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MARILYN MONROE STILL CAPTIVATING AUDIENCES

If there was ever proof that you can't take it with you, it's Marilyn Monroe's crypt in Westwood.

In life, Monroe - who would have turned 70 on June 1 - was glamorous and rich, surrounded by the trappings of a beloved movie star. She had men. She had beauty. She had fame.Her final resting place shows none of these things. It is as ordinary as Norma Jean Mortenson, the troubled girl born illegitimately who blossomed on screen as sex diva Marilyn Monroe.

Raised in a succession of foster homes, her last name Mortenson was replaced by Baker, her mother's maiden name, before her transformation into the icon recognized throughout the world by one name: Marilyn.

Tucked behind a movie multiplex on Wilshire Boulevard, Monroe's body is stored in a nondescript wall of crypts within the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park. Each crypt is the same. A wilted red rose bud and dusty pink silk flower are all that distinguish her memorial from those of the not-so-rich and not-so-famous.

(Monroe's ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, ended his ritual of having six red roses placed at her crypt three times a week in 1982).

Still, tourists and fans fascinated by the legend visit the crypt daily, many posing for photos next to her marker. According to Ken Schessler's "This Is Hollywood," her grave attracts more visitors than any other celebrity grave in Southern California.

As her birthday approaches, and then the 34th anniversary of her death on Aug. 5, the crowds will pick up.

Marilyn-philes agree that the actress's luscious looks and breathy voice, combined with the tragedy of her life, account for much of her lasting appeal.

There were a lot of sexy women in Hollywood who came to sad ends - Jane Mansfield, Jean Harlow and others - but none have attained Monroe's icon status.

So what was different about Monroe?

Marsha Schub, manager of Marilyn Monroe Weston Editions Ltd. in Northridge, speculates that many are touched by the details of the actress's life.

"I think most people - men and women - can relate to Marilyn," she says. "Marilyn needed nurturing, and so do a lot of people today. Even though she was beautiful, she was never a threat because she was so vulnerable."

Weston Editions is a photo publishing business owned by dealer Edward Weston, who has one of the largest collections of images of Monroe.

"Every photographer who ever shot her - and there were many, many pictures taken of her - was in love with her," he says. "Marilyn performed for the camera like no one else."

Monroe's enduring story also is helped by the fact that she came into contact with so many other legends during her brief life. She was the wife of baseball great DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller and mistress of John and Bobby Kennedy. Some believe she was killed because of her relationship with the powerful political family.

"She was murdered," says Dale Mukomela, president of the Marilyn Monroe Legend Club in Redondo Beach. The club has about 350 members from all over the globe.

Mukomela, who was born the year Monroe died, says it is important to her that Monroe's memory be kept alive. She does her part by distributing a newsletter, answering letters to the club and spending time researching Monroe's life. She visits the Westwood crypt twice a year - on the anniversary of Monroe's birth and death.