Part III: Finding Marilyn Monroe
After an initial trip in March of 2017, I returned to New York to meet with Anna the following May, and then again in August. I’d discovered that Anna had an appreciation and a respect for Marilyn that few people realized.
During my trips we visited the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, or “the school” as Anna calls it, where method acting is still taught. An undeniable “who’s who” of Hollywood has called Lee Strasberg their teacher or LSTFI their home, including Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Alec Baldwin, Uma Thurman, Barbra Streisand, Sally Field, Jon Voight, Armie Hammer, and, of course, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino (just to name a few). The Institute teaches acting, dancing, writing and other skills to young students from around the world and there’s a waiting list for enrollment.
During our visits to the storage facilities, Anna and I discovered a vast collection of vintage newspaper clippings spanning the late 1940s through 1962. Normally this wouldn’t have been an exciting find for anyone. In this case however, it just happened to be Marilyn Monroe’s personal collection of news and media clippings, with stories about her circled in red wax pencil. Throughout her career Marilyn paid services to find press articles mentioning her so she could stay abreast of what the media was writing. Also included with the clippings were magazines with stories featuring her, together with notes and letters from photographers and members of the press. It’s an astonishing archive. Quite amazingly, included are clippings from the late 1940s, documenting that Marilyn was collecting articles and mentions of the man who would be her husband someday: Arthur Miller. The collection of newspapers and magazines had been part of Marilyn’s estate.
We also discovered a collection of scripts from Marilyn’s films that had belonged to Paula, including Bus Stop, Let’s Make Love and Some Like it Hot.
Anna and I spent time together selecting items that would be sold at Julien’s Auctions later in the year. While we had discovered Marilyn’s media archive and Paula’s film scripts, we’d not found anything else of Marilyn’s.
On my last full day in New York during my August trip, Anna and I headed back to the storage facility a last time to go through the licensed memorabilia and select pieces to send to Julien’s. I pulled box after box from the shelves for us to go through.
Toward the end of the day I climbed up to the top shelf to grab a box that was near the back of the rack. It was one of the very last boxes for us to audit. I set it down next to Anna and we opened it. We discovered that it wasn’t memorabilia or merchandise inside, but clothing. I started to pull the pieces out one at a time. There were skirts in black and brown. There were also several pairs of black pants, and then, a pair of black and white checked pants that are so synonymous with Marilyn.
That’s when it hit me: These were Marilyn’s clothes.
As I continued to pull out clothing items, I noticed a tiny beige colored top with spaghetti straps that were tied in knots. The label inside read “Jax.” I knew instantly that this was the top Marilyn wore as she recorded songs for Let’s Make Love. Photos of her wearing this same top showed the knots tied in the shoulder straps, and unbelievably they were still tied in knots that day.
At the very bottom of the box was the holy grail of finds: A long-sleeved button-down shirt in black satin with an attached necktie. This, of course, was the blouse Marilyn wore during a press conference at the Los Angeles airport on February 26, 1956.
At the press conference a female reported asked, “You’re wearing a high-neck dress…is this a new Marilyn? A new style?” Marilyn responded quickly with, “No, I’m the same person, but it’s a different suit.”
At the initial moment of discovery I told Anna, “Bear with me, I’m having a Marilyn Monroe moment,” and she literally laughed out loud, and we reveled in the joy.
There are many items from Marilyn’s life and wardrobe that have never been found. For example, no one has ever seen the dress she wore to the 1955 East of Eden premiere, yet the matching cape survived and is now part of my collection.
I’d thought Marilyn’s black wool jacket, seen in countless photos being worn by her, was also lost. Incredibly, the jacket was found in storage in 2016. I was lucky enough to win the jacket at auction and then reunite it with the mink fur collar Marilyn had always worn with it. The collar has been part of my collection since 2006.
The famous Lucite shoes Marilyn wore with ribbon for laces have also never been seen.
This blouse was yet another item that had not been seen publicly since Marilyn wore it. What a thrill it was to find it in storage. The rest of that day Anna heartily told everyone we encountered about my Marilyn Monroe moment of discovery.
All totaled, the box contained six pairs of pants, most of them by Jax, four tops, six skirts, all custom-made for Marilyn, and one petticoat.All of the clothing items I’d found, along with Paula’s scripts, were sold at the November 2018 entertainment memorabilia auction at Julien’s.
During our times together Anna shared with me some of what she’d learned about Marilyn through Lee and through curating her personal property. “The essence of Marilyn was her absolute enthusiasm,” she said. “Marilyn was always learning and wanting to excel. Very few actors, at the height of their success, would go to a night class at UCLA to study English narrative poetry and literature. She was an avid reader, always eager to learn something new. Her studies with Lee gave her confidence and made her stronger. She was able to select her own projects and decide on the directors for her films.”
Through several visits and many hours of conversation, I got to know Anna as a person and I learned a great deal about her. We talked about Lee. We talked about Marilyn. We talked about life and family. I always referred to her as Mrs. Strasberg (because that’s how I was raised). It was during my third trip to New York that she said, “Call me Anna please, Scott. My friends call me Anna.”
Very few people in the Marilyn world have ever even met Anna Strasberg, let alone spent time with her the way that I now have, and it’s been an amazing and enlightening experience. I won’t share intimate details of our conversations because they’re private between Anna and me. However, what I will share is some of what I discovered about who Anna is as a person: She is thoughtful, encouraging, and kind. She steadfastly believes that human rights are fundamental to all, regardless of differences of any kind. She’s an avid lover of animals and once had six rescue dogs (all at the same time), and she still has rescue dogs and cats today. She loves America and deeply believes in democracy. She is passionate about Marilyn, who she was and what she stood for. Anna often says, “Marilyn will live on forever.” She is passionate about her work and teaching the craft of acting. She is passionate about Lee, and speaks of him with great affection while telling countless stories about him and their life together. Above all else though, she is passionate about family. “Without family you have nothing,” she would often tell me. “Family is everything.”