Businessman Aftab Dada is thrilled to have a giant Marilyn Monroe statue back in Palm Springs, Fla., where he says it is “absolutely loved” by residents and tourists alike. But not everyone in town is pleased.
The 7.9-metre tall statue of the Hollywood icon holding down her famous billowing white dress was unveiled Sunday on the city’s main tourist strip, despite a petition and a lawsuit from critics who say it is sexist, inappropriate and blocks the road to a nearby museum.
But Dada, who led the charge to bring the statue to the city, accused its critics of “trying to brainwash the general public” against the artwork, which he says will be a boon to local businesses emerging from the pandemic.
“She is an iconic statue. She’s a statue that cannot be missed. She’s a statue that definitely has a lot of interest and a lot of discussion,” Dada, chair of the local hospitality group P.S. Resorts, told As It Happens guest host Duncan McCue.
“And that’s what tourism is all about, is trying to bring people back in to help the merchants that have been suffering due to the pandemic.”
Listen: Aftab Dada on why Palm Springs needs Marilyn Monroe:
6:26A Palm Springs businessman on why he supports the Forever Marilyn statue
The statue, called Forever Marilyn, was sculpted by John Seward Johnson II in 2011, inspired by a famous scene from the 1955 romantic comedy The Seven Year Itch.
It first came to Palm Springs in 2012 as a rental for 26 months and then moved to New Jersey in 2014, says Dada.
He says it was a major tourist attraction the first time around, and expects it will be even more fruitful in the social media era.
“The board of directors of P.S. Resorts felt that the 15 months of pandemic and 500 downtown merchants taking a huge hit economically and knowing that we have right around the corner a brutal hot summer, it was ideal to bring her back and help our downtown merchants,” he said.
But not everyone agrees. A Change.org petition that refers to the statue as “#MeTooMarilyn” has collected more than 41,000 signatures.
The petition’s spokesperson, Elizabeth Armstrong, told NPR the statue is “blatantly sexist” and “forces people almost to upskirt.”
Brooks Thomas, 50, a Palm Springs resident for eight years, said he objects to the statue’s placement within view of the Palm Springs Museum.
“It’s absurd that you’re going to leave the museum and see the backside of someone’s underpants,” he said.
The museum’s director, Louis Grachos, agrees.
“The thought of those kids leaving our museum and having the first thing they see is the undergarments and underwear of this enormous Marilyn sculpture would be highly offensive,” Grachos told city council last month.
Dada says the statue is far enough away from the museum that Monroe’s underwear-clad backside will not be highly visible to visitors.
Chris Menrad founded the Committee to Relocate Marilyn, which filed a lawsuit citing public codes. He said the statue was in the middle of a new street that had been created to open up the museum and connect it to the main tourist strip.
“We have an issue with placing a large statue that is blocking that view on a quote unquote, temporary basis that everybody knows is not going to be temporary,” Menrad said.
Forever Marilyn is scheduled to stay in Palm Springs for three years.
Dada insists that most people in Palm Springs enthusiastically support Forever Marilyn.
Palm Springs resident John McDermott, 77, is one of them. He stopped by the statue recently on his morning bike ride.
“I speak for the vast majority of the residents of Palm Springs, where everybody is ecstatic to have her back here, absolutely ecstatic,” McDermott told Reuters.
“It’s good for the community, it’s good for the businesses. This is going to be the Eiffel Tower of Palm Springs.”
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview with Aftab Dada produced by Kevin Robertson.