Marilyn Monroe’s market value is still shining brightly 60 years after her death.
The Hollywood actress, also known as America’s most famous sex symbol, died in August 1962 at age 36. According to reports, the star had a net worth of $800K at the time of her death, which is nearly $8 million in today’s money.
Monroe’s net worth in 2022 is a reported $10 million. In 2020, she ranked No. 13 on Forbes’ list of highest-paid dead celebrities due to her image and name being used by nearly 100 brands globally. A fictionalized version of the star is the subject of an upcoming Netflix film, “Blonde,” which has received an NC-17 rating.
Scott Fortner, a lifelong fan, is determined to keep Monroe’s legacy alive by preserving some of her most prized possessions. Fortner, who is considered an authority on Monroe, assists major auction companies in authenticating and verifying memorabilia.
He owns the world’s largest private collection of Monroe’s personal property and archives, which he shares on both his website and social media.
This year, he’ll be celebrating her life at several events at TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California.
Fortner spoke to FOX Business about how he became a sought-after collector and why Monroe is more valuable than ever and offered his advice for fans eager to obtain an authentic piece of history.
FOX Business: How did you end up becoming a Marilyn Monroe memorabilia collector?
Scott Fortner: Like anyone, you’re just taken by someone or find yourself very interested in a particular figure. That’s what happened to me when I was probably 12 or 13. I was really fascinated by Marilyn Monroe. I started collecting books and magazines as I read and learned more about her. This continued through adulthood.
Then, in 1999, her entire estate was put up for auction at Christie’s in New York. That auction really set the stage for celebrity auctions. I acquired the catalog from the auction, which became another book for my collection. But then I started to see some items from the 1999 sale that were being resold online on eBay and at other auction houses.
I thought to myself, “Why am I collecting books and magazines when I could be collecting items that Marilyn owned?” That’s how it started over two decades ago. … This isn’t an organization or a company investing in these items for business purposes or other concepts. I just happen to be a fan who’s lucky enough to collect.
FOX Business: Do your items ever get loaned out to museums or is it strictly private?
Fortner: As someone lucky enough to obtain these items, I feel a bit of an obligation and a duty to share them with the rest of the world and give other fans an opportunity to see Marilyn through her objects in the same way that I do.
I loan my collection for exhibitions. It’s been on exhibit around the world. I’ve often participated in opportunities to raise money for charitable causes. For example, some items have been on display to raise money for the actual orphanage where Marilyn lived as a child, which is still in business today.
FOX Business: What’s your process like in finding authentic memorabilia?
Fortner: When I first started, I didn’t know much about the auction business as we know it today. Over the years, I’ve come to learn more about the auction industry. I’m now connected with most of the major auction companies around the world, such as Christie’s, Julien’s Auctions and Heritage. Those are your top auction companies for entertainment memorabilia.
I’m also pretty well known in the collecting community. A lot of times people will reach out to me privately to see if I might be interested in purchasing something that they may have. I believe networking and learning are really important if you want to expand your collection. And I’m always looking for the next thing to add to my collection.
FOX Business: How many items do you currently own?
Fortner: I don’t have an exact number anymore. I stopped counting. But it’s in the several hundreds.
FOX Business: What would you say is your crown jewel?
Fortner: The item that I get asked the most about is Marilyn’s personal Pucci blouse. During the last few years of her life, she wore Pucci quite a lot. It was an Italian designer that she discovered, which shifted her look away from the ‘50s, such as the tight skirts and sweaters. It was a more modern, easier look. She had several Pucci items in her closet. She was also buried in a green Pucci dress. So the brand has become synonymous with Marilyn.
The blouse I own happens to be the blouse she was wearing in the photos taken on the weekend before she passed away, the last photos ever taken of her alive. It’s the item I get frequently asked about in terms of selling. It’s not for sale. I’m a collector, not a dealer.
The most recent item I’ve added to my collection is something I’ve wanted for quite some time. It’s a pair of Marilyn’s Ferragamo high heels. The white Ferragamo high heel was a go-to look for her. There are countless photos of Marilyn wearing them throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s a new staple in my collection that I added just last month.
FOX Business: Which item was the hardest for you to obtain?
Fortner: Marilyn attended a benefit for the Actor’s Studio. She was an usherette. People would come into the theater, and Marilyn would escort them to their seats and hand them a program. I’m sure that must have been quite the experience to be escorted by Marilyn. She wore an ensemble that consisted of an evening dress and a matching cape. That item came up for auction several years ago. I bid on the item and was told that I had won. It turned out that it didn’t make the minimum bid or the reserve.
