It was a gown so tight that Marilyn Monroe needed to be sewn into it before she sang a scandalously breathy rendition of Happy Birthday to U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
Made famous by Marilyn Monroe in 1962, this sheer, rhinestone-studded dress is now headed to rural Saskatchewan.
And now, the US$4.8 million ($6.3 million) dress is set to stand in the community hall of Luseland, Sask., a town of 600 best known for its large grain terminal and threshing machine graveyard.
“When people first hear about it, like me, you kind of say ‘why?’ … and then the shock hits you,” said longtime Luseland Mayor Len Schlosser.
The exhibition of the gown — which holds the record for the world’s most expensive dress ever purchased at auction — was engineered by B.C. billionaire Jimmy Pattison, who lived briefly in Depression-era Luseland as a child.
The town’s official welcome sign, in fact, reads “Hometown of Jimmy Pattison.”
Pattison announced the dress’s arrival last month, when he was in Saskatoon to announce a $50 million donation to the Children’s Hospital of Saskatchewan.
“He asked that I be in Saskatoon to meet with him, and that’s when I first learned what it was all about,” Schlosser said.
He added that the town was “very thankful and gracious.”
The dress is being brought to Saskatchewan primarily to promote the expansion of the Pattison-owned grocery chain Save-On-Foods in the province, although Pattison arranged that Luseland be the first venue.
Sold by California’s Julien’s Auctions in November, the gown was purchased by Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, which is in turn owned by the Jim Pattison Group.
Pattison consistently ranks as one of Canada’s richest citizens, and has a net worth of $5.7 billion, according to Canadian Business magazine. The Jim Pattison Group is Canada’s second-largest private company with $9.1 billion in annual sales, and has operations ranging from billboards to supermarkets to car lots. One of the company’s more recent purchases was Guinness World Records.
After its stay in Luseland, the Monroe gown will tour Ripley’s-owned museums throughout Canada and the United States.
The gown is famous for being worn by Monroe at a 1962 gala at New York’s City’s Madison Square Garden to celebrate the 45th birthday of President Kennedy.
The flesh-coloured dress — which was worn without underwear — reportedly elicited gasps from the crowd of 15,000 when Monroe strode onto the stage. She then delivered an extremely sultry birthday greeting to Kennedy.
“I can now retire from politics after having happy birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way,” the president said later in an ironic nod to Monroe’s racy performance.
It was one of Monroe’s last public appearances before her death three months later.
The exhibition of the gown is scheduled for July 10 at Luseland Hall. “An exclusive chance to see the world’s most famous dress,” declares a promotional poster.
With a number of homes in Luseland averaging list prices of between $50,000 and $100,000, the dress equals the value of a large chunk of the community. To stave off any potential gown heists, the dress will arrive with its own security detail.
This is the not the first time that Pattison has purchased a “world’s most expensive” piece of memorabilia and then placed it in a somewhat counterintuitive corner of Western Canada.
In 1985, Pattison purchased a psychedelically painted Rolls Royce once owned by John Lennon for $2.3 million, then making the vehicle the world’s most expensive used car.
After exhibiting the vehicle at Expo 86 in Vancouver, Pattison donated it to the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria. It’s not part of any permanent collection, but the car is wheeled out on special occasions.