, when we discussed all of the sordid things that have been written about Marilyn over the years. “Who could say anything like that about such a sweet person?” she asked me. Marilyn’s lovely spirit is evident in the photos and film footage that exists of her personal character. She is shown embracing people and would touch someone’s face in such a way that it shows how affectionate and kind she was. That I would say is one of the things I love the most about her. She radiates love.
Why do you think society seems so intent on creating myths around various celebrities and others that are no longer in the world of the living?
Jason: We all can relate to fairy tales. And movies and myths help take us to other worlds. It’s natural, but in Marilyn’s case it is important to separate the myth from reality because she was seriously taken advantage of and hurt; the myths have helped cover-up a crime.
Jennifer: It is easy for someone who is no longer living to be defamed in books and in the media. Marilyn’s myths began even before her death. Her biographies from the studios, as well as her interviews reflect these exaggerations. They’ve become runaway tales. These were also myths that became a part of Marilyn Monroe’s story, not Norma Jeane Mortenson’s. The studios wanted to focus on something interesting. For example, that was Marilyn’s stay in an orphanage while guardianship was transferred to Marilyn’s mother’s best friend Grace, after Gladys was hospitalized. Granted, that was not a pleasant experience for a child to be in transition, however the truth is that it was greatly supervised through the courts, as well as Grace. The orphanage was necessary protocol in switches of guardianship, no matter who would have become Marilyn’s/Norma Jeane’s guardian. But it became a tale that Marilyn was abandoned, that there were over a dozen nameless and faceless foster parents, that her father died in a motorcycle accident in 1929 (which was untrue and the man who was legally listed as her father, who mother Gladys was technically still married to at the time of Marilyn’s birth, outlived Marilyn until 1981) and much more. The truths are strikes against the myths. But now nearly 50 years after her death, the myths are still readily regurgitated. That is problem number one. Problem number two are the so-called “friends” and other sycophants who have come out with their own stories, which most of them are just fabrications. To many, the myths are much more interesting and colorful that some prefer them, and they don’t want to believe the truth when it comes out. I don’t understand that, and maybe since my job as an investigative reporter is about seeking truths, and debunking myths, it is natural for me to wish to learn the accurate account, as well as to retell it to readers so they are learning something new and factual. The truth to me is freeing and no matter the narrative given, the records don’t lie.
How did this book come about?
Jason: In an unusual sort of way, we knew the story we just needed to find the facts to support it. That was the most difficult and time-consuming process. It literally took about four years, since 2012, to bring this book into fruition. But while we knew the outcome of what we would find; it was always surprising and shocking to find the documents and newspaper clippings that supported what we already knew to be true.
Jennifer: Jason and I are sick of the defamation that we’ve seen go on, especially when it comes to Marilyn’s lineage. Around April 2015, we started countering these myths, and began writing something about Marilyn’s mother, Gladys. Gladys has been written terribly about over the years, and those who knew her, would comment what a beautiful soul she was. I am not denying Gladys was ill, but she became ill after becoming incarcerated in mental institutions, not before. Gladys was struggling with some heavy circumstances all at once that would have driven any strong person to an emotional collapse, which is what she was originally hospitalized for. Her mother had died in 1927 from the effects of malaria. Gladys continued to make payments for funeral expenses for her mother. In the meanwhile, her maternal grandmother Virginia died. Gladys endured her second divorce in 1928 from Marilyn’s legal father, Martin Edward Mortensen (Marilyn was born in 1926). Gladys was a working mother, who juggled her child when she was off-duty at her job as a film cutter, and had the Bolenders in Hawthorne take care of her (in spite of the rumor Marilyn was abandoned there, Gladys and Marilyn lived with the Bolenders). She had two children from her first marriage, who were stolen from her when they were toddlers by her first husband and taken to Kentucky. Her son from that first marriage had just died. Gladys’s grandfather, Tilford Marion Hogan passed away too in 1933. Gladys knew both of her grandparents and Tilford, who was almost 80 and struggling with health issues, died by hanging (which has often been one of the myths that he had mental issues…our research shows that Tilford in fact was a very grounded man, involved in his community). I told Jason I was sick of the attacks against Gladys that I was reading. She was given medications and treatments for schizophrenia in the hospitals, when she was not schizophrenic originally and her condition worsened. The mental health system was feeble back then, with a “poke and hope” approach in care. Think of Rosemary Kennedy who endured a lobotomy, from doctors who had no clue what they were doing, and a vibrant life was destroyed. Human beings were ruined in some cases by the mental health system. Marilyn’s “doctors” are proof of that as well, and the motivating factor for them was garnering Marilyn’s estate at the end of it all. All of our research shows that the myths of mental illness, poverty, and horrible circumstances have persisted in Marilyn’s lineage, and are untrue. That was the motivator, and starting with Gladys’s story, the book grew from there.
How did you go about separating the myth from fact?
Jason: It may seem odd, but that was easy part. I sort of always knew what I was looking for that countered the myths.
Jennifer: As I stated earlier, the records don’t lie. It’s important to start from there. And that’s what we did.
What was the most challenging issue you faced when bringing this book into existence?
Jason: The program we used to write it in…it shall remain unnamed…hopefully that company works out the bugs. They might then have a great product.
Jennifer: I agree with what Jason said above. That was frustrating and delayed some of our work. A good challenge was that more evidence continued to come our way to support our story. The more we searched the more we found. When we thought we were “done,” something else popped up.
How did you first come to work with Jason?
