By Barrie N. Levine who blogs at Into the 70s – 72 is the New 72
When I was a preteen in the 1950s, my cousin and I were fervent Marilyn Monroe fans. We subscribed to movie magazine - Photoplay and Modern Screen - with a feature on our favorite movie star in most every issue.
We made up scrapbooks and pasted in every possible picture and article we could find. When I visited my cousin in Philly, I always brought my updated scrapbook. We reviewed our new insertions immediately, and most seriously.
I also loved Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, the beautiful celebrity power couple of the time. In the spirit of today’s media name couplings, maybe they would have been known as “CurtLeigh.”
But Marilyn was my idol, bar none. I followed her life story and career faithfully. I can’t tell you how many times I saw her on the silver screen in the 1950s, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with Jane Russell, How to Marry a Millionaire with Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall, The Seven Year Itch where she stood over a subway grate with her white skirt blowing, and with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in the perpetually hysterical Some Like it Hot.
The vibrant Technicolor productions brought the Hollywood experience to the Plaza Theater in my small New Jersey downtown. My allowance covered both the 50 cents admission and a box of Raisinets, the movie treat in those days along with Good & Plenty and Bonomo Turkish Taffy.
I decided to write to Marilyn Monroe herself at the Twentieth Century Fox movie studio to let her know I was a loyal fan and request an autographed picture.
On a day I will always remember, I arrived home from school to open a large envelope with a matte finish 8x10 black and white photo of Marilyn wearing a sparkling diamond necklace and leaning against a beautifully draped satin background. The personalized inscription in bright red ink read, “To Barrie, Warmest Regards, Marilyn Monroe.”
My mom gave me permission to place a long-distance telephone call to my cousin to share this amazing news. She could not wait for my next visit.
Fast forward to my adult life and an episode on Antiques Roadshow in 1999. A woman brought in the same exact photo of MM with the handwriting in red ink. The ephemera expert flipped out and said that Marilyn herself had used red ink, whereas the secretaries had used blue or black ink.
The appraiser estimated the value of the signed photo at $5,000!
I screeched, and then danced around the living room. I had saved the photo for more than 40 years, protected in a brushed gold wood frame worthy of the famous star.
Several years later, my internet research turned up information that the appraiser was mistaken. It was determined through archival research and handwriting analysis that the studio secretaries also signed for Marilyn in red.
Comparing my sample to verified signatures, I saw that the autograph on my photo came up short (it does have some value as a studio-signed fan photo, but only at a small fraction of an original).
My hopes to sell it to help pay a substantial portion of my daughter’s first year college tuition were dashed. But now I get to keep and treasure the photo - and the memory - of the sweet, sad and talented movie star I adored.
Rest in peace, Marilyn of my young dreams (1926—1962).
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