“Born Norma Jeane Baker on June 1, 1926, Marilyn Monroe would be turning 93 years old this year. This iconic actress is celebrated through the beautiful, rare and historic ‘Golden Dreams’ collection represented by Linda Goldenstein and Goldenstein Gallery.
Who could have imagined that a chance encounter would result in what has been called ‘the most famous picture since the Mona Lisa,’ transforming a 22-year-old aspiring Marilyn Monroe into one of Hollywood’s greatest film icons and helping a young man named Hugh Hefner launch his Playboy empire along the way?
Photographer Tom Kelley met Monroe on Sunset Boulevard in October 1948, after a minor auto accident. Marilyn told him she had an audition. He gave her $5 cab fare and his business card. In May 1949, Marilyn was behind on rent and her car in repossession. She found Kelley’s card and appeared unannounced at his studio. A model called in sick for a Pabst beer poster photoshoot and Marilyn got the job.
Two weeks later, Kelley called Marilyn saying that John Baumgarth, a major calendar publisher, had seen the Pabst poster and wanted Marilyn to pose for an upcoming calendar.
Not long after, Kelley’s color transparencies of unknown nude models arrived at Baumgarth’s Chicago offices. Among them was ‘Golden Dreams’ featuring the then-unknown Marilyn. Although it wasn’t Baumgarth’s first choice, based on the calendar selection committee he agreed to run Marilyn’s image in the 1951 calendar line. Baumgarth’s preferred image ‘The Charmer’ featuring Maxine Strong outsold Marilyn’s Golden Dreams by 2 to 1, until it was later revealed that the model in Golden Dreams was in fact Marilyn Monroe.
Narrowly escaping destruction, the color separations represented by Goldenstein are the unique, original separations first created by hand in 1950 and used by Baumgarth to produce the Golden Dreams calendars featuring Marilyn Monroe.
Baumgarth sold 9 million calendars throughout the 1950s, making Marilyn the best-selling calendar girl and earning John Baumgarth the moniker ‘The Man Who Made Monroe.’
Reproducing Marilyn’s refined features, supple texture and luxurious tones was no small feat – print artisans painstakingly created and corrected the many layers of film for the full color printing process – a masterpiece of printer’s art.
In December 1953, an astute man named Hugh Hefner bought the rights to reproduce the Golden Dreams image for $500 from John Baumgarth Company, to be used as the ‘Sweetheart of the Month’ in Playboy magazine. That first issue sold over 54,000 copies and the profits provided Hefner the funding to continue publishing and ultimately launch his Playboy Empire.
In 2010, Al Babbitt purchased the original and unique film positives and negatives used by Baumgarth Co. to produce the 1950s Marilyn Monroe Golden Dreams pin up calendars. Babbitt will speak at Sedona PhotoFest on June 15 at 1p.m., in the Mary D. Fisher Theatre, about the history of Marilyn Monroe, the iconic Golden Dreams collection and the color separation process.
Original Monroe large format color separations will be exhibited. These pieces are part of the ‘Messenger Art Collection’ represented by Goldenstein Gallery, 6,000 works of art created over 100 years by diverse calendar and promotional companies.”
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.”