PALATINE, Ill. | Marilyn Monroe is alive and well and living in an apartment in Palatine.
She doesn't go by the name of Norma Jean, though. It's Sheri Winkelmann.
A Shakespearean actor at heart, Winkelmann started impersonating Marilyn in small increments, mostly singing telegrams. But the demand for her performances forced her to expand into a full-hour show. She admits she looks more like a comedic Phyllis Diller impersonating Marilyn Monroe than Monroe herself.
"People love Marilyn. It brings back such good memories, a good time, a more innocent time," Winkelmann says.
Winkelmann, who started her own company called Wink Productions, also does a spot-on Connie Francis and performs as Madonna. All the training Winkelmann had from her New York theater days, where she developed her love for the craft, helps her with the Marilyn Monroe persona, which is the most popular.
She says men and women alike hire her as Marilyn, contrary to what might seem like a male-dominated audience. The transformation from Sheri to Monroe takes over an hour and a half, which all depends on the complexity of the costume, makeup and hair.
Winkelmann says her customers, who pay up to $1,000 for a Marilyn Monroe performance, are generally well-behaved and respect her as a performer.
"People say to me, 'Oh, don't people get out of hand, don't they grab you?'" She jokes, "They never do unless they're over 80."
Her shows last 45 minutes and are detailed and complex, right down to the mole on Marilyn's face. She stays in character all night long, even if someone tries to break her from that by talking to her.
"I have so much fun with them," she says. "I get away with so much. If I flirt as Marilyn, everybody knows it's a game and we have a ball."
Winkelmann says the illusion of her shows help people forget their troubles, and it leaves them better than when she found them.
"People want to have their moment with a celebrity," Winkelmann says. "And you are the closest thing that most people are going to have to that experience."