Candle in the Wind

PUBLISHED: 14:04 30 June 2011 | UPDATED: 21:35 20 February 2013

Candle in the Wind

Candle in the Wind

Malcolm Rigby visited the American Museum in Britain, which, as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, is staging an exhibition in honour of one of Hollywood's greatest idols

Marilyn Monroe, sex goddess, vulnerable artist and cinematic superstar, has come to Bath this summer at least in spirit. What makes this exhibition so excellent is that not only do you get to see the glitzy dresses she wore in the films that made her an icon but you can also appreciate the vulnerability of the woman who was Norma Jeane.

Marilyn Hollywood Icon showcases the largest privately owned collection, belonging to David Gainsborough Roberts, of Monroes film costumes and personal gowns, as well as intimate items of memorabilia that hint at the fragile and self-destructive personality behind the glamorous faade.

Curator of the American Museum, Laura Beresford, said: A few of the dresses have been on show before but the collection as a whole hasnt, and the thing that I was really excited about, because I knew the diehard Marilyn fans would love it, was all the stuff that has come out of her house. What I think is particularly interesting is that the girl who was famous for singing about diamonds was not a material girl. I was really surprised, actually quite shocked, to see the mundane shabby items. Obviously she had grown up with absolutely nothing, so what she had managed to acquire along the way had tremendous sentimental attachment to her.

We have several key pieces such as the brass dancer, a little figurine she used as a kind of talisman in her orphanage days. Shed hold it up and say: This is what Im going to be. Im going to be a star. The emotional connection with this object is thrilling. What she achieved in later life was phenomenal.

The exhibition has been cleverly staged so that on arrival people are greeted by a room full of the most glamorous outfits, including the side-split dress that has a built-in boned leotard (to serve as underwear) from Theres No Business Like Show Business, the pink wiggle dress from Niagara (I walk the way Ive always walked), and in pride of place, the red sequinned gown from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Only when you get to the back rooms do you discover the mementoes like the figurine, the astrological medallion from her teenage years, the M. Monroe dressing room key, the gifts from the Mob and the nude calendar shots, and learn about her childhood, the pills, the alcohol, and the affairs. Then, as you leave the exhibition, you again pass the pretty frocks the idea being that the visitors leave with a sense of awe and elation rather than gloom.

The actress died in 1962, at the age of 36, from a drugs overdose. She was $400,000 in debt but was saved from a paupers grave by ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, who also arranged for roses to be sent to her crypt three times a week for the following 20 years.

Marilyn had previously declared that she was not interested in money; she just wanted to be wonderful. In 16 years she had made 30 films and established herself as an icon.

Laura described the publics reaction to the exhibition as tremendous: A couple of weeks ago three coaches arrived and as soon as the coach doors opened people came stumbling out, running up to the gallery because they wanted that personal moment of privacy with Marilyn. Almost 50 years after her death she still has that huge power over peoples imagination.

Because this is our 50th anniversary we really needed a show-stopper and it has certainly delivered, the numbers are very healthy this year, certainly up on last year. Its not just Marilyn, but she is certainly a driving force in our success.

The legendary star once said that she belonged to the public and to the world, not because she was talented or even beautiful, but because she had never belonged to anything or anyone else. The opportunity to have a little piece of Marilyn continues until the end of October.

Latest from the Somerset Life