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Marilyn Monroe Is Still a Draw

Hundreds attend an auction of nearly 300 pieces of clothing, luggage and personal papers used by or connected to her.

June 05, 2005|David Pierson | Times Staff Writer

As a black-and-white tweed skirt and a moth-eaten wool turtleneck appeared on the monitor, Mark Bellinghaus sprang into action Saturday at the Marilyn Monroe Estate auction in Hollywood.

Somewhere around $6,000, he grunted and waved his numbered paddle frantically to catch the auctioneer's eye. At $8,000, with the faint-hearted dropping out around him, Bellinghaus kept increasing his offers by the hundreds.

Finally, at $8,750, he found himself the proud owner of yet another item for his Monroe memorabilia collection. "It has taken over my life," Bellinghaus said.

Two hours into the auction, which drew several hundred people to a La Brea Avenue furniture store, he had lavished about $15,000 on the late siren's memory, grabbing six items that included a pair of checkered pants and a bronze sweater.

And even then, the fun was just beginning for die-hard fans such as Amy Conditi, 35. "Thank God for credit cards," said Conditi, who flew in from Lancaster, Pa., to participate in the auction -- oh, and to take a vacation too.

She bought the first item up for bid: A baby-blue cashmere cardigan for $2,000. That left only $1,000 in the budget she set for herself at the event.

"I'm going to try and preserve it the best I can," she said of the sweater. "But I'll secretly try it on."

The auction, held at Barclay Butera, was arranged by the late star's estate, which decided to sell 298 pieces of clothing, luggage, personal papers -- even bra pads -- used by or connected to Monroe.

More unusual offerings included her last will and testament, lingerie, her Screen Actors Guild card and court papers from her divorce from New York Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio.

Hundred of bidders crowding the store, on phone lines and using the Internet paid from $1,500 to $17,500 in the opening hours for the items, which were featured in a glossy color catalog that itself was suitable for framing.

A pair of fishnet stockings sold online for $2,750. And a watercolor painting of a rose by Monroe inscribed to President Kennedy sold for $78,000. Altogether, the event raised $1.04 million.

Driving it all was unbridled homage to the 1950s and '60s movie icon whose sex appeal and sense of vulnerability have lived on since her suicide in 1962.

Bellinghaus said his fascination with Monroe began when he was a 9-year-old in Germany, and his brother showed him a picture of Monroe from the film "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."

"I was captivated by her beauty, with her standing in the mirror," he said, searching for more words to explain what drew him to the Hollywood starlet. "It was her beauty, her internal beauty, and her tragic life."

Bellinghaus said he started collecting Monroe items 20 years ago, beginning with a bathrobe. He left Germany for Los Angeles 10 years ago to advance his career as an actor but says it was his love of Monroe, not the California scene, that cost him his marriage.

"I'm divorced because my wife couldn't compete with Marilyn Monroe," he said. "I had to decide between her and my wife. She was blond too."

During the auction, Bellinghaus toted a clipboard with lists of items he hoped to buy. The film and stage actor, who appeared in the movie "The Name of the Rose," said a family inheritance helps him pay for a collection he numbered at hundreds of Monroe artifacts.

"Some people go to Las Vegas and spend $50,000 a weekend and can't afford it," he said. "Some people buy drugs. But this makes me happy."

But even with his enthusiasm for Monroe, Bellinghaus drew the line Saturday. As a murmur of excitement went through the crowd, he gave a disdainful look at the items being offered: Monroe's bras, garter belts and pantyhose.

"Sure, she was a sex symbol," he said, putting down his clipboard, "but these are very private things."

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