Frankfurt: Exhibit displays everyday items owned by Marilyn Monroe
January 11, 2011
Had the steel and copper hair rollers belonged to anyone other than Marilyn Monroe, they would barely be worth a glance. But patrons lingered, staring at them for several minutes while searching for a wisp of platinum blond hair.
The hair curlers are part of an exhibit of nearly 300 of Monroe’s belongings — including a taupe satin bathrobe she wore in “Some Like It Hot” and her last phone book with numbers for Frank Sinatra, Montgomery Clift and Joe DiMaggio — on display through February at the Icon Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. The museum, known for its collection of traditional Orthodox Christian art, is exploring the other meaning of “icon” with this exhibit, most of which is the property of Ted Stampfer, a Mannheim collector.
Featured is Monroe memorabilia whose significance is obvious: the first contract she signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, dozens of production stills and scripts, the golden Salvatore Ferragamo stilettos she wore in “Bus Stop,” now purportedly worth $300,000, and an invitation to President John F. Kennedy’s party at Madison Square Garden where she sang — or rather whispered — her notorious “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”
The more striking items, however, are Monroe’s personal effects. In the same display as the curlers are a rusted set of tweezers, a single tube of lipstick, eye shadow, fake eyelashes, and a box of Erno Laszlo face powder, a favorite cosmetic.
“It still smells of roses and musk, like Norma Jeane,” Stampfer told the German newspaper Bild. He was referring to the actress by her baptized name, Norma Jeane Baker.
Monroe’s clothes, though well made, are rather plain. The wardrobe consists mostly of long skirts and pants, turtleneck sweaters and dress shirts. In private, she eschewed bright colors, preferring black, beige and light pink. And only a single piece of clothing here, a black cocktail dress with a plunging neckline, could be described as sexy.
Among the more sought-after items for Monroe collectors are furnishings from her home in Brentwood, Calif., where she died of a sleeping-pill overdose in 1962. The Frankfurt exhibit has a faded green vase that, thanks to a handy reproduction of the floor plans nearby, allows viewers to locate exactly where it stood within the house. Along with the vase are several maroon, flower-patterned shower tiles Monroe selected to decorate her master bathroom, along with a receipt for the construction.
Much of what is on display would normally count as debris: There are countless receipts and, as Monroe bought a lot on credit, letters to her demanding payments. In one, publicist Pat Newcomb seeks reimbursement for a case of scotch, a bottle of vodka and two bottles of Piper-Heidsieck champagne. To view some of the items, though, is to have a disquieting feeling of voyeurism, an invasion of privacy.
Near a pair of tortoise-shell reading glasses, something she likely never would have wanted the world to see, sits Monroe’s last datebook. In it she recorded not only reminders about an upcoming film premiere for “The Misfits,” but also her many appointments with a psychiatrist.
Morbid fascination is the undercurrent of this exhibit, and Monroe memorabilia collecting in general. These items together don’t really add up to anything — certainly they don’t help solve the riddle of who Monroe was and why she became an icon. But they do chip away at the frozen, constantly replicating kitsch images that survive her, and reveal a private life that was touchingly pedestrian and human.
DirectionsThe Icon Museum is in the heart of downtown Frankfurt at the east end of what is considered the museum riverbank. It is about a 30-minute walk from the main train station over the Holbeinsteg pedestrian bridge. Then turn left on Schaumainkai, following the Main riverbank to the Alte Brücke. The museum is just across the street at Brückenstrasse 3-7. If you are using public transportation, take subway U1 through U3 to Schweizer Platz, or from the train station take Tram 16 to stop Textorstrasse. If you are driving, there is a parking garage at Walter-Kolb-Strasse.
TimesThe museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and until 8 p.m. Wednesday.
CostsEntrance for this special exhibit is 6 euros for adults, 4 euros for children and others qualifying for discounts. The exhibit might not be suitable for children as there are several of Monroe’s nude pin-ups on display.FOODThere isn’t any place to eat inside the museum, but just outside there are numerous cafes and restaurants. Or if you are into haute cuisine, try Holbein’s Café-Restaurant in the Städel Museum.
InformationThe museum’s German-only website is www.ikonenmuseumfrankfurt.de, and the telephone number for the information office is 069-2123-6262. Besides the Icon Museum, the smallest of the museums on the riverbank, there is also the internationally renowned Städel Museum, which features artwork from seven centuries. Unfortunately it is under renovation and expansion, and only a single hall is open to visitors. Along the bank there is also the German Architecture Museum (Deutsches Architekturmuseum), the German Film Museum (Deutsches Filmmuseum) and the Jewish Museum (Jüdisches Museum).