Arts & Life


From reboots to a true original: Marilyn Monroe. The global icon died 50 years ago this weekend on August 5, 1962. She was found dead in her bedroom at the age of 36. In addition to her films, Monroe left a will that NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports shows dimensions to the starlet that aren't often talked about.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Marilyn Monroe was complicated in life, and she's complicated in death. She's become a multimillion-dollar brand.


MARILYN MONROE: (as The Girl) You may not believe this, but people keep falling desperately in love with me.

TOM EWELL: (as Richard Sherman) Oh, I believe it.

BLAIR: But Marilyn Monroe's will reveals a much quieter side to her legacy. She grew up in an orphanage and foster homes. She had no relationship with her father, and her mother spent most of her life in mental institutions. In her will, Monroe set up a trust to care for her mother until she died. She left money to her half-sister who Monroe didn't even know existed until she was 12. Monroe loved poetry and wrote some herself. She made a bequest to a poet friend and his wife, and to others she trusted.

Anthony Summers, who wrote a best-selling biography of Monroe, says the people named in her will got to know her as a real person who loved children, animals and cooking.

ANTHONY SUMMERS: They took Marilyn under their wing. They gave her uncomplicated privacy and companionship.

BLAIR: Marilyn Monroe spent a lot of time on the couch. She left a bequest to her psychoanalyst Dr. Marianne Kris.

SARAH CHURCHWELL: She felt that Marianne Kris was very helpful and sympathetic.

BLAIR: Sarah Churchwell is the author of "The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe."

CHURCHWELL: She found that Marianne Kris was starting to help her understand what it was that she was going through.

BLAIR: When Marianne Kris died, her portion of the Monroe estate was eventually transferred to the Anna Freud Centre in London, which is dedicated to working with children with mental health problems. Churchwell says Marilyn Monroe would have approved.

CHURCHWELL: Without question, she would have been delighted by that. That would have made her really happy that she did want to do good, and she wanted to feel as if she had accomplished something.


MONROE: (as character) Money doesn't mean anything to me. I get jobs. Forget all that, will you?

BLAIR: Marilyn Monroe left the bulk of her estate to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg. He and his wife, Paula, also one of her acting coaches, were like surrogate parents to Monroe.


MONROE: (as Ellen Wagstaff Arden) You're my two sweethearts, my two best sweethearts in the whole world.

BLAIR: When Strasberg died in 1982, his second wife, Anna, inherited the Monroe estate. She eventually hired CMG, a company that specializes in dead celebrities, to license Marilyn Monroe products. And this is when the voluptuous starlet became a money machine.


MONROE: (as Amanda Dell) You look like you have $50 million dollars.

BLAIR: Mark Roesler is CMG's CEO.

MARK ROESLER: We did hundreds and hundreds of programs with companies like Mercedes-Benz to Coca-Cola to fragrance, clothing, giftware, collectibles, paper products, things like that.


MONROE: (as Amanda Dell) All right, I'll take one to help you out.

BLAIR: In her will, Marilyn Monroe stated that she would like her personal effects and clothing to go to friends and colleagues. But in 1999, Anna Strasberg commissioned Christie's to auction off many of those items...


PETER LAWFORD: Mr. President, Marilyn Monroe.

BLAIR: ...including the gown she wore to President John F. Kennedy's birthday party.


MONROE: (Singing) Happy Birthday, Mr. President. Happy Birthday to you.

BLAIR: The gown sold for over $1 million. A baby grand piano that Marilyn Monroe cherished because it originally belonged to her mother was sold to Mariah Carey for over $600,000. Several years and a variety of lawsuits later, Anna Strasberg sold the Marilyn Monroe estate to a new company, Authentic Brands Group or ABG, for an estimated 20 to $30 million. Strasberg remains a minority partner in the deal. Not that their intention is to objectify her, but ABG's Nick Woodhouse says what's great about Marilyn Monroe is that she resonates at all income levels.

NICK WOODHOUSE: I mean, we have great partners who do gift items at, you know, at 4.99...


MONROE: (as Amanda Dell) The box looks like it's worth more than that.

WOODHOUSE: ...and then yet we have a Dolce & Gabbana T-shirt at 299.


MONROE: (as Amanda Dell) Oh, this is really the most.

BLAIR: And thanks to digital technology, Marilyn Monroe can come alive. In a commercial for Dior perfume, no less, there she is, moving and smiling, alongside Charlize Theron and two other dead celebrities: Grace Kelly and Marlene Dietrich.


BLAIR: Fifty years after her death, Marilyn Monroe is making more money than ever.


MONROE: (as Amanda Dell) That's it. That's very good.

BLAIR: Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.


MONROE: (Singing) One silver dollar...

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR.

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