Marilyn Monroe Costumes Go for Millions at Debbie Reynolds’ Auction

Marilyn Monroe's iconic subway grate scene from “the Seven Year Itch” that made this dress a must-have item, as an unidentified phone bidder won the prized piece of Hollywood memorabilia at $4.5 million.

The dress was one of several hundred lots from longtime actress Debbie Reynolds’ collection. The pre-sale estimate for the dress was $2-$3 million.

An unidentified person bidding by phone snatched up the iconic “subway grate” dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in “The Seven Year Itch,” paying $4.5 million—more than double the amount expected—proving that movie collectibles are right up there with classic art and other collectibles in terms of their increasing value.

Several of the lots in the June 18 auction of one-of-a-kind cinema costumes and props from the Debbie Reynolds collection soared past pre-sale estimates (the auction catalog can be viewed here). The sale was held at the Le Meridien Hotel in Beverly Hills.

• Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hat, an iconic part of his “Little Tramp” costume, went to a bidder for $135,300.

Previously, the highest amount paid for a Monroe garment was the $1.26 million a collector paid for the sheer dress she wore (after they sewed her into it) to sing “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy in 1962. The auction house handling the Reynolds sale, Profiles in History, will add a $1-million commission to the sale, which is a fund-raiser for the planned Hollywood Motion Picture Museum.

Three other Monroe-worn dresses in the Reynolds auction went for pretty prices: the red sequined dress and feathered headdress she sported in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” went for $1.47 million; her saloon girl costume from “River of No Return” brought $510,000; and the dress Monroe wore while singing “Heat Wave” in “There’s no Business Like Show Business” made $500,000.

Just for comparison: A one-sheet movie poster showing that famous white dress from “The Seven Year Itch,” flying up around her waist, sold for $1,688 in an auction on June 12, 2011, compared with $1,405.99 for a similar one-sheet from the film bought in 2004.

Other Auction Highlights

Monroe's red sequined dress and feathered headdress that she sported in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” went for $1.47 million.

Audrey Hepburn’s “My Fair Lady” Ascot dress and hat brought in $3.7 million.

Elizabeth Taylor’s racing costume from “National Velvet” garnered for $73,000.

The jumper Julie Andrews wore in “The Sound of Music” strummed someone’s chords to the tune of $550,000.

Among the other items bringing some of the highest prices at the auction were:

• Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hat, an iconic part of his “Little Tramp” costume, went to a bidder for $135,300.
• The pointy-toed ruby slippers Judy Garland wore during early shots in “The Wizard of Oz” were eventually replaced with less flamboyant red shoes, so they never appeared on screen in the actual film. They sold, along with one of her costumes from the film, for $1.75 million.
• Audrey Hepburn’s “My Fair Lady” Ascot dress and hat, which Cecil Beaton designed, rivaled Monroe’s costumes, bringing in $3,700,000.
• Elizabeth Taylor’s racing costume from “National Velvet” sold for $73,000. A number of the costumes were given to Reynolds by Taylor, who died earlier this year. The women were close friends in the 1950s until Reynolds’ then-husband Eddie Fischer left her for Taylor. Looks like they got over it.
• Grace Kelly’s two-piece rose and ivory costume from Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief” sold at $450,000.
• The jumper Julie Andrews wore in “The Sound of Music” strummed someone’s chords to the tune of $550,000.

CNN reported that Reynolds, 79, was in tears during the auction. But the mounting expenses of caring for the collection of 3,500 items she had collected since 1970 had grown overwhelming.

By selling them, she said, “I won’t have quite so much responsibility and I can rest a little more.”

Allan Maurer is a Worthologist who specializes in Hollywood and movie memorabilia and the publisher of the web site BestFilmFests.

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No Comments

  1. Dana says:

    Does anyone know if there is a published list of what everythign sold for?
    Thanks
    d

  2. Mike Schulz says:

    incredible.. such wonderful pieces of Hollywood history!

  3. Susan Bash says:

    Beautiful pieces at auction. Preserving our memories.