By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“I’m very, very involved in the Marilyn community,” she says about Marilyn Remembered. “I learn a lot from going to the club. I like the club. I attend every meeting; my husband goes to the club. I have friends in the club.”
Banner is friends with president Greg Schreiner — with whom she is cataloging papers from boxes of Monroe documents — as well as with Mark Bellinghaus and Ernest Cunningham. She is aware of the collector rivalries and the frauds and questionable memoirists. She refuses to become a collector herself, emphasizing this refusal as though it requires an act of supreme will. Instead, Banner’s ultimate goal is to establish a Marilyn Monroe archive, at either USC or the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library. This would not be a museum of gowns, bracelets and hair curlers, but a scholarly repository of documents that would fix Monroe’s place in American culture.
“It’s dealing with national consciousness,” Banner says of her Monroe work. “She’s emerging as the greatest female icon of the 20th century and my interest is in giving some cohesion to the Marilyn community,” she adds. “Just as my colleagues study Abraham Lincoln, I study both the mythology and the reality of Marilyn Monroe. I don’t know of any other scholar working on Marilyn Monroe.”
In December, the annual Marilyn Remembered Christmas party was held at Greg Schreiner’s home, a tidy pink-stucco house in Mid City. As Schreiner’s two dachshunds, Lorna and Liza, ran excitedly among the 40-odd guests, club members chatted and helped themselves to buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, raw veggies and homemade eggnog. Lois Banner was there, as was Voluptua (a.k.a. Gloria Pall), whose self-published book, The Marilyn Monroe Party, is a very brief account of her attending a party thrown for Monroe in 1952. At the Marilyn Remembered event, there were lots of Marilyn neckties on display — one man owns three dozen.
Mark Bellinghaus was not in attendance, nor had he any plans to be. He is at bitter odds with some members, particularly those who have not formally joined Ernest Cunningham’s lawsuit against the Queen Mary exhibit.
No club business was conducted this night, whose main event was a white-elephant gift exchange.
“Hey, maybe they’ll be Marilyn’s missing mink cuffs!” someone yells out as a small package containing votive candles is unwrapped.
Early on in its existence, the club could count on speakers who had worked with Marilyn Monroe on her films or who had known her personally. Time, Schreiner says, has taken its toll on this group, and today such appearances are increasingly rare. Death and fading memories are not erasing Marilyn Monroe’s legacy, however, but transforming it into a snowballing myth of sex and violence. Will it make any difference if we ever know if Monroe took her own life or was murdered with a drug enema? Or if she slept with the Kennedys or played big sister to June DiMaggio?
As insignificant as the dubious Monroe memoirs and collectibles may seem to the average person, the ease with which they subtly alter public perceptions of the truth is disturbing. The great paradox of our time is that the more information we have and the greater its accessibility, the less certain we are about historical events that once seemed indisputable. The Internet gives Marilyn fans instant knowledge, but it also spreads the most outlandish claims, and has created an international bazaar of counterfeit memorabilia.
“It may be impossible to stop the fabrication,” admits Professor Banner, even as she tries to build her Marilyn archive of objective truths.
Mark Bellinghaus and Ernest Cunningham will keep fighting those who they believe exploit or demean Marilyn Monroe. Cunningham’s suit, which has been partly financed by Bellinghaus, goes to court this May.
“You say it’s all right for someone to show a hair roller, but where does the fraud end?” asks Bellinghaus. “Where does it become unacceptable? I want to make sure that people in 100, 200, 300 years don’t think Marilyn slept with Elvis — she didn’t.”