Hugh Hefner 1926-2017

Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, has died aged 91.

In 1953, he acquired Tom Kelley’s nude calendar shot of Marilyn for the magazine’s first issue, also putting her on the cover. (You can read the full story here.) ‘She was actually in my brother’s acting class in New York,’ he told CNN. ‘But the reality is that I never met her. I talked to her once on the phone, but I never met her. She was gone, sadly, before I came out here.’

In 1960, Playboy published another laudatory feature headlined ‘The Magnificent Marilyn.’ If Marilyn sometimes resented others profiteering from her nude calendar – for which she had earned a flat $50 back in 1949 – by 1962 she was considering posing for Playboy‘s Christmas issue (although some sources indicate she changed her mind.)

Lawrence Schiller’s poolside nudes, taken during filming of the unfinished Something’s Got to Give, were published by Playboy in 1964, two years after Marilyn’s death.

The women’s rights campaigner Gloria Steinem, who would later write a biography of Marilyn, went ‘undercover’ as a Bunny Girl in a Playboy club for a magazine assignment durging the 1960s, and found the experience degrading – an opinion echoed by feminists today, as the BBC reports. Cultural historian Camille Paglia takes a different view, citing Hefner as ‘one of the principal architects of the social revolution.’

Marilyn has made many posthumous appearances on Playboy covers through the years. The magazine has also revealed rare and unseen images, such as Jon Whitcomb’s 1958 painting of Marilyn (based on a photo by Carl Perutz), and illustrator Earl Moran’s photos of a young Marilyn.

Many distinguished authors have written about Marilyn for Playboy, including John Updike, Roger Ebert, and Joyce Carol Oates. More dubiously, the magazine also published detective John Miner’s contested transcripts of tapes allegedly made by Marilyn for her psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson.

Since his death was announced earlier today, Twitter users and even some news websites have mistakenly posted a photo of Marilyn with Sir Laurence Olivier, confusing him with Hefner, as Mashable reports (a final absurdity that all three would probably have found hilarious.)

In 1992, Hefner reportedly purchased the crypt next to Marilyn’s in Westwood Memorial Park for $75,000. If he is buried there, it will either pave the way for extra security measures, or make Marilyn’s final resting place even more of a spectacle.

Multiple Marilyn Prints Sold at Bonham’s

Marilyn featured heavily in Bonhams’ Modern & Contemporary Prints & Multiples auction this week, with a dye-transfer print for Tom Kelley’s ‘red velvet‘ nude calendar shot, mounted on illustration board and signed by Hugh Hefner, fetching $37,500 (£29,406.) Other photographers included Philippe Halsman, Andre De Dienes, Alfred Eisenstaedt, George S. Zimbel, Cecil W. Stoughton, George Barris, William J. Carroll, Laszlo Willinger, and Bert Stern. Some of the photos in this auction were previously displayed in 17 Years, Marilyn: The Making of a Legend, at the Andrew Weiss Gallery in Los Angeles.

Thanks to Fraser Penney

Alice Denham Remembers Marilyn

Alice Denham, who died last year aged 89, was armed with a master’s degree in literature when she came to New York in 1953, hoping to be a writer and supporting herself by nude modelling. Within three years, she was a Playboy centrefold – the magazine also published her short story, ‘The Deal’, in the same issue. Like other independent women of her era, however, Alice’s promising career stalled while her male peers triumphed.

Forty years later she published a sensational memoir, Sleeping With Bad Boys: A Juicy Tell-All of Literary New York. In it, she wrote of her encounters with James Dean, Marlon Brando, Sam Spiegel, Norman Mailer and Hugh Hefner, among others. She also spoke admiringly of Marilyn, and described a brief sighting of her at the El Morocco nightclub in Manhattan.

Marilyn at El Morocco, 1954

“We table-hopped and Harry introduced me to Cary Grant and Esther Williams, Jack Benny, and both Gabors. Out on the floor again, I danced past Marilyn Monroe in a plain black short gown with spaghetti straps. Marilyn looked incredibly beautiful and bored, as she danced with a fat short producer, then returned to her table where there were three other short fat producers in tux. Marilyn was far more gorgeous than her photos.”

