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Medallion

Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe M.G. TD

In June of 2011 an M.G. TD reported to be used in the film "Monkey Business" staring Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe was auctioned for sale as part of a collection of movie memorabilia owned by Debbie Reynolds. The estimated value of the car at auction was $20,000 to $30,000. The car was sold for $210,000 plus $48,300.00 in buyer's premium + taxes, fees, etc.. Was the car that was auctioned the same car as was in the movie? That is the question that is posed on this web page. After reviewing the evidence presented I will let you decide.

Backstory

The film "Monkey Business" was about a chemist who finds his personal and professional life turned upside down when one of his chimpanzees finds the fountain of youth. The MGTD has a prominant role during much of the film. The car was 'purchased' on the spot by Cary Grant's character to impress Marilyn Monore's character (his bosses secretary) and to entice her to go with him for a ride. What follows are a series of escapades driving through the streets of Los Angeles. You can watch the trailer for the movie here and the M.G. TD is featured prominently.

The films first release was on September 2, 1952 in Atlantic City, NJ. It was rumored that the unusual release location was because Marilyn Monroe was on hand as she was already in town to be the Grand Marshal for the Labor Day parade festivities. The regular release was done in both LA and NYC on September 5th. While I cannot find the actual production start date or duration, it is expected that the film took at least six months to produce and more likely a year or more. It is not understood when the TD scenes were filmed. In one scene of the TD a 1952 license plate tag is clearly shown on the rear license plate. But even then next years tags are often delivered in the fall of the prior year. A number of cars don't appear to have tags at all so that would indicate a transition period of late 1951 or early 1952. Also shown in the dealership scene of the car video clip below is a sign advertising 52 cars in which new models are usually delivered in the late summer and early fall of the year.

You can see most of the footage of the M.G. TD in this video.

This additional video includes another segment with the M.G. TD just past the roller skating and swimming scene.

The complete Monkey Business movie.

The Relationship of the M.G. TD with the Movie

The outstanding question is what role did the M.G. TD have in the movie beyond the obvious. Was it just a vehicle that moved actors from place to place or did it have a significant role in the movie? And if the role was significant, or the appearance of the car was important to the movie, did that also influence how the film was marketed and ultimately the value of this car. Here are some observations to consider:

The Auction

The auction took place at: 465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, California, 90210, United States and the car was sold on June 11th, 2011.

Previewing Details: Public previews at the Paley Center for Media, 465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Dates are June 4-5, 8-12 and 15-17. Hours are 12pm to 5pm.

From the auction description:

1952 red MG TD used by Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant in Monkey Business. (TCF, 1952) This car was acquired by Debbie Reynolds directly from Twentieth Century-Fox during the "pre-sale" when she bought all of the Marilyn Monroe wardrobe from the studio prior to the auction in 1971. It was bought in running condition and was placed in storage until Debbie's daughter, Carrie Fisher, took a shining to it when she started to drive (ca. 1974). Unfortunately, Carrie never really mastered the manual transmission and Debbie took the keys away to avert impending disaster, and the car was placed back in storage where it has remained ever since. In 2011 the engine and transmission were rebuilt and the car has been rejuvenated with new chrome and remains in nice running condition. The car has its original paint which exhibits light scratches in areas. The dent in the radiator, occurring from Cary Grant crashing in the fence in the film, was kept in its original condition. The car comes with the original folding convertible top and frame, but it was not installed during filming so it has been kept aside for the future owner. This is the only known film-used Marilyn Monroe car!!

Also stated was:

Evidence of the MG-TD's role in "Monkey Business" is more substantial. "The MG was acquired by Debbie from Twentieth Century-Fox in 1971," Mr. Chanes said. "Monkey Business" was produced by that studio, and the car matches the one seen in the film right up to and including a dent in the radiator shell, incurred when Cary Grant's character drove into a fence. The MG wears its original, slightly scuffed paint and has been treated to new chrome pieces. The engine and transmission were overhauled this year to put the car in driving condition.

And in another report of the auction:

One of the greatest female film stars of all times, Marilyn Monroe was, and still is by some, considered the sexiest woman on the planet. Now, a vehicle that was personally owned by the girl with wind blowing under her skirt, is for sale for the sex symbol’s fans to enjoy.

The vehicle in question is a red 1952 MG TD roadster, which also happens to be the only known film-used Marilyn Monroe car.

That is because the car was featured in the 1952 sci-fi comedy Monkey Business, which starred Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant. What the makes the car even more appealing is that it still bears a dent from a scene in which Cary Grant ran the roadster into a fence.

But the series of celebrity owners this car had over time doesn’t end here. Debbie Reynold’s bought it, in running condition, directly from Twentieth Century-Fox during the “pre-sale” when she bought all of the Marilyn Monroe wardrobe from the studio prior to the auction in 1971. For two years the MG was stored away so that Debbie’s daughter, Carrie Fisher, would use when she started driving.

Unfortunately, Fisher had problems dealing with manual transmissions, so the car again had to be placed in storage, where it remained until present day. The original folding convertible top and frame are included in the package, with only new chrome and a rebuilt engine and transmission added earlier this year.

