While Marilyn may have become Playboy‘s first pin-up in 1953, she never actually posed for the legendary men’s magazine – and finding her 1949 nude calendar (for which she was paid just $50) made the fortune of Hugh Hefner (who never met her), as Neil Steinberg explains in an article for the Sacramento Sun-Times.
“Everyone has seen that classic first Playboy centerfold photo of Marilyn Monroe, her creamy perfect flesh set off against red velvet. But who wondered how an unemployed nobody whose major financial backer was his mother, who kicked in $1,000, got the greatest sex goddess and movie star of the late 20th century to grace the cover of his first issue and pose in the buff for his first centerfold ‘Sweetheart of the Month?'(‘Playmate’ wouldn’t come until the second issue).
Short answer: he didn’t. He bumbled into it.
‘How did you manage that piece of good luck?’ a magazine called U.S. Camera asked Hefner, in its April, 1962 issue.
‘At that point the MM calendar was very, very famous, but almost no one had seen it,’ he replied. ‘It had received all kinds of publicity, but it never appeared anywhere.’ He noticed, in a newspaper clipping, that the photos were owned by a calendar company in the Chicago suburbs.
‘So I took a hop out there,’ Hefner said, driving his beat up ’41 Chevy.
The pictures were taken nearly five years earlier, at the request of John Baumgarth, a Chicago calendar maker, shot by Hollywood photographer Tom Kelley. Monroe was an unknown then.
‘When he made the picture it was just another picture of a girl. No one had heard of Marilyn Monroe at that time,’ Hefner said. ‘He paid about $500 for this and a number of similar photographs.’
The calendar company certainly wasn’t planning to use them again.
‘Thus from his point of view, he had gotten back all his initial expense in purchasing the photographs,’ said Hefner. ‘From my point of view, however, for $500 for the Marilyn Monroe and for a year’s contract for $300 for 11 more.’
Hefner had his first year of centerfolds without talking one woman, never mind Marilyn Monroe, out of her clothes.
‘This was our Playmate for the first year–simply straight calendar nudes from the Baumgarth Calendar Company,’ he said.
Playboy wasn’t the first magazine to print nude photographs. But it was first to print nude photographs of a well-known personality, and that made all the difference.
‘It legitimized nudity by embodying it in arguably the most famous woman in America,’ Roger Ebert wrote, celebrating the centerfold. And the results are all around us, to this day.”