/ 25 November 2005

Floating museum displays Marilyn Monroe legacy

“To Marilyn, I hope this helps keep you on time. All my love, Joe.”

That is the inscription inside a compact topped with a little watch that was given to legendary actress Marilyn Monroe by her second husband, Joe DiMaggio — one of hundreds of pieces of Marilyn memorabilia on show for the first time in the world aboard the floating museum Queen Mary in Long Beach, California.

About 350 personal effects and other objects collected by a lucky Marilyn fan are now on display on the retired ocean liner anchored south of Los Angeles for the first time since the blonde bombshell died in 1962, at the age of 36.

“Marilyn was known to be late all the time, so Joe offered her that gift,” Queen Mary vice-president Felton Hyche said while admiring the gold compact.

The star of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and baseball star DiMaggio married in 1954, instantly becoming one of the most-talked-about couples in the world.

Mementos of their nine-month marriage in the exhibition include a huge garnet engagement ring, the marriage licence bearing Marilyn’s real name, Norma Jeane Mortenson, and the glamorous nightgown she wore on their wedding night.

Other objects belie the misunderstanding that doomed their brief union, including a tennis racket that DiMaggio gave Marilyn — “She was a terrible tennis player,” said Hyche — and a mink coat bearing the initials “MD”, for Marilyn DiMaggio, which reportedly angered the young actress, who was proud of her stage name.

But the highlight of the exhibit is Marilyn’s wardrobe, including the pink gown she wore when singing Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, and the blue jeans and blouse she was partial to when she relaxed, all of which the show’s organisers decided not to place behind glass.

“People enter the room and they’re like, ‘I want to touch it!’. We really have to tell them they’re not allowed to do that,” said Emily Orcutt-Clenard, one of the guides of the exhibit.

Asked about one of Marilyn’s wigs, the guide bluntly dashed one of the myths about the sex-symbol: “Marilyn wasn’t a blonde; she was more between brown and red.”

In a section titled The Private Marilyn, more personal items are on display, such as the panties she used to sign with her name — “She didn’t want her underwear lost among the studio’s laundry,” explained Hyche.

Also on show are Marilyn’s nylon stockings, bra and hair rollers, to which a few strands of her hair still cling.

Other personal effects include several pieces of jewellery, a Bulova wristwatch, a pair of opera glasses and a small statue of the Virgin Mary she always kept with her.

Hanging in the passageways of the stately ocean liner are famous photographs of the movie star, including a large blow-up of Marilyn in a white bathrobe from the set of The Seven Year Itch, which had rubbed DiMaggio the wrong way.

“DiMaggio went really mad on the set. He was jealous,” explained Hyche.

Other pictures showcase Marilyn’s sexy figure, including some that were purchased by Hugh Hefner for the first issue of his Playboy magazine in 1953.

A Life magazine cover photo of Marilyn and French actor Yves Montand — who starred together in Let’s Make Love in 1960 — and dozens of other original media pictures from around the world serve as testimony to Marilyn’s lasting influence on popular culture.

The Long Beach exhibit will run until June 21 next year. Its owner, United States businessman Robert Otto, plans to take it around the world over the next 10 years. — AFP