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Marilyn at 80: some still like it hot: a series of unique photo exhibitions of America's former--but still foremost--sex symbol could help save a historic California theatre built during the Roaring Twenties, with a storied past of performing arts, vaudeville, and motion picture presentations.

JUNE 1 WOULD HAVE BEEN Marilyn Monroe's 80th birthday. From her classically funny film "Some Like It Hot" to her racy barely-there stills, the iconic cherry-lipped platinum blonde's life always has been told through the lens of a camera. At long last, her countless fans in pursuit of a piece of her photographic history have a rare opportunity to see and be seen, and take home a piece of her legend. The Balboa Theatre Foundation in San Diego has been granted sole access to the Edward Weston Collection of Monroe photographs to be exhibited and auctioned off online and in a series of events called "Marilyn At 80: Some Still Like It Hot."

Buried under scaffolding and protective plywood hides the illustrious Balboa Theatre, now fused with one of San Diego's downtown shopping centers. Behind this ruckus lays the beginning of a multi-million dollar renovation project to rebirth the historic theatre into its original 1924 allure.

After a thriving history of performing arts, vaudeville, and motion picture presentations, in 1959, the the-domed Balboa Theatre was to be turned into a parking lot. However, the theatre thankfully was purchased at the last minute by its competitor--and survived. From then on, it became a "B" movie house, although, unlike most of its neighbors, it never screened X-rated films. The building was condemned in 1986 and has been dark ever since. Some of the older local San Diegans recall the theatre in its 1920s glory, with its majestic Morton Organ, flawless acoustics, fully functional waterfalls on both sides of the stage, and repertoire of vaudeville and Latin showcases.

How does Marilyn Monroe fit into the equation? You need to ask Esther-Jane Paul, former Trustee of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and co-chair of the Balboa Theatre Foundation's Marilyn project. "Marilyn is the key to raising enough funds to finish the installation of the original 1928 Wonder Morton Organ, by reminding people of film's powerful legacy at the Balboa Theatre," explains Paul. "The organ is one of only five of these precious instruments ever constructed and ours is the last in the world that is completely original."

Initially, Wonder Morton Organs were built at a factory in Van Nuys, Calif., and then were supposed to be housed in Loew's "Wonder Theatres" throughout New York City's five boroughs. "In a sense, we are bringing this organ back home to California," notes Paul. Once complete in late 2007, the Balboa Theatre will play host as a center for arts and cultural education, returning to its place as a civic icon.

Can anyone forget the curvaceous Marilyn Monroe as being a legendary sex symbol, a perfect woman, or a magazine cover girl? Her nude photographs lit the fuse that launched her to the infamous celebrity status she still enjoys today, close to 50 years after her death. To spotlight this portion of her photographic history, a Nov. 24 party in a San Diego nightclub will feature electronic, live, and silent auctions of such well-known images as the nudes from Bert Stern's "Last Sitting," and his fantastic 1962 cover for Avante Garde, which captures Monroe's flirtatious play with fashion jewelry and scarves. Wrapping up the series of exhibitions will be a gala event on Jan. 14, 2007, at the Hotel del Coronado, where Hollywood has been making movies--including Monroe's signature "Some Like It Hot"--for over a century.

"I worked at the [Hotel del Coronado] for four summers as a social hostess and was a go-fer for the film crew," recalls Kathy Clark, a longtime Coronado school teacher. "[Marilyn] never failed to thank me personally for even the smallest favor. One would not have pegged her for a star, and she certainly did not seem as though she thought she was any better than any of us peons."

Beverly Bass, a former food and beverage director at the Hotel del Coronado, recalls various quirks of Monroe's stay. "When Marilyn Monroe was filming 'Some Like It Hot,'" Bass relates, "she ordered two poached eggs and a vanilla souffle for breakfast every day."

The Coronado Museum of History & Art also has an exhibition of Monroe photographs on display, culled from its extensive archives (stored in an original and restored 1910 bank vault) of politicians, athletes, and movie stars who have visited "the Del" over the last century. "This is probably our last chance to really capture the history of Marilyn from those people who met or saw her in Coronado that week in September 1958," concedes Joe Ditler, the museum's executive director. Moreover, the museum's curator is chronicling Monroe's time in Coronado through recalled stories. "We've ... gotten such a response from our request for stories," exclaims Ditler. "but we want everyone in America who remembers being here in Coronado with Marilyn to get in touch with us."

"If I am a star, the people made me a star. No studio, no person, [only] the people did it." Monroe commented in 1955. As the 20th century's most enigmatic film icon. Marilyn had her own favorite photographers with whom she enjoyed working. Among them were Milton H. Greene. Bert Stem, and George Barris.

Reflected famed photographer Edward Weston on his extensive collection of Monroe images. "I started collecting Marilyn a number of years ago after meeting some of the photographers that took her most famous pictures. I was personal friends with several of them and. after their passing, received a large portion of their own collections. I once received a phone call from a fellow in Japan who happened to be on the ship Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio were honeymooning on, listed on board as 'precious cargo.' On her 75th birthday anniversary, the man came over for the party we were having, bringing with him the negatives and signed 75 copies of the rare photographs."

Each of the 1,000 original and exclusive photographs to be auctioned and passed on to new generations are authentic and signed. The series includes Monroe filming "Some Like It Hot" at the Hotel del Coronado, never-before-published shots of her and Joe DiMaggio honeymooning in Tokyo in 1954, and Stern's "Last Sitting" for Vogue taken in Hollywood in June 1962. Also available will be Barris' photos taken the last week of Monroe's life in July 1962 at her home in North Hollywood and on the beach in Santa Monica.

Bill Bailey is secretary of the Balboa Theatre Foundation and serves on its executive committee.
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Title Annotation:Marilyn Monroe's photographs exhibited at Balboa Theatre Foundation
Author:Bailey, Bill
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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