Fact-Checking Oscar Nominee Ana de Armas in Blonde: What the Film Made Up About Marilyn Monroe

Blonde wallows in the most tragic aspects of Marilyn Monroe's life—and here's where the film starring Ana de Armas, nominated for Best Actress at the 2023 Oscars March 12, goes off on its own.

By Natalie Finn Mar 11, 2023 4:00 AMTags
Watch: Ana de Armas REACTS to NC-17 Rating for Blonde Movie

If you believe Blonde, Marilyn Monroe never had a moment's happiness in her all-too-short life. 

Not that you should believe Blonde, featuring an Oscar-nominated performance by Ana de Armas as the indisputably tragic bombshell. 

Though it draws from true, well-chronicled events, many of them caught on camera, Blonde is not a biopic. Rather, the NC-17-rated movie is based on the best-selling 2000 novel of the same name by Joyce Carole Oates, who described the work as "a radically distilled 'life' in the form of fiction."

"It's a dream film about Marilyn Monroe," writer-director Andrew Dominik explained in a Netflix interview. "It's about the image as much as the person. She's grappling with, and we're grappling with, the image of her life."

It's unlikely anyone is sitting down these days to watch or read about Monroe expecting a feel-good story. But Blonde is trauma on parade, the horrors of her life cranked up to 11 as the film plumbs the ways the consistently underrated actress was exploited, violated and abused while simultaneously becoming one of the most enduring stars in Hollywood history.

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But such was the point the source material was trying to make.

"Dominik has captured the disjointed and distorted hallucinatory reality of the novel with an unflinching feminist eye—nothing sentimental here, nothing 'feel good,'" Oates wrote in an essay included with Blonde's production notes, "but something much more valuable, and deserving of respect in the vast collective mind of popular culture: a true, raw, painfully honest being, an exposed soul, not a pop star entertainer but one of us, transformed."


Knowing she hadn't signed up for a fairy tale, De Armas called getting to play Monroe "a gift," telling The Hollywood Reporter at the 2022 Venice Film Festival, "She was all I thought about. She was all I dreamed about. She was all I could talk about. She was with me. And it was beautiful."

And to her credit, Monroe is certainly all we could think about as well after watching Blonde. Here we've untangled the real from the "radically distilled."

(Warning: Some film spoilers ahead.)

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Did Marilyn Monroe Ever Know Who Her Father Was?

Blonde: The gaping wound in Marilyn Monroe's life is her father's absence. Norma Jeane Mortensen's soon-to-be-institutionalized mother Gladys Baker (played by Julianne Nicholson) tells her that her dad is a powerful man in the motion picture business. The star is never able to enjoy watching her films for fear this man—whoever he is—would mistake his daughter for the bombshell on screen. She also breathily calls husbands Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller "daddy," her tone veering between intimate affection and delusion, her go-to state being a little girl desperate for love and approval.

Once she's a full-fledged movie star, she starts receiving letters from someone claiming to be her father. Finding out that one of her former lovers was sending the letters all along is a final blow as her life skids to its premature end on Aug. 4, 1962.


Real life: On a positive note, the cruel ruse was an invention. But the screen siren never did know for sure who her father was, and she certainly had no relationship with him. 

As seen in the film, Baker really did give her daughter a photograph of a handsome man who resembled Clark Gable and told her he was her father. She wouldn't share his name.

Baker's first husband was Jasper Baker, who took off with their two children, Robert and Berniece, after she filed for divorce in 1921. (Berniece, who died in 2014, wrote the 1994 book My Sister Marilyn.) Monroe was also known as Norma Jean Baker (she preferred to spell her middle name with no "e")—but the man listed as Norma's father on her birth certificate was Baker's second husband, Edward Mortensen.

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The man in the photo, meanwhile, was Charles Stanley Gifford, the not-quite-divorced night supervisor Baker first met in 1923 while working as a negative cutter at Consolidated Film Industries.

Baker married Mortensen, who offered stability, in 1924 but left him after four months. She resumed her affair with Gifford in May 1925. That relationship was over by Christmas, and the following June, Baker placed her days-old daughter in the care of neighbors and returned to work. (Mortensen and Baker divorced in 1928 and he died in a car crash the following year.)


It's unclear just how Monroe discovered Gifford's existence. But per Anthony Summers' 1985 book Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, the actress drove out toward Palm Springs with gossip columnist Sidney Skolsky in 1950, telling him they were going to visit her dad. They parked near a farmhouse. When Monroe came back to the car, Skolsky recalled, she told him her "son-of-a-bitch" father had said to her, "Listen, Marilyn, I'm married, I have children. I don't want any trouble."

