Covering Up Marilyn

Guest blog by Valentina Borghi

Who would imagine that one of the most famous costumes in Hollywood’s history, the shocking pink satin dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in 1953 motion picture Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, was designed as ‘Plan B’?

The original costume created by William ‘Billy’ Travilla for the Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friends sequence, consisted of an extremely revealing black fish-net body stocking up to the breasts, then covered in nude fabric and embellished with a mass of diamonds.

However, during the production of the movie, it was publicly disclosed that Monroe had posed nude for the Velvet Dreams calendar in 1949, before she became well-known and when she was desperate for money. The producers gave Travilla strict instructions to design a less provocative costume in order to distance Monroe from the scandal and not to lose investors. The pink dress was therefore a last-minute replacement.

Photographs above: Left – Marilyn wearing the costume she wore in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; Right – Marilyn wearing the original costume for a screen test

Not many images of the original costume exist. The top portion was used in another film, How to Be Very, Very Popular and was worn by Sheree North. Unfortunately, all that remains today of the original costume is the belt and ostrich feather fan and are part of the Greg Schreiner collection.

Lot 139 in Chiswick Auctions next Autographs & Memorabilia sale, is an extremely rare test photograph of Marilyn wearing the original costume, personally signed and inscribed by the actress to ‘Tommy’. Although the identity of the dedicatee is not known for sure, the idea that it might be her co-star Tommy Noonan (who plays Lorelei Lee’s wealthy fiancée) is certainly appealing. Considering how short-lived the costume was and the limited circulation of photographs featuring Monroe in that outfit, the lot will certainly attract Monroe fans.

 

Photographs above: B&W test shots of the original costume intended for Marilyn to wear in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In the middle is Lot 139

Interest in Marilyn Monroe autographs and memorabilia has always been incredibly strong. The American actress is still one of the most iconic movie stars and her dramatic death at a young age made items signed by her or related to her career extremely sought after on the market.

The pink satin dress worn by Monroe when signing Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friends was auctioned in June 2010, with an estimated price of between $150,000 and $250,000 at Profiles in History. It was described as “the most important film costume to ever come to auction” and sold for $310,000. In June 2011, again at Profiles in History, the red sequined gown worn by Marilyn as she sang, We’re Just Two Little Girls from Little Rock sold for $1,476,000.00.

This rare photograph of Marilyn will feature in our Autographs & Memorabilia sale, Wednesday 16 October. We are the only London auction house with a dedicated Autographs & Memorabilia department, headed up by Valentina Borghi who specialises in the valuation of rare signed photographs, letters, documents & ephemera.

Valentina Borghi is Head of Autographs & Memorabilia at Chiswick Auctions. Contact her at: valentina.borghi@chiswickauctions.co.uk

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