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Even if you don’t know anything about Marilyn Monroe, chances are that you’ve at least seen a photo of her as The Girl, the role she played in The Seven Year Itch (1955). And that’s probably appropriate, because the role was undeniably important in her career and in her personal life. The white halter dress that the screen siren famously wore has inspired statues, multiple movie references, countless modern photo shoots, and red carpet looks.
“Before Itch,” Michelle Morgan wrote in her book The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch, and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist, “she had been known for her mostly fluffy, dumb-blonde roles, and she was mostly unhappily married to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. But by the time the film opened, Monroe was the president of her own film company, a student at New York’s Actors Studio, and embroiled in a battle with 20th Century Fox that would eventually gain independence not only for herself, but others working under the constraints of the studio system too. Shortly after the release, she legally changed her name to Marilyn Monroe, thereby divorcing herself from the troubled past of Norma Jeane once and for all.”
Now several of Monroe’s belongings from that movie and others are on display as part of “Essentially Marilyn: The Exhibit” at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills. The collection — which will be auctioned off in late October — features Monroe’s script for Itch, peppered with her personal notes, and an exact replica of the white dress that rose up when she stood over the subway grating in the film, a scene that reportedly angered DiMaggio. Her dressmaker, Bill Travilla, replicated the garment from the specifications he used for the original dress. (Late actress Debbie Reynolds made the original dress part of her extensive collection of Hollywood memorabilia for a cool $5.7 million.)
Also featured is a photo taken during the making of the Billy Wilder comedy that confirms how the former Norma Jeane Baker got her more famous moniker. “Dear Ben, you found me, you named me and believed in me when no one else could. My thanks and love forever, Marilyn,” she inscribed to friend and studio executive Ben Lyon.
Joe Maddalena, owner of Profiles in History, the company behind the auction, explains the significance of the photo: “That is probably the most, to me, important Marilyn Monroe item in the world, because it, for once and for all, confirms the story of how she got her name,” he tells Yahoo Entertainment.
The display includes many of Monroe’s personal photographs, including one from her childhood depicting her “first boyfriend” — she was 5 — and some unpublished shots taken by her close friend and celebrity photographer Milton H. Greene. They were such good friends, in fact, that Monroe moved in with Greene and his wife for a time after The Seven Year Itch; the trust she had for him at that time is evident in the intimate snapshots he took of her.
Aside from Monroe’s loot from that film, the collection features 14 more of her costumes from other sets: her yellow-and-black sequined number for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, her ball gown from The Prince and the Showgirl, and a look from How to Marry a Millionaire.
The idea, Maddalena says, was to cover Monroe’s entire life. To that end, visitors to the exhibit will notice a swan-shaped ashtray that was found on Monroe’s nightstand when she died on Aug. 5, 1962.
We already know about the part of the story where her iconic image lives on in Hollywood history.
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