Francine Gifford Deir has just discovered that she is Marilyn’s niece. She welcomes us.
Norfolk, Virginia, Francine Gifford Deir leads the life of a provincial bourgeois, far from Hollywood. However, it is enough for this insurance agent to discover our photographer’s lens for us to guess a taste for light that could run in the family… Francine has put away old photos and yellowed letters in a shoebox. Exclusively, she tells us about this man, Charles Stanley Gifford Senior, her grandfather. The one who never wanted to admit being the father of the biggest star in the world.
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Paris Match. Tell us about your grandfather…
Francine Gifford Deir. He was a great man, tall, married three times. Born in 1898, he was passionate about photography, horses, played polo. The son of a carpenter, he had no education and had started out as a handler in a Hollywood studio. He delivered the films to the lab, on a motorbike. He had also befriended Stan Laurel (of Laurel and Hardy) who gave him his old clothes. In 1925, he met Gladys, Marilyn’s mother. He was still married to Lillian, my grandmother. Their affair was, I think, one of the detonators of their divorce.
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Did you see him often?
Two weeks each summer. He had set up a farm, the Red Rock Dairy, in Hemet, a town between Los Angeles and Palm Springs. He pasteurized the milk, then sold it in his store or to ice cream makers. The business was doing well. He put a lot of passion into it. He was proud of the advertisements he produced himself, adored his cows, his bulls, gave each calf the first name of one of his grandchildren… With my parents, my brother and my sister, we had to four days to cross America, from Virginia to California, in our Ford station wagon, without air conditioning, to get to his house. The rest of the year, we wrote to each other.
Did you know the rumor that made him Marilyn’s father?
Yes, because Marilyn talked about it to everyone. That’s what Gladys, his mother, had told him. I had discovered it in the 1960s, on the cover of “Esquire” magazine. They had managed to get a picture of my grandfather. My father, who was in it, was furious.
When Marilyn was born, my grandfather was married to another. At the time, a child out of wedlock was not done
Did he believe it himself?
He said no, in reality he really didn’t want to know! At the end of his life, my grandfather had told everything to a Presbyterian pastor, then he had written to my father to enjoin him to meet this reverend: “He has things to tell you”. Unfortunately, that never happened. My grandfather died of a heart attack in 1965. My father, who was by his side, always claimed that his lack of confession on his deathbed was proof that the rumor was bogus. But the doubt remained. He had also confided to my son Bryan: “After my death, if you want to know, take my hair”. That’s why we agreed to do the DNA test proposed by François Pomès.
Were you surprised by the result?
Not really. In the 1950s, when she was already famous, Marilyn went to see my grandfather in Hemet. But he had refused to meet her. It would have been so easy to explain to her: “Honey, sorry, I would like to tell you that I am your father, but you are wrong”. At the time, he was remarried to Mary, a lovely woman.
Why did he refuse, do you think?
I think he was ashamed: having a child out of wedlock was frowned upon. He also wanted to protect my father, his only son, whom he adored. He had lost a daughter, Elizabeth, to illness at age 13. Besides, he probably suffered in silence when Marilyn died, in 1962. It was the second daughter he lost. Well, he probably feared for his reputation. Admitting that he was the father of Hollywood’s biggest star and that he had refused to admit it all his life would have hurt his business.
Has your life changed since knowing Marilyn Monroe was your aunt?
This is news that has put a little glamor in our lives. If I’m sad, it’s for her. Perhaps her fate would have been different if she had belonged to a family like ours, loving and tight-knit. Maybe she would have been stronger. We’ll never know. The past belongs to the past. My grandfather never expressed any remorse, but I think for him the weight of secrecy and guilt was heavy to bear.
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