How did you come to collect Marilyn Monroe memorabilia?
I’ve basically been collecting Marilyn Monroe related pieces for as long as I can remember. In junior high I bought my first Marilyn book and also my first Marilyn Monroe collectible, which was a poster composed of a collage of Marilyn photos – I still have that poster today. For quite some time, my collection focused on Marilyn Monroe books. I bought (and still do) just about every book that came out about her.
In 1999, Marilyn’s personal estate went up for auction via Christie’s New York. Not long after that sale, Marilyn’s items started being auctioned on eBay, and that’s when I really started expanding my collection to include her personal property. My first item of Marilyn’s personal property was a screenplay for a Broadway play titled Maiden Voyage written by Paul Osborn. The part was offered to Marilyn in 1956 while she was filming The Prince and the Showgirl in England with Laurence Olivier. Although Marilyn ultimately didn’t accept this project, her annotations and markings can be seen throughout the script.
It’s a very expensive hobby and one that becomes more and more expensive all the time.
How extensive is your collection?
Today, my collection is one of the largest collections in the world of personal items that belonged to Marilyn Monroe and consists of several hundred pieces – items that actually belonged to Marilyn: clothing (including dresses, evening wear, casual garments, furs and belts), and many other items including books from her library, makeup and cosmetics, personal prescriptions, household items, mementos from her childhood, scripts, documents and receipts from her personal files, invoices, and bank cheques.
How do you finance your collection?
It’s a very expensive hobby and one that becomes more and more expensive all the time. Over 50 years after her death, items from her personal life and her films are only going up in value. Marilyn holds the record today for the highest price ever paid at auction for dresses – the gown she wore when she sang 'Happy Birthday' to President Kennedy in 1962 went for $1,267,500.00) and the flowing white halter dress from the Seven Year Itch went for $5,658,000.00. Needless to say, I save (and save) and then I buy.
Where do you house your collection and how do you care for it properly?
All of my items are stored using acid-free boxes and tissue, out of direct sunlight and in a secure area. I feel more like a conservator at times as compared to a collector.
Will there ever be a time to call it a day and say "I've collected enough"?
That’s highly unlikely. I’m always on the lookout for items to add to my collection and I don’t see stopping any time soon. I never know what might show up at the next entertainment memorabilia auction, or who might contact me looking with items to sell.
In real life she was a smart, contemplative and sensitive person. The sexy blonde image and persona was manufactured
Can you recall your introduction to Marilyn?
I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, and without cable. There weren’t many opportunities to see Marilyn’s films. I recall seeing Marilyn in Some Like It Hot on television. I didn’t have the opportunity to see other films until well into my adulthood. I remember experiencing the same magic that so many other people feel when they see Marilyn: Kind of a sense of awe, like, how does she do that? When she’s on the screen everyone else is eclipsed. She just has that draw, and that’s one of the things that made her such a star.
Many people think the “dumb blonde” Marilyn was who she really was in real life. Actually, Marilyn Monroe was a character created by Norma Jeane. In real life she was a smart, contemplative and sensitive person. The sexy blonde image and persona was manufactured, someone she turned into. It was an act, and she actually referred to Marilyn Monroe in the third person.
What are your favourite items in your collection?
I have several favourites in my collection, including the following:
- - A vibrant green Pucci blouse. Marilyn was very into Pucci in the early 1960s. Her wardrobe consisted of many Pucci pieces in many different colors. This specific blouse is significant because it’s what she was wearing when the last ever photos of her were taken when she was at the Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe the weekend prior to her death. She also wore this blouse as she rehearsed her performance of “Happy Birthday” for President Kennedy. (Yes, she rehearsed it and planned for the performance to be breathy and sexy. Contrary to popular belief she wasn’t intoxicated.)
- - A mink fur collar. This was one Marilyn’s favourites and she was photographed wearing it on many occasions.
- A fox muff. This fur, along with the matching stole (which I unfortunately don’t own) was the very first fur Marilyn ever bought with her own money.
- - A Kodak Camera. This camera was gifted to Marilyn when she was a young child by “Aunt Ana,” who was actually the aunt of her legal guardian at the time, Grace McKee.
