David Gainsborough Roberts Monroe collection interview: 'I own a pair of Queen Victoria's Royal bloomers!'


2015-06-26 12:18:46


David Gainsborough Roberts Monroe collection interview: 'I own a pair of Queen Victoria's Royal bloomers!'

Part Two: David Gainsborough Roberts is famous for his Marilyn Monroe collection - but that's not all...

"Marilyn is probably the best investment in the world..."

That's what collector David Gainsborough Roberts told us in Part One of his exclusive interview, last week. And he ought to know, having grown into a leading authority on Marilyn Monroe's life since he began buying her dresses and memorabilia in 1991.

Now enthusiasts hoping to get a closer look at David's collection can do so at the American Museum in Britain. To mark the museum's 50th anniversary, David's collection is having its debut UK exhibition in Bath, running from March 12-October 30.

'I don't sell...': David Gainsborough Roberts

Twenty iconic Marilyn dresses are among the pieces on display. These include outfits from her famous film roles, such as The Seven Year Itch and There's No Business Like Show Business. More personal items, including a childhood doll and even a lemon squeezer, are also on display.

David has previously estimated that he's spent up to $500,000 on Marilyn's collectibles - and those items could be worth around $20m today. Yet here's the thing: despite the fact that David's collection could make him very wealthy, he has no intention of selling it.

Clearly, David is a very devoted collector. And, as the 'Marilyn - Hollywood Icon' exhibition enters its second week, we asked him about all of this and more in Part Two of our exclusive chat...

PFC: We've spoken about items like dresses. But more unusual Marilyn items often crop up, like her chest X-ray (sold by Julien's Auctions in Las Vegas). What is the most unusual item that you've come across?

David Gainsborough Roberts: Probably the most unusual item of Marilyn's, I think, is her lemon squeezer. It's in the [American Museum in Britain] exhibition. When she parted with Arthur Miller [the playwright, married to Monroe between 1956-1961] she went to their house in Connecticut.

She went with [her close confident, and David's associate] Ralph Roberts. Ralph told me: "We went there, and Marilyn being Marilyn wanted something mundane. She wanted this lemon squeezer, because she didn't particularly want Arthur to have it.

"And she took out the Cecil Beaton photograph [Monroe's favourite photograph, taken of her by the Oscar-winning photographer]. Marilyn being Marilyn, she took it out of the expensive silver frame and just took the photograph...

"Arthur came in and we had a sort of strained silence ... and we had a cup of tea together. And she said [defiantly]: 'Arthur, I've taken the lemon squeezer and the Cecil Beaton photograph!'"

An obscure item with much significance: Marilyn Monroe's (and formerly Arthur Miller's) lemon squeezer

Of course, she could have got it reproduced for 10 cents in any drugstore! But that was the one actually in their house, and she wanted to take it. So I think those two are the most unusual things - certainly the lemon squeezer. But there are also one or two rather pathetic little things...

Like a little toy that she had in the orphanage of a little ballerina, a sort of bronze-type thingy. She would show it to the other girls and say: "That's what I want to be when I grow up - I want to be famous."

It's amazing how seemingly-unimportant items can gain historical significance...

Yes - I think that [collectors] are very much interested in things that are personal to a star. For instance, with me I'm far more interested in something, say, like the pen that the Duke of Windsor abdicated with. Or the microphone that Churchill gave his war broadcast with.

Things that are more personal than, perhaps, some magnificent coat of arms that they only wore once. I've got a lot of things that belonged to Lord Lucan - the personal things that Lucan had every day, rather than his Baron's robes from the House of Lords ... which is very nice to have.

'That's what I want to be when I grow up - I want to be famous,' said Monroe of this childhood doll

I've got lots of things of Queen Victoria, including a pair of the royal bloomers. And I gather there's a book out on this at the moment: Queen Victoria's bloomers, how some 14 year old boy broke into the palace and stole them. I don't think they stole [my pair] but it's still of interest.

I also deal with a lady named Marie Barrow, the sister of Clyde Barrow [of 'Bonnie and Clyde' fame], a notorious bandit in the 1930s. I've got everything that Clyde died in, including the wristwatch shot off his wrist when he was killed by the police.

But I like personal things like that. Probably rather more than 'important pieces' - although I've got important pieces, like the pen set that signed the Treaty of Versailles. But I like the personal things a little bit better.

You also have a lot of mafia and mob-related collectibles. What is it about that area of collectibles which fascinates you?

Well, I've always been interested in crime. I'm reading a book on Charlie "Lucky" Luciano [1897-1962, Italian mobster] at the moment that Richard Wendorf, director of the American Museum, has just given me. So I've always been interested, basically, in crime.

There are some things in the exhibition that relate to Sam Giancana, the murdered mafia boss. He was with Marilyn in that 'lost weekend' [when she died]. People have said to me: "He was the man that had her murdered..." Well of course he wasn't. It was an accidental overdose, as Ralph Roberts told me.