Marilyn and the ‘Playboy’ Brand

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In an article for the Women Who Write About Comics website, Ginnis Tonik asks, ‘What is Playboy Without Naked Women? Or, What is Sex Positivity for Men?’ Responding to the recent announcement that the iconic magazine will no longer publish nudes, Tonik considers how Marilyn’s name (and body) helped to build the Playboy brand.

“Sex sells is the old adage, but in particular for Playboy, a particular kind of sex sells, the kind of sex that has distinguished the magazine from its competition. Hefner banked his idea of the gentleman and the gentleman’s idealized woman on the archetype of the girl next door, but with a twist. Playboy‘s girl next door’s sexuality is playful, Lolita-esque, malleable. She’s as American as apple pie, and who was more emblematic of this notion of sexuality than the woman that made Hefner a millionaire? Marilyn Monroe.

The photos that launched the inaugural issue of Playboy into the American cultural stratosphere in 1953 featured formerly unpublished nude photos of Marilyn Monroe. Taken in 1949 when Monroe needed some cash, she was paid $50 for the images that were for a calendar company. In 1950, Hefner bought the negatives for $500, then went on to publish them in his the inaugural issue. As scholar and Monroe biographer, Sarah Churchwell, puts it:

‘Hefner became a millionaire by selling the picture, which never made Monroe more than the $50 she received in 1949.’ –The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe

Monroe handled this scandal by refusing to be ashamed, which in retrospect, is a very sex-positive move during a time when this sort of scandal could have ended an emerging starlet’s career. With her blonde curls and coy demeanor, Monroe epitomized the Playboy gentleman’s ideal—a playful sex kitten, young and carefree, and not particularly deep. And, despite Monroe’s attempts to distance herself from this image, America’s Sweetheart via the Playboy brand haunted the rest of her short life.”

Marilyn’s Vanity Fair: A Tale of Many Covers

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Marilyn makes the cover of Vanity Fair‘s August issue (French edition only.) If the photo looks familiar, that’s because it was previously used on Vanity Fair‘s US edition, back in October 2008.

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And by comparison with Bert Stern’s original photo, you can tell that poor Marilyn has fallen victim to the digital airbrush!

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Some fans have suggested that another, more flattering Stern photo could have been used…

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The magazine includes an article about Lawrence Schiller’s photos of Marilyn, filming the poolside scene in Something’s Got to Give. As some readers may recall, an extract from Schiller’s book, Marilyn & Me, was published in the US edition of Vanity Fair in June 2012. The French article, however, is written by MM superfan Sebastien Cauchon.

Which begs the question – why wasn’t a Schiller photo used on the cover? Many fans were asking the same question in 2012, when an Andre de Dienes photo was used on the US cover of Vanity Fair, and not Schiller.

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The answer, according to Sebastien Cauchon, is that Schiller’s poolside nudes don’t include a full-face, colour shot of Marilyn making eye contact with the camera. Marilyn & Me‘s original cover (later rejected) showed a pensive, full-face shot of MM in a fur hat, on the set of Something’s Got to Give – but not a nude. Presumably Vanity Fair‘s editors felt that a cheerful beach shot from De Dienes – though taken 13 years previously – was more in keeping with the summery, au naturel theme.

SchillerAnd as Sebastien Cauchon explained to members of Immortal Marilyn’s Facebook group this weekend, his article differs from the 2012 extract because its main subject is the proposed Playboy cover shoot Marilyn was considering at the time of her death (though according to Schiller, she was having second thoughts about the project.)

The article includes Hugh Hefner’s letter to Schiller and fellow photographer Bill Woodfield, explaining the concept of the mooted cover – click on the photo below to read in full.

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The photo shoot went ahead with model Sheralee Connors taking Marilyn’s place, and was featured in Playboy‘s 1962 Christmas issue.

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Photo by Fraser Penney
Photo by Fraser Penney

How Marilyn Made Millions for ‘Playboy’

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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.”

‘Playboy’ Rides Again

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As part of its 60th anniversary celebrations, Playboy is re-releasing its first issue, from December 1953 – with Marilyn on the cover and inside. And this is not a one-off special – the same edition was previously reissued in 2007. It is available now for $9.99 from Barnes & Noble and other stores across the US until July 7, and can also be ordered here. There’s no word of a European release as yet, but copies are already being sold on Ebay. Here’s a report from USA Today:

“This collector’s edition is an exact replica of Playboy’s first issue, right down to the staples that bind it and Marilyn Monroe gracing its cover. The star is also featured inside as the Sweetheart of the Month, along with a Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a feature on ‘desk designs for the modern office’ and the usual cartoons and party jokes.

