Public fascination with Marilyn Monroe continues its groundswell, with the iconography of her image earning $27 million last year, third on the Forbes annual list of the earnings of deceased celebrities, after Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. The Jung Center has created a fascinating exhibition, curated from The Babydoll Museum, the private collection of Marie Taylor Bosarge, featuring Marilyn Monroe's personal artifacts, costumes, and personal effects. The Inner Marilyn is interestingly eclectic, and if it has a flaw, it is that we wish for more of Marilyn. But what we do have captures her magnetic power, and illustrates clearly her capacity to project a variety of personalities, even more varied in her photo shoots, perhaps, than in her films.
Bert Stern photographed Marilyn in 1962, shortly before her death, and three of the four colored photographs on view here leap off the wall. In one, her hair is tousled, almost disheveled, covering her right eye, but the heavy-lidded left eye is enough to let us see why David fell for Bathsheba. One is a semi-nude, but the scarf covering her torso is about as transparent as sheerness could manage. In the third, her hair is in a turban, and she wears a lace-like shower curtain as a veil, creating a look of sophistication that is at the same time modern and also timeless.
There are less glamorous photographs of Marilyn when she was still brunette, still Norma Jeane, in a red mock turtle pullover, with white suspenders. These capture a youthful openness and sweetness, before the transformation into an iconic goddess. There are also six covers of Life magazine, plus three tabloids.
Marilyn's last photos shoot was in black and white, with her in light pedal pushers and a black pullover -- the outfit had been selected by her. In the five photos shown of this session, she exudes such joy, and zest for life, that it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to believe that she took her own life, as has been surmised.
Different memorabilia will have varying appeal. There are a number of dresses and bathing suits, and these are interesting, but are missing the key ingredient, Marilyn. One dress in particular stands out, full-length, gold and red - lushness itself with a russet ruffled train. It had been worn by Betty Grable in a film, and was modified to add the train when worn by Marilyn in River of No Return.
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Most striking of the clothing is a black bra, opaque for the bottom quarter, with the top three-quarters see-through lace. It is mounted in solitary splendor, and is haunting in its emptiness, like a kingdom yearning for its absent ruler.
These garments all document her hourglass figure, as do the photographs of shooting the nude bathing scene in Something's Got to Give. Marilyn had been working out, and her body was toned - she was in the best shape of her career. The photos are graceful, not prurient, and her physical beauty may take your breath away.
Marilyn entertained the U.S. Marines in Korea in 1954, and there are photos of that USO tour. The generals wanted her at their table, but she insisted on eating with the enlisted men.
There are memorabilia of her sessions with her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson. The psychiatric couch is authentic, but is brown and tailored, and not remarkable. But there is a carved wooden chair used in a photo shoot, with the upholstery punctured by Marilyn's heel, and the chair's back damaged a bit from the shoot. A picture of her standing on the chair sets up the powerful reality of the chair, an anchor, reminding us that though she has become a goddess, she once was human, as you and I. The Inner Marilyn continues through June 10, at the Jung Center of Houston, 5200 Montrose, Admission is free, hours are Monday through Thursday, 9 to 7; Friday, 9 to 4; and Saturday, 10 to 4. Information at 713- 524-8253 or www.junghouston.org.