- - A maternity dress. This very casual button down day dress, red in color with a pattern of roosters and chickens, was owned and worn by Marilyn while she was pregnant in 1958, during the filming of Some Like It Hot.
You can find some of Fortner's treasures, including the Pucci blouse (a diaphenous boatneck, silk dream) on display at the Marilyn Monroe exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery from Sat Mar 5 to Sun Jul 10. Also, check out our interview with the exhibition's curator, Tansy Curtin.
You might be able to catch one of her films here
The announcement Palace Cinemas chain had reached a deal to take over Melbourne’s famous Astor Theatre was good news for local film buffs. But given the Astor’s fraught and uncertain history, some scepticism remained. These concerns have been allayed by the announcement of the Astor’s new general manager, Zak Hepburn. Hepburn has ten years of cinema experience and, perhaps most importantly from the point of view of the Astor’s loyal fan base, a long association with the cinema. “I grew up in Bacchus Marsh, where there was no cinema,” recalls Hepburn. “My mum first took me to the Astor to see The Beatles: Yellow Submarine. I was constantly asking my mother to drive me to the Astor, which was well over an hour and a half away and I’ve been a regular patron ever since.” Hepburn re-affirms that Palace Cinemas is committed to maintaining the key aspects of the ‘Astor Experience’: a single-screen theatre with a program of new and classic films in 35mm, 70mm and digital formats. “The focus is very much on establishing a cultural hub for movie fans, with double features and remastered classics, new and independent movies, film festivals and special events.” After minor refurbishment, the Astor re-opens for business on Sunday, June 7. Hepburn is finalising the new program, but it will include Kenneth Branagh’s four-hour plus Hamlet, an Astor favourite, and a digitally restored cut of the original The Terminator. There’ll be a 50th anniversary screening of spy thriller
A US documentary about Australia’s James Bond is among the highlights of the American Essentials Film Festival, which brings the best of American independent cinema to Australia. Twenty movies are having their local premieres at the festival, and there’s additionally an exciting program of retro greats including Annie Hall, Andy Warhol’s Bad, Barfly, The Graduate and the adaptation of Carrie Fisher's memoir Postcards from the Edge. Opening night film is 20th Century Women from director Mike Mills (Beginners), starring Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning. It’s about a single mother raising her teenage son in the late 1970s with the help of two other women. Its screenplay was nominated for an Oscar this year. Are We Not Cats is an oddball comedy romance that veers into body horror territory, while American Pastoral is an adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel about a Jewish businessman whose life goes awry amid the turmoil of the 1960s. It’s also the directorial debut of Ewan McGregor. Australia’s one-shot Bond, George Lazenby (On Her Majesty's Secret Service), is the subject of documentary Becoming Bond. Played for laughs, the film features Lazenby telling his own lamentable story, as well as Josh Lawson playing Lazenby in dramatised sections. Another doco, G-Funk, tackles West Coast hip hop and features interviews with Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre, Warren G, the late Nate Dogg, and Ice Cube. And with Twin Peaks returning, David Lynch: The Art of Life, which features more th
WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE. Scrap The Oscars, The Emmys, The Tonys – the only awards that matter is The Dukes, The Astor Theatre's award show for cat videos. Named after the cinema's boss cat, who can often be often weaving his way through the lines for the candy bar or sitting on his kitty litter near the theatre entrance, the Dukes award will be an annual event and the first event will take place on Sunday October 2 at 4pm. On the day of The Dukes, feline film fans will be given score cards to vote for their favourite cat videos screened at the award event. The Astor team has put together an hour's worth of cat videos, from the obscure to the classic, featuring cats from the streets of St Kilda to the hills of LA. The results will be tallied and the audience's favourite video will be presented with the very first Dukes award. May the best moggie movie mogul* win. We have our money on this keyboard cat reincarnation. *Ed's note: I'd very much like to make my cat Tiger (pictured below) a star, but his greatest accomplishment to date is to sit in the recycling box. We've got a bit of work to do. Want to learn more The Astor's resident cat Duke? Check out our interview with this feline film buff.