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‘Forever Marilyn’ Statue Stirs Up Controversy In Palm Springs

Clare Fitzgerald
Photo Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe was an icon of vintage Hollywood. Her stunning good looks and comedic abilities made her one of Tinsel Town’s most sought-after actresses. Despite her tragic death in 1962, her name continues to appear in news headlines, most recently for a controversial reason.

Forever Marilyn

In 2011, sculptor John Seward Johnson II created a 26-foot tall statue of Marilyn Monroe. Crafted from aluminum and stainless steel, it portrays Monroe in her famous scene from the 1955 romantic comedy The Seven Year Itch, where she stands over a subway grate while her dress is lifted up by the wind of a passing train.

The statue, called Forever Marilyn, was unveiled in Chicago before being moved to the corner of Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon in Palm Springs, California. From 2012 to 2014, it was seen as a major tourist attraction for the city.

Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell on the set of The Seven Year Itch

Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell on the set of The Seven Year Itch. (Photo Credit: Sunset Boulevard / Getty Images)

After leaving Palm Springs, the statue was displayed in Australia and China, before being brought back to the U.S. It was put on display in Connecticut during an exhibit of Seward’s work, and while there, it drummed up backlash from a local church.

Return to Palm Springs

P.S. Resorts, a hotel association, recently purchased the statue for $1 million, plus the cost of installation. The plan was to bring it back to Palm Springs to help revive the city’s downtown after the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The purchase was supported by the Palm Springs mayor and city council. Mayor Christy Holstege said it had previously brought in millions in tourist revenue and was a “social media sensation.”

She described the artwork as “whimsical” and a “perfect fit” for Palm Springs, while council member Geoff Kors excitedly spoke about the tourism dollars it would pump back into the local economy.

Forever Marilyn statue on display in Chicago

Forever Marilyn on display in Chicago. (Photo Credit: Raymond Boyd / Getty Images)

The statue has been placed in front of the Palm Springs Art Museum, at the corner of Museum Way and Belardo Road. Its unveiling on June 20, 2021, drew hundreds and featured music from DJ Alf Alpha and a flyover from a vintage aircraft.

Controversy arises

The return of the Forever Marilyn statue hasn’t been without its detractors. Those disputing its return fall into two camps: they either view it as misogynistic and tone-deaf in the current #MeToo climate, or they are against its location, as it has resulted in the closure of a downtown street. The latter comes after the initial plans to install the statue in a nearby park were altered.

Male protestor holding a sign that reads "Marilyn anywhere but here"

Protestors at the Forever Marilyn unveiling. (Photo Credit: Frederic J. Brown / Getty Images)

Upon learning it was returning to Palm Springs, a local group called the Committee to Relocate Marilyn filed a lawsuit to prevent its installation. The committee accuses city hall of violating municipal and state codes by closing Museum Way, without resident input, for the three years the statue will be in Palm Springs.

“She was meant to be here forever in the park,” said Nickie McLaughlin, founder of the committee. “That’s what’s upset us. To close a street that was specifically created to open up the museum is what we have a problem with.”

Forever Marilyn statue on the street corner

Photo Credit: Frederic J. Brown / Getty Images

The city disputes this claim, saying the three-year contract signed with P.S. Resorts requires only a temporary street closure. This means they weren’t required to follow the formal process for permanently closing a street. A GoFundMe campaign for the committee has raised over $70,000 for legal aid.

The committee is supported by museum director Louis Gracos, who is unhappy about the statue’s positioning. While those entering the museum will see the Hollywood icon from the front, those leaving will view her exposed lower half from behind.

A misogynistic tribute

The majority of protestors present for the statue’s unveiling were against its appearance. Coordinated by chapters of the Women’s March Foundation, protestors donned pink shirts and chanted such things as “Hey ho! Ho ho! Misogyny has got to go!” and “Exploitation! Exploitation!”

Protestors surround the 'Forever Marilyn' statue

Protestors gather around the Forever Marilyn statue. (Photo Credit: Frederic J. Brown / Getty Images)

The protest on June 20 was the second to occur surrounding the statue’s installation. Back in April, the group came together for a peaceful demonstration.

“When you exit the museum, the statue is designed to look at her crotch and look at her buttocks and take photos,” said Emiliana Guereca, executive director of the Women’s March Foundation. “That is no longer acceptable. It may have been acceptable in the 1950s, but we are in 2021 fighting the same thing and women are saying enough is enough.”

Protestors gathered in downtown Palm Springs

(Photo Credit: Frederic J. Brown / Getty Images)

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Along with the protests, a Change.org petition has been created, calling for the statue’s removal. Promoting the hashtag #MeTooMarilyn, it reads: “[Marilyn Monroe] wanted to be taken seriously as an artist and not just a sexual icon. We join others in asking the City of Palm Springs to venerate — not defile — her memory.”

At present, the aim is to collect 50,000 signatures.