By Tahiat Mahboob  

In November 2016, over the course of three days, items belonging to Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe went on auction at Julien’s Auction in Los Angeles, California. According to auction records, 1,025 auction lots were sold. The event included property from the estate of Lee Strasberg, the estate of Frieda Hull, and from the world's largest collection of costumes worn by Monroe in films, owned by collector David Gainsborough-Roberts.

Marilyn Monroe: Auction of a Lifetime

“It’s the next best thing to meeting her, is owning something that she owned,” said Darren Julien, CEO of Julien’s Auction. “Touching something that she touched.”

Aside from the opportunity they provide to connect with her, many of her possessions and photographs are a window into memorable periods in her life. Here is a look at some of those possessions and the stories they tell.

A mink coat from a short-lived marriage

Among the items sold at the auction, lot number 653 was a set of unseen candid photos taken by a group of amateur photographers known as the Monroe Six. They spent their time taking pictures of Monroe in unguarded moments.

One of the photos in this set shows Monroe arriving for the shoot of the movie A Seven Year Itch. It was September 15, 1954. The photo showed her in the iconic white halter-neck dress, from one of the best-known scenes in the movie. Over it, she had on a dark mink coat — a gift from her then husband Joe DiMaggio, the biggest sports star in America.

The two had married on January, 14, 1954, and were the most glamourous couple of their time. But there were issues. DiMaggio had assumed that Monroe would put her career on the backburner after the marriage. She did not. According to biographer Louis Banner, he also had difficulties grappling with Monroe’s sex appeal and her interactions with her male fans.

Nine months later, the relationship would take a turn for the worse, during the filming of A Seven Year Itch. The iconic scene where a draft from the New York City subway lifted her dress was filmed in front of invited press and scores of spectators, including DiMaggio. He was not happy. When they returned to the hotel room that night, according to Banner, DiMaggio hit her. Monroe filed for divorce four weeks later.

Receipts that marked a reinvention

Receipts and checks from Marilyn Monroe Production Inc. were also up for auction at Julien’s. They marked a new chapter in her career. Tired of playing the same role repeatedly, Monroe had enrolled at the Actor’s Studio in New York to learn method acting from famed acting teacher Lee Strasberg. But this wasn’t the only step towards her reinvention as a serious actor. She also announced the foundation of her own independent production company.

When asked why she had opened her own production company, Monroe said, “Primarily to contribute to help making good pictures.” And it gave her more professional control to make the movies she wanted to make.

But she wasn’t done yet.

Around the same time, she negotiated a new deal with Fox Studios that allowed her to choose her own films and who directed them. Movies such as Bus Stop and The Prince and the Showgirl soon followed and allowed Monroe to take on more challenging roles.

One of the most expensive dresses in history

Of all the items on auction, the one that garnered the most attention was a dress that Monroe wore as she famously sang Happy Birthday to U.S. President John. F. Kennedy. It sold for approximately $6.1 million Cdn to Ripley’s Entertainment, owned by B.C. billionaire Jim Pattison.

In 1962, Kennedy was turning 45. The celebration was scheduled 10 days in advance of his May 29 birthday at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. It was going to be a star-studded gala amidst an audience of 15,000 people. Monroe was invited to perform. At the time, she and Kennedy had already met on several occasions and were rumored to be having an affair.

Monroe was the last performer of the night and she kept her dress for the evening under wraps. When the lights deemed and the spotlight fell on her as she came on stage, the crowd erupted. She was wearing a sheer flesh-coloured Jean Louis gown that sparkled with over 2,500 hand-stitched crystals. She looked like she was covered in diamonds.

Monroe’s rendition of Happy Birthday lasted a mere 30 seconds but it had just the impact she wanted. The audience was mesmerised and for generations to come, that footage was what many people remembered Monroe by.