Marilyn, Ben Lyon and the Story of a New Name

Ahead of the Essentially Marilyn exhibition’s grand opening at the Paley Centre in Los Angeles tomorrow, Olivia B. Waxman uncovers the story behind this signed photo – taken during filming of The Seven Year Itch – showing Marilyn with Fox talent scout Ben Lyon, in an article for Time. The photo – to be sold at auction by Profiles in History in October – refutes some of the more outlandish rumours about how Marilyn got her name (I’m looking at you, Mickey Rooney.) It won’t be news to longstanding fans, however, as biographer Fred Lawrence Guiles first quoted Marilyn’s words to Lyon back in 1969.

“The above photograph — inscribed by Marilyn Monroe to Lyon: “Dear Ben, You found me, named me and believed in me when no one else did. My thanks and love forever. Marilyn’ … [is] Considered to be one of the most important photographs in Hollywood history because it debunks myths about how she got her iconic stage name, it could fetch more than $100,000, according to Profiles in History CEO Joseph Maddalena, who runs the auction house that specializes in Hollywood memorabilia. He said photos autographed by Monroe usually fetch between $20,000 and $30,000.

So how was the name Marilyn Monroe chosen?

It was a team effort, according to one account of how it happened by Monroe biographer Donald Spoto. At the time, Lyon thought there were too many possible pronunciations of “Dougherty,” the surname of her soon-to-be ex-husband. The 20-year-old model — who was born Norma Jeane Mortenson and later baptized Norma Jeane Baker — suggested Monroe, another surname on the mother’s side of the family, while Lyon came up with Marilyn because she reminded him of Marilyn Miller, the Ziegfeld Follies Broadway musical star who starred with him and W.C. Fields in Her Majesty, Love. (Miller and Lyon were also thought to have been romantically involved at one point ) It would be apt that the two performers would share the same name, in more ways than one. Spoto points out that not only were they similar on the surface — both blonde in appearance — but also because they both had complicated personal lives, including failed marriages.”

‘Essentially Marilyn’ at the Paley Center

Essentially Marilyn, a free exhibition at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles, will be on display from August 18-September 30, ahead of a major auction at Profiles in History this October.

“A major Marilyn Monroe mystery has been solved! For years it had been debated, how did she get her name? A never before seen oversize presentation photograph inscribed by Marilyn Monroe to 20th Century Fox studio executive, Ben Lyon, answers that question.

Marilyn inscribes, ‘Dear Ben, You found me, named me and believed in me when no one else did. My thanks and love forever. Marilyn’. The photo was taken during the filming of The Seven Year Itch. This is the most important signed photograph in Hollywood history.

Fifteen costumes worn by Marilyn Monroe will be on exhibit, including her yellow and black sequined showgirl costume from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, her signature white chiffon over white satin ball gown from The Prince and the Showgirl, her patterned sequined dress from How to Marry a Millionaire and the ‘Subway Dress’ from The Seven Year Itch that was created by Bill Travilla, who made most of Marilyn’s costumes, for touring and exhibition purposes. It’s made to the exact specifications of his original 1955 design for the film.

Marilyn’s heavily hand-annotated script from 1955’s The Seven Year Itch, which gives unique insight into her artistic process.

Marilyn’s personal childhood photographs with handwritten notes, including her baby photo with the note, ‘Me when I was very small,’ another photograph with the note, ‘First boyfriend. Lester Bolender and Norma Jeane, both age 5’.

The exhibit will be framed by elegant and stunningly beautiful large format photographs of Monroe captured by her friend, famed fashion and celebrity photographer Milton H. Greene.”