Scott Fortner discusses collecting personally owned Marilyn Monroe memorabilia, and gives advice for movie and entertainment memorabilia collectors. Based in California, Scott can be reached via his website, Marilyn Monroe Collection, which is a member of our Hall of Fame.
I don’t actually remember exactly when I became a Marilyn Monroe fan, I’ve basically been collecting Marilyn items my entire life. I started collecting Marilyn Monroe personally owned items about nine years ago, which was when things started coming up on the market from her personal estate.
Initially I started collecting books on Marilyn, biographies, coffee table books, any book I could get my hands on. One was the catalogue from the 1999 Christie’s sale, The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe, which showcased Marilyn’s personal property and objects she owned. I soon started seeing Marilyn’s items come up on the auction block, and I thought it would be amazing to own something Marilyn owned. It has taken off from there.
One of my favorites is a natural mink fur collar that Marilyn wore in New York City in the mid 1950s, and also wore when she was in England filming The Prince and The Showgirl. It’s really glamorous. She wore it often, and I feel it was one of her favorites. I have many photos of her wearing it in different settings and there’s video footage of her wearing it as well. Another favorite is a silk evening cape Marilyn wore to the premier of East of Eden, James Dean’s film made in 1955. She looked so glamorous and happy at that event, and I feel really lucky to own this cape. Its a real show stopper.
“When Marilyn was a starlet, she borrowed clothing from the studio.”
I’m also interested in Marilyn’s more intimate and personal items. I have an item from her childhood, which is an album of film stars. In the late 30s and early 40s, packs of cigarettes included collectible trading cards, with photos and biographies of popular celebrities. You could buy an album to store and display the cards. So the album is just full of celebrity cards.
Marilyn’s album includes cards on Gene Harlow, who was Marilyn’s idol when she was little. And also on Clark Gable, who Marilyn had hoped was her father when she was young. It’s interesting that The Misfits was the final completed film for both Monroe and Gable. The album also includes cards on Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Gary Cooper. This album is probably an early piece from Marilyn’s childhood, and was something very special to her. She kept it her whole life.
Collectors Weekly: How do you acquire these rare and personal possessions?
Fortner: Mostly at auction. There are big entertainment memorabilia auctions every year at Christie’s, Bonham’s, and Julien’s. Often I’m also approached by private sellers who have items that they’ve purchased at other auctions or that have been in their family. And believe it or not, some things are given to me.
Collectors Weekly: How do you know if an item is original?
Fortner: Lots of research. There are a lot of fake Monroe owned items on the market right now. Some pieces are obviously Marilyn’s because they’re from a past Monroe auction, and I like to focus on these items. I also have many documents, bank statements, and invoices with her name on them, checks that she signed, and so on.
The best way to ensure an item is authentic is if it’s actually pictured with Marilyn, as many of my pieces are. Some items in my collection are also written about in biographies, for example the white fox muff that Marilyn wore to the world premiere of How to Marry a Millionaire. The story behind this piece is an interesting one. The muff was part of a lot of furs that I purchased at a Christie’s auction a couple of years ago, and that lot was originally auctioned at the Christie’s 1999 sale.
Initially, I thought the muff might never have been used, that it was just an accessory she had. I was more focused on other pieces from that lot. Not long after purchasing the muff, I was reading “Marilyn Monroe,” a book by Maurice Zolotow. As I read the passage about Marilyn preparing to attend the world premiere of How To Marry A Millionaire, I was a bit taken aback to read about white fox furs that Marilyn wore to the premiere, including a white fox muff. According to Zolotow, these happened to be the very first fur pieces Marilyn actually purchased with her own money. I began to look for photos of Marilyn at this premiere, and sure enough…there she was wearing the same muff.
Interestingly, when Marilyn was a starlet she didn’t have a large wardrobe. She borrowed clothing from the studio. When she went to publicity events, they weren’t her clothes she was wearing, they were studio pieces. But, this particular fur was one she actually purchased herself
Collectors Weekly: Where do you keep and display your collection?
Fortner: I keep the clothing in acid free boxes with acid free tissue, out of the light. I don’t display it for long periods of time because this stuff is from the 50s and 60s and it stresses the material. I keep the documents in acid free boxes and out of the direct sunlight. I try to handle my items as little as possible.
