Firstly, I wanted to note I have discussed this dress in the past on my Instagram and on a previous blog post. Since then I have had a few things cleared up which now correct some of the information I had previously believed (due to content elsewhere).
In 1961, whilst Marilyn was in Los Angeles, Frank Sinatra asked her to attend a party with him at Romanoff’s (on 13th September). Worrying about having nothing to wear she was going to have “the Italian woman” (Lena Pepitone) send her “Khrushchev dress” from New York. She had worn it in the final scene in Let’s Make Love (1960), at the Donatello awards (1959), in screen tests for Something’s Got to Give a year later, at Frank Sinatra’s show in Las Vegas in 1961 and at a luncheon for Khrushchev in 1959. This dress would be sold in 1999 for $79,500.
Instead, Pat Newcomb had said she found a beautiful green, sequined Norman Norell mermaid dress which she thought Marilyn should look at. Marilyn had worn Norell plenty of times over the years, Marilyn agreed.
Marilyn and Pat returned with the dress however Marilyn felt the dress was a little too loose around the bust. Therefore, Hazel Washington (Marilyn’s maid) said she would take a “narrow slip from the bottom of the dress, sew it to the top as a shoulder strap.” Ralph Roberts stated that “it would be redesigning a Norrell but nobody there felt he would object to the final result.”
The backless dress meant Marilyn could sleep her arms out of the holes, and with the new strap, wear it as a halter neck dress. The straps at the front appear thicker than at the back hence the drastic change in design.
When Frank Sinatra arrived, he gifted her some emerald earrings which she wore with the dress. The Romanoff’s dinner was not photographed.
In November 1961, Marilyn wore the dress for a couple of photos with Douglas Kirkland, clearly in love with the design.
In March 1962, Marilyn was accompanied by Jose Bolanos to the Golden Globes, wearing none other than her Norell dress.
After her death, the dress was worn as per the original design with the added strap between the armholes at the back instead of a halter neck. Inez Melson’s (Marilyn’s business manager) sister in law, Ruth Conroy was photographed on Ruth before being sent to Lee Strasberg. It sold in 2018 for $96,000.