Jennifer: Jason and I met on Facebook in 2012. I saw a post on a page from a page called “Marilyn Monroe Family” and followed it. I have debunked some who have claimed to be Marilyn’s family and children, so I wondered if this was the same. Being a genealogist, and analyzing the data that Jason posted about his connection to Marilyn, I realized the page was legitimate. I became a page fan and then Jason sent me a friend request. Our friendship blossomed online, because of our mutual understanding of what happened to Marilyn. I was always a proponent that Lee Strasberg, for example, was never genuine about his affiliation with Marilyn and other theories. Jason was on the same avenue in terms of his research and we intersected at the same place in our findings. We began having these mammoth conversations online about Marilyn and other subjects until the sun would rise beginning after Easter 2012 and two time zones, and grew close, though we hadn’t met then. Speaking daily online became our routine after that and checking in with each other. We finally had the chance to speak on the phone and spoke for about an hour the first time and four the next. And our work and lives took off from there. We met in person in Los Angeles at the end of July 2012.
Do you feel this book in some way, gives you a chance to protect the memory of Marilyn as she was as a person?
Jason: Yes, I feel that this book has given Norma Jeane her own voice back. Now Authentic Brands Group and the Strasbergs, and the Anna Freud Foundation can’t hide behind the lies anymore.
Jennifer: Absolutely, because it’s not the usual regurgitated rehash. This is truth that will set the myths free that have chained Marilyn’s legacy down since before her death in 1962.
What do you hope the reader takes away from this particular body of work?
Jason: That Norma Jeane (aka Marilyn Monroe) was extorted and murdered by a group of individuals who did everything in their power to steal and own her legacy. Lee Strasberg, Milton Greene, Arthur Miller, The Rostens, Dr. Ralph Greenson, Dr. Marianne Kris, Dr. Margaret Hohenberg, and Anna Freud are all co-conspirators in that agenda.
Jennifer: Knowledge of the truth and Marilyn’s real story.
Do you think the world tends to overlook the person inside the celebrity in favor of fame over individuality?
Jason: Yes, especially with Norma Jeane. People do not want to believe she exaggerated her story.
Jennifer: People view Marilyn as the character she created, which was this larger-than-life onscreen personality. That part transcended into her private life in photos of her glammed up at events. The woman one sees dripping with fur stoles and baubles, her hair set and sparkling and her face painted like the beautiful work of art that she was, was not the real person inside. Marilyn Monroe, aka Norma Jeane Mortenson, was a beautiful and shy individual. She preferred reading to going out. She favored her comfortable clothes to evening gowns. She typically walked around without makeup, and her hair tussled when she wasn’t in front of the camera. Marilyn the private woman was way different than the image that was created to sell her star.
What is it like to have the chance to work with someone you are married to?
Jason: Since we both care about Norma Jeane it was good working with my wife Jennifer. It was always good to have another perspective.
Jennifer: Working with Jason is something that I’ve done all along. Though we have different working styles. I am very deadline-oriented and though I’m creative and have that laid back side too, I’m more intense than he is when it comes to how I work. He’s got more of the California approach to life that I need in order to not get so stressed out. He needs the “push” personality that I have too. I think we balance each other out. And Jason’s more versed in design (though I’m pretty good too!), while I’m more versed in writing and editing. So it’s a nice blend. We’ll be working together again, lol. And we are already on our companion guide to the book, which is additional information and for those who love facts.
When you first met did you ever imagine you’d end up married to each other?
Jason: Yes. It was love at first chat.
Jennifer: I felt Jason was “the one” when I met him. We have a lot in common besides Marilyn, including a lot of situations in our childhoods, as well as things as simple our love of 80s music, and everything in between. Not to say that we didn’t have some obstacles, because we did. We had a very rough patch in our relationship over a year ago where things went tested because of a range of circumstances. It was a difficult time that we both had to sift through. And once some of the dust settled with the passage of time, we both came back to the table. There was a humility that had to accompany that and by God’s grace, we worked through it all. To me, that’s real love, when a person can push through something, admit the wrongs and make those wrongs right. I am a faith-filled person and to me that work is only done through God, prayer and forgiveness. We have to let Him fix our mistakes (and as humans, we all mess up a lot, or the actions of others we can’t control, and/or sometimes we invite in mess things up for us). We have to learn and grow from it. And we have grown from it. And continue to grow. In July 2015, we married in a heartfelt ceremony overlooking the ocean, with just a few witnesses and our wonderful pastor. I had a flare of ulcerative colitis/Crohn’s (which Marilyn also had colitis by the way) less than a month and a half prior, and was hospitalized for three days, requiring intravenous medications to recover. To me it sitting in a hospital bed on Memorial Day 2015 was all a turning point, and I realized we hadn’t come this far for nothing, that Jason and my children are the people on this earth that God put in my life as people who can count on each other, and it took the miracle one Facebook post and a 3,000-mile distance, to bring Jason and I together. What seemed ruined was restored…true love wins and withstands many tests.
Over the years what would you say is the most enduring thing you have learned about Marilyn?
Jason: She wanted to be brought back to life. We hope our book Marilyn Monroe Unveiled: A Family History does that for her.
Jennifer: That Marilyn endures period. She intrigued people when she walked the earth. She is fascinating to people more than 5o years after her death. I feel Marilyn Monroe Unveiled: A Family History will help to cement her legend even further because it unlocks some exciting truths about her that have been suppressed for so long and waiting to be unveiled Truths about her ancestry that reveal truths about Marilyn.
Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?
Jason: What you do in this life matters.
Jennifer: Yes! Marilyn was a real person, not just a myth. Our books share that. Check out our books, Marilyn Monroe Unveiled: A Family History on Amazon, Createspace, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository and others. It’s also available through bookstores. Blondels.com is the only place where you can purchase it signed and personalized by us. Be on the lookout for the companion guide. And also my book, Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio – Love In Japan, Korea & Beyond, has some minor updates to it. God bless and thanks for reading!