It was assembled by a then-27-year-old Hugh Hefner on the kitchen table of his Chicago apartment, financed by $600 of his own money and less than $8,000 of raised capital (including $1,000 from his mom).”

She never actually posed for the magazine – the cover photo is from her appearance at the Miss America contest in July 1952, while her 1949 nude calendar pose for photographer Tom Kelley – shrewdly acquired by Playboy‘s owner and editor, Hugh Hefner – graces the centre pages. Shortly before her death, Marilyn considered an official photo shoot for the magazine, but appeared to change her mind.

Since then, Marilyn has posthumously graced countless Playboy covers across the globe, and the multi-millionaire Hefner, now 88, has purchased the crypt beside hers. Whether you’re a fan of ‘Hef’ and his empire – or not – this reissue is certainly of historical interest, and much cheaper than the real thing.

Hugh Hefner Remembers Marilyn

A painting of the first Playboy cover featuring Marilyn, by artist Victoria Fuller, has been donated to Hollygrove, formerly the orphanage where Norma Jeane lived as a child.

Signed by the magazine’s founder, Hugh Hefner, the painting is on display at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre until August 31, when will be sold at a base price of $10,000. All proceeds will help children in crisis and their families.

Hefner has spoken about his lifelong muse to CBS News:

“Soraya Fadel asked him if he would have liked to have dated the bombshell. ‘Oh yeah. I would have loved to,” he says, candidly, ‘I’m a sucker for blondes and she is the ultimate blonde.’

His favorite Monroe movie? ‘Without question, it’s Some Like it Hot It was at the end of her career and it indicated how much real talent she had.’

Marilyn long dead, Hefner would still love the opportunity to thank her for what he did for his life. ‘I would have told her how much she meant to me and still does.'”

Ian Ayres Plans MM Documentary

Documentary film-maker Ian Ayres is working on a project about Marilyn, reports Screen Daily:

“Writer-filmmaker Ian Ayres, whose film Tony Curtis: Driven To Stardom is on Wide’s Cannes slate, is at work on a revisionist feature documentary about Cannes postergirl Marilyn Monroe.

Ayres has already spoken to and filmed many Monroe associates, among them Don Murray (co-star of Bus Stop), Stanley Rubin (producer of River of No Return), and Hugh Hefner, and Susan Bernard (daughter of glamour photographer). The director has also interviewed Monroe’s close family members.

‘We interviewed Marilyn’s first foster sister, Nancy Bolender, who also has Marilyn’s first nude photo which she is letting us use in the film. It’s a baby photo of Marilyn,’ Ayres said.

The late Tony Curtis features in the Marilyn doc. There is also rare footage of Monroe as a 15-year-old.

The Monroe documentary is currently shooting under the provisional title Marilyn: Birth Of An Icon.”

Ayres spoke to The Damned Interviews about the project, and his friendship with John Gilmore, author of Inside Marilyn Monroe.

“During interviews for the Tony Curtis film, people kept sharing unknown things about Marilyn Monroe. So I decided to make a bonus called ‘All About Marilyn’ but found the most insightful stuff could only be cut down to 33 minutes. Then I realized Marilyn mattered too much to me to be a mere bonus. So now I’m in the process of making the documentary on her that I’d always hoped someone would make. It’s a respectful, loving one that’s feature length! There is so much more to Marilyn Monroe than any documentary has ever brought to life. From the interviews we already have, I’m convinced this will be the ultimate Marilyn Monroe documentary. Marilyn Monroe was a great artist. Many consider her a genius who, through this film, will finally be shown the respect she definitely deserves. She has my respect. That’s for sure!

John’s (Gilmore) not the type to talk for hours. I had to keep asking him questions. He was most kind and patient with us during the interviews, especially the recent one about Marilyn Monroe. We lost a major part of the interview due to a technical problem and hoped John wouldn’t mind re-doing it. We were holding our breaths when we asked. And John proved to be very understanding. Not only did he repeat the entire lost section of the interview, he became even more detailed in his spontaneous eloquence. I felt as if Marilyn were right there with us, too.”