Marilyn Monroe dresses revealed in American Icon show at American Museum

By Ben Miller | 09 March 2011
A black and white photo of a glamorous actress in a decadent white dress
The stage costume Marilyn Monroe wore for There's no Business Like Showbusiness (1954), which featured a built-in boned leotard, will go on show at the American Museum in Bath© Courtesy David Gainsborough Roberts Collection
Exhibition: Marilyn – Holywood Icon, American Museum, Bath, March 12 – October 30 2011

Taking Marilyn Monroe’s proclamation to be little more than a public object as a starting point, the contrasts between the glamorous dresses in this personal collection and the fragile human being they belonged to make it a show tinged with sadness.

A photo of a tall black dress on a mannequin
The dress Monroe wore for a bit part in rollerskating rampage film The Fireball (1950)© Courtesy David Gainsborough Roberts Collection
“I knew I belonged to the public and the world,” said the Hollywood siren.

“Not because I was talented or even beautiful, but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.”

Tireless Jersey collector David Gainsborough Roberts has assembled a staggering collection of dresses which once belonged to Monroe.

The stage star was plagued by inherited mental illness, spending most of her childhood in foster care with the exception of a few months living with her mother, Gladys, who was eventually forced to give her up when she suffered a severe breakdown and was institutionalised.

Previously unseen photographs of Gladys feature in this show, but the glamorous gowns still steal the limelight, hooked from the wardrobe of a star infatuated with glitz.

“I am delighted that so wide a range of items in my collection can be placed on view at the American Museum,” says Gainsborough Roberts, whose display also marks the 50th birthday of the venue.

“Marilyn is, for me, the quintessential Hollywood figure – beautiful, glamorous, talented, and yet so human and so tragically vulnerable at the same time.”

  • Admission £4.50-£9 (family ticket £24/£21.50). Open 12pm-5pm (except Monday).
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