In Billy Wilder’s 1955 film The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn Monroe pauses above a subway grate to ask co-star Tom Ewell, “Do you feel the breeze from the subway?” The gust of wind that came next delivered one of the most recognizable images of 20th-century cinema as Monroe’s ivory halter-top dress blew up, rising past her waist.
A 26-foot, 30,000-pound statue inspired by that moment — called Forever Marilyn and created by John Seward Johnson II — is now the subject of furor in the city of Palm Springs that will spill over into a local courtroom on Friday.
A lawsuit filed by a group of concerned citizens opposes the planned placement of the statue on Museum Way, a public street just outside of the Palm Springs Art Museum. Among the arguments against it going there is that it would block the view of the historic museum, and when guests exit the facility, they would be greeted by the statue’s panty-clad backside, a view critics say is sexist and sends the wrong message in the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
In order to block the installation, the loose coalition led by noted fashion designer and Palm Springs business owner Trina Turk, filed suit and launched a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for legal fees. The “Committee to Relocate Marilyn” group has raised north of $63,000, backed by more than 300 donors. “We do not want her on Museum Way,” Turk tells THR, adding that the original location, in an adjacent park that is currently under construction, is preferred. “It’s a public street that taxpayers paid for, and City Hall is essentially giving it away. We don’t think that’s right. We hope the city will find another location, whether it’s the planned location or somewhere else.”
The statue, which previously loomed large over a popular corner in the city from May 2012 through July 2014, was purchased for $1 million last year by PS Resorts, an organization consisting of hoteliers and tourism stakeholders in the area including executives from all the top properties.
Aftab Dada, chairman of PS Resorts and president of Hilton Palm Springs, tells THR that Forever Marilyn became such a popular draw during its first visit that if ever the organization had an opportunity to make the residency permanent, they would. PS Resorts pushed for Forever Marilyn to be placed on Museum Way as a way for it to have high visibility among tourists and perhaps direct more traffic to the museum.
“We felt that she would be an ideal fit for our city and our destination knowing that Marilyn Monroe was discovered in Palm Springs at the Racquet Club. She has a lot of ties with the city,” says Dada, who has been in the desert for 32 years. What they’re hoping is that Forever Marilyn can be a draw for tourists after the devastating COVID-19 pandemic that has leveled local business and decimated the travel industry. “We have a strong feeling that she will be a huge magnet and a traffic generator for the area, including [for the museum]. All we are asking for is that everyone have some patience.”
Dada says PS Resorts has a temporary license to house Forever Marilyn on Museum Way for three years. After two years, the organization would order an independent study to research the statue’s impact on business, tourism and the local economy. Turk counters any potential impact by saying that when the statue was there temporarily, it made no mark with her clientele or on her shop, located on North Palm Canyon Drive.
“Our sales have improved year over year after Marilyn left town, but she had nothing to do with any ups or down. She was irrelevant. Why is the city and PS Resorts so hellbent on having this statue? Even if people like the Marilyn statue, many disagree with the placement on Museum Way.”
Museum officials are included in that group. “Palm Springs Art Museum opposes the placement of the Forever, Marilyn statue anywhere near museum grounds,” Scott Slaven, director of marketing and communications at Palm Springs Art Museum, tells THR. “Implicit in the planned location is the likely assumption on the part of the general public that the statue is part of the museum’s collection. We feel that it does not represent our values as a fine arts organization nor is it appropriate for the community.”
The statue’s fate will make its way in front of a judge this Friday, and while both sides say they are hopeful for a ruling in their favor, Dada says bringing Forever Marilyn to the area will be a “win-win situation” for everyone.
A version of this story first appeared in the April 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.