Monroe memorabilia brings in the gold

July 19, 1992|By Linda Rosenkrantz | Linda Rosenkrantz,Copley News Service

She was the golden girl of '50s films, and to her innumerable fans, gold dust still clings to her image. In the world of movie memorabilia, Marilyn Monroe shares the topmost strata of superstar billing with just a few others: Charlie Chaplin, Elvis Presley, James Dean, Judy Garland.

Collectors are interested in everything that relates to her, from photographs and posters and paper dolls to autographs, magazine covers, calendars and costumes. And somehow there seems to be an unending supply of material to meet the demand.

In August 1987, for example, Christie's in London auctioned 25 images of Marilyn taken by David Conover in 1945 -- 15 of which had never been published -- together with their negatives and copyrights for $25,443. The following year, another group of 1945 Monroe (actually the young Norma Jean Dougherty) pinups surfaced at Christie's, these taken by William Carroll for a counter-card display demonstrating the printing quality of Ansco Color film.

One of the keystones of a Marilyn collection is the original nude calendar pose, "Golden Dreams," shot by photographer Tom Kelly in 1949, for which the model received the paltry fee of $50. This pose does not just appear on calendars, though, it was reproduced on playing cards, trays and coasters, as well. At auction, the calendars sell for about $250.

The highest prices of all are paid for costumes worn by Monroe on screen, and occasionally off. A few examples include a white lace (Madonna, eat your heart out) bustier she wore under a gown in the film "Let's Make Love," which sold for $1,430; the red-sequin gown she wore in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" in 1953, which sold for $14,300 in 1989; a black silk and rhinestone evening hat, part of the personal effects she willed to Lee Strasberg, which were auctioned at Sotheby's in 1988 for $1,650; and a black-and-white polka-dot bathing suit and wrap outfit designed for the film "There's No Business Like Show Business" but not seen in the final cut of the movie, which brought $22,000 at a Sotheby's sale.

Other costumes in the $20,000-plus range: a green silk robe from "There's No Business Like Show Business," a black-and-gold-sequin leotard with tassels and rhinestones from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," a tight pink linen dress from "Niagara" and pink silk pajamas from "The Seven Year Itch."

Marilyn Monroe probably appeared on more magazine covers than any other celebrity in history. She was often used on the premiere issues of publications, among them Playboy and the lesser known Scope, Gala and Frolic, all sought after by collectors.

She also appeared on distinctive -- and defunct -- miniature magazines of the '50s, such as Point, Eye, Quick, Brief and Tempo. Earlier, in 1946, a fresh-faced Norma Jean was seen on her first cover, the April 26th Family Circle, holding a lamb.

Another upscale area of Monroeiana is autograph material, some of it extremely revealing. In an undated letter sold at Sotheby's for $5,500, for example, the sad side of her life is exposed in the words, "I'm tired and very old inside."

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