Hollywood Museum exhibit opens door to Marilyn Monroe's life
Marilyn's dresses on display at the Hollywood Museum.
"Marilyn, The Exhibit" at the Hollywood Museum has more than 1,000 items relating to her life.
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HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- One day in 1962, Marilyn Monroe painted her silver Hotpointe refrigerator a deep cobalt blue. She loved the shade, and it matched the vibrant colors of the Mexican tiles in the kitchen of her new house.
There are more than 1,000 items in "Marilyn, The Exhibit" at the Hollywood Museum, a special tribute to the film star that runs through Sept. 2. Draped on a fainting couch is the ivory silk charmeuse gown she wore in "The Prince and the Showgirl" in 1957.
The exhibit features the last sittings she did for photographer George Barris, including some pictures displayed to the public for the first time. Here is Marilyn's alligator makeup case, containing her personal supply of cosmetics. There is the stunningly simple Ceil Chapman black dress she famously wore to entertain the troops in Korea.
Yet it is that refrigerator, featured in the exhibit next to her living room couch and sofa table, that reminds visitors why, 50 years after her death by overdose, she remains so touchingly human.
"It's all about the fact that she finally found a home, she finally laid roots," said Donelle Dadigan, founder and president of the Hollywood Museum.
"It was the first time she'd purchased a home in 36 years, several months before her passing. In 36 years, she had moved 45 times or so."
The special exhibit takes up about 3,000 square feet on one floor of the former Max Factor building on the corner of North Highland and Hollywood Boulevard. Although the museum maintains a Monroe exhibit throughout the year, it has pulled out the stops in honor of today's anniversary.
"The [special] collection belongs to Scott Fortner, Greg Schreiner, Jill Adams and the Hollywood Museum," said Ms. Dadigan. "We're kind of like Switzerland, in that so many have contributed." Ms. Dadigan bought the property and established the museum as a nonprofit in 1994.
The Los Angeles exhibit was curated by Steve Nycklemoe, museum director of operations.
Fans from across the globe, including France, Australia and Japan, have made the pilgrimage this year, and a slate of events held this week, topped by a memorial service.
In Florence, Italy, another large-scale exhibit is being staged by the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo.
"We are thrilled about this exhibit because it's not only about her public life, but her personal life," said Ms. Dadigan, who also credited Johnny Grant with an assist.
Mr. Grant, who died in 2008, was the longtime honorary mayor of Hollywood who helped establish the Walk of Fame and helped guide the transition of the old Max Factor building into a museum.
Others have been happy to lend from their private collections.
"She is everywhere in the world, it's amazing, isn't it?" said Mr. Schreiner. "If you say 'Marilyn Monroe' even young people who have never seen her movies, they know her. They might not know Bette Davis or Joan Crawford."
Mr. Schreiner, a college piano teacher who also presents musical reviews, remembers his parents taking him to see "Some Like It Hot" when he was a boy, "and I just couldn't get her out of my mind."
Eight of his Marilyn outfits are on display in Italy, including William Travilla's original, fishnet-and-rhinestones costume for the "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" number in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Deemed too racy by 20th Century Fox executives, it was replaced by the iconic pink satin dress.
"She was certainly iconic in every sense of the word and probably we'll never see anyone like her again because she was a creation of the studio system," he said.
The Hollywood Museum (www.thehollywoodmuseum.com) display chronicles the everyday life of a working model and actress -- paycheck stubs from Fox studios, mortgage payment slips ($310 to $320 monthly) for the house in Brentwood, a wedding invitation from her first union, to neighbor Jim Dougherty.
From the vault of the Hollygrove orphanage, there is a register signed by former residents at a 1947 reunion.
"She even put down the address where she was living at the time, and her phone number [GL3166]. She was there [as a child] as Norma Jeane Baker," Ms. Dadigan said.
In the space marked "occupation," she wrote "Actress," adding "Marilyn Monroe."
There's even a large group photo of her Emerson Junior High graduating class in West Hollywood, a gift from the friend of Ms. Dadigan's mother. At the front of the photo stands Grace Matsumoto, the friend's daughter -- the picture was taken in 1941, before the family was moved to an internment center.
There are family photos, magazines and advertisements featuring Marilyn, who became famously platinum blonde, thanks to Max Factor. There's even a display of photographer Tom Kelley's infamous "Red Velvet" pictures. Taken in 1949 when Monroe allegedly needed to make her car payment, they are a series of nudes against a red backdrop.
That the actress survived such a scandalous episode is a tribute to her ability to keep reinventing herself. The Marilyn the world remembers is the one posing coyly in a lime green Pucci blouse (also on display), or swathed in furs attending a film premiere.
Most eye-popping, of course, are the exhibit's dresses. They're displayed next to video monitors showing clips from the films featuring them, and there is also a large display of re-creations used in the NBC series "Smash" with Carnegie Mellon grad Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee doing their best to channel Marilyn.
Ms. Dadigan said that when museum staff opened one of the dress boxes that had been sealed for more than 40 years the scent of Chanel No. 5 lingered over the garment.
The Hollywood Museum is one of several "must-see" places listed in a recent Lonely Planet travel guide to Marilyn Monroe's life.
"The interest in Marilyn Monroe just never tires out," said Lonely Planet editor Robert Reid. "I remember seeing a photo exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum and it was just packed."
The guide also lists her last home, in Brentwood, although not the address. Photographs of the house she had really only begun to decorate -- boxes of furniture were still being delivered around the time of her death -- are, however, on display at the museum.
Ms. Dadigan said the crowds who mingle among the artifacts of her life are young and old, some preferring to read the displays, others just like to look.
The world might never see another Marilyn Monroe, she said: "I think it's because she was struck down in the prime of her life, with something of a mystery about it. ??? It's not that she was just so romantic and so beautiful, but she had this combination that I believe made her popular and kept her popular.
"She had this vulnerability. Men, they found her as gorgeous as could be, but they always felt they had to come rescue her."
First Published August 5, 2012 12:00 am