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Verdugo Views: Marilyn Monroe's mom provided local photographer's big moment

When Gladys Baker Eley climbed out of a window at Rockhaven Sanitarium in Montrose one night and disappeared, the story made the headlines.

Why? Because she was Marilyn Monroe's mother. And the Glendale News-Press got the story.

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Eley, a single mother, had a mental breakdown shortly after the 1926 birth of her daughter Norma Jeane Baker (later to become Marilyn Monroe). Eley spent much of her life in mental hospitals and Monroe, who was raised by a series of foster parents, rarely saw her.

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Eley had been at Rockhaven for some 10 years when Monroe died in August 1962. Monroe's will provided a trust fund payment of $5,000 a year for her mother's care, according to the July 5, 1963, edition of the Glendale News-Press.

Less than a year after Monroe died, the 60-year-old Eley fashioned a rope out of two uniforms, climbed through an 18-inch-square closet window and lowered herself to the ground. After climbing over the wire mesh fence surrounding the property, she began walking.

Twenty-four hours later, she was discovered some 15 miles away in a church on Foothill Boulevard. She had spent the night in the church's utility room, sitting near the water heater to keep warm.

The minister who found her called the police; they were soon followed by Glendale News-Press photographer Louie Deisbeck and a reporter.

Deisbeck, who had been with the newspaper since 1957, had many contacts in the city.

"Police and firemen contacted him all the time in those days, they knew to call him directly at home," his son Rusty said in a recent phone interview.

Deisbeck was met at the church by two female police officers. "It was real hush hush," his son recalled.

After he got the photo — the first taken of Eley in more than 20 years — Deisbeck raced back to the News-Press, leaving the reporter to get the story.

The police officers told the reporter (who did not get a byline in the July 5, 1963 article) that Eley stated she wanted to get away from the sanitarium and practice her Christian Science teaching. After determining that she was unharmed, they returned her to the sanitarium.

Deisbeck's photo earned front-page coverage in many newspapers.

"That was the most famous picture he ever did," son Rusty said. "He sold it to magazines and newspapers all over the world."

In 2006, while working on a Verdugo Views column about Deisbeck, I interviewed him in his home. He proudly showed me a framed copy of the News-Press, with his photo of Eley placed prominently on the front page.

Deisbeck, who died this last January at age 85, was a 1949 graduate of Hoover High. He joined the News-Press when it was on Isabel Street, and he became known for breaking-news photographs that won numerous awards, according to his Feb. 5 News-Press obituary.

Gladys Baker Eley passed away on March 11, 1984.

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Readers Write

The May 5 Verdugo Views on Pike's Glen Oaks brought several emails, including one from Tom Scott, son of the restaurant owner, regarding information provided by his sister.

"Martha was really the best person to go to as she worked at the restaurant longer than I did (I joined the Navy in 1965 and never really came back except for visits), and she worked as a hostess, so she interacted with the regulars. She also worked at the Glendale Travel Service, which [our parents] bought after selling the restaurant. ''

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Scott Wheeler wrote that the story took him back many decades. "My parents and I went there frequently (one to two times weekly) and knew the Scotts very well," he wrote. Wheeler noted that Pike's was built on the small strip of land between the Verdugo Wash and Glenoaks Boulevard, not on the parcel south of the wash now occupied by Nestlé.

"After the restaurant was torn down, nothing was ever built there. It has been open park land ever since. While I went to Pike's Verdugo Oaks a few times (and it was by far more elegant and fancy), it was nothing compared to Glen Oaks," Wheeler wrote.

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Debbie Bright, whose father, Arnol Simpkins, and his Aunt Lucille had a beauty salon called Jolly's in a strip mall near Pike's Verdugo Oaks before he built Arnol Salon & Spa in 1971 on Pacific, wrote: "I can remember going to Pike's many, many times. I often wish we could go back in time to visit all the wonderful businesses that are no longer in Glendale. Thank you again for stirring up wonderful memories."

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KATHERINE YAMADA can be reached at katherineyamada@gmail.com or by mail at Verdugo Views, c/o News-Press, 202 W. First St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. Please include your name, address and phone number.

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