Marilyn, Jayne Mansfield and a Hollywood Taboo

Bathing Blondes: Marilyn in 1962 (left), and Jayne Mansfield in 1963 (right)

In 1962, Marilyn was set to become the first American actress to appear nude in a mainstream movie since Pre-Code days – but following her untimely death, that honour went to another blonde star, Jayne Mansfield, in a film released just a year later, produced independently with Tommy Noonan (who had played Marilyn’s love interest a decade earlier in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.) And as with Marilyn’s shelved nude scene, Jayne’s big moment would make the cover of Playboy.

Although Jayne would reveal more than Marilyn did, both scenes showed the stars bathing (Marilyn in a pool, Jayne in a tub), and discovered by a shy, bespectacled man (Phil Silvers and Noonan respectively.) Kristin Hunt reports on the story behind a Hollywood watershed for Vulture – and if you’d like to learn more about Jayne, read Puffblicity, an illustrated biography by April VeVea, author of MM: A Day in the Life.

Marilyn in ‘The Misfits’ (left) and ‘Something’s Got to Give’ (right)

“Monroe filmed two nude scenes — one for 1961’s The Misfits and one for 1962’s Something’s Got to Give — but neither made it into theaters in one piece. The first scene was cut and the second was a mere fragment of an unfinished movie … The Something’s Got to  Give scene was a little more intentional. Monroe’s character Ellen is supposed to swim nude, as a means to entice her estranged husband Nick from his hotel room. The footage of Monroe skinny-dipping in a pool is now available in multiple YouTube clips, but the movie never screened for era audiences, since Monroe was fired and then died before filming wrapped.

Either scene would’ve made Monroe the first American star to go nude in a Hollywood movie in decades. But in Monroe’s absence, it was Jayne Mansfield who shattered the long-standing tradition. Like Monroe, Mansfield was a buxom blonde with a complicated reputation — but unlike Monroe, she craved the industry’s constant spotlight, and frequently used her body to get it.

While onscreen nudity certainly existed before 1962, it had been outlawed in the U.S. for decades under the Production Code … It was against that backdrop that Mansfield made her topless debut in the 1963 swingers cruise-ship comedy Promises! Promises! The actress was in a bit of a career slump at the time … Mansfield had always been famous for her crass publicity stunts, which often involved her ‘accidentally’ losing her clothing … Those blatant headline grabs had launched Mansfield’s career, landing her a star-making role in the 1956 comedy The Girl Can’t Help It, and they also made her distinct from her blonde-bombshell rival Monroe, who generated tabloid fodder without really trying.

Shortly after Monroe’s 1962 death, The New York Times ran an article explaining why each ‘successor’ to Monroe was an inadequate replacement: Ava Gardner was too reclusive, Kim Novak too serious, Natalie Wood too slight. But the newspaper reserved some of its meanest comments for Mansfield. ‘Jayne Mansfield, whom 20th Century Fox was building as a Love Goddess nominee, suffers from too much publicity and too few roles,’ The New York Times wrote. ‘She has become rather a caricature — like Mae West — and alienates the segment which takes sex seriously.’

If she was already a caricature, it made sense for Mansfield to seek out the absurdity of a sexploitation film. Promises! Promises! was a translation of Edna Sheklow’s 1960 play The Plant, about two couples on a cruise ship who swap partners in a drunken haze, and then have to figure out who fathered which pregnancy. Actor Tommy Noonan purchased the film rights after nearly starring in the stage show, planning to write, direct, produce, and act in the movie.

Tommy Noonan co-starred with both Jayne and Marilyn

Noonan would’ve known as well as anyone the risks of including a nude scene, even within the context of this racy plot … But a code violation didn’t carry the weight it once did, because by 1963, the entire system of censorship was running on life support … Mansfield’s nude scene arrives fairly early into Promises! Promises!, soon after the couples have settled into their cabins. Her screen husband Jeff (Noonan) has just been to see the ship’s medic about his sperm. When he returns — in high spirits, after receiving a placebo from the doctor — he finds Sandy (Mansfield) stepping out of a bath, where she was just cooing the song I’m in Love under a blanket of bubbles. She appears in the doorway, patting down her torso with a towel that does nothing to obscure her chest. The shot lingers for a few seconds before she closes the bathroom door to dress.

