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It may be almost 60 years since Marilyn Monroe died, but the actress continues to be a style icon whose legend endears still. Items once owned by Monroe remain coveted, like the Golden Globe presented to her in 1962 from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, five months before her death, which sold for $250,000, or her Ford Thunderbird, which sold for $490,000 (both sales took place last year). When it comes to the dresses she wore, the interest is heightened — Monroe’s white costume from The Seven Year Itch, once owned by Debbie Reynolds, went for $4.6 million in 2011; the Jean-Louis dress Monroe made famous the night she sang “Happy Birthday Mr. President” to John F. Kennedy sold for a world-record price of $4,810,000 in 2016.
In November, Julien’s Auctions, which sold the Jean-Louis dress in 2016, will offer a collection of costumes worn by the Hollywood screen legend from some of her most notable films. While these dresses aren’t expected to fetch as much as the aforementioned, they still hold significance in the iconic actress’ life, who was born in 1926 as Norma Jeanie Mortenson and went on to become one of the most recognizable figures in pop culture. The Life and Career of Marilyn Monroe auction will headline Julien’s Auctions’ Legendary Women in Hollywood two-day event in Beverly Hills, which also features Mae West and Olivia Newton-John memorabilia.
“Marilyn is the ultimate Legendary Woman of Hollywood, so it was easy to include her in this auction,” Darren Julien, president of Julien’s Auctions, told The Hollywood Reporter. “Julien’s has become the leader in the world of Hollywood and rock ’n’ roll, and especially Marilyn Monroe, holding the world record of $4.81 million.” The auction will take place Nov. 1-2 at the Standard Oil Building in Beverly Hills, with a live auction online at juliensauctions.com.
One of the highlights of this collection, which spans 115 items and artifacts from Monroe’s personal life before she died in 1962, includes dresses from three of the films that cemented her status as a Hollywood sex symbol. “Collectability of a celebrity depends on two things: one, how collectible the celebrity is and two, how important the items are to the celebrity’s life/career,” says Julien. “With this auction, we have three major and some of the most important dresses that Marilyn wore in her most important films. Historically, these are incredibly significant items to her career making them highly collectible.”
Couturier William Travilla, who designed the famous “subway dress,” also made the red dress Monroe wore in a role she will forever be associated with — that of showgirl Lorelei Lee, traveling to Paris while pursued by a private detective, in Howard Hawks’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). In the memorable opening of the film, she and co-star Jane Russell (who plays Dorothy Shaw) don the same outfits and sing, “Two Little Girls From Little Rock.” The floor-length, red silk, long-sleeved sequined dress Monroe wore, together with its dramatic red headdress, is expected to fetch between $60,000 and $80,000.
Travilla added red beading and a black bow to the bright yellow silk, floor-length period gown Monroe wore as Kay Weston in the final scene of River of No Return, in 1954, which co-starred Robert Mitchum. The dress, which was originally designed by costumier Helen Rose for Betty Grable in Coney Island a decade earlier, became Monroe’s when she sang the theme song of the film atop a saloon piano.
Travilla also created the three-piece ensemble Monroe wore in Irving Berlin’s There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954). Monroe wore the show-stopper as Vicky Parker, during the “Heat Wave” song and dance number. The black silk bandeau top (adorned with sequins and dangly bead-balls) and the black floral print floor-length skirt (lined with six layers of hot pink silk ruffles), together with the black silk bikini-style bottom brief, was deemed racy at the time. Even with the hot pink and black silk sequined scarf that draped over the left shoulder and the classic, oversized white straw hat with orange silk flowers that went with it.
The outfit reportedly courted controversy when Monroe’s then-husband, Joe DiMaggio, allegedly refused to be photographed with his wife wearing the costume on the set. The ensemble is expected to fetch between $60,000 and $80,000. A design sketch of the costume in gouache and pencil signed by Travilla is also on offer (estimated to fetch $3,000 to $5,000). These three costumes are the highlights of the upcoming auction. “It’s hard to put a price on these artifacts but we have conservatively estimated them at $60,000-$80,000 each, and the entire collection is being sold to the highest bidder at no reserve,” says Julien.
What makes these costumes even more significant is that they were also originally part of the late Debbie Reynolds’ collection of movie memorabilia that went up for auction in 2011, when Reynolds sold off the famous movie costumes and props she’d collected, after years of trying to create a museum. Reynolds bought the River of No Return dress directly from Twentieth Century Fox during their “pre-sale,” prior to their 1971 auction, which came on the heels of the bigger 1970 MGM auction, where Reynolds famously bought a large amount of Golden Era Hollywood costumes. Before going on auction, the four outfits will be on view in London at The May Fair Hotel for a month from Sept. 18 to Oct. 21.
“The collection comes from a wealthy collector of Marilyn Monroe who collected her as a passion and over the years realizing that these items belong in major museums or in the hands of someone who can properly care for them they decided to let go and pass them onto new homes where they will be equally loved and enjoyed,” says Julien.
Also going up for auction is a black silk crepe, knee-length, short capped sleeved Henri Bendel cocktail dress with a plunging V-neck and back, appearing to be the same dress Monroe wore at the July 1958 press conference for her film Some Like It Hot (estimated to fetch $20,000 to $40,000).
Other auction highlights include a black silk jersey fabric with a gold and black “lace” print bathing suit worn by Monroe in the 1951 film Let’s Make It Legal (estimated to fetch $10,000 to $20,000), an Italian-style carved wood ornate corner chair used by Monroe in her final photo shoot in July 1962 with Life magazine (estimated to fetch $8,000 to $10,000) and a mint green jersey silk Emilio Pucci top and skirt ensemble (estimated to fetch $6,000 to $8,000). A number of personal artifacts, such as a handwritten letter circa 1955 to the men of the Thule Air Base in Greenland and a check written out to Mr. M. Chekhov, her acting coach, for $60 will also be on offer.
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