A Marilyn Monroe connection to Hemet
■ By Mark Lentine / Contributed
Editor’s Note: Last week, a shortened version of this article was published in the Mar. 21 issue of the Chronicle due to production deadlines and lack of print space. This week, we are running the full version to better suit our readers in consuming the story in its entirety.
“They are not long, the days of wine and roses,
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.”
“They are not long,”
– Ernest Dowson
Marilyn Monroe’s short, triumphant, tumultuous life seemed, at times, more nightmare than dream. Like a candle in the wind of Elton John’s elegiac song, and much like Ernest Dowson’s poem she was here, lit up the screen, and then faded back into the dream from which she seemingly came.
What many don’t realize is that Monroe’s beginnings are also shrouded in mystery, and that mystery may lie within a Hemet, California zip code.
The possible, agreed-upon-lie that is the “orthodox” story of Monroe’s birth is that she was born Norma Jean Mortenson on June 1, 1926. While the date of her birth is not in dispute, the name of her biological father certainly is. “I have it on good authority, and enough of a good authority to print it in my book, that Marilyn Monroe’s biological father resided right here in Hemet,” said Bob Vieten. Vieten is one of the area’s foremost historians and author of the four-book series “Historic Homes of Hemet.”
The scene shifts to the 1950s when clean, friendly drive-ins dotted the southern California landscape. The camera zooms in on the drive-in at 1707 East Florida Avenue, owned by a Mr. and Mrs. George and Helen Von Driska. The drive-in named “Von’s”, so the story goes, is the place where Marilyn and then-husband, Joe DiMaggio once pulled in so Monroe could use the restroom, and make a call to a mysterious figure; some believe it was her father.
Since Joltin’ Joe and Monroe were only married for the nine months from January of ’54 to October of that year, that gives us a very good idea of the timeframe of the incident.
Monroe was seen many times in the Hemet area, most times staying at the Soboba Hot Springs. She was always seen making clandestine calls or stopping at local bars (most frequently mentioned in the reminiscences of locals is Chappies bar) and asking for a Charles Stanley Gifford.
A search-engine request of the name Charles Stanley Gifford showed that the first ten stories under Mr. Gifford’s name all reference Monroe. However, as they say in infomercials, “But wait, there’s more.”
“My dad and mom were out at the Soboba Hot Springs for dinner, a very upscale dining spot in town. My dad started to get out of the car but was stopped by someone who looked familiar. The gentlemen had gone to dad’s side of the car to let a woman out of the car. When the woman stepped out of the car, dad realized why the man had looked familiar; it was Joe DiMaggio, and he was holding the door open for his wife, Marilyn Monroe. My mom was not happy with the way dad was looking at Marilyn. I remember them discussing it when they got back home,” said a smiling former Hemet mayor, Robert Lindquist.
I asked Lindquist if he believed that Gifford was indeed Monroe’s father. “Oh yes, it was quite well-known here in town. I delivered newspapers and was a child at the time, but I clearly remember Mr. Gifford well; he was always very neat and had a small mustache; very debonair. He worked for a time, in the movie industry, I believe.”
And this, according to Bob Vieten, is also where Mr. Gifford met Miss Gladys Pearl Baker, nee Monroe, who worked for Mr. Gifford in some capacity. According to Bob Vieten, “On his deathbed, Mr. Gifford told his pastor, Reverend Don Liden of the First Presbyterian Church, that he was indeed, Monroe’s father. He also told his best friend Charlie Benson, also of Hemet, and told a very few others, but generally when asked he would just wink, and say nothing more.”
One of the deans of classic filmdom, author of more than 30 books on classic Hollywood and current Hemet resident and reporter with the Valley Chronicle, Ray “Rusty” Strait, knew of the story immediately. “Marilyn’s father was Charles Stanley Gifford. He’s buried in San Jacinto Cemetery. It’s him.” People who have read Strait’s books know that he does not speak out of turn. “It was a well-known thing here in town,” Strait added.
I also spoke with Ms. Jacquelyn Rooney, the administrator of the Irish Marilyn Monroe Fan Club, from where I retrieved a picture of the dashing Mr. Gifford, and she corroborated some of the details in Bob Vieten’s book, adding, “his [Gifford’s] family have always denied it. But, Marilyn was in the company of her first husband, Jim Dougherty, and she called Mr. Gifford and was very upset to be told by whoever answered that Gifford did not want to speak with her. This story was told by Mr. Dougherty himself.”
Then there’s this story about Marilyn Monroe’s half-sister Berniece. “Years after Marilyn’s death,” the administrator told me, “Berniece received a call from Gifford, who was ailing. She gave him the brush off, feeling that it more-or-less served him right.”
Short of DNA, if any from Marilyn Monroe or Mr. Gifford exists in family lineage, we may never know the full story of Marilyn Monroe’s beginnings or whether or not C. Stanley Gifford was indeed her father. Like so much of Monroe’s story, it’s the questions that keep us going back year after year. Fade to black.
Those with any information are encouraged to contact the Valley Chronicle.