This statement about Marilyn Monroe's personal car being used in the film is interesting in that another picture that has been exhibited of Marilyn Monroe pondering a set of side curtains on a late 1951 or 1952 TD is shown below. This car is clearly ivory and not red. It is a later car than is in the movie but does not show the same late features as the auctioned car.

The following pictures were included in the auction listing. The first was a color auction lot photo done in a studio (or Photoshoped) and two photos which were frames within the film. During the preview a monitor showed the clip of the film adjacent to the car (seen in the Auction 7 image below).

td
Auction 1

Scene 1

Scene 2

The following pictures were taken at the auction preview and provide a more detailed view of the car that was being auctioned:

td
Auction 3
td
Auction 4
td
Auction 5
td
Auction 6
td
Auction 7
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Auction 8

The Detailed Comparison

The following table attempts to provide some basis of the comparisons of items shown in pictures of both cars. Of course we only have black and white, low quality images of the film and higher quality color photos of the car being auctioned. The lighting and composition as well as the angles are different too making a detailed comparison somewhat difficult. None the less the pictures do provide an interesting set of evidence to potentially determine if these cars are actually the same car or not. In addition, sixty years has past during the filming of the original car and the auction company admited that some features of the car had been changed since the filming.

Feature Film Car Aution Car Comment
Interior Color Uncertain Black There were no black interiors from any factory car but it was not unusual for MGTD's to have their interior changed to black even in the early 1950's. In some scenes of the car the interior looks lighter than the paint which could imply a red interior on a red car or green interior on a green car.
Paint Color Uncertain Red but black underside The film was shot in black and white. The shade of the car is consistent with a red car photographed in black and white but could also be a dark green. Both standard TD colors.
Headlamps Chrome Chrome Both cars have chrome headlamps but the film car appears to have 'King of the Road' medallions which ended in 1951 and the auction car appears to have large rivets on the bottom and no 'King of the Road' medallions which was prevalent in the 1953 cars.
Windshield Wiper Motor Passenger Mounted Center Mounted The center mounted windshield appeared in production late in 1952. Note that in many of the close-up frontal shots the windshield wiper motor was removed from the car so as to not block the view of Marilyn Monroe. The auction cars windscreen seems to be damaged or perhaps they used some TF parts because it is at an unusual angle. This is probably the major reason the top (hood) was not installed. In the scene of the movie around 44:50 it appear there is a top under the tonneau cover but a few frames later they are putting a suitcase in the boot and you cannot see a top. The view is mostly blocked by the suitcase. A few minutes later is the last scene of the TD in the film.
Windscreen Mounts Present Absent

On the film car there were mounts for accessory windscreens on the dash but not on the auction car.

Gauges Flat Dished Dished instruments came about in early 1952 models.
Temperature Gauge None Split Gauge The film car did not have a split temperature gauge.
Dipper Switch Horn Button Scuttle Mounted Clearly shown in the film car is a dash mounted dipper switch. On the auction car you can see the bolts holding the scuttle mounted switch inside the drivers side engine compartment.
Round License Lamp Present Present While both cars have a unique round license plate lamp the film car's appeared to be a Runyan accessory, very popular in the early 1950's. The auction cars does not seem to be the same. The finish, body and where the cable attaches do not seem to match the film cars but the picture of the film car is not of high enough resolution to make a absolute determination.
Turn Indicator Lamp None Present On the auction car you can clearly see the turn indicator lamp in the center of the dash panel. This is absent in the film car as it would be for a pre 1953 model car.
Rear Tail lamps Rectangular Rectangular Both cars sport rectangular tail lamps found on pre 1953 model cars
Tail lamp Plinths Raised Flat On the film car you can see the raised fender around the rear tail lamps. On the auction car the area is flat. On 1953 cars the tail lamp plinth as a separate chrome piece that was added to flat fenders. Note that on a few late model 1952 cars, they still had rectangular tail lamps but had the flat 1953 fenders.
Passenger Grab Bar Present Present While both cars sported a passenger grab handle, they did not match in style. The film version was much more substantial.
Chrome Exhaust Tip Present Present

The film car had a substantial add on chrome exhaust tip while the auction cars looks more like a welded end or substandard slip on. Cary Grant even commented on the exhaust tip in the film.

Finish Like New Repainted For some reason the auction car has red piping on the rear fenders (which looks like they were sprayed with red paint), while the front fenders and running board piping is black. In fact the entire auction cars paint job does not look old, but that it had a more recent poor quality paint applied to it. Look at the finish of the paint on the inside edges of the bonnet. This is evident in many pictures including under the hood and on the fenders. It is uncertain why the front underfenders are black on the auction car.

Conclusion

While it is impossible to determine if both cars in the film and auction where the same without some form of records, there are enough discrepancies to cast doubt to the claim that the cars were the same. I will leave it to you to decide if the differences were because the auctioned car had undergone some form of changes over the years where original parts were replaced with a more recent models components.

If the cars are not the same its uncertain where the confusion may have taken place or what the intent was (either purposefully misleading or just a misunderstanding or clerical mistake). However since the car was claimed to be the one used in the movie, personnally owned by miss Monroe, and that drove its price significantly higher than what it would have sold for otherwise, its unfortunate that its provenance is questionable at best.

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