The Story Behind Marilyn Monroe’s Nude Calendar

monroeIt was 1949, then as now, countless thousands of young actresses in Hollywood were unemployed.  Many give up the struggle.  Others take a wrong turn and make decisions they will later regret. A certain unknown, very small, percentage persevere. That songbird they are all chasing, called “success”, inevitably proves elusive. But this article isn’t about the countless scores of would be Hollywood actresses in the late 1940s facing defeat. Marilyn Monroe, at this time just one of many, had found herself unemployed and with the proverbial wolf knocking on her door.

Marilyn had already turned down several offers by a photographer she knew named Tom Kelley, though she had posed for many other photographers (before becoming an actress, she was a top model, her face adorning hundreds of magazine covers.) Marilyn had nixed Kelley’s offers because he wanted her to pose nude.

But now it was May 27, 1949 (just five days shy of her 23rd birthday) and Marilyn desperately needed $50.00 (about $460 today) to make a payment on her car, lest it be impounded. Young Marilyn had been dropped from her contracts at both 20th Century Fox and Columbia and these steady studio contractual stipends were dearly missed.

So she finally agreed and reported to Kelley’s studio at the appointed time. (She had previously done some beer ads with him.) Just so there was no hanky-panky, implied or otherwise, Kelley’s wife, Natalie, was there for the entire shoot. (One wonders if any jealous thoughts went through her head as she helped her husband prepare the cameras and the red velvet scenery that the breathtaking Marilyn would be seductively posing on.)

The photo shoot lasted two hours.

Countless shots were taken, but only two were to ever be used or have any lasting importance. “A New Wrinkle” showed Marilyn sprawled out, lying on her side. (This shot was to grace a Baumgarth company calendar.) The other (soon to be world famous) shot was dubbed “Golden Dreams”; this was a shot of Marilyn sitting up in a sexy pose, with her left arm crooked and held behind her head.

Marilyn was paid the agreed-upon $50.00 for her services. Instead of using her real name, she signed the contract/release using the name “Mona Monroe”. If Marilyn Monroe had been just another actress, the story would end there and the above photos would be a molecule in the universe of photography honoring the feminine form. But now we cut to 1952.

Hypocritically given the public stigma against women who posed in such shots, Marilyn’s “Golden Dreams” nude photo was gracing barbershops, gas stations, and men’s locker rooms from coast to coast and she wasn’t an unknown actress anymore- she had been featured in several films in the intervening three years and was now the hottest young starlet in the business, poised to become a genuine superstar.

That’s when journalist Aline Mosby broke the “nude calendar” story in March of ’52. The studio’s initial reaction was to deny everything. But Marilyn, to her credit, made the decision and convinced the studio to fess up and admit that it was indeed her in the photo.

An exclusive interview was given on March 25, 1952, and the scandal-hungry reporters sharpened their pencils, hoping, as reporters always do, for scandal, ridicule, and shame, not to mention the destruction of a hopeful young actress’s career, which always sells well in the media. But instead of ridicule, the press were charmed by Marilyn’s candidness and honesty.

I was broke and needed the money.  Why deny it?… You can get one (a calendar) anyplace. Besides, I’m not ashamed of it, I’ve done nothing wrong… I was a week behind in the rent (she either had decided to change the real story here, perhaps implying she would have become homeless, which is more desperate than become carless, or she genuinely had forgotten about her car fees.) I had to have the money. Tom didn’t think anyone would recognize me. My hair was long then. But when the picture came out, everybody knew me…I’d never have done it if I’d known things would happen so fast in Hollywood for me.

Even Marilyn’s natural sense of humor was to come out in the aftermath of the “Golden Dreams Scandal” breaking. Later, reporters would harangue Marilyn and ask her if she “had anything on” during the infamous shoot. “Oh yes”, Marilyn quipped, “I had the radio on.”

The press, and more importantly, the public, saw Marilyn’s genuine sincerity and were more than willing to let this cultural faux pas go, despite the fact that few before her had ever survived a similar scandal; but fortunately for movie fans the world over, Marilyn Monroe did.

She would soon be shooting “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953) and “How to Marry a Millionaire” (1953), the films that really launched the “Marilyn Monroe” phenomena and her immortal “dumb, but sexy” blonde persona. Soon thereafter would follow “The Seven Year Itch” (1955), “Bus Stop” (1956), “The Prince and the Showgirl” (1957) and of course, Marilyn’s crowning achievement “Some Like It Hot” (1959), one of the great comedies in cinema history. Her sparkling career was to end with “The Misfits” (1960) co-starring her childhood fantasy ideal, Clark Gable.

In retrospect, we all look back on the “Golden Dreams Nude Calendar” scandal and laugh or shrug our shoulders. After all, nowadays we all can see much sexier, raunchier pictures of unclothed women by the millions, simply by pushing the right computer key and it’s rare to find a superstar actress who hasn’t done a nude scene at some point, if not much more than just a scene. Viewed now, the “Golden Dreams” calendar seems almost quaint, a cup of weak tea in the middle of a saloon in tombstone.

In her era, though, most who did this might as well have murdered babies in terms of the effect it would have on their career going forward.  But somehow Marilyn Monroe remained above it all. The Monroe face, challenged the world over, but still unequaled, surrounds us from every quarter even today- movies, TV specials, DVD’s, videos, books, magazines, posters, coffee cups, t-shirts, badges, and every other piece of commercial merchandise from New York to Rio to Tokyo to London to Paris and all the way around the rest of the planet feature the immortal Monroe persona.

Men love her for all the obvious reasons, but also appreciate her humor and incredible charisma. Women, most not jealous, seem more to empathize, understand and sympathize with Marilyn and her plight. And sixty years after the “world breaking” scoop and resulting “Golden Dreams” scandal, Marilyn Monroe’s face remains probably the most famous, familiar women’s face in the history of the world.

Like Babe Ruth in baseball, Michael Jordan in basketball, or Muhammad Ali in boxing, Marilyn Monroe remains the “undisputed champ” for immortal actresses. Unfortunately, like Elvis, we see the excessive drug use, the wasted success, and the being surrounded by too many of “the wrong people”. And as with Elvis, most of us don’t condemn, we only regret. We mostly just wish they had somehow just “gotten their act together” so we all could enjoy them for a while longer.

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