Marilyn Monroe’s "DiMaggio Divorce Dress" Up for Auction
Personal items from Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Prince also will be sold at the March 30 event.
A legendary white dress led to the need for a black dress, and 65 years later, the latter has arrived on the auction block. The black zip-front dress Marilyn Monroe wore on Oct. 6, 1954, when announcing that she was divorcing her second husband, Yankees slugger Joe DiMaggio, will be part of the March 30 “Archives of Hollywood & Music” sale presented by Agoura Hills-based GWS Auctions.
It’s one of the more poignant images in Hollywood history: the photos of a visibly upset Monroe leaning on her attorney, Jerry Geisler, as they talk to the press outside her Beverly Hills home about the dissolution of her marriage. The dress she wore for that statement hadn’t been seen in decades. And then one day, quite unexpectedly, says Brigitte Kruse, owner and lead auctioneer of GWS Auctions, a collector brought it out of his vault.
“It’s a gentleman I’ve worked with for years. With collectors, very often you have to earn their trust. I visited him a couple of months ago, and he walked into the room carrying this black dress in a see-through garment bag," Kruse told The Hollywood Reporter. The collector gave her five chances to name the original owner of the dress; if she guessed correctly, he said, she could have it for the March 30 auction. “I got it on my third try,” Kruse says.
Crafted of black wool with a zip-front turtleneck, the piece features no labels inside, but it still ranks high in 20th-century pop culture, not only because multiple photographs exist of Monroe wearing the dress that day, but also because of its juxtaposition against another moment in Hollywood lore.
On Sept. 15, 1954, Monroe filmed perhaps the most iconic scene of her career, standing over a Lexington Avenue subway grate as her white halter dress with pleated skirt, designed by Travilla, flew up above the welcome breeze of a passing train. “Isn’t it delicious?” Monroe’s character exclaimed. It’s one of the most memorable moments in cinema history – but DiMaggio, who was raised in an Old World Italian-American family and happened to be on set that day, reportedly didn’t care for the sexual undertones in a scene starring his wife. Just three weeks later, Monroe wore the black dress as she stood outside their shared home and announced they were divorcing after nine months of marriage.
“Their separation was because of that film, and yet he remained the great love of her life,” Kruse says. Indeed, rumors persist that after the actress divorced third husband Arthur Miller, DiMaggio and Monroe reignited their relationship. The couple’s status as one of the 20th century’s great love stories is chief among reasons the dress is garnering intense scrutiny prior to the upcoming auction. “We’ve had interest from all over the world,” Kruse says. “We had to build a standalone inquiry page for the dress because the response was so phenomenal.” The dress carries a starting bid of $20,000.
Among the 161 lots in GWS’s annual “Archives of Hollywood & Music” auction include pieces stage-worn by Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Prince, as well as personal wardrobe items from Greta Garbo and guitars signed by Presley, George Michael and Les Paul.
In light of the March 3 debut of HBO's Leaving Neverland documentary, is Kruse expecting any backlash toward values in pieces (largely from the 1996-97 HIStory World Tour) worn onstage by the King of Pop? Kruse concedes that the value of any memorabilia can fluctuate based on demand, the market, availability or other reasons, but when it comes to Jackson, any downturn is unlikely: “Michael Jackson memorabilia has always been popular. His fans and collectors remain very strong.”
That’s likewise true of Elvis fans. An Omega watch Presley once owned went for more than $1.8 million in a 2018 auction, the highest price paid for a piece by the Swiss brand. Among the lots for sale on March 30 is another Omega timepiece in 14-karat yellow gold with a diamond-embellished bezel, a gift from Elvis to his father, Vernon Presley, in 1969. It’s inscribed on the case back with the date and “Happy Birthday Dad Love, Elvis.”
“This was a cherished piece, and Elvis items really hold their value,” Kruse says. “Very few people in music and film can make that statement, but Elvis always ranks at the top.”
With the memorabilia market showing no signs of abating during its current boom, Kruse believes the allure should continue, especially for items worn by some of the last century’s most enigmatic artists. “When you think about it, each of these were deaths that shocked people to their core,” she says of Monroe, Presley, Jackson and Prince. “For many people, it’s an emotional loss, and they connect to these auction items as a result. Because it’s the emotion of what should have been.”