Marilyn Monroe's "vulnerability and humanity" shown in glittering display of personal items on star's 90th birthday

By Ben Miller | 01 June 2016

On what would have been Marilyn Monroe's 90th birthday, curators say items from her collection suggest she was a poet who wanted to write a book

A photo of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator surrounded by various exhibits in a London display
A London exhibition of her personal items suggests that Marilyn Monroe was a prolific writer and poet© Stuart C Wilson / 2016 Getty Images
Marilyn Monroe was a part-time poet and artist with a love of naïve still life drawings and figure studies, according to a new exhibition featuring the original costumes she wore in Niagara and There’s no Business Like Show Business and her sheer beaded dress from Some Like It Hot.

Curators at Chelsea Harbour’s Design Centre say the selection of Monroe’s journals and handwritten letters and a display of her favourite jewellery, watches and accessories will be the only time the collection will go on public display in the UK. The drawings are made in a variety of mediums, and the poems are said to showcase the star’s “intellectual curiosity, vulnerability and humanity.”

“We found so many notes and journals and writings from Marilyn. We believe that probably, eventually, her goal was to write a book,” says Martin Nolan, of co-organisers Julien’s Auctions.

A photo of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator surrounded by various exhibits in a London display
© Stuart C Wilson / 2016 Getty Images
“She’s exquisite and she represents style and elegance. She never knew her father, she had no sister and no brother.

“Her mum was in and out of psychiatric institutions, she went from foster home to foster home. Three weeks after her 16th birthday she married James Dougherty because the other option was to go back into a foster home. And yet she became this global icon that we are talking about today.”

Suzie Kennedy is a US-born, London-based Monroe impersonator whose uncanny career has taken her from fashion shoots to the West End and multinational advertising campaigns. Now she’s the face of the exhibition.

A photo of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator surrounded by various exhibits in a London display
© Stuart C Wilson / 2016 Getty Images
“Obviously I love her roles that she played but I also loved when she sang happy birthday to the President,” she says.

“She knew how to create moments, from the skirt blowing up to the happy birthday to being Sugar Kane in Some Like it Hot.

“She has inspired me, really, because even though it’s a job, following her life...she’s just so inspiring, she achieved so much – coming from a broken home to being the most famous woman in the world.

A photo of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator surrounded by various exhibits in a London display
© Stuart C Wilson / 2016 Getty Images
“So many people know who she is but they don’t know who she actually was. When you come here you get to see her private letters and little things, but also her public persona with all these amazing costumes that she wore on film.

“Just reading the things here at the Design Centre, she was a poet as well. She has so many sides.”

Nolan believes Monroe is “frozen” in eternity. “You could show an eight-year-old a picture of her anywhere in the world and they would know who she is,” he says.

A photo of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator surrounded by various exhibits in a London display
© Stuart C Wilson / 2016 Getty Images
“She loved the camera. She never took a bad photograph. Our goal is to really educate the world about the many facets of Marilyn Monroe.

“She accomplished so much but it’s also about her artistic side, how vulnerable she was, her insecurities, her desire to become more educated, her eagerness to please and hunger for love.”

Many of the fashion pieces are owned by David Gainsborough-Roberts, who is selling them off as part of a high-profile £10 million collection. “I’ve decided that I must sell them while I can still remember where some of them are,” he told the Jersey Evening Post, dressed in a pink and white Monroe tie and a jacket adorned with badges and medals.

A photo of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator surrounded by various exhibits in a London display
© John Phillips / 2016 Getty Images
He is thinking of giving the proceeds to the Jersey Heritage Trust or the island’s museums. There is one gown Kennedy would like to keep. “My favourite item is the Some Like it Hot dress because it’s the most famous,” she says.

“I also love her earrings that she wore in How to Marry a Millionaire. She wore them all the time – not just in the film but also to go to premieres, so they’re really well known.

“There’s a really cute thing: they have this little bag and in it there are little compartments down to dimes she would make phone calls on back when she was Norma Jean. You never get to see this stuff.”

  • Marilyn Monroe: Legacy of a Legend is at the Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour until June 20 2016. Open 10am-7pm. Admission free.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator surrounded by various exhibits in a London display
© Stuart C Wilson / 2016 Getty Images
A photo of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator surrounded by various exhibits in a London display
© Stuart C Wilson / 2016 Getty Images
A photo of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator surrounded by various exhibits in a London display
© Stuart C Wilson / 2016 Getty Images
A photo of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator surrounded by various exhibits in a London display
© Stuart C Wilson / 2016 Getty Images
A photo of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator surrounded by various exhibits in a London display
© Stuart C Wilson / 2016 Getty Images
A photo of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator surrounded by various exhibits in a London display
© Stuart C Wilson / 2016 Getty Images
A photo of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator surrounded by various exhibits in a London display
© Stuart C Wilson / 2016 Getty Images
Three museums to follow fashion in

Fashion Museum Bath
The Fashion Museum Bath holds a world-class collection of contemporary and historic dress located in a World Heritage City. The museum was founded by writer and collector Doris Langley Moore as the Museum of Costume, Bath and has been based in Bath’s Grade I-listed 18th century Assembly Rooms since 1963.

Blandford Fashion Museum, Dorset
The Fashion Museum was awarded full registered museum status in 2001, conservation and dating of costumes is of the utmost importance and archives are kept up to date. The museum is managed entirely by voluntary staff and as the years have progressed it has gained a reputation for its beautiful exhibits and friendly atmosphere.


Explore fashion and style in four cities at the compass points of the African continent - Casablanca in Morocco, Lagos in Nigeria, Nairobi in Kenya and Johannesburg in South Africa - in the new exhibition, Fashion Cities Africa. Until January 8 2017.
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