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photos that launched the inaugural issue of Playboy into the American cultural stratosphere in 1953 featured formerly unpublished nude photos of Marilyn Monroe.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.”