Marilyn’s ‘Divorce Dress’ Up for Sale

A rather melancholy fragment of Hollywood history is going under the hammer at GWS Auctions in Beverly Hills on March 30, Newser reports.  This black wool turtleneck dress with zippered front is believed to have been worn by a distraught Marilyn on October 6, 1954, when alongside lawyer Jerry Giesler, she confirmed to reporters outside her home on North Palm Drive, Los Angeles that she was filing for divorce from husband Joe DiMaggio after nine months of marriage. Two copies of the dress were previously sold at Christie’s in 1999, and it is now expected to reach a maximum bid of $100,000 – $150,000.

Alistair Cooke on Marilyn and Joe

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As reported by ES Updates earlier this year, Alistair Cooke at the Movies – an anthology of the eminent British journalist’s writings on Hollywood – is now available via Kindle as well as in print. The book includes two full pieces about Marilyn, and several other references. You can read Cooke’s obituary of Marilyn here.

Cooke’s first thoughts on Marilyn were broadcast on October 14, 1954, on his weekly BBC radio show, Letter From America, regarding her divorce from Joe DiMaggio.

“The Monroe-DiMaggio breakdown is easily dismissed as just another Hollywood marriage. It’s true enough that over twenty, thirty years Hollywood has developed certain mores and customs. And the world jumps to the conclusion that love and marriage in Hollywood constitute something like a religious heresy, a shameless cult mocking the true faith of marriage and children. I have no hesitation in saying that this is mostly moonshine and is brewed from a compound of ignorance and envy…

The gods and goddesses of the Greeks were not known much outside the Mediterranean, and were never seen in the flesh. But the mere announcement of Marilyn Monroe arriving on platform five would cause a riot anywhere in the world. She was mobbed on arriving in Tokyo last year more embarrassingly than she was on leaving San Francisco…

I don’t think there’s been so much talk, from the unlikeliest people, about a movie marriage since the Pickford-Fairbanks idyll as there has been the last fortnight about Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio. I hope I can get across to you that this marriage, when it suddenly burst upon the world – an elopement naturally – nine months ago, was equally a poetic event … She was a poor girl, an orphan, brought up in an orphanage, and towards the end of the war she was a war-factory worker – a tousled, cheerful, lonely working girl, pretty as a kitten. It is not hard for millions of such girls to identify with her.

So who did Rosie the Riveter marry? She eloped with one of the two or three greatest baseball players there ever have been; nobody but the Yankee Clipper himself … he met Miss Monroe over a plate of spaghetti on a blind date. And they eloped. The perfect fulfilment of two ambitions: the average American boy’s dream of being a baseball hero, and the girl next door’s dream of Hollywood.

So they moved down to Hollywood, and to Joe ‘down’ is the word, not only from his beloved San Francisco, but from any sort of life that made sense to him. He was suddenly surrounded by voice coaches and dancing teachers, and press agents, and telephone calls for publicity stills, for magazine covers, for calendars, for interviews … And the object of all this concern was a wife who worked hard in a calling where you go to bed at nine and get up for work at five in the morning. It was all hopelessly bewildering, and one day Miss Monroe announces, right upstairs, over your puzzled head, that she is going to file for divorce…

I tell you this story in its social outline and leave you to write your own moral. But don’t ascribe it to Hollywood, whose divorce rate is hardly higher than that of Bradford or Kensington. Put it down in an age of television, aeroplanes, publicity and universal movies to the overwhelming conspiracy of fame against two ordinary and engaging young people who pay a rather high price for the only extraordinary thing about them – her prettiness, and his old knack of hitting a ball into the grandstand.”

Marilyn ‘Caught Cold’ From Joe

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The New York Daily News has republished a number of archive articles relating to Joe DiMaggio, born a century ago this week. One of the sadder stories reports on his and Marilyn’s divorce hearing at the Santa Monica Court on October 27, 1954. Their marriage was short and turbulent, but they remained the best of friends – and no one was more loyal to her memory than Joe.

‘Marilyn Is Free: Love Caught Cold From Joe’

(Originally published by the Daily news on Thursday, Oct. 28, 1954; written by Florabel Muir)

Hollywood, Oct. 27. – Marilyn Monroe won an uncontested divorce from Joe DiMaggio today after sobbing that Joe was ‘cold.’