But I've always been interested in crime and things along that line. So I've got lots of things ... like [former US Public Enemy #1] John Dillinger's death mask. Crime seems to appeal to me - it just fascinates me. History is fascinating!

Looking at your collection as a whole - including Marilyn, John Dillinger and everything else - what is the most fascinating item that you own?

The most fascinating things are probably two items. [Firstly] a cigarette case that has got nothing on the front. It's plain, it's silver, there's nothing inside. What is written is written on the back, and it's a little poem: "The love that cannot speak its name..."

It was given to Oscar Wilde and it's just signed "Bosie", by Lord Alfred Douglas [Wilde's intimate friend and lover]. A personal item between the two of them, with a little sonnet on the back.

The words were definitely homosexual words, of course, which Wilde was constantly asked at his trial [an 1895 libel trial in which Wilde was the prosecutor led to exposs, and questions, about his own private life]: "What is the love that cannot speak its name, Mr Wilde?" And he, of course, had to retreat from that.

Marilyn wearing another dress now owned by David, in the film Niagra

Probably the other thing that fascinates me most is the dress from Some Like It Hot, because I think it was Marilyn's best picture.She was sitting on a piano singing "I'm saying goodbye to love," and Tony Curtis comes up and kisses her.

Of course, later on, Tony Curtis said that kissing Marilyn was "like kissing Hitler." And Marilyn said: 'OK, well he must have kissed Hitler to be able to compare the difference...' She wasn't quite as thick as people made her out to be.

I did speak, some years ago, to Evelyn Moriarty [Monroe's stand-in for the film] and she said, "Oh,I remember the scene well. It [the dress] was skin tight. Marilyn was literally hoisted up onto the piano by [director] Billy Wilder and the camera crew - there's no way she could have got up there!"

All Marilyn's dresses were made (as was the "Happy Birthday Mr President" dress) to accentuate what Hollywood was selling, which was sex of course!

What advice would you give to anyone looking to invest their time and money into collectibles?

I would say do exactly what I have: read, read and read again. Devour your subject. I've got the television on at the moment, and I've got them [TV programmes] all on... Flog It!, the Antiques Roadshow. I've been on a lot of them as well, like Cash In The Attic.

You've got to know your subject and just read and talk to people. I mean, I've been seeing the people for years and years. But there are still lots of things I want to know. The more knowledge you've got, the better equipped you are to be buying - perhaps with an idea of selling, or of putting something aside for the future.

I've got a list of things to do this morning, and one of them is to go down to the antiques centre here in Cirencester [UK]. And I shall spend an hour just pottering around. I probably won't buy anything, but at least it keeps your eye in.

If you go to an auction house, or an advisor, or a big dealer, then of course they're going to charge you. If you've got a dealer that you trust, then OK. But, as my father used to say, "Your eyes are your merchant."

David Gainsborough Roberts is interviewed about his Monroe collection (formerly exhibited in Jersey) on UK breakfast television

Do you think that any of today's stars are - or will in the future - be comparable to Marilyn?

I don't think so, because we don't really have stars in that sort of 'system'.

I mean, Michael Jackson has gone and we know that one of his gloves sold for $300,000. He died in the same circumstances as Marilyn: bombed out of his mind on pills and goodness knows what else.

If anybody, then probably Madonna. Let's hope it never happens but, let's say if she was killed by a madman tomorrow, her stuff will go up in value.

But I can't really think of any of the stars today... Because they're all rather - I'm afraid to say - boring and mundane compared to the stars of the '40s, '50s and '60s.

What did those stars have that today's don't, in your opinion?

Well, in those days, the stars sold the picture. If it was Robert Mitchum, or John Wayne, or Clarke Gable, or Jean Tierney... these were enormous names that would sell a picture.

Marilyn's famous black-pearl dress from Some Like It Hot

I must say, though, a lot of the actors and actresses today that I've seen are probably much better actors and performers. But they're not stars. I mean, when you see a star today... you pick up a paper and she's in Tesco's doing the shopping.

Well, you can't expect Marilyn Monroe or Rita Heyworth to be doing that! That's not something that they did. And it isn't something that the public wanted them to do. They were gods and goddesses, there's no doubt about it. But we don't have that anymore.

Finally, which piece of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia would you most love to own?

Well, in actual fact, the white dress from The Seven Year Itch [the famous white dress that blows up over the grate]. That I would like to own.

Ms Debbie Reynolds [film actress and collector] is going to sell it. I've done TV shows with her. We did some Joan Rivers shows together. She's a nice lady, she's got a marvellous collection. I think she's selling it, from what I've been told, in Las Vegas in June or July.

So I'll get a catalogue, and I will gulp at the estimate! I just hope that the person who buys it is going to look after it. I'd love to have it - but I'm afraid to say it's going to be out of my price range!

Share on social media
Write a response...

The bookmarklet lets you save things you find to your collections.

Note: Make sure your bookmarks are visible.


Click and drag the Collect It button to your browser's Bookmark Bar.