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Marilyn - Hollywood Icon - American Museum in Britain

Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier in The Prince and the Showgirl

Exhibition preview

AS PART of its 50th anniversary celebrations in 2011, the American Museum in Britain is celebrating the enduring legacy of one of Hollywood’s greatest stars, Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962), with an exhibition entitled Marilyn – Hollywood Icon.

On display from March 12 to October 30, 2011, it will showcase the largest privately owned collection of Monroe’s film costumes and personal gowns, as well as intimate items of memorabilia that hint at the vulnerable and self-destructive personality behind the glamorous facade.

Throughout her life, Monroe’s self-confidence and ability to be happy was destabilised by the threat (real or imagined) of inherited mental illness. She was born Norma Jeane Mortensen – the third and youngest child of Gladys Pearl Baker Mortensen, née Monroe, a film cutter for Columbia and RKO.

Gladys was unable to look after any of her children and Norma Jeane lived with foster parents for most of her childhood. Poignantly, the girl did live with her mother for a few months in 1933 before Gladys suffered a severe breakdown and was institutionalized – as were both her parents.

The exhibition features previously unpublished photographs of Gladys. Her prettiness mirrors that of her famous daughter – especially noticeable in an image of a thirteen year old Gladys under a parasol.

Only a year later, Gladys would be married to a man over ten years her senior, who would often beat her. After the couple divorced in 1922, Gladys’s ex-husband kidnapped their two children, even though custody had been awarded to her.

When she died in 1962, Marilyn Monroe was almost $400,000 in debt and her body was only saved from a pauper’s grave by her bereft ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio. “I am not interested in money,” Marilyn had claimed several years earlier, “I just want to be wonderful.”

All of the costumes and objects on display at the American Museum are part of the David Gainsborough Roberts Collection, an extraordinary gathering of celebrity memorabilia created during the past twenty years by this enthusiastic and knowledgeable collector who lives in Jersey.

“I am delighted,” Gainsborough Roberts comments, “that so wide a range of items in my collection can be placed on view at the American Museum for its fiftieth anniversary celebrations. Marilyn is, for me, the quintessential Hollywood figure – beautiful, glamorous, talented, and yet so human, so tragically vulnerable at the same time. How appropriate that her legend can be celebrated by so many people in such a magnificent setting as the American Museum.”

The American Museum in Britain, Claverton Manor, Bath, BA2 7BD

Tel: 01225 460503