What an experience it was to attend the first public session of the Marilyn Monroe exhibition in Bendigo on Saturday.
We arrived at the Bendigo Art Gallery five minutes before the opening time and found ourselves joining a long queue of people waiting in anticipation for the doors to open.
As I waited in the queue I wondered what the exhibition would be like. There’s certainly been a lot of hype and we’ve been caught up in it a bit ourselves since we teed up with Bendigo Tourism to create a special accommodation package for Stay Social guests. But I really had no idea what to expect.
The queue started to move and the next thing I knew I was standing next to a Marilyn Monroe figure getting my photo taken with my Mum!
Once we passed this point it was time to put the cameras away and start looking at the exhibition.
The next two hours were filled with wonder and awe as I went through the exhibition reading stories, historical accounts, viewing old film footage, and looking at original items owned and worn by Marilyn.
I found it quite moving, particularly seeing some original black and white photos of her as a child and teenager and learning about her troubled childhood. Norma Jeane Baker, her real name before she reached stardom, had me realize that Marilyn Monroe was a human being with hopes, dreams and fears just like all of us.
I loved joining in conversations with people I didn’t even know who were looking at items at the same time as me.
A group of ladies were discussing Marilyn’s large big toe and how it always hung over her shoes in the photos. “That’s very observant of you” I said to them, quite impressed. “Shoes and feet are our thing” was their reply!
I spoke with a man who was just as fascinated about the old black and white photos as I was. There was a photo of her at 16 with her newly wed husband James Dougherty who was 21 at the time.
“That photo looks like her husband was 14 years old not 21!” was the man’s surprised observation.
I also enjoyed finding out what others liked the best out of the exhibition.
My mum said she loved the purple dress with the little jacket. This was the dress that Marilyn Monroe wore during her performances to over 100,000 troops in Korea in 1954.
My dad enjoyed the whole story. There were lots of things he learned about Marilyn Monroe that he didn’t know.
My biggest surprise at the exhibition was when I was looking at some of the dresses I overheard a conversation about the background to a particular dress, and I thought “Gee this person knows a lot about it”.
It turns out the person talking was Scott Fortner, a Marilyn Monroe collector from California. I found this out as he pointed to his name on the wall as the owner of the dress on display. He said he had 40 items in this exhibition and was thrilled to be a part of it. He had attended the black tie opening of the exhibition the night before and was here again today to see how it was all going.
When asked what his favourite item was he replied “the green blouse, an item from Marilyn’s private wardrobe”. This blouse was what Marilyn was wearing the weekend before she died 28-29 July 1962, shown in the last photo ever taken of her alive.
I went over to where the green blouse was on display and reflected for a minute on what it must have been like for Norma Jeane, the person behind Marilyn Monroe.
The Bendigo Art Gallery and Twentieth Century Fox Marilyn Monroe was definitely worth seeing, I enjoyed it more than I ever expected!