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An Auction Tells the Story of a Life Cut Short: 'Marilyn Monroe for Sale'
December 23, 2018  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

If you’re tired of getting the same old sweaters or shirts for Christmas, the Smithsonian channel can give you a glimpse of truly creative clothes shopping.

On Sunday at 9 p.m. ET, just hours before Santa Baby will leave presents under your tree, Smithsonian will air the British documentary Marilyn Monroe For Sale, which weaves the outline of Marilyn Monroe’s life into footage from the 2016 Los Angeles auction at which Julien’s sold more than 1,000 Monroe items and personal effects.

Monroe fans won’t learn anything new about her life in this quick run-through. Still, 55 years have now passed since she died from an overdose of prescription drugs and there are always new generations that don’t know her fascinating story.

In recent years, the consensus has been that she left a legacy of inspiration: a woman defying a repressive male world to take control of her life. That stands in contrast to the other interpretation: that she lost control and ultimately was drowned by the tsunami of fame and fortune she spent her life pursuing.

Another case where two things can be true.

Actress Ellen Burstyn and several other commentators, including designer Bob Mackie and Monroe biographers, speak with consistent admiration about her life. She knew what she wanted and worked incredibly hard to attain it, they say, and in the process, she became a critical prototype for the modern woman.

At the same time, another friend says all she really wanted, in the end, was a baby and a home, things she never had when she was growing up with foster parents.

It is bravely suggested at one point that Monroe simply wanted it all – fame, fortune and a quiet, normal domestic life.

That’s a big ask, as they say these days.

In any case, Marilyn Monroe For Sale makes note of her unhappy marriages to baseball star Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller (above). In each case, their jealousy over her career became an irreparable wedge, though she did take a year off during her marriage to Miller so she could stay home, plan dinner parties, and create to-do lists with items like “buy birthday present.”

At least one of those to-do lists, which mentioned French bread, sold at the Los Angeles auction for $5,000.

One morning at the Waldorf, she wrote down her recollections of a vivid dream in which her acting coach Lee Strasburg cut her open and found nothing inside except sawdust. Someone paid $15,000 for this note, and if that sounds a little creepy, Lot 14 was one of her prescription pill bottles.

The show-stoppers, though, were her dresses, most of which she wore in movies. No, the white subway grate dress from The Seven-Year Itch wasn’t in the collection, but the red number she wore in the opening scene of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which was slashed to here and cut to there, brought $37,500.

This, friends, is clothes shopping. Nothing off the rack here. And okay, it was used, but it only had one owner.

Still, Jane Russell did wear the same dress in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, so if you would prefer something completely singular, you might think in terms of the dress – albeit barely a dress – that Monroe wore in Some Like It Hot, her most successful movie.

If you wanted to see it as close up as Tony Curtis saw it in the film, you would only have had to top the winning bid of $375,000.

The star of the show, however, was never worn in a show. It was the dress Monroe wore at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, when she sang “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy (right).

Kennedy, who attended with his mother Rose because his wife Jackie stayed home, may have also been acquainted with Monroe off-stage. What we know with greater certainty is that three months later, Monroe was dead, and within 18 months Kennedy was killed, as well. Whatever the fuller context, the 20-odd seconds it took her to sing the song remains embedded in American political lore.

The dress itself is described here as one-layer sheer silk, with hundreds of flat rhinestone-like sequins sewn in. The idea, says Mackie, was that it would look as if she were wearing nothing but diamonds.

It feels like a spoiler to reveal how much it sold for, but it quickly ran up into seven figures.

Now that’s shopping for clothes.

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Was hoping to find your commentary here about the Amazon Prime Original called Homecoming, starring Julia Roberts.
Dec 26, 2018   |  Reply
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