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CHICAGO — Marilyn Monroe’s billowing skirt shows it’s possible to catch a nice breeze in the Windy City.
As dozens of people watched Friday, a 26-foot-tall sculpture of Monroe in her famous pose from the film “The Seven Year Itch” was unveiled on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. In the film, a draft catches Monroe’s dress as she passes over a subway grate.
Many in the crowd that descended on the plaza throughout the day — including a tuxedo-clad wedding party — wasted little time positioning themselves under the movie star’s dress to catch a subway-level view and take pictures with their cell phone cameras. Not that Monroe, her eyes closed and a sublime smile on her face, seemed to notice.
Some of those who took pictures of the sculpture called “Forever Marilyn” were surprised when they came around the side and back of the sculpture and saw honest-to-goodness lace panties on the movie icon. The film scene and photographs taken from it left much more to the imagination than artist Seward Johnson’s sculpture.
“I would have expected to see something flat there, and we wouldn’t see her undergarments,” said Trisha Feely, 41, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Naperville. “It’s a little intrusive.”
“It reveals what everybody was always thinking,” said her husband, Terry Feely, 42.
Chicago has a history of public art displays, including a herd of fiberglass cows that lined Michigan Avenue some years back. The plaza where Monroe will be stationed until next spring was the home a few years ago to another Johnson sculpture: the equally iconic, though far less glamorous, farmer and his spinster daughter from Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.”
The Monroe sculpture isn’t even the first piece of public art that people can stand under and look up at — though nobody who visits the Picasso a few blocks away quite knows what they’re seeing.
Marilyn, though, is a different story.
“Thank God, she has panties,” said Wanda Taylor, voicing the relief of a mother who wouldn’t have to spend the next several hours answering questions from her 9-year-old son, Kendall Sculfield. “They’re clean and white, so I’m happy.”
In fact, just about the only ones who weren’t happy with the view were Kendall and his 11-year-old buddy Raymond Qualls — who made sure everybody understood that when he took his picture, it was from the front of the sculpture and not behind or under it.
“I think her dress should be down,” said Kendall, as Raymond nodded in agreement.
Trisha Feely suggested someone else would agree with the boys: Monroe’s ex-husband, baseball star Joe DiMaggio.
“I wonder what he would think,” she said.
DiMaggio was reported to have been upset during the filming of the scene in 1954, and the couple divorced a few months later.
But 52-year-old Pam Jennelle, of Orlando, Fla., couldn’t understand how anyone could be offended or uncomfortable with the sculpture.
“They’re perfectly proper white lace panties,” she said.
Besides, she said, the sculpture, particularly the look on Monroe’s face, captured the magic that people still feel a half century after the movie star’s death.
“She’s beautiful,” she said. “How can you not love Marilyn Monroe?”
The actual white dress worn by Monroe in the scene from director Billy Wilder’s 1955 film that helped make her a screen legend sold for $4.6 million at an auction last month of Hollywood costumes and props collected by film star Debbie Reynolds.