Marilyn Monroe: A Question From Marilyn's Relative

Today, I received an email from a relative of Marilyn Monroe.  He asked me the following question.

Roger Atwood stated the following: "Looting obliterates the memory of the ancient world and turns its highest artistic creations into decorations, adornments on a shelf, divorced from historical context and ultimately from all meaning.
" Is looting a tomb for profit verses buying and selling of authentic Marilyn memorabilia the same thing?"

Asked By Marilyn Monroe Family


It’s an interesting question and I think the answer lies within the definition and or perception of looting.  

 The ancient tombs of Egyptian Pharaoh’s like Tutankhamun (King Tut)  and Ramses II, had their possessions buried with their bodies in the belief of returning to earth for a future life.   Although these Kings have yet to claim their earthly possessions and it’s safe to assume no such claim will happen, we also know they are still the rightful owners, yet someone or group determined it was okay to take such items.

Does looting tombs under the label of ‘scientific expeditions’ really make it okay?  Before you say yes…..  would you think it okay for someone to dig up your mother’s grave to retrieve her jewelry or some item buried with her for a future museum?

Time seems to be the crucial factor when removing items from someone's grave.  It’s been said ‘time changes everything’ and when it comes to possessions and ownership, time changes looting into acceptable donations.

Somehow, stealing items from tombs became acceptable.  One can better digest or accept the idea of removing items from a tomb if the cause seems worthy enough.  However, when it comes to man, we know there is a rotten apple in every barrel, greed prevails and we can speculate how many gold coins or other items fell off the cart headed for the museums.  How many sticky fingers stuck to items that fell into pocket’s to be kept as souvenirs or sold to private investors? 

Roger Atwood states “Looting obliterates the memory of the ancient world” but is this really true?

Is it sacrilegious to unearth and take the possessions of another from an ancient world?  Sacrilegious to remove the items or is it silly to keep ancient treasures hidden beneath the dirt unappreciated by their owner mummies when they could be displayed on shelves and awed by the living world?  How can an item on display, appreciated by so many people while serving as educational relics also be the same item considered by someone else as having its memory being “obliterated” by being displayed?  Atwood goes on to describe shelved items as “divorced from historical context and ultimately from all meaning”.   

For me personally, after digesting this issue, I would have to say an item whether it be from an ancient tomb or that of a celebrity, any item if unappreciated becomes an item of obliterated memory.   For no memory is retained nor cherished if not experienced or appreciated furthermore, no memory is real unless it is living.

As for "shelved items being divorced from historical context and from all meaning", I say 'hogwash'.  It is in their display that gives such items a historical context in their value to our society and therefore more meaning to their existence.   Now, I do agree for areas that have been preserved and can be visited, I like the idea for the item to stay within it's idigenious environment, if it's possible and makes sense.    

As for the memorabilia of celebrities, what would constitute looting?  Were the items stolen from the celebrity then sold? Did the celebrity during life give these items as presents, given away as listed in the 'Last Will of Testament' and distributed upon death?  If personal items were given as gifts to people,  who later sold them to strangers of the original owner, what now are these items?  If the celebrity items were gifted to friends and family who later sold them, does changing hands multiple times to bring such items eventually ending up on the auction block,  now consider the item's loot?   

Setting aside personal items for a moment, my bigger question is, how did her image get into the hands of the current owners?  Did Marilyn have a will which included the rights to her image?  When I think of the personal items of Marilyn Monroe owned by a corporation, it makes me profoundly sad.  In my heart of hearts, I do not believe that Marilyn Monroe would have ever wanted her legacy to be a profit center for some businessmen, strangers to her.   

From the accounts that I read, Marilyn was no gold digger and did not relish material items like many celebrities.   Marilyn, even while famous, preferred to live in her modest (by Movie Star standards) Brentwood Home.   Marilyn gave personal belongings to those close to her but  did she think about the value of her image and did she include her image rights into her will?  