As the crew filmed, a photographer for Playboy took extra shots to run in the magazine, pocketing them for the eventual publicity campaign. Despite Mansfield’s name, Promises! Promises! was a B-film to its core, shepherded by an actor-turned-auteur who was not quite a household name and who harbored no artistic pretensions. The movie entered markets without MPAA approval or studio backing, which meant it had to rely solely on advertising. You can guess what the publicity team focused on.

Marilyn and Jayne’s nude scenes were (un)covered by Playboy

Playboy published its behind-the-scenes images in the June 1963 issue, promising ‘The Nudest Jayne Mansfield’ on the cover. Enterprising movie exhibitors were only too happy to join in the ogling … But in many cities, the exploitative advertising and lack of MPAA approval were a liability, with censorship boards in Maryland, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and other markets attempting to keep the film out. When the Playboy issues hit newsstands, Hugh Hefner was arrested and hauled into Chicago court for ‘publishing and distributing an obscene magazine.’ The city based its complaint on two ‘particularly obscene’ images showing Mansfield lying naked on a bed with a fully clothed man. The case ended in a mistrial, letting Hefner off the hook.

Though Promises! Promises! made money, it was too crass and too indie to recoup Mansfield’s struggling stardom — and her career never bounced back to its 1950s heights. Critics savaged the film, with Variety calling it unsuitable for ‘anyone whose mentality surpasses that of a 5-year-old.’ But the topless scene did indicate where films were heading in respect to the policy against nudity. The following year in 1964, The Pawnbroker challenged the Production Code with a much more artistic — and much more upsetting — use of nudity through a Holocaust flashback sequence. The film had a celebrated director in Sidney Lumet and a serious method star in Rod Steiger, and due to this pedigree, it had more of a lasting impact than Promises! Promises! could, setting a precedent that would make it easier for movies to include nude scenes.”

Avedon’s Marilyn: Rare Nudes Emerge

An extremely rare (and very charming) series of semi-nude photos shot by Richard Avedon, featuring Marilyn with hairdresser Kenneth Battelle,  has surfaced on the website of the Edward Cella Gallery in Los Angeles.

This was probably shot during the same session that made the cover of Life magazine to promote Some Like It Hot in April 1959, although Marilyn had worked with Avedon the previous summer on the ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ sessions (published in Life in December 1958.) Avedon had been unhappy with some of the shots, so these nudes could have been among the rejects. However, Marilyn’s slightly bouffant hairstyle more closely resembles her look in March 1959, when Battelle accompanied Marilyn to the Some Like It Hot premiere in Chicago (see here.)

Interestingly, this was not the first time Marilyn stripped off for Avedon – she also posed topless for his ‘Photomatic’ series in 1957 (see here.) The playful nature of these images reflects Marilyn’s trust in Avedon – which was seemingly well-placed, considering how long it has taken for the shots to appear.

Thanks to Paul and Johann

Did Marilyn’s Nude ‘Misfits’ Scene Survive the Final Cut?

A briefly nude scene from The Misfits – cut by director John Huston – may have survived, according to Charles Casillo, author of the new biography, Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon.

Still photos attest that Marilyn was indeed semi-nude in the bedroom scene, in which stayed in the movie after being edited. She wanted to keep the footage intact, but Huston dismissed the idea. Marilyn was more attuned to the mood of the times, as minor nudity was already becoming commonplace in films made in Europe.

Dalya Alberge reports for the Daily Mail 

“Charles Casillo interviewed Curtice Taylor, son of the film’s producer Frank Taylor, and was taken aback to learn that he has kept the footage in a locked cabinet since his father’s death in 1999.

Mr Taylor said: ‘A lot of times, unused takes were destroyed. But Frank Taylor believed that it was so important and so ground-breaking that he saved it.’