A lot of times, a seller will say, “If it doesn’t reach this certain amount, I’m not going to sell the item.” I found out after the auction and I went through the grueling process of attempting to negotiate with the seller. I bought it privately after the fact. It took several months for that to happen. But I was fortunate because it’s probably one of Marilyn’s most well-known public events. Now I have that cape as part of my collection.
FOX Business: Marilyn passed away 60 years ago. Why do you believe she’s more valuable than ever?
Fortner: For starters, she’s an icon. And I think people relate to her in so many ways today. Some people just enjoy her photos. Others enjoy her films. Some people relate to the personal struggles that she endured throughout her life. What I often find is that people feel a connection to her. There’s a sense of wanting to protect her. I think her appeal is very broad. And it’s not just in the United States — it’s worldwide. I’ve connected with other collectors and fans around the world, so her reach is very extensive and long-lasting. She’s an icon of beauty, for fashion and a legend of the silver screen.
FOX Business: How difficult is it to find and buy authentic Marilyn memorabilia today?
Fortner: What I’m seeing now is that people are very much holding onto their collectibles and memorabilia because it is increasing in value as time goes by. So whenever there is an auction, the number of pieces available can be very limiting. And Marilyn is one of those people whose value doesn’t decrease. She holds value and increases in value. So people aren’t as quick to put up their items for auction. Therefore, the availability is getting harder.
FOX Business: How can one determine whether an item is authentic or not? What are some tell-tale signs you look out for?
Fortner: One of the first things you want to do is ensure you’re verifying authenticity. Where did the item come from? Did it come from that 1999 Christie’s sale or another auction sale, such as from Julien’s? You want to make sure it came from a major auction company and verify the year it was originally sold. Also, is there a photo that can be matched with the item? Is there a photo of Marilyn wearing the item, whether it was at home or a public event? Many items from my collection are photographed with Marilyn.
What I tell people to avoid is what I call second- or third-generation items, such as a seller saying, “Marilyn gave this to me.” Those items usually come with a letter or certificate of authenticity. Those items are very risky purchases and, usually, they’re not authentic. There’s a huge market today, particularly on eBay, where people will create certificates of authenticity claiming this is an authentic item when, in reality, it was probably something acquired from a secondhand store. They’ll just purchase the item, create a letter of authenticity, and then sell it for thousands of dollars on eBay. Unfortunately, many people tend to believe an item is real just because it comes with a certificate claiming it came from Marilyn’s makeup artist or hairstylist. Usually, that’s not the case.
I’m so often contacted by people who say, “I’ve got this item for sale, and here’s the letter of authenticity for it.” I’m in the position of having to tell them, “This item is not real, and here’s how I know that.” A perfect example involves Marilyn’s foster sister, Bebe Goddard. Marilyn lived with the Goddard family for some time. [Later on], Bebe worked with a memorabilia dealer to create items that he sold for her, which were fake pieces. They even went as far as to spray Chanel No. 5 on those items. After she passed away, it was verified through her documents that these items were sold to people. Just because it was someone who was a part of Marilyn’s life, people believed they were real. And these items came with a certificate of authenticity claiming they were real.
Today, people continue to create these fake letters of authenticity. And it’s not only with Marilyn items. It’s with all kinds of celebrity memorabilia. There are a few real items on eBay that are authentic. I would advise people to stick with the major auction companies.
Also, autographs are very easy to forge. Today’s printers are so good. You can easily take a check, even an authentic Marilyn-owned check, and do a photocopy on the front and back. Then you’ll frame that item in a display case. A lot of times, people will do that. And, of course, many will think it’s real when, in reality, it’s just a copy. There are many other ways people forge signatures, even in autograph books and photographs. You have to do your homework and make sure that the item you’re purchasing is truly authentic.
FOX Business: What about if you’re a Marilyn fan and want to own something that once belonged to her? What’s the first piece of advice you would give them?
Fortner: My first piece of advice is to make sure this is something you’re going to have interest in the long-term, not just a spur-of-the-moment purchase. You don’t want to have buyer’s remorse. Also, set a budget. Auctions can get very emotional. It’s also very competitive. For some people, they just want to win. You want to make sure you set a budget and try not to go over it.
People also tend to forget there are premiums that the auction companies apply as part of selling an item, as well as taxes. I have come across people who don’t realize that, after winning an auction, there’s a certain percentage on top of that for the premium and then another percentage on top of that for state taxes. It does add up. I would also stick to the major auction companies, especially if you’re starting.
FOX Business: Every year, Marilyn continues to be one of the top-earning dead celebrities. How is she earning top dollar today?
Fortner: Marilyn’s estate is owned by Authentic Brands Group, which is a company that owns the rights, licenses, marketing, advertising and branding for many deceased celebrities. They license Marilyn’s name and image to people who want to promote certain products. She’s still very much in demand, which is why Marilyn is one of the highest-earning dead celebrities today.