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Roadside stop: Marilyn Monroe was once California’s “Artichoke Queen”

It was in the 1953 film, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, that Marilyn Monroe dazzled moviegoers with her version of the song, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Clad in purple and surrounded by a cast of tuxedoed actors, the performance became one of her most iconic.

Ironically, it was also diamonds that earned her some of her first professional recognition. In the summer of 1948, the then-struggling actress and model made her way to Salinas in the Monterey Bay area of California. It had only been a year or so that she had begun using the name “Marilyn Monroe,” after an agent suggested that it was more commercially appealing than her given name, Norma Jeane Mortenson.

“Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”

The soon-to-be star was booked to help promote a diamond sale at a local jewelry store. Interestingly, Monroe was not the first choice. The store had originally hired a starlet named Noreen Nash, but she had to cancel, which created the perfect opening for Monroe. By all accounts, Monroe’s presence at the store, posing, autographing her headshots, and conversing with patrons, made the event a huge success.

That evening, Marilyn raffled off a Coronation diamond ring at the local Vogue movie theatre, and was crowned “The Diamond Queen of Salinas.”

California’s Artichoke Queen

While she was visiting the town of Salinas, over the course of a few days she made some additional appearances at service club luncheons. At one of those luncheons, a representative from Castroville, a tiny agricultural town about 15 miles from Salinas, had an idea. Castroville was becoming known as the “Artichoke Capital of the World.” Artichokes were brought to California in the late 1800s by Italian immigrants. By the 1920s, Castroville had become the primary place for artichoke crops. The representative from Castroville was so taken by Monroe’s dazzling charisma that he had the idea to crown her the very first “California Artichoke Queen” and so she was invited to Castroville for the ceremony.

The crowning took place at the headquarters of the California artichoke and vegetable growers. Right after that, Monroe was shuttled off to a place called Franco’s, at 10639 Merritt St., for a luncheon. Today, it’s called “Franco’s Norma Jean Club,” and Monroe’s legacy is intact, as evidenced by the name of the club and the many photos of her inside. Additionally, her Artichoke Queen sash is on display at the Castroville City Hall.

Today, the Castroville Artichoke Festival is held every year (this year it’s running June 11-12) and the Artichoke Queen (and King) is crowned. Of course, you can buy a rich assortment of artichokes throughout the town and even pose next to a giant statue that is believed to be the “largest artichoke in the world.”

This is a fun, small-town stop along the road that connects you to one of the most iconic stars in Hollywood history. And if you like artichokes, well, you’ll certainly get your fill.

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Read more from Chris Epting here

Chris Epting is an author, award-winning journalist/photographer and dedicated road-tripper. His best-selling books including James Dean Died Here (the locations of America’s pop culture landmarks),  Roadside Baseball, and The Birthplace Book, along with many others that remain popular with many travelers and RVers throughout the country and world. He is excited to be contributing to RVTravel.com and looks forward to helping to lead you places you may not have discovered otherwise. You may learn more about Chris at his author’s site, www.chrisepting.com

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Donald N Wright
4 months ago

When you visit the Potato Museum in Idaho, they have a photograph of Marilyn Monroe wearing a potato sack as a dress. There is an interesting story if you are curious.

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