Two Men, a Zippo Lighter and Marilyn Monroe

This is a story about my late husband, his ingenuity, and his imagination.

My husband, Jim Denyer, was a newspaper reporter for the Los Angeles Examiner in 1962.  He and his long-time friend, Examiner photographer Clayton “Bud” Gray, were assigned to prowl the streets of LA during the night in their car and follow up on events that occurred, getting the story and pictures.

One night in August, 1962, they heard over their police radio that Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her home.  Knowing that her body would be taken to the morgue, they headed there hoping to get a picture. Upon arrival they just walked into the morgue. No one else was there, no police, and no other reporters.  They knew that pictures would not be allowed, so Bud hid his camera in his shirt.

They found the room where she was lying on a gurney with an attendant who questioned them as to whether they had a camera.  Of course, they denied they did.  However, Jim took out his Zippo lighter and kept clicking it open and closed.  The attendant apparently thought Jim was just nervous.  But the sound the lighter made disguised the click of Bud’s hidden camera and they got the picture which appeared on the front page of the Examiner the next morning. The picture only shows part of Marilyn’s foot at the end of the gurney.  It could have been anyone, although the attendant identified her for them.

The Examiner had the only picture of Marilyn and the 2 of them were congratulated.

I must add that this was 51 years ago and prior to today’s swarm of photographers who make life miserable for celebrities.  Getting that picture in today’s news would have been not only impossible, frowned upon if somehow taken, but then it was considered a creative coup.

Both men have since passed away.  The picture may still exist somewhere.

How much is that thing worth?

Did you see the recent story about a little white bowl purchased for a minimal amount and discovered to be worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars?  Makes you want to scope out garage sales and your attic or that crammed closet, right?

Well, I have been doing just that.  I’m going through my belongings to eliminate the things I no longer want or need.  In the process I found a Zippo lighter that had belonged to my late husband.  He had it when we met and carried it his whole life.  I happened to see an article about collectors interested in Zippo lighters.  The article stated that some could be worth from $2000-$5000.  Others just a few dollars.  That got my attention.

I found a site online which listed all the Zippo lighters beginning with the first produced in 1933 and going to the present.  So I contacted them and asked about my Zippo which had a design of Reddy Kilowatt on the front.  I had the date of its production, 1949-1955 and the patent # and clearly described it.  The response came back rather quickly, $175, if it was in mint condition and in the original box.  That wasn’t true of my husband’s Zippo.  He used it.

So I am not going to sell his treasured possession.  It will go to one of my children, none of whom smoke, but love the memories of their father.  And I’ll keep looking for my “little white bowl”.