And yet Skolsky couldn't say for sure whether she had talked to anybody. Numerous friends had heard Monroe say different things about her father over the years, including that he was dead. Keith Badman's The Final Years of Marilyn Monroe recounts her going out to Palm Springs with her drama coach, Natasha Lytess, and Lytess saying that Monroe called her purported dad from the road, and that's when he told her he had a family and couldn't see her—but he would call her. 

In fact, per Summers, two weeks after their road trip, Skolsky started to recount his adventure with Monroe and Lytess stopped him to say she'd had the same adventure.

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Monroe didn't hear from Gifford until 1961 when she was hospitalized after shooting The Misfits. Per Badman, he sent a get-well card signed, "From the man you tried to see nearly 10 years ago, God forgive me."

In early 1962, Monroe got a call from a nurse who told her that her father had suffered a heart attack and really wanted to see her. Monroe informed the woman calling that she had never met the man in question and he was free to contact her lawyer. She relayed the encounter to the psychiatrist she was seeing in the final year of her life, Dr. Ralph Greenson, describing her life as an "out of control mess."

Gifford died in 1965. According to findings presented in the 2022 documentary Marilyn, Her Final Secret, a DNA sample from his great-grandchild tested against a hair taken off of Monroe's body before she was embalmed revealed that Gifford really was Monroe's father.


Did Marilyn Monroe's Mother Try to Kill Her?

Blonde: Among various warning signs, including her delusion that Norma's father is a Hollywood tycoon who lives up in the hills, Gladys—who blames the child for her father walking out on them—attacks her. The child runs to a neighbor's apartment, her mother is taken away to a mental hospital, and the neighbor eventually dropped Norma off at an orphanage.

Real life: Norma and her mother lived with Albert and Ida Bolender, the couple who took her in as an infant, for almost seven years, which allowed Baker the freedom to be able to work and save some money. In 1933 she bought a home in Hollywood and she and her daughter moved in, renting out the upstairs to a British couple. But Baker was increasingly plagued by depression and hallucinations and attacked her friend Grace McKee with a knife in January 1935—weeks after Norma told her mother that their male tenant upstairs had tried to molest her.

Baker, who died in 1984 at the age of 81, was institutionalized and would be in and out of psychiatric hospitals for the next 30 years. Norma ultimately became a ward of the state.

Was Marilyn Monroe Really in a Throuple with Charlie Chaplin Jr. and Edward G. Robinson Jr.?

Blonde: Monroe becomes the meat in a screen-legend-scion sandwich, palling around (and sleeping with) the pretty-boy sons of Charlie Chaplin and Edward G. Robinson, who she meets in an acting class. 

As played by Xavier Samuel and Evan Williams, Cass and Eddy are eerily similar-looking and endlessly amused by the whole Hollywood-celebrity thing. Feeling understood by these two lost souls who grew up with everything but resent their fathers to no end, Marilyn even falls for Cass and at first she's over the moon to be pregnant with his child. She ultimately chooses a movie role over having the baby, to her everlasting regret.

Real life: The toxic threesome was fiction, but Monroe did have a relationship with Charlie Jr.—and another with Eddy, according to her longtime friend Arthur James.

Matt Kennedy

Her romance with young Chaplin ended when he found Monroe tucked into bed with his brother Sydney, but they remained close friends for the rest of her life, James told Goddess author Summers.

She met Robinson through Chaplin, James said, and they had a fling while she was making 1953's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and he was trying to make it as an actor. (A few years later Robinson was a cowboy in her movie Bus Stop and the assassin hiding in the cake in Some Like It Hot.) 

"We three men were a sort of trio," James recalled, "and Marilyn saw us all occasionally, together or separately, for the rest of her life. They were all depressive, Marilyn, Charlie and Eddy, and they would hunt each other down when things were bad...But Charlie and Eddy were suicidal, more so than Marilyn. They couldn't make it on their own, and they couldn't deal with their famous names. Sometimes it was Marilyn who literally kept them alive."

As a boy, Chaplin witnessed his parents' nasty custody battle and he ended up raised primarily by his mother, Lita Grey, the second of his father's four wives. He died of a pulmonary embolism at 42 in March 1968. Robinson suffered a fatal heart attack at 40 in February 1970.

