Marilyn in Ontario

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Today would have been Marilyn Monroe’s 83rd birthday. Did you know a small image of the young Monroe is on public display in Ontario?

The accompanying portrait hangs in the Ontario Museum of History and Art. It was done for the label of Dolly Madison brand wine (!) and certainly appears to depict a young Monroe (nee Norma Jean Baker).

I heard the story in 2006 from Terry Provonsha, a Washington State resident, who was contacting local winery officials to learn the whereabouts of the painting. He said his grandfather, Gordon Provonsha, painted it. As he told it, the elder Provonsha was a commercial artist in L.A. and his wife, Rae, was responsible for getting Monroe her first modeling job at age 9.

Circa 1945, when Monroe was about 19, Provonsha used her as the model for the Dolly Madison painting, the younger Provonsha told me.

As proof, he e-mailed me photos of Provonsha and a blonde Monroe standing by an easel that held a portrait of Monroe holding a glass of wine. I believe it, although the painting is not the one in Ontario.

The California Wine Association owned the Dolly Madison wine label. A member of the Biane family who worked for that association acquired the Monroe painting and it was hung in the museum of the Brookside Winery at Guasti for many years. When that winery closed in 1982, the painting was transferred to the Ontario museum.

The painting is displayed alongside a Dolly Madison wine bottle and a display card explaining the history.

Terry Provonsha was interested in seeing his grandfather’s story told and gave me names and numbers of several family contacts in various states who could tell me more about Gordon Provonsha and Monroe.

My initial enthusiasm cooled after concluding, rightly or wrongly, that telling the story of a Culver City artist and his connection to Monroe was roaming a bit far afield. Becoming part of the Marilyn cult on this rather flimsy Inland Valley pretext made me uncomfortable, too. (I guess I wasn’t cut out for sensationalism.)

But, to clear the books, so to speak, I’m happy to share the photo and this capsule history today. The museum is well worth your visit anyway, and if seeing the Monroe painting is an inducement, go for it.

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  • Leon H. Bates Jr.

    The story is true. I knew Gary Provonsha, Gordon’s son, and he used to talk about it often. Gordon also spoke to my grandmother, Alice Bates, about it many times.

  • LaRae Bates

    It’s true…Gordon Provonsha was my dad’s uncle. I’ve seen other paintings he’s done of Norma Jean Baker. I was just a little kid, but I’ll never forget them!!

  • Gino L. Filippi

    CHEERS DAVID!