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‘Forever Marilyn’ statue unveiled in downtown Palm Springs met with support and backlash

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - Sunday marked a pivotal day for the city of Palm Springs. After months of delays and opposition, the 'Forever Marilyn' statue was officially unveiled. Hundreds of people gathered at the event including local leaders and tourists with their cameras, ready to snap a picture with the 26-foot statue.

Forever Marilyn is a 34,000-pound sculpture of Marilyn Monroe by Seward Johnson. The sculpture is based on the famous photograph of Marilyn by Bruno Bernard taken during the 1955 filming of “The Seven Year Itch.” 

"This is a great free attraction that people love," said Palm Springs City Councilman, Geoff Kors. "I think it’s going to be great for our businesses and it’s great to have free attractions for our residents."

A tourist attraction that supporters believe is just in time for the summer months; PS Resorts Chairman Aftab Dada, the organization largely behind getting Marilyn to the desert, hopes that the statue will draw people into the desert as soaring temperatures normally create a slow tourist season this time of year.

Sunday's event drew in hundreds of people despite scorching heat. But the unveiling was also met with opposition. Protesters were equipped with signs while chanting as local leaders took the stage to address the crowd.

The Committee to Relocate Marilyn was recently formed in an effort to change the location of where the statue sits on Museum way between the downtown area and the Palm Springs Art Museum.

"One of the things that we wanted was to keep this alley open connecting Palm Canyon to the museum and now we have a 20-something odd, 30-foot tall statue blocking it and that's not what we asked for," one of the founders of the Committee to Relocate Marilyn, Chris Menrad said.

Many residents who don't agree with the placement of the statue believe that it obstructs the view.

"Hundreds of millions of dollars went in, both taxpayers and private developers, to make this downtown come all the way back here and replace a big empty mall, but you can't get people back here if there's not a reason. The museum is suffering in attendance, they had to cut their budget pre-COVID; this is going to bring people back," said Kors.

Many residents also believed that the statue would have been placed at a local park, which many have said they would have been happy with.

"The city council was clear that there was major opposition against putting Marilyn in Museum Way. It wasn't about Marilyn at all, it was the placement of Marilyn," said Palm Springs resident Mark Davis.

In November 2020 the Palm Springs City Council voted to place the statue on Museum Way.

"We feel that we have just been completely bamboozled by the city council," said Davis, who believes the council jumped to the decision without gathering proper support from residents.

The council, however, has previously stated that they received input from the community and based their decision on the support of residents.

The first question asked residents whether they think, "The statue will be a fun and free attraction for visitors and residents of Palm Springs."

The answers came back with an overwhelming 86% agreement vs 12% disagreement.

The second question asked residents whether they agree that, "The statue will help our local businesses."

The responses also came back with an overwhelming 76% agreed vs 16% disagree.

  • Strongly agree 51%
  • Somewhat agree 26%
  • Somewhat disagree 9%
  • Strongly disagree 7%
  • Don't know 8%

The final question addressed one of the big controversies surrounding the return of the statue.

"The statue is offensive and should not be displayed in our City."

The survey ended up with a 13% agree to 83% disagree ratio among those who participated.

  • Strongly agree 6%
  • Somewhat agree 7%
  • Somewhat disagree 18%
  • Strongly disagree 65%
  • Don't know 4%

Opponents, however criticized the survey saying that it should have been conducted independently and not paid for by PS resorts. They also said that there was no question on whether residents agreed with the location of the statue.

Aside from local protesters, Women's March Foundation members were also in opposition of the statue. They showed up to Sunday's event with signs and matching shirts. Many believe the statue is a symbol of

"Let’s call it what it is. It is misogyny on display in Palm Springs. It is also the way that it is up-skirting. The way that it is built is intentionally built to look up her shirt and take crotch shots," Women's March Foundation Executive Director Emiliana Guereca said.

"Let me put it this way. We would never celebrate a powerful man-- 26-foot tall sculpture with his pants pulled down. And I see that as an equivalent," Former Director of Palm Springs Art Museum, Elizabeth Armstrong said.

Despite a day of contentious debate from both sides, visitors proceeded to snap pictures of the newly-unveiled statue.

"It doesn’t bother me. I’ve seen worse things," Los Angeles resident, Karyna Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said she came all the way to town to take pictures of the statue.

"You can’t cancel the past. I think it’s important to look at the past and learn from it," Los Angeles resident, Santosh Oommen said.

"I honestly don’t know what I think about it yet," tourist Michelle Johnson said.

The statue is slated to be in Palm Springs for 3 years and will be free to the public.

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Shelby Nelson

Shelby Nelson is a News Reporter for KESQ News Channel 3. She joined our team in September 2019. Learn more about Shelby here.

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