Did Marilyn Monroe Have an Abortion?

Blonde: Monroe reluctantly ends her pregnancy so she can keep a film role, and the decision haunts her forever. When she gets pregnant again during her marriage to Miller, her guilt manifests in a heartbreaking conversation she has with her fetus. (Wide-eyed fetuses make several appearances.)

Real life: James told Summers that Chaplin did get the actress pregnant in 1947 and she had an abortion.

Various Monroe biographies note the rumors of multiple abortions, with one friend claiming Monroe told her that she'd had 12, some of them in so-called back-alley surroundings. 

Her fertility problems once she was extremely famous were well-documented, including an ectopic pregnancy in 1957 and a miscarriage in 1958, both while she was married to Miller, and she was treated for endometriosis.

Getty Images

Did Joe DiMaggio Really Hit Marilyn Monroe?

Blonde: Cass tries to blackmail DiMaggio (played by Bobby Cannavale) by threatening to expose some old risqué photos of Marilyn that she shot for a calendar before her career took off—after which the retired New York Yankees great returns home and smacks her in the face. A bit later, disapproving of her sex-symbol status and under the impression that she wants to eventually give up her career to just be his wife, he beats Marilyn up in a jealous rage after the crowd goes gaga while she's shooting her iconic white-halter-dress-over-the-subway-grate scene in The Seven Year Itch.


Real life: The photo exchange is fiction, but there were witnesses to DiMaggio and Monroe's heated argument in the lobby of their New York hotel about what transpired on The Seven Year Itch set. Monroe's makeup artist told Goddess author Summers that the actress had bruises on her shoulders when she came to set the next day.

Monroe filed for divorce in October 1954 after nine months of marriage (the second for both of them), the pair having been on wildly different pages when it came to her career. But DiMaggio, who never remarried, is said to have loved Monroe until the day he died in 1999. He organized her funeral in 1962 and sent roses to her crypt at Westwood Memorial Park three times a week for the next 20 years.


Was Marilyn Monroe a disaster on the set of Some Like It Hot?

Blonde: Drinking, popping pills, forgetting her lines, screaming fits: Marilyn is unraveling fast on the set of Some Like It Hot in 1958.

Real life: Ironically, Some Like It Hot features one of Monroe's best performances and it's considered one of the greatest movies of all time. But the set issues were real, and the star had a miscarriage toward the end of filming. 

Marilyn Monroe: Hollywood Legend

"Marilyn was so difficult because she was totally unpredictable," director Billy Wilder, who had previously worked with her on The Seven Year Itch, told Summers. "I never knew what kind of a day we were going to have." Yet he also praised the star as "an absolute genius as a comic actress."

Tony Curtis, who wrote extensively about the tumultuous shoot, infamously compared making out with one of the most lusted-after women on the planet to "kissing Hitler," making the comment while watching dailies with the crew. Yes, he said something like that, Curtis acknowledged years later, but he insisted he was taken out of context.

It had been a long day and they'd done dozens of takes, he clarified, so what he actually said was, "You know, after take 40, kissing Marilyn is like kissing Hitler."


Did Marilyn Monroe Have an Affair With President John F. Kennedy?

BlondeWhat's been historically accepted as fact for years is symbolically summed up by a humiliating encounter Marilyn has with the 35th president of the United States. She's ushered into his hotel room, given a minute to freshen up and then is taken to JFK's bedroom, where he basically forces her to perform oral sex while he's on the phone—and a Secret Service agent is sitting within hearing distance.

Real life: Monroe's alleged assignations with the president and his brother Robert Kennedy still remain the stuff of lots of people saying it happened. Biographers of all three have chronicled every detail of their witnessed and heard-about interactions during the 1950 and '60s, and conspiracy theories have gone so far as to speculate that her relationship with them brought about her death—but the truth about all of it has always been a puzzle with missing pieces.

Cecil Stoughton/AP/Shutterstock

In the 2022 documentary The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes, her friend Arthur James is heard recounting to Summers, who conducted the taped interviews in question, that a couple months after Monroe's infamous performance of "Happy Birthday" for President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, Bobby told her to never call either him or John again.

She died on Aug. 4.

"She was hurt, terribly hurt when she was told directly never to call or contact again, Robert or John," James said. "That was an order. Jack didn't contact her, Bob did. And that's what killed her."

Blonde is streaming on Netflix.

(Originally published Sept. 28, 2022, at 8 a.m. PT)

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