The footage, with sound, lasts about 45 seconds. Curtice Taylor, a photographer and teacher, understands why his father was so keen to include it: ‘It’s much more passionate.’

He said: ‘So Gable’s fully clothed. He comes into her bedroom. She’s asleep. He caresses and kisses her neck, turns her face around and gives her a good lip-lock. That exists in the scene in the [final] film – but not to the passionate degree of this one, which is much better. The smile on her face when he’s kissing her shoulder is just sublime.’

After Gable leaves the room, Ms Monroe holds up the sheet to put on her blouse. Mr Taylor believes that she dropped it partly due to her training as a method actress.

He said: ‘Why would a woman sitting up in bed, with nobody in the room, pull the sheet up and then try to put a blouse on at the same time? It makes no sense. So she just drops the sheet. I think it’s one of the reasons she did this. There are quite a few takes of this scene. Whenever she dropped the sheet, which she did a few times, Huston would say “Cut, remember the sheet, Marilyn”.’

Mr Taylor was surprised that the footage is an edited sequence, and wonders whether the censors had insisted on its removal.

He attended the shoot at just 13-years-old, and said he remembers Ms Monroe talking to him and asking him to do ‘little favours’. He said: ‘She’d give me $5 to go get something.'”

Marilyn’s Hurricane in Mink

Michael Colby is a songwriter and the grandson of Ben and Mary Bodne, who owned Manhattan’s famed Algonquin Hotel from 1946-1987.  In an interview with the New York Post‘s Barbara Hoffman, Colby recounts a somewhat risque tale of Marilyn.

“‘Marilyn Monroe used to come in at lunchtime and get a Beefeater martini,’ says Michael Colby, striding past the bar in the Algonquin Hotel on West 44th Street. And it was just down the street, at Fifth Avenue, that his grandmother once spotted her wearing a white mink coat.

‘If you think that’s something,’ the actress told her, perhaps after a few too many martinis, ‘you should see what’s underneath!’

Yes, Colby tells the Post, leaning against a portrait of hotel regular Tallulah Bankhead: His granny got flashed by Monroe.”

As fans will know, Marilyn was proud of her body, often went out sans underwear and thought nothing of wandering round her apartment or dressing room nude. Sam Shaw and Yves Montand have also told of similar encounters; but tales of Marilyn have a way of growing so that practically anyone vaguely connected to her will claim to have experienced the same.

Monroe biographer Carl Rollyson considers it ‘possible’, but points out that the Algonquin was not known as one of Marilyn’s more regular haunts, and that particular brand of exhibitionism was more commonly associated with the outrageous Tallulah Bankhead.

Pin-Up Artists: Marilyn and Earl Moran

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A lavishly illustrated article about the photographer and artist Earl Moran’s risqué work with a young Marilyn in the 1940s has been posted at Messy Nessy Chic. The photos were used as a basis for his illustrations, and the model’s true identity remained a secret until the 1980s – proving that Marilyn’s more famous calendar for Tom Kelley wasn’t her first experience of posing au naturel.

“In 1946, a nineteen year-old aspiring actress in Hollywood was in need of a job, and fast. Born Norma Jean Dougherty, destined to become Marilyn Monroe, but in between, for those not-so-squeaky-clean modelling jobs, she preferred to go by Mona– with a going rate of $10 an hour.

The famous artist and the unknown aspiring actress struck up an unlikely friendship and for the next four years, Marilyn would pose regularly for Earl, and she credited him with making her skinny legs look better than they were in real-life.

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But with some of Moran’s illustrations the then little known actress’s body seems to have ended up with a not-so-familiar face to the iconic one we’ve come to know so well. Combining poses and facial expressions from more than one model was common practice for pin-up artists. The late artist’s surviving and most accurate depictions of Monroe are of course now considered his most valuable.”

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.”

Naked Truths: Drake, Rushdie and Marilyn

10373848_1451182991791300_5610828183029719260_nThe award-winning novelist, Salman Rushdie, has praised the lyrics of Canadian rapper Drake in a video for Pitchfork, noting an allusion to one of Marilyn’s most famous quotes in ‘What’s My Name‘, Drake’s 2010 duet with pop star Rihanna.