From first hand accounts of those who personally knew Marilyn, Marilyn had a heart for children,  perhaps it  was Marilyn's love for children  that inspired her ex-husband,  baseball great, Joe DiMaggio to open the DiMaggio's Children Hospital? 

Is it too far fetched to speculate that if Marilyn fully thought through her legacy and estate, one wonders if she would have sat down with a trusted estate attorney to will her estate and image rights to be set up as a charitable foundation for children with the proceeds distributed to those organizations that actively house and protect the rights of children.     I can't help but wonder, that Marilyn would have preferred her money to go to the orphans and foster children, as well as, to other notable children charities.  

At the end of the day,  I do believe Marilyn Monroe was murdered, her death unexpected and more than likely, her estate and image right not well planned out after death,  therefore, I believe her image and property for the most part was looted,  due in part because her life….was stolen
DreamWizard DreamWizard
51-55, F
2 Responses Nov 29, 2011

Gypsyblue. Great post. Thanks for taking the time to post such wonderful sentiments. Sad that commercialism has plundered such treasures and their descendents living in poverty do not reap any reward from artifacts belonging to their own ancestors. A tragedy.

i understood him to be one of marilyn monroes family memebers,from ur story...

found this artical that roger atwood wrote.. <br />
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Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World, Roger Atwood. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2004<br />
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Although Roger Atwood states, in the final chapter of this book, that it is possible to stop the looting of our world's cultural heritage, one really wonders if it is. Despite every country's laws against the export of cultural artifacts, despite every museum's "mission statement" in which it claims it will not deal in 'looted' artifacts, despite everything - looting around the world continues unabated and wealthy collectors continue to fill their private museums with decorative items that will never be able to tell the story of the culture from which they came.<br />
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The Moche civilization of Peru had created "arts, crafts, and technologies in agriculture, hydraulics, and metallurgy...understood to be among the most advanced in the ancient world, a culture whose accomplishments were so varied and extraordinary as to make people who have spent a lifetime studying it...shake their heads and wonder how they did it."<br />
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In 1987, professional looters discovered a Moche tomb near the town of Sipán, and proceeded to steal everything they could, and destroy everything they couldn't. Within months, however, the influx of artifacts to dealers had alerted the authorities. Archaeologists soon descended upon Sipán and began an orderly excavation of what remained. Meanwhile, the authorities in Peru and, eventually, the United States, banded together in an attempt to retrieve the most valuable item stolen, a ceremonial 'backflap' crafted from three pounds of gold.<br />
<br />
<br />
Atwood tells the stories of the people involved, from the Bernal brothers who found the tomb, to the people of Sipán who still live in absolute poverty despite the amount of wealth that the archaeologists removed from the site, to the smugglers who brought the looted artifacts in to America, to the attempt to arrest the collector who knew he was buying stolen goods.<br />
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But Stealing History is a tapestry of tragedy. Into this narrative is woven threads of history, from Lord Elgin and his acquisition of the 'Elgin Marbles' of the Parthenon to the pillage of the National Museum of Antiquities in Iraq. From museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with its sometimes shady acquisition methods, to the building of the Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum in Lambayeque, Peru. From the UNESCO treaty of 1970 to the formation of the American Council for Cultural Policy. From the tales of poverty stricken people who loot for food, professional looters such as the Bernal brothers, and archaeologists such as Walter Alva, who excavated Sipán and saved its wealth - of knowledge - for the world.<br />
<br />
Atwood's style is compelling. This is his first book, but he has written extensively for many magazines including Archaeology - as an investigative reporter rather than an archaeologist. Indeed, he spices the book with tales of his own adventures - travelling to a site in Iraq overrun by 60 - 80 looters and participating in a night raid by four young professional grave robbers in Peru.<br />
<br />
Atwood completes the book with an epilogue detailing the fates of many of the modern day people mentioned in the body of the book, an extensive notes section, a glossary, bibliography and index