Marilyn Monroe has truly captivated the hearts of millions and continues to remain forever young and forever remembered. After all, she was much more than just a pinup model or movie star.
Allured by the beauty, intelligence and talent that this blonde bombshell possessed or perhaps the mystery that endures, many adore her and are greatly influenced by her. In fact, she is considered to be one of the most universally recognisable pop culture icons and sex symbols of the twentieth century. Albeit that half a century has passed since this silver screen siren was tragically taken from our world at the age of only thirty six, her legacy continues to inspire countless people, even those who were born after she graced this earth. Indeed, she surely lived a life worth remembering.
Honestly, I have adored Marilyn, ever since I can remember. Somehow, I have always just felt a connection to her. Photographs of her influence many of the images that I capture today and I collect books, prints, and artworks featuring this glamour goddess. I even have a Marilyn shower curtain! Often my family find the ‘perfect gift’ for me when they spy something with her image on it, such as a perfume bottle or the large chest collaged with her images, which I keep the majority of my fabric stash in. Of course, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, or so to speak, because my Mum also is quite fond of her. So is her mother (whom I call Oma).
Hence, you can understand our excitement when we heard about the Marilyn Monroe exhibition presented by Bendigo Art Gallery and Twentieth Century Fox. We just had to see the artifacts, clothing and other objects belonging to or worn by the star herself, with our very own eyes. Therefore, on Sunday, June 5th, Mum, Oma and I travelled to Bendigo, in Victoria (Australia).
When we arrived at the town, our first stop was to see Seward Johnson’s stunning sculpture, known as ‘Forever Marilyn’. It would have been impossible to miss the eight metre high, three-dimensional creation that pays homage to Marilyn’s notorious subway scene and the promotional imagery for director Billy Wilder’s 1955 drama film, ‘The Seven Year Itch’
Previously situated in Chicago and Palm Springs in the USA, this spectacular sculpture, had made its international debut in Bendigo. Displayed on the corner of View Street and Pall Mall at Charing Cross, it attracted quite a crowd of spectators who took turns to pose for photographs with this massive masterpiece.
After taking some happy snaps with ‘Forever Marilyn’, we booked our exhibition tickets at the Bendigo Art Gallery. Whilst waiting for our entry time, the three of us walked through the gallery and admired another sculpture called ‘The young family’ by Patricia Piccinini, some pottery housed in majestic antique cabinets, and an antique upright piano. We also marveled at all of the paintings hanging in ornate gold frames. One in particular, titled ‘Child Playing’ by Dutch artist, Johannes Jacobus Paling, caught my Oma’s eye, reminding her of her own Oma’s house, back in Holland.
Eventually we made our way to the gallery café to have lunch. I ordered bruschetta, however unlike the traditional Italian style recipes that I have previously tried, some of the key ingredients in this one were peas, mint and yoghurt. Albeit unusual, it was absolutely delicious!
With satisfied appetites, we subsequently made our way into the exhibition. As I walked into the room behind Mum and Oma, my eyes lit up. I was completely mesmerized by the gorgeous gowns, photographs, fashion illustrations and artifacts from Marilyn’s life. Much of this has never been seen before in Australia and was curated from numerous private collections around the world and via collaborating with Twentieth Century Fox. This was like no other exhibition I have ever been to, and believe me; I have been to a lot!
It was amazing to have an insight into Marilyn’s life via her possessions such as personal books, letters, embossed stationary and her Marshall Field and Company wooden travel trunk. Even some of the colorful Mexican hand-painted ceramic tiles from the kitchen of her home in Brentwood, California were displayed.
Although I certainly did not expect to see such things exhibited in an art gallery, I was most delighted to witness the beauty icon’s personal collection of makeup. This included her Elizabeth Arden powder, eyeliner and eyebrow pencil and Helena Rubenstein mascara wand. Her Erno Laszlo beauty products were also displayed nearby.
It was also incredibly exciting to see her first camera, a Kodak Brownie Target Six-20 camera and the small photographs of significant childhood memories. There was even a print from her first wedding to Jim Dougherty, when she was merely sixteen.
Many of the other photographic prints were larger scale images. Although I adored the privilege of seeing all of them, I was especially awestruck by one candid black and white image of Marilyn captured by Andre de Dienes. In this particular photograph, she sat with her legs crossed on the beach, laughing. Nearby, a closed umbrella as placed upside down with its tip embedded in the sand. This image is perhaps one of my favourite images of Marilyn, and I was the slightest bit disappointed that it was not one of the images also reproduced in the accompanying exhibition catalogue. However, it was superb to be able to admire it in person.
