Marilyn Monroe after the premiere of How to Marry a Millionaire, 1953 (Photo: Darlene Hammond / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)
In anticipation of what would have been Marilyn Monroe’s 90th birthday, a once-in-a-lifetime auction and exhibition of the actress’s personal items is set to tour the world, starting next week at London’s Design Centre Chelsea Harbour. The comprehensive collection will feature more than 800 items once owned by Monroe, including clothing, jewelry, letters, drawings, and notes.
The majority of the wardrobe pieces up for sale have been provided by David Gainsborough-Roberts, who is credited with amassing the largest collection of Monroe film costumes in the world. The black sequined dress she wore while singing “I’m Through With Love” in Some Like It Hot will be for sale, as well as the rhinestone and diamond earrings that framed her face in How to Marry a Millionaire and the elbow-length gloves from The Seven Year Itch.
The rest of the pieces in the auction are from the private estate of Lee Strasberg, who was Monroe’s acting coach and confidant. After she died in 1962 at age 36, Monroe left the majority of her personal possessions to Strasberg and his wife, Paula. “The items that we are bringing from the estate of Lee Strasberg have never before been seen since Marilyn passed away,” explained Martin Nolan, the executive director of Julien’s Auctions, who has been working on amassing the collection for more than a year. “They’ve been in storage since the 1960s.”
Nolan hopes the trove of personal effects, like her watercolor and crayon drawings, will shed new light on the multiple dimensions of the actress. “The world didn’t know that she was an artist,” said Nolan. “Here, we see Marilyn as the intellectual, we see Marilyn as the poet, as the artist. But we also see Marilyn as the very vulnerable.”
Toward the end of her life, Monroe notoriously struggled with depression and addiction to barbiturates. In 1961, she was committed to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in New York. (Her mother spent most of her life in and out of mental institutions.) She wrote about the harrowing experience in a letter to her psychologist, which is also part of the auction.
In the letter, Monroe describes feeling trapped: “They asked me why I wasn’t happy there,” she wrote. “I answered: Well I’d have to be nuts if I like it here.” Her former husband Joe DiMaggio, whom she remained close with after they divorced, was the one who later helped her get released from the clinic. A few of the baseball player’s personal items will also be featured in the auction, including an alligator-skin jewelry case inscribed with DiMaggio’s initials that was found under Monroe’s bed after her death.
Nolan said that while there’s no crown jewel of the collection, he has his personal favorite: a small gold minaudière, which contains a loose powder compact, mirror, comb, two dimes—“So she could make calls for a taxi or her friends”—eight Phillip Morris cigarettes, and a Revlon lipstick (Bachelor’s Carnation shade) from 1947. “It’s just a little delightful time warp from a 21-year-old Marilyn Monroe when she was only a model,” said Nolan. “Something she might have used for a night out on the town.”
Marilyn Monroe lipstick, $3,000–$5,000 (All Photos: Courtesy of Julien's Auctions)
Marilyn Monroe handwritten note, $10,000–$20,000.
Marilyn Monroe costume necklace signed Weiss, $8,000–$12,000.
Marilyn Monroe designer handbag, $8,000–$12,000.
Marilyn Monroe letter to Lee Strasberg, $10,000–$20,000.
Marilyn Monroe designer handbag, $15,000–$20,000.