Rediscovering Marilyn’s Forgotten Family

Following the recent Paris Match article about the upcoming documentary, Marilyn, Her Final Secret, Tom Leonard explores Marilyn’s family history for the Daily Mail.

“Monroe’s mother, Gladys, had once shown her daughter a gold-framed photo she kept of this man — with piercing eyes, thin moustache and a rakish fedora. ‘This is your father,’ she said simply. But the man in question — Charles Stanley Gifford — always strenuously denied it. Gifford, a foreman at the Hollywood film-developing company where Gladys worked, had had a brief affair with Monroe’s mother in 1925 — the year before the star was born.

The true mystery of who her father was has never been resolved — until now. A forthcoming French-made documentary, Marilyn, Her Final Secret, claims to have definitively settled the question of her paternity using DNA technology. Filmmaker Francois Pomes says he has new and ‘irrefutable’ evidence that Gifford was Monroe’s father.

He and his team managed to obtain Monroe’s DNA from a lock of her hair. This wasn’t easy as Monroe was a natural brunette who bleached her hair for decades and the ammonia used in the bleaching process destroys DNA. But as Pomes explained to Paris Match magazine, he procured three strands of Monroe’s hair from a lock that her funeral director had acquired while preparing her body.

A laboratory could only obtain a small amount of her DNA — but it was enough. The next step was to find DNA from the potential father … On her daughter’s birth certificate, Gladys listed the father as her second husband, Martin Edward Mortensen, though she had split up with him by the time Monroe was born.

The French team discovered a single surviving granddaughter of Gifford — Francine Gifford Deir — now 75 and running her own insurance company in Norfolk, Virginia. Ms Gifford Deir, who was born in the UK to a British mother while her father Charles Jr was serving in the U.S. Navy, agreed to provide a DNA sample. This provided a clear match with the DNA from Monroe’s hair.

It’s a belated vindication for a woman born into a family that, at least on her mother’s side, was tragically dysfunctional.”

“Stan Gifford, Gladys’s supervisor at Consolidated Film Industries where she cut up film negatives, was not only good-looking but arrogant. He had a reputation as a shameless womaniser who was separated from his wife, Lillian, and awaiting a final divorce when he started seeing Gladys. Gifford’s wife claimed in her uncontested divorce petition that he ‘shamelessly boasted of his conquests with other women’.

Gladys never publicly claimed Gifford was Monroe’s father nor did she ever seek any support from him. But she was neither financially nor emotionally capable of raising a child … Such mental instability was deeply rooted in her mother’s family and Monroe, too, spent time in a psychiatric ward. She once confided to [her third] husband, the celebrated playwright Arthur Miller: ‘Most people can admire their fathers. But I never had one.’

Aged 18, she announced to her first husband she was going to ring her father, having identified Gifford by talking to her mother’s old work colleagues then finding out his phone number. Monroe’s husband [Jim] Dougherty watched as she dialled Gifford’s number, then hung up quickly, explaining that her father had refused to talk to her. ‘She was real sad,’ he recalled.

According to Monroe’s friend, the Hollywood gossip columnist Sidney Skolsky, she tried to make contact with Gifford again in 1950, by which time she was famous. Skolsky said she asked him to drive with her to Palm Springs and explained her father lived on a local dairy farm. Skolsky recalled how Monroe parked the car and told him to wait while she walked up a drive to a house hidden behind trees. She returned, saying that her father was a ‘son of a bitch’, who’d told her: ‘Listen, Marilyn, I’m married, I have children. I don’t want you to start any trouble for me.’

When Skolsky related the bizarre episode to a mutual friend, acting coach Natasha Lytess, she said the star had taken her on exactly the same fruitless quest only weeks earlier. Marilyn had grown edgy during the journey, she said, and rang ahead from a pay phone to introduce herself to Gifford. Lytess heard Gifford cutting Marilyn off sharply, with the same brush-off, saying: ‘Look, I’m married and I have a family. I don’t have anything to say to you. Call my lawyer.’ Then he hung up. ‘It did her no good,’ said Lytess. ‘It broke her heart.’

Meanwhile, she told others — including her publicists and a newspaper reporter — that both her parents were dead. The journalist ran a story depicting her as Hollywood’s ‘loneliest’ orphan only for another newspaper to embarrass her by revealing Gladys was alive if not exactly well in a local psychiatric facility.

But, in one way or another, her father was rarely out of her mind. She always yearned for a father figure — she called her first husband ‘Daddy’ and her second husband, baseball star Joe DiMaggio, ‘Pa’.”

“I am sad for her. Our family is very tight-knit. Maybe Marilyn would have been stronger.” – Francine Gifford Deir (thanks to A Passion for Marilyn)

“Francine Gifford Deir, who provided the DNA sample, told the Mail she believes that for all Monroe’s efforts, she never actually met Stan Gifford. She said she wasn’t greatly surprised to discover she was Monroe’s niece given her grandfather’s behaviour towards the end of his life. For after spending decades reassuring his family he wasn’t the film star’s father (while nonetheless admitting he’d had an affair with her mother), shortly before he died of a heart attack in 1965, Gifford spoke at length to a Presbyterian minister.

He also urged Francine’s father, Charles Jr, to talk to the cleric, saying: ‘He has things to tell you.’ But Charles Jr never spoke to his father’s priest. ‘He was guarding his father’s reputation,’ says Francine. ‘He would say: “I know my dad would not have deserted his child.”‘ Even so, before he died, even Charles Jr wavered, telling his family to take some of his own hair and do a DNA test to settle the question once and for all. Some of them were willing to, but none of them had any of Marilyn’s DNA to test it against.

Today, Francine is convinced that her grandfather would have wed Gladys if he hadn’t already been married. Having children out of wedlock was frowned on and, besides, he already had two children he wanted to keep in his life, she said. She believes Gifford ‘suffered in silence’ for never acknowledging Monroe as his daughter. ‘Grandad was a wonderful person and he was a very caring father. He had two other children but his daughter Elizabeth died of illness at the age of 13. For him to have lost another daughter is dreadful, especially as Marilyn also passed away before he did.’

She said it was ‘glamorous but kind of sad’ to finally know Marilyn was her aunt. ‘Her life could have been richer if he’d acknowledged her,’ she said. ‘Maybe her fate would have been different if she’d belonged to a family like ours. Maybe she would have been stronger. We’ll never know.’ We can have a pretty good idea, however. For Marilyn — who once sorrowfully wrote: ‘I am alone. I am always alone no matter what’ and who indeed died alone aged 36 — a father and a loving family might well have made all the difference.”