"No one ever told me I was pretty when I was a little girl," once cooed busty bombshell Marilyn Monroe. "All little girls should be told they are pretty, even if they aren't."
I'm not feeling particularly pretty myself, passing time with a couple of ice-cream-eating old ladies on the non-paying side of the Ripley's Believe It or Not! turnstile. The I-Drive home to Siamese piglets, torture chambers and "a real shrunken head" is hosting "Marilyn" through April, and I'm here for the unofficial unveiling of the multimillion-dollar relic fest, frankly hoping my own head doesn't shrink. Somebody tell me I'm pretty!
I'm met at the gate -- right next to a giant horse made completely of horseshoes -- by Todd, a bespectacled representative of the Ripley's wow. ("It's not about mystery," he played on the phone. "It's about truth being stranger than fiction.")
"So, like, do you have a lifesize replica of Marilyn Monroe made out of her own eyelashes?" I annoy, with a slight pang in my stomach. "That would be unbelievable!"
Unbelievably, they don't. Instead, the novelty house that Robert Ripley built is hosting a fantastic traveling collection of Marilyn remnants (glass slippers, sweaters, makeup cases) posthumously recovered from her estate and later auctioned off at Christie's. It is all prime property of the collectible sort.
As I stand in the way -- like I do -- gloved manhandlers (ooooh!) carry on their solemn duty, unloading coffin-like steel boxes and wrapping evening wear around headless mannequin torsos. Todd and I are in quiet awe. Well, not that quiet.
"Actually I'm very excited," pipes Todd. "I was talking with Florida Mall, and we are going to engineer what we're calling the 'seven-week itch' in honor of Presidents Day. The mall is doing a Marilyn makeover, as in, 'All right you're now a platinum blonde; we're giving you a glamour-shot photo, a gown, shoes, some jewelry ...'"
And a chance to stand over a breezy vent?
"Actually, what I'm really interested in doing is taking her around to all of the morning shows and having her sing 'Happy Birthday, Mister President.'"
"We're going to do an open call for a Marilyn lookalike. We'll do cash and jewelry as a prize," he continues.
"Will men be allowed?" I opportune.
"Anyone. Ripley's does not discriminate," he hemsn then haws. "In fact, I was just speaking with their national P.R. agency an hour ago, and they actually hoped they would have gotten more 'colorful' representation for the [last] lookalike contest they had. So I said, 'What do you want, more drag queens?' And they said, 'Yeah.'"
Anyway, around Marilyn's wares are snippets of typically breathy commentary, all wisped with quiet irony and contradiction. "It bespeaks a wisdom I think most people never thought she had," breezes Todd. "This one, I thought was amazing: 'Hollywood's a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and 50 cents for your soul.'"
Penny for your thoughts, a million for your shoes, etc. Got it.
A frumpy wraparound cardigan, perhaps the prize possession of the lot, is being unloaded as we speak. The gloved men extricate with loving care this piece of macramé history, and all we want to do is throw it on and run out the door. Bad girls. That's what we are. Bad girls.
"Ooooh, can we touch? Just one little touch?" eggs Todd. "They're gonna make me wear gloves. I know they are! I won't put it on; I just want to touch it."
In one dubious crowning moment, we both touch it, and giggle like troubled obsessive schoolgirls.
"I'll never wash this finger," I quip. "Oh wait, I never have!"
So how does all of this play into Ripley's pull-your-lips-over-your-head shockfest? "So many things in her life were 'believe it or not,'" Todd says. "To come from [being] a no-money orphan to becoming the most glamorous woman in the world ever. There were facts about her that some people didn't know. For instance, they said she had 11 toes."
Is that true?
"I don't know. I looked at pictures and I counted 10," he counts. "But there is such a thing as airbrush."
There's also such a thing as an autopsy report, a form that Todd and I inadvertently, and somewhat rubber-neckedly, just happened to lay eyes upon. "Well built, well nourished Caucasian female," it grosses. Overhead, Elton windbags "Goodbye Norma Jean" while I'm getting the grim details of her corpse condition, replete with penciled sketch of a body.
"Absence of appendix, discoloration of colon, scalp is covered with bleached blond hair," it goes on. I'm getting sick. Glad I don't have a hairdresser for a coroner. Oh wait, I don't have a coroner.
Perhaps appropriately, or perhaps not, we start talking about the makeup case that's also due to be on display.
"It's her makeup case with her makeup still in it," Todd segues, obviously mortified by the death notice. "That makeup touched her lips; it touched her face. Y'know, she would sometimes take up to three hours to do her makeup. I mean, that's a 'believe it or not!'"
I'm sorry; I don't feel so pretty anymore. Somebody tell me I'm pretty!