Straight from the archives, the unvarnished truth about Marilyn Monroe’s famous (and controversial) press conference following the appearance of her nude photos in the first edition of Playboy. The saga began in 1949 after one of her first appearances on the screen—a walk-on role in the last feature film the Marx brothers made, Happy Talk. After that appearance the bottom dropped out of her personal finances. She was (as she later explained) “flat broke”. Later, she would joke that not having money worked to her advantage in the nude photo shoot allowing her to display “washboard abs.” In desperation, she agreed to pose nude for photographer, Tom Kelley, on condition that his wife was present. In a brave but doomed effort to shield her identity, she signed the photo release Mona Monroe. Kelley shot what were to become two iconic photos of La Monroe —a full length shot of her lying on a piece of red velvet, entitled “A New Wrinkle,” and a seated Monroe with her head tossed back and legs tucked beneath her, entitled “Golden Dreams.”
For her trouble, she earned the munificent sum of $50 ($511.51 in today’s money). Tom Kelley didn’t do much better selling both photos to an outfit called Western Lithograph Company for a mere $200 ($2,003.52 in today’s money). [Creepy addendum—in the early fifties other transparencies of that photo shoot that he hadn’t sold disappeared from his studio and never surfaced] The Western Lithograph Company went on to produce millions of calendars featuring “A New Wrinkle.”
By happenstance, in the early 50s a young entrepreneur, Hugh Hefner, decided to start a magazine for men. In true 50s chauvinist pig style, the cover bore the legend “entertainment for men.” Hefner bought one of the Monroe nudes for the magazine he called Playboy. “Golden Dream” was to be Playboy’s first centerfold —then called Sweetheart of the Month— in its inaugural edition in December, 1953. Although “A New Wrinkle” had been widely circulated on millions of Western Lithograph calendars and Monroe’s identity was widely known, the appearance of a nude photo in Playboy created a scandal and threatened her career. Her studio was apoplectic. Monroe had become immensely bankable, one of Hollywood’s top 10 money-making stars. A lot was at stake.
The press conference we quoted from was Monroe at her creative best bent on salvaging her career. It worked! The public was mollified, sympathized with her plight and everyone’s bacon was saved. Aren’t happy endings terrific?
Hugh Hefner always believed that Monroe was the key to launching Playboy. In one of his noir moments, he bought the crypt next to hers at Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park Cemetery for $75,000. (Imagine what that proximity would fetch today) He explained that it was the only way he could lay in eternity with the woman who launched his career.
(To get the full flavor of what being a woman meant in the 50s, here is an excerpt from the introductory message Hefner wrote for Playboy’s first edition: ‘If you’re a man between the ages of 18 and 80, Playboy is meant for you… We want to make it clear from the very start we aren’t a “family magazine.” If you’re somebody’s sister, wife or mother-in-law and picked us up by mistake, please pass us along to the man in your life and get back to your Ladies Home Companion.” That first edition sold an astounding 54,000 copies. Hefner had originally printed only a couple of thousand.
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