He was ‘indifferent’ and terribly ‘moody’ too, Marilyn testified, when all she wanted was love.

Once he wouldn’t talk with her for 10 long days, she said, and “when I tried to find out what was the matter with him he would say: Leave me alone! and Stop nagging me!’

A man sitting next to me said out loud: ‘That guy must be nuts.’ A woman on the other side remarked:

‘She isn’t telling the whole story.’

Lots of Emotion

Marilyn’s five-minute testimony was packed with emotion. She sighed. Her voice broke twice. Once it was in a sob. She brought a handkerchief toward her face, but there weren’t any tears to wipe away.

She tilted her head slightly forward and directed her little words to Judge Orlando H. Rhodes. The judge seemed quite interested when Marilyn said Joe was indifferent to her.

Dressed in somber black – a two-piece black silk faille suit with half-plunging shawl collar, black straw hat tilted back on her head, and white gloves – she was asked right off what her name was.

‘You Mean Norma Jean?’

‘Marilyn DiMaggio,’ she told her attorney, Jerry Giesler.

‘You mean Norma Jean, don’t you?’

‘Oh, yes,’ she said.

Then she plunged into her story of how Joe had spurned her charms during their eight and a half months of marriage.

‘I expected to find love, warmth, affection and understanding in my marriage,’ she said. ‘Instead I found complete indifference and coldness.’

Marilyn said she even offered to give up her acting career, ‘but he was indifferent to that offer too.’

Not once did she refer to Joe by name.

‘My husband,’ she went on, ‘would get into moods where he wouldn’t talk to me for seven or eight – one time it was 10 days. When I tried to find out what was the matter with him he would say Leave me alone and Stop nagging me.’

‘I was not permitted to have any visitors in the house without an argument. I don’t think we had visitors more than three times during our marriage.’

Once, Marilyn said, Joe permitted someone to come into their big house ‘when I was sick, but all during the visit there was great strain.’ She didn’t say who the visitor was.

Marilyn said Joe’s coldness and indifference affected her health and ‘I was under the care of my doctor quite a bit of the time.’

Marilyn’s business manager, Mrs. Inez Melson, corroborated her story. She said when Marilyn tried to give Joe warmth he would push her away and said ‘Don’t bother me.’ She swore that before Joe and Marilyn broke up in late September – they lived under the same roof for a week, he downstairs and she upstairs – Joe told her: ‘I know I am wrong in my approach to coldness and indifference. I regret it but I cannot help it.’

Russell Young: Wild at Heart

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Russell Young is another British artist inspired by MM. His ‘Marilyn Crying’, coated in diamond dust, has become quite popular in recent years. It has inevitably been compared to Warhol, though personally I like the tenderness of Young’s image.

“One thing that is clear from the Wild at Heart series is his indebtedness to Andy Warhol through his print process and subject matters. The likeness is almost uncomfortably apparent, lacking the ‘here and now’ and intimacy that Warhol shared with his subjects during his Factory days. Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych was completed during the weeks after Monroe’s death and addresses her celebrity status, portrayal by the media and early death. Young’s glitzy prints salute old school Hollywood glamour and appear to sugar-coat as opposed to challenge representations of iconic Hollywood figures.” – Nastassja Smart, The Upcoming

What Marilyn Crying arguably lacks in originality, however, it may gain in context. The image – based on a photo by George Silk – was previously used for Anthony Summers’ 1985 biography, Goddess: The Secret Lives of MM. It was taken during a press conference in October 1954, when Marilyn announced her separation from Joe DiMaggio. Disturbingly, the image reveals a bruise on Marilyn’s forehead, perhaps the result of spousal abuse.

George Silk, 1954
George Silk, 1954

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‘Marilyn Crying’ is currently on display at Young’s latest exhibition, Wild at Heart (perhaps riffing on the title of David Lynch’s cult movie), at the cheekily-named Imitate Modern in London’s West End.

Russell Young with photographer David Bailey, and Marilyn
Russell Young with photographer David Bailey, and Marilyn

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One photo taken at the exhibition appears to show Young’s image juxtaposed with a press picture taken several months before, when Marilyn entertained US troops in Korea. It was one of the high-points of her career, but some felt it also marked the dawn of her marriage’s end.

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