The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe

I found this book to be fascinating. It is huge and I still to this day flip through it from time to time. I really feel like I got to know Marilyn as a real person by looking through her personal belongings. For more information visit http://marilynmonroe.ca/camera/auction

Author Christie's Auction House
Publisher Christies
Cover Type Hardcover
Dimensions 8.5 x 11 inches
Publish Date 1999
ISBN 04921608
Signed No
Number of Pages 415


It has no plot. It contains no intensive research. There are no recorded conversations of those who knew her or worked with her or loved her. And yet for all that, the Christie’s catalog of Marilyn’s personal property may very well be the most intimate look any of us will ever have of this special woman, this 20th century icon and synonym for American culture.

 The auction took place going on six years ago. Other auctions have come and gone. Items appear on a near daily basis on eBay, touting assurances that they were once worn or owned by her. And yet the Christie’s two day auction, (October 27 and 28, 1999), has reached legendary status-- those of us not lucky enough to have attend hanging on every word of those who did, listening and imagining what they were able to witness with their very own eyes with nearly the same envy if they had actually been in Madison Square Garden on May 17, 1962 to see Marilyn transform “Happy Birthday” for all time.

 The word “obsessed” has such negative connotations and yet I guess when it comes to Marilyn, I would have to say that it applies to me-- the only comfort comes in knowing that I am not alone. For if there were not hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of others as “obsessed”, a catalog of her personal belongings would never have been offered outside of the auction itself. But even for one “obsessed”, there are certain times when reading about her, when peering over the gate of her last home, of standing at her crypt, that a sneaking feeling of guilt comes over me, guilt at prying, of wanting to know every detail of every conversation she ever held, of every personal relationship she enjoyed, of every thought that had gone through her head in those all too brief thirty-six years. And yet, I don’t think I have ever felt as guilty as I did the first time I got this book home to myself and sat down to slowly savor every page.

 For really, what is this book other than the cataloging of items left behind by the dead? If you are fortunate enough to have never experienced the task of going through the belongings left behind by a deceased loved one, purchasing the Christie’s catalog will likely present you with the same overwhelming emotions of going through a family member’s collected objects, items gathered throughout a lifetime, items held onto long after their worth has passed, items saved for sentimental and practical reasons. A letter from an ex. Ticket stubs to a forgotten play. Bedroom slippers. Worn out slips. Half-used tubes of lipstick.

 The first read through is rough. Somewhere between the “JFK Birthday Dress” and the chipped, pink makeup case, it dawns on you that this is not just a bunch of stuff that Marilyn herself actually owned-- these are the belongings of a woman who once really was alive, once really did walk around, breathe, laugh, got bored, got excited and, like every single one of us will one day do, died. Funny how I can watch Marilyn Monroe movies, look at pictures of her every day, read about her, talk about her, and yet flipping through the Christie’s catalog it still struck me full force that this was a woman who was once very much alive and now was very much dead. Even though I can remember Marilyn Monroe the Movie Star, can remember when I first heard of her passing, looking at the physical items she left behind brought home her life and her death as nothing else ever has.

 Would I have preferred that Lee Strasberg had carried out Marilyn’s wishes and distributed her belongings among her friends? Out of respect for Marilyn’s wishes, of course I do. What was it that made him not carry those wishes out, made him procrastinate so long that Marilyn’s personal property ended up in the hands of a woman she had never met? Knowing men who lost partners back in the late eighties who have yet to throw out the deceased’s old sweat shirts and Stephen King books, I think Lee’s not wanting to actually finalize Marilyn’s death by distributing her possessions is only human. So yes, I do wish that he had followed through and while I understand how something like that can be put off and put off until it is too late, in a sense I am grateful that he did. If Marilyn’s things had been handed out to those she knew and loved, there would be no Christie’s catalog. And all the items in there that I have come to love so very much-- like the battered pots and pans, the old magazines, some of the truly God Awful portraits painted by fans-- I would never have been able to see them for you and I both know that no matter how her friends loved her, no one was going to want to have her old vegetable steamer.

 Would Marilyn have been surprised that thirty-seven years after her death these items would have ended up on the auctioneer’s block? I’d bet she would and I also would bet that for most of the things that were sold over those two days, she’d have gotten a royal kick out of it. Some of it, I am equally sure, she would never have wanted anyone to own. Even when she asked Lee to distribute her belongings, I doubt she meant her bustiers. Some of it, I am sure, would have broken her heart to see go to people she did not know-- the stone female torso that Arthur had given her. Her framed photos of Eleanor Duse.

 Like the Jacqueline Onassis and Marlon Brando auctions, Marilyn Monroe’s personal property being offered to the highest bidder is somewhat of a new phenomenon. I think it’s great that items you or I would love to actually own are now out there. Of course, unless you’ve at least as much money as God, there’s not much chance you’ll actually own any of these things -- still, it’s nice to know that there is the possibility. I would have preferred that all of it had been donated somehow and kept intact, for installation at a Marilyn Monroe Museum. But, like so many dreams, I doubt if that will ever come true. In the meantime, I have the catalog.

 One last thought and that is that looking through the physical items left behind by the dead brings that person’s life into such sharp focus. By leafing through the Christie’s catalog, I learned more about Marilyn’s own personal style in home decoration, her taste in literature, her person fashion preferences and, (and this is where the feeling of voyeurism comes back), just how sentimental a woman she was. Holding onto the ring that Joe gave her. Holding onto an autographed baseball. Holding onto those pretty bad oil paintings fans had made for her. Sometimes you can learn more about a person by what they hold onto than what they discard. For this, I am grateful to Lee for never quite getting around to disbursing Marilyn’s possessions. It allowed me the chance to learn just a little more about her and how can I not be grateful for that?

powered by Collection Master