Delicate and undeniably gorgeous, the purple silk crepe cocktail dress embellished with bugle beads stands tall with a perfect hourglass figure inside a glass case. It was the dress that Marilyn Monroe wore when she performed for thousands of American troops in Korea in 1954, a pivotal point in her life as she realised her true star power. As I was admiring the detailing of the dress and matching bolero jacket, Marilyn’s soft yet lively rendition of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend can be heard from the nearby screen showing the clip of the actual performance. She may be long gone, but still very much alive.
The girl that every woman wants to be best friends with has landed in the quaint city of Bendigo, two hours by train from Melbourne. Banners and stickers promoting the Marilyn Monroe Exhibition can be spotted the moment I arrived at the Bendigo Train Station. Turns out it was only a glimpse of full-blown Marilyn mania all over the city. At the main crossing near Alexandra Fountain is Forever Marilyn, an 8-metre-high sculpture by Seward Johnson. This impressive work of art has been seen in Chicago and Palm Springs in the United States, and is now in Australia for its first international visit.
Strolling along the Bendigo CBD (central business district), it was fun to see how everyone participates in honour of the Hollywood superstar. A picture frame store has images of Marilyn all over the window display, and there was a boutique with knock-off versions of her iconic dresses. Restaurants have altered their menu to include special edition dishes and cocktails, and visitors can select accommodation package offers from several hotels and B&Bs that include tickets and other goodies in conjunction with the exhibition.
This wonderful collaboration by Bendigo Art Gallery and Twentieth Century Fox took about two years to materialise. There are more than 100 items, prints, old photographs, personal clothing, as well as iconic costumes from her movies, showcasing the stages of metamorphosis from girl next door to blonde bombshell. All are on loan from the studio and from private collectors all over the world. Among her personal items on display include her first camera, a Kodak Brownie, and a classic leather and wood suitcase. One particular tan sweater with a little stain caught my attention. Whether it was from a coffee spill (certainly looked like it) or from something else, it was interesting to note the human side of this legendary lady who seemed perfect from head to toe.
From her humble beginnings, through a difficult childhood and eventual successful career in show business, Norma Jeane Baker’s hard work in her transformation into Marilyn Monroe has paid off. Over her short 36-year stint on earth, she managed to elevate the status of women in the film industry, becoming the first female to start her very own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions. Such a long way she’s been through, considering she never even graduated from high school. But a dumb blonde, Marilyn was not. Among the books from her library that were on exhibit are Of Stars and Men – Human Response to an Expanding Universe by Harlow Sharpley and Man’s Supreme Inheritance: Conscious Guidance and Control in Relation to Human Evolution in Civilisation by F. Matthias Alexander. Together with her personal collection of gossip magazines from the 1950s, this quirky contrast in Marilyn’s love for reading was definitely fascinating to note.
In between the items on exhibit are screens with clippings of Marilyn’s movies and live performances, including a 6-by-9 metre motion picture display, and little television sets from the bygone era. But my favourite section of the whole exhibition has to be the 1960s-style sitting area that was furnished with two beige retro armchairs, an old school wooden cupboard, as well as a projector and screen that show clippings of her old movies. Drawn by such a magnetic presence, I could’ve spent the whole afternoon there watching Marilyn strut her magic on the screen.
For the duration of the exhibition (which runs until 10 July), there are a myriad of events and activities in celebration of Marilyn. The Eaglehawk Town Hall will be hosting movie nights from April till June with some of her classic titles including River of No Return and The Misfits. Those wishing to relive the glam era can check out the grand gala night at Ulumbarra Theatre on 14 May, where there will be a screening of Some Like It Hot. Come in your best 1950s costume, as the ticket includes a post-screening party with entertainment and light food. And if you need more reason to party, the Bendigo Art Gallery Foundation will also be hosting a red carpet fundraiser cocktail event on 4 June, with live music and a silent auction of some of the items in the exhibition. Check out the official website for full event listings and tickets.
I wouldn’t label myself as a big Marilyn Monroe fan, but I am now an admirer. This exhibition is indeed a world-class presentation of an icon. A peek inside the life of a woman who conquered challenges and rose above them with energetic charm and full tenacity – certainly a story that is worthy of reflection. And she will no doubt continue to intrigue and inspire people even years from now.
“After all, if I can’t be myself, who can I be then I would like to know?” – Marilyn Monroe
Bendigo Art Gallery and Twentieth Century Fox present Marilyn Monroe
Venue: Bendigo Art Gallery, Bendigo, Victoria
Dates: 5 March – 10 July 2016 (open daily)
Admission: AUD 25 (adult), AUD 12 (children), AUD 20 (senior citizen and student)
How to get there: V Line trains run regularly from Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station to the Bendigo Train Station. The journey takes 90-120 minutes. Cost is AUD 21 per way. Bendigo Art Gallery is just a 15-minute walk from the station. Alternatively, you can take a taxi or get on bus 50, 52, 53, 54 or 55.
GETTING THERE AirAsia X flies to Melbourne from various destinations. For flight info and lowest fares, visit AirAsia.com.