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50 years gone, Marilyn's legend lives on

Charles Rex Arbogast / AP file

Seward Johnson's 26-foot-tall sculpture of Marilyn Monroe depicts her famous wind-blown pose.

She was a star and a style icon, a “dumb blonde” who was anything but and an abandoned child adored by millions. She was, of course, Marilyn Monroe and she died 50 years ago this Sunday.

And yet, she lives on — on the big screen, in advertisements, in proposed plans for salons and cafes and, of course, in the hearts of fans fascinated by her life, her beauty and her untimely death.

“People relate to her because she came from a very humble background and through her own drive pulled herself up to become one of the greatest stars of all time,” said Greg Schreiner, president of the Marilyn Remembered Fan Club.

Slideshow: Memories of Marilyn

While her death was tragic — and a subject of more macabre fascination — it also spared her the indignity of aging in public, guaranteeing that she would be remembered as she was in her prime.

“She was an incredibly beautiful woman,” said Schreiner, “and she retained that beauty by dying at 36.”

Little wonder, then, that fans will be flocking to sites affiliated with Monroe during the coming days and weeks. If you’d like to pay your respects, here are several places to go:

Los Angeles
From her birth at Los Angeles County Hospital to her extraordinary Hollywood career to her untimely death in Brentwood, Monroe will always be tied to Los Angeles. For casual fans, the most accessible stops on a commemorative tour include her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (at 6774 Hollywood Blvd.) and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where her hands (and shoe prints) are immortalized in concrete in the theater’s forecourt.

For a more in-depth view, head around the corner to The Hollywood Museum, which is showcasing “Marilyn Monroe: The Exhibit” through Sept. 2. Said to be the world’s largest collection of Marilyn memorabilia, the exhibit features outfits, items from her home and never-before-seen photographs by celebrity photographer George Barris. Now 90, Barris will be on site on Saturday to share stories and sign copies of his book "Marilyn: Her Life In Her Own Words."

Palm Springs, Calif.
Two hours east of L.A., Palm Springs is celebrating Monroe in a big way — and we do mean BIG. In May, the city unveiled “Forever Marilyn,” the 26-foot-tall sculpture first installed in Chicago in 2011. With her skirts billowing à la “The Seven Year Itch,” the monumental sculpture will stand as the centerpiece for a weekend of Marilyn-inspired events.

On Friday evening, the city will host an outdoor showing of “The Seven Year Itch” at the site. On Sunday, Elton John tribute artist Jeffrey Allen will headline a free, one-hour concert. Goodbye Norma Jean, indeed.  

New York, N.Y.
For Monroe, New York represented a turning point as she sought to escape the strictures and stereotypical roles mandated by the 1950s Hollywood studio system. Today, that low profile is echoed by a lack of commemorative events, although travelers can have their own Marilyn moments at several spots throughout the city.

There is, of course, the original skirt-billowing subway grate used for publicity photos — it’s at Lexington Avenue and East 52nd Street — but other sites linked to Marilyn include the Actors Studio (432 W. 44th St.), where she took acting lessons, and Madison Square Garden, where she famously warbled “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to JFK.

Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy, may not be on the radar of the average Monroe-ophile but is celebrating her legacy as a style icon nonetheless. At the Gallery Hotel Art, visitors can view “On the Heels of Marilyn,” an exhibit of 22 black and white photographs of the star, through Sept. 15; nearby, the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo will showcase photos, film clips and outfits from her career through Jan. 28, 2013.

As it turns out, the Marilyn connection is no accident, as both the hotel and the museum are owned by the Ferragamo family, whose high-fashion footwear Monroe reportedly favored. It’s also fitting, so to speak, since the late star is often credited with the quote, “Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world.”

Los Angeles, revisited
Alas, Monroe couldn’t conquer her own personal issues and died of an overdose of barbiturates in the early morning hours of Aug. 5, 1962. Shortly thereafter, she was interred at what is now called Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park, which hosts a memorial service in the park’s chapel in her honor every year.

This year’s event will likely be the highlight of a long weekend of Marilyn tours, movie screenings and commemorative events throughout Los Angeles. Open to the public, the service starts at noon and will be followed by a reception hosted by Schreiner’s group at the Westwood Presbyterian Church fellowship hall.

“We expect people to come from all over the world,” said Schreiner. “Even in a normal year, we get a lot; this year, we’re going to see a huge crowd.”

Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.

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