The Washington, D.C.-based Smithsonian is the largest network of museums in the whole world, having made its name on celebrating all aspects of American life over the past two centuries, including spaceflight, art and entertainment.
Since our country has been collectively fascinated with celebrity culture ever since George and Martha Washington first stepped out together in public, you would expect the Smithsonian’s massive collection to include a treasure chest of memorabilia related to the most famous female movie star of all-time, right?
As it turns out, all the museum hasn’t been able to get its hands on more than a pair of gloves from Marilyn Monroe, whose items demand much too high a price on the open market for anyone to ever consider donating them to a museum. After all, they can sit in a glass case for visitors to marvel over at the house of someone who just handed you a six-figure check, too.
“Hollywood material and Hollywood celebrities are big business in the auction world,” explained Smithsonian curator Dwight Bowers in a recent AFP story. “Private collectors are part of our competition — and private collectors have a much bigger budget than we have.”
As several stories commemorating the 50th anniversary of Monroe’s August 1962 tragic death have pointed out, it’s remarkable how, over the past five decades, the actress formerly known as Norma Jean’s cultural cache has done anything but flicker out like a candle in the wind. Only a handful of today’s actresses get the respect and admiration that Monroe enjoys from the great beyond.
“Whether she was rolling around on the beach in Malibu wearing a pair of Levi’s and a white Chino shirt, on stage in a very expensive ball gown singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to the president or wearing a simple white dress, she managed to be all things to all people,” noted branding researcher Nick Woodhouse in a Los Angeles Times piece last week.
She’s quite literally all things to all people. Currently-available and soon-to-be-released items bearing the Monroe name include jewelry, makeup, shoes, undergarments and bathing suits. The Marilyn Monroe Café is set to open outside Toronto next month, while an Orlando company is hoping to debut Marilyn Monroe Spas this winter.
Fans of more conventional movie star memorabilia will enjoy the Hollywood Museum’s Monroe exhibit, which is open throug the summer. Pooled from a variety of private collections all over the world, the display includes the black silk dress she wore on her honeymoon with baseball star Joe DiMaggio, the beaded outfit she donned in 1957 feature The Prince and the Show Girl and a camera she owned as a child, to name a few. For morbid curiosity’s sake, you can even see a prescription pill bottle found near her bed at the time of her death.
Will they still be holding public showing of Marilyn Monroe ephemera in another 50 years? Even if hipsters gathering at the Marilyn Monroe Café in five decades have never seen a frame of Some Like It Hot, photographer Lawrence Schiller (who wrote the memoir Marilyn & Me) believes her name is firmly ingrained in the American psyche.
As he told the Washington Times, “No Lindsay Lohan or Madonna or Lady Gaga is going to replace her.”