Star collection: Heather Clarke’s pays tribute to Marilyn Monroe with books, posters, dolls and more
Wed., Feb. 9, 2022
Heather Clarke poses for a photo with her rarest Marilyn Monroe Funko Pop figurine as she shows some of her Marilyn Monroe memorabilia on Feb. 1 at her home in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
A T-shirt and a poster spawned a lifelong collection of all things Marilyn Monroe.
At age 12, Heather Clarke was shopping with her mom at Kmart in Spokane Valley when a shirt featuring the actress in her classic pose from “The Seven Year Itch” caught her eye. She grabbed it, added a poster and a collection was born.
“By the time I was 13, my mom said, ‘OK, I think you have enough, now,’ ” Clarke said.
For 40 years, she’s continued to add memorabilia. She estimates her collection is close to 350 items.
“Something just connected with me,” Clarke said. “Not necessarily the way she looked, but I liked her as a person. I identified with her.”
In her South Hill apartment, the movie star’s iconic image is everywhere from her kitchen, where a Marilyn Monroe Ave. street sign rests behind her sink, to her living room, where shelves burgeon with collectibles and books. Nearby a Lego creation of the famous Andy Warhol painting hangs on a wall.
“It’s the only Lego I’ve ever done,” Clarke said. “That street sign came from a sporting goods store that was downtown by the Parkade. It closed 25 years ago.”
Other pieces contain a touch of Spokane nostalgia, too. Her bedroom is devoted to the movie star, with every square inch of wall space covered with posters.
She pointed to one.
“My mom bought that for me when Percy’s restaurant at U-City was closing.”
A Monroe blanket is tucked at the end of her bed, but she’s run out of wall space for art.
“I have two shopping bags of rolled-up posters that I don’t have room for,” she said. “When I was younger, I was more about quantity over quality.”
Clarke may have been the only teen at University High School who was obsessed with Marilyn Monroe, but she said she had a cool group of friends.
“I was weird, but my friends all just said, ‘Oh, that’s Heather.’ ”
Her collection of Franklin Mint Marilyn dolls is scattered throughout a large living room bookcase. One of them wears a replica of the gown Monroe made famous when she sang “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy. A push of a button plays a recording of that well-known serenade.
The dolls are nestled among stacks of books about the star – 100 in all.
“The books are my favorite thing in my collection,” said Clarke, who’s worked for Spokane Public Library for the past 12 years.
Monroe was often misunderstood during her life. Two misconceptions that make Clarke livid are that the actress was sleazy and stupid.
“She was very well-read. She owned lots of books. My screen saver is pictures of Marilyn reading,” Clarke said. “The older I get, the more I relate to her.”
Heather Clarke shows some of her Marilyn Monroe photos and paintings on Tuesday, Feb 1, 2022, at her home in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
In the collector’s shelves, biographies mingle among large coffee table books, which she especially prizes for their stunning photography.
“Milton Greene is my favorite photographer,” she said.
She even owns a copy of the 1999 Christie Auction House catalog. Thumbing through it, she pointed to the one Marilyn Monroe item she’d buy if money was no object – a hand-knit cardigan. Monroe wore it on a beach in Santa Monica, California, in 1962. It proved to be her final photo shoot.
“The sweater sold for $150,000 at auction,” Clarke said.
Her eclectic collection also featured bottles of “Marilyn Merlot.”
“It’s from a vineyard in Napa Valley,” she said. “Every year they release a new one on June 1, her birthday.”
Clarke said the more you collect, the harder it is to find unique items. Her most recent additions are two glass blocks featuring images of the actress. One of her favorite items is a Monroe Funko Pop that was released during the grand opening of the Hollywood Funko Pop store
Of course, you can’t collect movie star memorabilia without owning their movies. Clarke said Monroe made 29, counting her final unfinished film, “Something’s Got to Give.”
She has copies of them all, including a VHS of the unfinished movie.
“I think that would have been a game-changer for her,” she said.
Monroe died at 36. For Clarke, it seems surreal that she’s been collecting Marilyn Monroe memorabilia for more years than the actress lived.
“It was weird when I outlived her,” she said. “The more I read about her as a person, I just thought she was really cool. Her insecurities were real to me and she was open about seeking therapy. These people we glamorize as stars were real people and at the end of the day they weren’t infallible.”
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