Friday, December 8, 2006

Marilyn's things

It's being billed as the most extraordinary celebrity auction of the millennium. But fans of screen icon Marilyn Monroe would likely argue that it's much more.

Nancy Valentino of Christie's New York says that people have called in tears after viewing select items from "The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe." They can't believe they're seeing her scripts and her bustiers.

"It's been complete madness," says the curator of the auction, scheduled for Oct. 27 and 28 in New York. "So many people are thrilled to be in the same room with her things."

Jewelry, accessories, film costumes, more than 400 books - some first editions - letters, furniture and decorative arts are going on the block.

Local Marilyn-ites can get a sneak peek of the collection when the preview exhibit lands at Christie's Chicago today.

The Union Prayerbook for Jewish Worship with gilt-lettering (estimated value of $2,000 to $4,000); a 1936-39 Yankee's baseball, signed by Joe DiMaggio ($600 to $800), and a script from "Bus Stop" ($6,000 to $8,000) are among the lots on display.

This publicity stop is only part of the auction house's efforts to build enthusiasm for the belongings of a woman who's reached cult status. There's also a hard-bound, 415-page catalog (priced at $85) featuring the sale items, including many photos of Monroe wearing specific garments that are to be auctioned. And the Web page for the collection is filled with film and personal facts about the actress.

But one only need to flip through the hefty Christie's catalog to obtain a broader view of Marilyn Monroe as a devoted wife, avid reader and friend.

A certificate of conversion to Judaism (following her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller), a first-edition copy of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and a photo of the actress signed by such Hollywood colleagues as Gary Cooper and Humphrey Bogart reveal her many nuances.

These treasures are what make Monroe so enigmatic, Valentino says.

"She had those vulnerable qualities. She was sexy, yet childlike; strong yet weak. People can relate to her on a simple, human (level).

"Even in L.A., where everybody is jaded, people were lined up for six blocks to see the exhibit," Valentino says. "It's really phenomenal."

Her liaisons also made her fascinating, Valentino says. She was married to baseball great DiMaggio and intellectual Miller, and linked with many other celebs.

"She was someone who was always looking for love and wanting to give it back," says Lauren Berlant, a University of Chicago English professor and director of the Center for Gender Studies. "She was giving love in her private and personal life. (There) was a sense that she was a national possession."

Now the public can bid for a portion of the legend. The belongings in "The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe" were willed to mentor and acting coach Lee Strasberg, who died in 1982. His widow, Anna Strasberg, had the items archived and stored and released them to Christie's.

Sure to attract a lot of attention is the infamous dress that she wore when serenading President Kennedy on his birthday at Madison Square Garden in 1962. Monroe's personal request to Hollywood costume designer Jean Louis for the $12,000 transparent sequin and rhinestone beaded gown is documented in the catalog.

The dress is as unforgettable as its wearer.

"You get a sense that she's present, and we took that seriously," says Valentino. "She has a life force that's so amazing . . . an ability to stay among the living for so long."

Some proceeds from the auction are earmarked for Literacy Partners and the World Wildlife Fund.

For details, visit the Web site (

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Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.


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