MARILYN MONROE POSE 2
A few photographs have gone beyond simply recording history and have actually played a role in shaping it.
One such photo, created in 1949, showed a young actress alluringly posed, totally nude, on a red velvet background. The image, shocking for its time -- an image of raw sex appeal -- was, nevertheless, also an image of tastefulness and sophistication. Photographer Tom Kelley, Sr. couldn't know the photo would become history and help define sexuality for a generation. The actress' name was Marilyn Monroe.
At the end of 1953 a new men's magazine appeared on the newsstands. It was an adult magazine targeted to a sophisticated urban male audience. The magazine advocated a philosophy that was very new to the postwar 50's. It was that sex is a natural, wholesome and healthy human act -- not something to hide or be embarrassed about. Sex was an activity a normal single man might share with the girl next door.
The first issue of Playboy magazine sold over 54,000 copies -- a surprising number for a new magazine with no advance publicity. The profits from this first edition furnished the funding to continue publishing for a few more months. Indeed, Hugh Hefner did not date the magazine because he was uncertain there would be a second issue. He didn't know the magazine would become an icon of America's cultural history.
The startling sales of that first Playboy edition can be attributed to Hefner's good fortune of finding an exceptional centerpiece photo to lure America's males to the newsstand. Kelley's calendar photo of the nude Marilyn Monroe was that image -- the image that launched the magazine that brought sex out of the closet into the glaring light of day.
Compared to the well-worn, trite images of sexuality in U.S. culture today, Kelley's "Red Velvet" photograph remains the pinnacle of erotica. Simple in color and composition, Marilyn's pose has been copied endlessly by countless would-be Kelley's, but never to the effect that Kelley achieved. The fact is that Marilyn has become the archetypal American sex queen and Kelley recorded her at her best. This was a rare moment frozen in time.
Hefner bought one photo from Kelley, published it as his first centerfold, and American culture has not been the same since. Marilyn Monroe and Hugh Hefner showed us that sex is as natural as eating and sleeping -- and maybe even fun and a little frivolous. Sex became more than mere procreation -- a seismic shift in attitude for the dark, repressed 50s.
Playboy's rise to prominence in American culture parallels the rise of the sexual revolution. We began looking at our sexual selves in new ways. The Playboy Philosophy -- preached by Hefner in his magazine that eventually reached a circulation over seven million -- championed that cause. And this was a cause that went beyond the surface of sex, delving into deeper issues like population control and disease prevention -- issues with incredible potential for improving the social welfare of every human being.
So Kelley's photo, and the mystique generated by Marilyn's amazing sexual presence, played a key role in shaping 20th century history. The photo led to a redefinition of sexuality in America, and spawned a sexual revolution.
But there's more. When Hefner made the deal with Kelley he only bought one piece of film. There are five more. We are pleased to offer one of these in an showcase photograph.