My collection is currently on display at the Hollywood Museum in Hollywood, California, in an exhibit called Marilyn Monroe, American Icon. This is the second year in a row I’ve loaned my collection to the museum and it runs June 1 (Marilyn’s birthday), through the end of August. It’s a great opportunity for fans to come and see Marilyn’s personal items and experience her up close and personal.
Collectors Weekly: How many Marilyn Monroe memorabilia collectors are out there?
Fortner: There are countless collectors because she has such a huge fan base. People collect anything from trading cards to postcards to magazines to dolls to plates; there are many different ways that people can collect Marilyn. People collect what interests them most. I know people who have every single plate that’s ever been made or every single Marilyn Merlot ever produced. But there are fewer people who collect Marilyn Monroe personal items.
Personally I’m fascinated by being able to own something she herself owned, touched, or wore. But financial resources are a huge obstacle. I don’t have unlimited resources, I’m not extremely wealthy; I’m just lucky to have a professional position that affords me the opportunity to fulfill my passion. Marilyn is pretty expensive. Marilyn, Elvis, and James Dean are the three top celebrities for collectors.
Collectors Weekly: Have you noticed any changes in collecting entertainment memorabilia over the years?
Fortner: Obviously the Internet has made it much easier for dealers and collectors to connect. It’s interesting to see the same Monroe owned pieces come back up for sale and keep track of what they sell for over the years. Prices for Marilyn items definitely remain a constant, either the prices stay the same or go up, so it’s definitely a good investment. Prices at the 1999 Christie’s auction were very high, and some pieces have actually re-sold for more than what they originally sold for. Others have sold for less, but not many. There’s a huge demand for Marilyn.
Collectors Weekly: Tell us more about the Christie’s sale.
Fortner: It was called The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe. On October 27th and 28th, 1999, Marilyn’s entire estate was put up for auction. Everything that had been in storage since 1962 when she died was auctioned off. Many referred to it as a time capsule. Her personal clothing, scripts, awards, furniture, kitchenware, glassware, all of her estate. It’s known as the sale of the century. Marilyn collectors and enthusiasts call the catalogue from that sale The Bible. The sale made over 13 million dollars. Then there was the big Julien’s sale in 2005, known as Property from the Estate of Marilyn Monroe. That auction consisted of the remainder of Marilyn’s estate that was not put up for auction in 1999.
Collectors Weekly: What else have you learned that’s really interesting about Marilyn Monroe?
Fortner: Marilyn was a huge celebrity, and a lot of people focus on the beauty, the glamour, and the sex symbol aspect of her persona. But she was also a real person. She received invoices and letters, paid bills, and wrote checks, so to me those are the personal items that show she lived a day to day life like everyone else.
Also, she was also a very shrewd business woman, very in touch with her public image. She was concerned about how she was perceived. A lot of people think Marilyn really was the dumb blonde and pinup that she portrayed. She was actually very smart and shrewd. She was careful about the decisions and choices she made when it came to what films she would be in, and even in statements she made in public.
Collectors Weekly: What advice would you have for someone just starting out collecting movie star or entertainment memorabilia?
Fortner: Number one, make sure the items are authentic. There are so many fake Monroe owned items on the market today. There just isn’t an unlimited supply of earrings, necklaces, and clothing that Marilyn herself owned or gifted to other people. It can’t all be authentic. It’s easy to forge letters of authenticity. Even buying from an auction house doesn’t necessarily mean an item is authentic. I’d recommend focusing on items that originally came from Marilyn Monroe’s estate. If you can find something that’s pictured with Marilyn, that’s even better. Items that were allegedly gifted by Marilyn to someone else are more difficult to prove authentic.
Number two, stick with a celebrity or star you feel you have a real connection to, someone you’re really interested in, and will be long term. You don’t want to be spending money on a collection and then get bored. You’ll regret spending all that cash.
And number three, don’t get caught up in the emotion of buying, especially if you’re at an auction. Set your financial limits. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. Also, don’t forget about the buyer’s premium, the hammer price is never the final price because you still have to pay the auction house. In some cases, the buyer’s premium is 25%of the hammer price! The premium is the fee charged by the auction house for selling the item from the owner.
(All photos in this article courtesy Scott Fortner of Marilyn Monroe Collection)