Marilyn Monroe memorabilia hot sellers

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She dropped off the list in 2009, but as of October 2011, Marilyn Monroe had climbed up into Forbes magazine's list of the top-earning dead celebrities -- to No. 3, behind Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, earning $27 million last year.

The Marilyn memorabilia industry waxes and wanes, depending on which movie is being made or which anniversary approaches, but she never goes away: Collectors snap up her autographed checks, dresses, bras and, weirdly, a chest X-ray (to the tune of $45,000 in 2010).

Locally, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort displays one of her black dresses in its art collection: She wore it at the Plaza Hotel in 1956 to announce the production of "The Prince and the Showgirl." The dress strap broke while she was talking to reporters, but Marilyn kept her cool.

The Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side owns some of the iconic silkscreen prints that Warhol made when she died in August 1962. The artist used a 1953 publicity shot that many art collectors believe is from the film "Niagara," and exhibited them in his first New York solo show that year, during which "Lemon Marilyn" (with a yellow background), was sold for $250. In 2007, the same artwork sold at auction for $28 million.

The museum owns 10 of the prints, along with the Marilyn Triptych -- three prints linked together, in different colors -- on display on the museum's fifth floor.

In 2010, the museum hosted a traveling exhibition -- "Marilyn Monroe: Life as a Legend" -- with more than 300 works by 86 contributors, ranging from publicity shots to interpretations by contemporary artists.

Marian Ungar Davis of Wilkins owns one of the Warhol prints, and she also owns a handkerchief that belonged to Marilyn and is embroidered with a huge "M," as well as a rhinestone bracelet.

"She's the quintessential icon of the mid-20th century," Ms. Davis said.

The quintessential collector, though, may be a fictional character from Pittsburgh: James Leer, a troubled writing student at a fictional Pittsburgh university in Michael Chabon's novel "Wonder Boys," who, obsessed with Marilyn, steals a jacket that the star wore at her wedding to Joe DiMaggio -- a piece of memorabilia that happens to be owned by the university's chancellor.

Complications ensue, but one thing is certain: In art as in life, Marilyn still sells.



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