Getting Close to Marilyn Monroe

August 15th, 2008

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.

Marilyn Monroe’s personal white fox fur muff that she wore to the premier of “How to Marry a Millionaire”

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?

Marilyn Monroe’s personal eye drops, dated May 21, 1960, issued by Schwab’s Pharmacy

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?

Script for “How to Marry a Millionaire” with original title, “The Greeks Had a Word For It”

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?

Marilyn Monroe’s October 6, 1951 Bank of America check

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?

Marilyn Monroe’s personal mink collar

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)

18 comments so far

  1. Tracy Craddock Says:

    I have a poster thats about 7 foot wide and 2 foot tall. It is 5 faces of Marilyn Monroe from the same night Phil Stern took photos of her at the Shrine Aud. in 1953. during the L.A. Hearald’s Charity Event on Dec. 4th.
    The poster is 5 poses and 2 of the show a letter someone is reading to her.

    I am looking for info on this poster.

    In the lower left corner it has:

    (trademark sign) 1987 Phil Stern (TM) 1987 The Estate of Marilyn Monroe Represented By the Roger Richman Agency Beverly Hills Ca. Hand-Colored by Del Gregery/San Francisco Published and Distributed by (TM) Portal Publications LTD Corte Medra, Ca.

    In the lower right it has:

    BL 109 litho in USA

    I have looked for weeks now and can’t find a thing on it.

    I could send a photo of it if ness.

    Thank you,
    Tracy

  2. Codi Says:

    Regarding the post by Tracy Craddock from above,
    I have the same poster also, I bought in an Antique store about 15 years ago for about $35.00. I have also been looking for information regarding this. Is it valuable. Any information would be great. Mine also has the same info I believe.

    Thanks
    Codi

  3. Adilee Slaney Says:

    I have a 16″ x 20″ print of marilyn monroe in a gold dress. In the bottom left corner it says:

    1987 THE ESTATE OF MARILYN MONROE. REPRESENTED BY THE ROGER RICHMAN AGENCY, BEVERLY HILLS, CA.

    Its a print of a photo, and the bottom has been cropped. I’ve checked a few online aution houses and collectors websites and I cant seem to find anything similar. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks
    Lee

  4. K. Duff Says:

    Several years back I was sent the ad on a DVD that was in a People magazine stating “Statistic Lie” statement and a picture of Marilyn peering out a window…this was not really supposed to happen but this young guy (at Nike advertising)sent it to me because it was my daughter 18th birthday. I have had it on disc and would like to sell it…It was never available to people except in the mag and unfortunately it was the center two sides with a staple in the center….how do I do this?

  5. ann dodson Says:

    I have the “HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE” 11 1/2 Fashion Doll No.5014 still in the origional box.In the top left corner it has 20th CENTURY FOX. Can you tell me if this is of any value and if it is how much?It was given to me by my grandmother.

  6. Deb Says:

    I have just became owner of a Marilyn Monroe Album with Yves Montand and Frankie Vaughan named ‘Let’s make love’. It is by Columbia Sound Track Recording. Is anyone familiar with this album and it’s history?
    Thanks and have a good one.

  7. Emily Says:

    I have a piece different from you all.

    A few years ago, I found a large mirror with several “dots” etch atop of it, they make up her famous face. I turned the mirror over to find a stamp for a mirror-making business in Manhattan circa the 1950s. I purchased it for $10, but I have a feeling it’s worth much, much more. I have never found anything even remotely like it, which leads me to believe it’s a custom piece. Anyone with information on it, please let me know. Or, if you are interested in acquiring it, please let me know as well.

  8. LEONARDO SIDERI Says:

    I have a MM serigraph poster that was done for a chairty in NY,NY.
    The caption at the bottom of the serigraph says:” HOMAGE TO MARILYN MONROE FOR BENEFIT OF THE MENTALLY ILL CHILDREN OF MANHATTAN….12/6-30 1967 …SIDNEY JANIS”

    The Bert Stern photo image it was taken from is….ORANGE ROSES…the serigraph is printed in blue and green and measures 25″w x 38″h

    Cannot find any reference to it online….its not signed…I gave a charitable donation of $50 and they gave me a print back in the 60′s.
    Any idea what this might be worth today.

    TY…LS

  9. Pat Says:

    I have a dress simple style, a bit curvy…nipped in slightly at waist and flared . I bought it at a thrift store about 25 years ago. The tag reads: Property of MGM Estate of Marilyn Monroe. How can I know if it is authentic? Thanks Pat

  10. mel waltimyer Says:

    blov. of broken dreams poster
    with a pink florsent light bulb
    that follows the bottom outline of skirt.
    would like some information on this.
    seen a lot of these poster, but this
    one is has a working light. thanks

  11. Scott Fortner Says:

    Roxanne, contact me at scott@marilynmonroecollection.com.

  12. john delope Says:

    I have a poster thats about 7 foot wide and 2 foot tall. It is 5 faces of Marilyn Monroe from the same night Phil Stern took photos of her at the Shrine Aud. in 1953. during the L.A. Hearald’s Charity Event on Dec. 4th.
    The poster is 5 poses and 2 of the show a letter someone is reading to her.

    I am looking for info on this poster.

    In the lower left corner it has:

    (trademark sign) 1987 Phil Stern (TM) 1987 The Estate of Marilyn Monroe Represented By the Roger Richman Agency Beverly Hills Ca. Hand-Colored by Del Gregery/San Francisco Published and Distributed by (TM) Portal Publications LTD Corte Medra, Ca.

    In the lower right it has:

    BL 109 litho in USA

    I have looked for weeks now and can’t find a thing on it.

    I could send a photo of it if ness.

  13. Susan Holmes Says:

    I have recently come across a poster, also was “1987 THE ESTATE OF MARILYN MONROE. REPRESENTED BY THE ROGER RICHMAN AGENCY, BEVERLY HILLS, CA.” It is Marilyn sitting on cement steps, in fishnet stockings, black heels, Peasant type blouse pulled down exposing her left shoulder; hands are crossed and she is holding the strap of a purse that is resting on the next step. Anyone else out their have something like this or just like this, please give me info…I am interested in learning about this particular poster’s background. Thx, Susan

  14. ernesto Says:

    i have two photos of marilyn during the shooting of “how to marry a millionaire”.
    one is with nunnally johnson and jean negulesco, the other one is during the reharsal of the restaurant scene with jean negulesco.
    they came from negulesco private personal collection.

  15. April Says:

    To Emily (or anyone else who may know), I have a mirror similiar to the one you described. I have looked all over trying to find info on it and never knew of another one exsisting till now. It has been in my possession for about 20 years, the previous owner also bought it at a garage sale. Mine is poster size 20 x 30 and has a Brytone Mechanical Mirror Works stamp on the back. Did you ever find any info on it? Please email me at chocoholic4469@msn.com.

    Thanks,
    April

  16. Joseph Acevedo Says:

    good day,

    I happen to own a 1951 original Marylin Monroe “golden dreams” calendar, and I would like to know, if it is worth anything? Any info on this calendar will be greatly appreciated.

    thanks,

    Joseph Acevedo

  17. Wendy Says:

    I have a picture in a frame of Marilyn. Printed in right corner is 1987 Estate of Marilyn Monroe by Roger Richman agency Inc. It has no. 1642 Marilyn Monroe published by pomegranate. Can you tell about this picture?

  18. Phil Says:

    Regarding the marilyn posters, they were issued in 1987 as they say and they were issued in a large quantity, they have no large value at all.


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