“He also complements Drake on a subtle Marilyn Monroe reference in the What’s My Name line ‘Okay, away we go/Only thing we have on is the radio’. As he explains, ‘She [Monroe] posed in the nude and she was asked if she had nothing on, and she said ‘I have the radio on’.”

As Stacy Eubank reveals in her excellent book, Holding a Good Thought For Marilyn: The Hollywood Years, Marilyn’s remark was first reported by gossip columnist Erskine Johnson in August 1952, while she was filming Niagara on location in Canada. Marilyn’s candid humour won over the public, though her detractors questioned whether the quote was really her own.

In 1955, Roy Craft – Marilyn’s publicist at Twentieth Century-Fox – dispelled the rumour, telling the Saturday Evening Post‘s Pete Martin, “To give it a light touch, when she was asked, ‘Didn’t you have anything on at all when you were posing for that picture?’ we were supposed to have told her to say, ‘I had the radio on.’ I’m sorry to disagree with the majority, but she made up those cracks herself.”

Photographer Tom Kelley – who shot the nude calendar in 1949 – told Maurice Zolotow in 1955, “It wasn’t the radio. It was a phonograph. I had Artie Shaw’s record of ‘Begin the Beguine’ playing. I find ‘Begin the Beguine’ helps to create vibrations.’

In a 1956 interview with Milton Shulman, Marilyn herself explained, “It was a large press conference, and some very fierce woman journalist – I think she was Canadian – stood up and said: ‘do you mean to tell us you didn’t have anything on when you posed for that nude picture?’ Suddenly, an old nightclub joke popped into my head. ‘Oh, no,’ I said. ‘I had the radio on.’ I just changed the words around a bit, but I thought everybody knew it.”

Marilyn Play Goes ‘Nude’ in Oz

CLpGTBhUcAEf09TSo many plays about Marilyn are produced these days, and it’s difficult to tell them apart. But NUDE – Beneath the Beauty Spot, currently at the Alex Theatre in St Kilda, Australia, and starring Carina Waye as MM, will distinguish itself with a one-off performance for nudists on Wednesday, August 19, with writer-director Jayde Kirchert citing Marilyn’s relaxed attitude to nudity as inspiration. If you prefer to dress up for the theatre, the play runs until August 23.

Marilyn’s ‘Red Velvet Collection’ Goes on Tour

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Limited Runs, who curated a Marilyn-themed photo exhibition in 2014 (see here), have announced a new touring event – featuring Tom Kelley’s famous nudes, as well as photos by Len Steckler and Gene Lester. Opening in Los Angeles on July 29, ‘Marilyn Monroe: Red Velvet Collection’ will also visit San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, and New York. More details here.

“On May 27, 1949, an out of work and broke, Monroe posed nude for photographer Tom Kelley at his studio in Hollywood, California. Agreeing to the session under the condition that Kelley’s wife, Natalie, attend the shoot, Monroe signed the model release as ‘Mona Monroe’ and earned a paltry $50. Neither the photographer, nor 22-year old Monroe realized the historic moment they were creating.

Chicago-based printing company John Baumgarth Company acquired the prized ‘Red Velvet’ Kodachrome photograph in 1951. Baumgarth used them to create three iconic images of the bombshell that were then printed and sold in an estimated 9 million ‘Golden Dream’ calendars. Reproducing Monroe’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 to make the original Chromalin color proof separations – a masterpiece of printer’s art.

Believed to have been lost forever, the Kodachrome and color Separations actually remained amidst Baumgarth’s massive print archives. Narrowly escaping destruction on multiple occasions, the separations changed hands several times through a series of corporate asset acquisitions until acquired as part of a corporate art collection purchased by the Messenger Art Collection in 2010. These are the only known surviving examples of the original separations used to produce Golden Dreams calendars.

The framed Kodachrome photograph and the color Separations are now mounted and protected in OP3 museum-quality acrylic frames (29” x 24”) and will be suspended from gallery ceilings across America.”

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.”