Additionally, I felt drawn to the fashion illustrations and loved the way that the seven frames containing these were arranged in the first room. I also admired the wardrobe test photos, many of which accompanied the costumes on display.
Interestingly, some of these did not make it to the final pictures, such as a stunning showgirl outfit designed by William Travilla. This particular piece was originally designed for the scene where Marilyn sings ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ in Howard Hawks’ 1953 Technicolor film ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’. However, it was decided that this costume was too risqué after the revelation that the star had posed nude for Tom Kelley back in 1949, when she was allegedly ‘broke and needed the money’. Hence another of Travilla’s beautiful creations was substituted and the scene was filmed with that notorious satiny pink gown.
Although the dazzling showgirl costume did not make it into the finished film, thankfully there are wardrobe test shots of Marilyn wearing it. Nevertheless, it was certainly a real privilege to have the opportunity to marvel at the spectacular costume in real life as well.
Without a doubt, these Hollywood costumes possess both historical and social significance. Therefore it was very special to be able to enjoy so many displayed together, especially considering this exhibition was an amalgamation of many private collections, which would otherwise be scattered worldwide.
We sure are incredibly lucky to still have these costumes! Unlike these days, where Hollywood studios archive significant props and artifacts from their films, in the fifties and sixties, this practice was uncommon. Often due to financial constraints, clothing would be re-appropriated. Often gowns would be changed, cut, taken up and worn by other Hollywood stars. Therefore, dresses such as Marilyn’s iconic gold lamé gown, which was another of Travilla’s fabulous designs for the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was altered for Jayne Mansfield to wear a decade later. However, what the dress has become has been preserved and I was able to admire the precious, fragile thing contained by a glass case inside a majestic room of mirrors. Nevertheless, it was such a privilege to be able to see what was left of the real thing for my very own eyes, as this would have to be one of my favourite dresses of all time. Due to the dress being up-cycled, a reproduction of the true style worm my Marilyn was additionally displayed.
Within the walls of the exhibition, we were also given the opportunity to admire Marilyn’s other well-recognised outfits, such as the dazzling dress and matching bolero that she wore in 1954 when she performed to thousands of US soldiers in Korea. There were also many garments from her personal wardrobe. Many of which were carefully placed on invisible dress forms so that viewers could envisage her wearing the garments. It was a truly magnificent experience.
Oh, there were really so many things to look at! There was even a cute little setup of three mid century televisions simultaneously playing black and white footage of Marilyn, each with quirks and distortions due to the age of the television sets. In another little room, there were two chairs set up with some silent footage of Marilyn being projected onto a screen. Throughout the entire exhibition, there were numerous little rooms, each with something that offered insight into the life of the woman that epitomised Hollywood glamour. I even read through some of her contracts, which I found fascinating and loved seeing her 1950s director’s chair that was used on the set of ‘Bus Stop’. All the exhibits were absolutely fascinating and the entire exhibition was fabulous. I honestly loved it all.
Eventually, after at least a good two hours, I made my way through the maze of rooms, and reunited with Mum and Oma.
We then had a very quick look in the gift shop. This resulted in the purchase of the exhibition catalogue, two large Marilyn postcards and a smaller one featuring a 1956 ‘waspie corset’ photograph by John French. When I saw the postcards, I instantly imagined them inside cute vintage frames hanging upon my studio walls. I simply couldn’t resist a few souvenirs.
However all too soon, our blissful day in Bendigo came to an end and we unfortunately had to head home. However, I will surely treasure the memories created that day with Mum and Oma for the rest of my life. Attending the exhibition and seeing the ‘Forever Marilyn’ sculpture was surely a great privilege, made even better by enjoying it with two very special women in my life.
Oh and in case you are wondering, my outfit details are as follows:
Cardigan: Little Raven Designs (formerly Dress Me Gorgeous)
Dress: Hell Bunny flamingo print ‘Larissa’ from Velvet Vixens
Bobby Socks: Mallory Holley Studios
Kitten heels: ‘Marilyn’ style by Alchemy brand
Sunglasses: Ray-Ban ‘Ice Pop Watermelon’ Wayfarers
Fringed leather Jacket: from nineteen-eighty-something?
P.P.S. If you haven’t already subscribed to my High Heels & Whitewall Wheels blog, you can get your FREE SUBSCRIPTION by adding your email to the sign-up box below. If you ever get sick of me, you can always unsubscribe anytime!