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Good buys on Norma Jean

Times Staff Writer

It is a 9-by-12-inch original watercolor of a single long-stemmed red rose painted by actress Marilyn Monroe. It is inscribed at the bottom to President John F. Kennedy, where she writes, in blue ink, “Happy Birthday Pres. Kennedy from Marilyn Monroe.”

Then the artist does something odd. She signs her name to the painting two more times. In black ink, she inscribes the note: “Happy Birthday, Marilyn.” The next line reads “June 1, 1962 -- the actress’ own birth date -- and then the words: “My best wishes, Marilyn.”

Why the separate notes and three signatures? No one will ever know, but there is something melancholy about the inscriptions. Not only does she wish JFK a happy birthday, but she then feels compelled to wish herself one, as if no one else had remembered.

When Monroe painted the rose is not known, but JFK never received the painting. Barely two months later, the actress was dead of a drug overdose at age 36.

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Her watercolor is one of 298 items belonging to the Monroe estate that will go on the auction block June 4 at Barclay Butera Inc., 169 N. La Brea in Los Angeles. A public viewing will be held May 31 to June 3 at the furnishings and interior-design company showroom.

Over the years, there have been other sales of Monroe memorabilia. The form-fitted, flesh-colored dress she wore in 1962 when she sang “Happy Birthday” to Kennedy, for instance, was auctioned off in 1999 for more than $1.2 million. And just last year, her driver’s license went for $130,000.

But the items that go on sale next month are some of the most personal Monroe memorabilia ever to reach the market. They include her last will and testament, dated Jan. 14, 1961. Her 1955 divorce papers from baseball slugger Joe DiMaggio. Beverly Hills Hotel bills she ran up with another husband, playwright Arthur Miller. Her 1956 application to a New York City court to legally change her name. A series of limited-edition color photographs taken of her by actor Harold Lloyd.

There are canceled checks, signed contracts, an assortment of hair brushes and combs, and numerous articles of clothing like sweaters, capri pants, designer dresses and even undergarments.

“She probably ranged anywhere from a modern Size 10 down to a modern Size 6, depending on where she was in her life,” said Laura Woolley, the chief operating officer of Julien’s Auctions, which is conducting the sale. “I think people always think of her as being really voluptuous and she was -- and curvy -- but she wasn’t as big as everyone probably assumes because she wasn’t that tall.”

There is a 1959 note from one hairstylist to another telling her how to mix up the hair solution for Hollywood’s most famous blond: “Please use 1 oz of this rinse to 8 oz of very hot water on roots & cond. through ends -- on Miss Monroe’s hair -- the cream is to use on shaft of hair after applying bleach.... “

“What some of these items do is they make us realize she was human,” said Darren Julien, the president of Julien’s Auctions.

“This is the last time that the property will be sold directly from Marilyn to the collector,” Julien noted. “A lot of times you’ll see items that are from Marilyn’s career -- like we’ve sold things [owned] by [actress] Debbie Reynolds that Marilyn had worn in films. What makes this significant is that no one else has owned this property outside Marilyn and her estate. There has been no middle person. This has been stored away for 43 years. There are things in museums or in private collectors’ hands, but this will be the last time there will be a Marilyn Monroe estate sale.”

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Why the sale? Julien estimates the auction will generate between $400,000 and $600,000 in sales but added that the auction marks a rare opportunity for fans and collectors.

“Marilyn Monroe is the most collectible icon ever, and I think the estate was looking at the stuff and it’s not being appreciated,” Julien said. “It was stored away. This is an opportunity for fans and collectors to obtain something and have it appreciated and have its historical significance go on forever.”

There are jars of Enzo Laszlo beauty products that were found on her bedside table after her death, including two jars of powder and facial cream that appear to have been used by the actress.

One of the items to be auctioned off is Monroe’s telephone book circa 1962.

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We open up the tan, three-ring phone book and read the name Frank Sinatra and his telephone number and we immediately conjure up images of the Rat Pack.

There are other names with other phone numbers fitting for a movie star’s book: director George Cukor, poet Carl Sandberg, stars Desi Arnaz, Jack Benny, Montgomery Clift, and two powerful Hollywood gossip columnists -- Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, which any major star of that era would want close at hand.

But there are other entries that reveal the more ordinary side of Monroe that the public never knew. A watch and clock repair shop on East 57th Street in New York. A liquor store on Wilshire Boulevard in L.A. An all-night pharmacy at Lexington and 49th Street in New York. There are numbers for dry cleaners, cars for hire, and a shoe repair shop.

One is haunted by another entry. It is Monroe’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson.

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But that is another, sadder, story.


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