Last but never least. December, 1953: photographed in 1949 when she was still obscure, this nude picture of Norma Jean “Marilyn Monroe” Mortensen was sold to Playboy absent of Marilyn’s control — it was the magazine’s first issue and she was a rising star by that time. She was also featured on the cover, again without her express permission, but there was nothing she could do about it. The pictures were the property of the photographer Tom Kelley. Kelley had pursued Marilyn a number of times asking her to pose for him, and she finally agreed during a particularly low point in her struggling early career, on the condition that his wife Natalie remain present during the photoshoot.
Kelley sold the pictures.
Alhough the nude calendar shots are two of the most famous photographs in Hollywood history, Marilyn received only $50 for her efforts. Kelley himself received only a pittance when he sold the two shots to the Western Lithograph Company, but crafty manufacturers and slick promoters made a great deal of money selling bootleg versions of the calendar and other merchandise. (“Marilyn Monroe’s Early Career,” retrieved from HowStuffWorks.com)
Western Litho eventually turned the pics over to Hugh Hefner, and Marilyn became the magazine’s inaugural cover girl and centerfold (then still called the “gatefold”) accompanied by the title “Sweetheart of the Month.” A bum deal. Really bad faith on Kelley’s and Western Lithography’s part. They probably could have blackmailed her studio with the photos and gotten more money than was got out of Hef, seeing as she had come out that year with the massive, career-making hits Niagara, How to Marry a Millionaire (one of my all time favorite movies, co-starring Betty “Legs Insured by Lloyd’s of London” Grable and fabulous smoky siren Lauren Bacall — run don’t walk to the video store and grab it STAT), annnnnd Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (another absolute classic), making her a very hot and important-to-protect property in Hollywood.
Not only that, she already had half of Irving Berlin’s There’s No Business Like Show Business in the can and it would be ready for release by Summer. Western Litho could’ve turned a real buck off of those publicists and studio producers, waiting for the highest bidder to turn over the nude negatives to. But they didn’t much do their homework because apparently the guy in charge of the deal was was a greedy, shortsighted idiot. So he undersold, to Hef. Serves him right.
These other shots are just two of several cell-painted examples of the “Golden Dreams” photoshoot damage control put out by the swarm of money-hungry publicists who always thronged around poor Marilyn — they wanted her to be slightly less tarnished by the shoot, but still profit from its popularity, so they had artists paint clothes on her and sold the reprints, allegedly autographed by Marilyn herself. (Side note: the first time she ever had to autograph something with her show business name, she asked the nearest studio guy how they wanted her to spell it. UGH. What the eff is wrong with people who see an orphan soul and suck it dry?!)
Just bad stuff and feelings all around with this entry of the December women, huh? And of course, RIP, although it scarcely seems possible: I’m not sure she will ever know peace, like, in any universe. Man. Why did I pick so many bummers for this project?? I’ll make it up to you another day. I promise!