Monroe’s costumes sizzle in ‘Hollywood’ auction

Marilyn Monroe’s costume from There’s No Business Like Show Business (20th Century Fox, 1954), worn by the star as Vicky Parker during the saucy “Heat Wave” song and dance number, was the star lot after selling for $280,000, which was hundreds of thousands more than its estimate of $60,000-$80,000. A three-piece ensemble includes the bandeau top made of black raw silk adorned with black sequins and dangly black bead-balls, with a hot pink silk scarf with black silk and sequin embellishments; a full, floor-length skirt made of beige cotton with a black floral print, decorated with over-sized black sequins, waist area made of gathered black raw silk with same adornment as top plus an attached self-belt that closes right at the belly button. All images courtesy of Julien’s

LOS ANGELES – A racy and controversial costume that Marilyn Monroe wore in There’s No Business Like Show Business grabbed the top-lot spotlight after selling for $280,000.

The sale was part of Julien’s recent “Legendary Women of Hollywood” auction, which included an extravaganza of other memorabilia and rarities from the Golden Age of Hollywood to today’s modern legends, as well as a selection of never-before-seen auction firsts.

Leading this popular culture event was property from the life and careers of Monroe and Mae West and  the personal collection of Lucille Ball. Other Monroe costumes were also top sellers.

The winning Monroe costume, which soared way above its estimate of $60,000-$80,000, was originally from the collection of Debbie Reynolds. The extravagant three-piece ensemble designed by master couturier, William Travilla, and from Irving Berlin’s There’s No Business Like Show Business (20th Century Fox, 1954) was worn by the star, who played Vicky Parker, during the saucy “Heat Wave” song and dance number. It consists of a daring black silk bandeau top, a black silk bikini-style bottom brief and a classic, over-sized straw hat painted white with added orange silk flowers. The racy costume was met with controversy, including from Monroe’s husband, Joe DiMaggio, who allegedly refused to be photographed with his wife wearing the costume on the set, according to Julien’s.

Other Monroe costumes that were top lots and also from the collection of Reynolds were the iconic floor length, red silk, long-sleeved sequined dress, with matching headdress, that she wore in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which sold for $250,000 – also way above its estimate of $60,000-$80,000; and the bright yellow silk, floor-length period gown worn by her as Kay Weston in the final scene of the 1954 drama, River of No Return (20th Century Fox). The ensemble sold for $175,000, against an estimate of $60,000-$80,000.

The red silk dress Jane Russell also wore in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes sold for $43,750 (estimate was $20,000-$30,000).

Monroe’s signature-style black cocktail dress likely worn to the 1958 press conference for her blockbuster film, Some Like It Hot,  sold for $100,000 – thousands more than its estimate of $40,000-$60,000.

“This collection of Marilyn Monroe’s most iconic costumes that were worn by the screen legend in some of her most acclaimed and incandescent film performances excited not only her millions of fans, but curators and collectors who are interested in owning and preserving these museum-worthy pieces of the Golden Age of Hollywood history and fashion,” said Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions.

Other highlights included a snake-form cuff bracelet worn by Rita Hayworth in Down to Earth and Gilda, which sold for $25,600; an original Wayland Flowers “Madame” puppet, which sold for $12,500; Erté costumes and gowns from Stardust, with the Barbie costume selling for $10,240; the scarlet costume Mae West wore in Diamond Lil, which sold for $9,000; a small writing desk of Lucille Ball’s that sold for $4,375; and Liza Minnelli’s custom Bob Mackie wedding dress that sold for $6,400.

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Marilyn Monroe’s gown and headdress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (20th Century Fox, 1953) sold for $250,000, soaring past its estimate of $60,000-$80,000. Monroe wore this costume as Lorelei Lee in the first scene of the film where she and Jane Russell (as Dorothy Shaw, wearing an identical outfit, shown in a movie still at top right) sing the cute song “We’re Just Two Little Girls from Little Rock.” The floor-length red silk dress is entirely covered in various-sized red and putty-colored sequins, with the matching headdress made of the same red silk with sequins and red and white feathers. Jane Russell’s gown sold for $43,750.

Marilyn Monroe’s period gown from River of No Return (20th Century Fox, 1954)sold for $175,000 (estimate was $60,000-$80,000). The bright yellow floor-length gown is made of silk and has spaghetti straps, with yellow silk flowers sewn to left strap, the bodice covered in gold bugle beads with additional red dangling bugle beads at bust, long front slit at left leg topped with a small bow, and attached petticoat made of multi-layered red tulle netting trimmed in gold metallic.


The scarlet costume Mae West wore in Diamond Lil sold for $9,000.

A Rita Hayworth-worn 18k yellow gold cuff bracelet in the form of a coiled snake, with a simulated emerald surrounded by 16 simulated diamonds on the crown and two simulated rubies for eyes, sold for $25,600, thousands more than its estimate of $10,000-$15,000. You can see the cuff on Rita’s wrist in a scene from Down to Earth (Columbia, 1947) shown below.