Hugh Hefner and Marilyn Monroe had a complicated relationship, but he does credit her for making Playboy a success. Unfortunately, she did that without any say in the matter.
Those infamous nude photos weren't specifically taken for Playboy, though.
According to a High Snobiety interview with Pierre Vudrag, owner of vintage poster and art retailer Limited Runs, the photos were taken by photographer Tom Kelley in 1949, four years before the photos were actually used in Playboy. Kelley offered to pay Monroe $50 for the photos, and she agreed as she was between work.
She had two conditions, though: that he actually paid her, and that his wife was with them the whole time, to ensure that nothing inappropriate would happen.
Monroe didn't initially own up to it being her in the photos.
She signed the photos "Mona Monroe," arguably because she was a little embarrassed by them at first. Many studios had modesty clauses at the time, and she didn't want to jeopardize any future jobs.
The photos made their way into a 1951 calendar. In 1952, Monroe was becoming more well-known, and the photos were re-released in the middle of shooting "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."
Instead of denying the photos, Monroe owned up to them in an interview with a reporter, saying she had to do what she had to do. The public "forgave" her, with the whole affair only increasing her appeal, according to Pierre Vudrag.
Hefner purchased the photos for $500.
After securing the rights to the photos, he published them in Playboy. The issue sold 50,000 copies instantly, according to Business Insider. That's HUGE for the time.
That's cool and all, except all of this was done without Monroe's consent.
Monroe never signed any agreements or contracts with Hefner or Playboy, so the photos appeared in the magazine without her giving them the green light. Sure, Hefner did it legally by first securing the rights, but it still doesn't make it consensual.
Despite morality clauses and the conservative mindset of many film studios at the time, the photos didn't have a negative impact on Monroe's sparkling career. Many have argued it actually helped with her allure to the public. But it could've easily gone another way.
Republishing those photos is a prime example of disregarding consent.
Yes, it was totally legal. No, Hefner wasn't shady about it.
However, publishing nude photos — even if you technically have the rights to them — is an example of being totally reckless with consent. Those were different times and the repercussions for appearing nude could've been massive. Thankfully, Monroe and her career moved past the situation with grace, and her honesty about why she took the photos won the hearts of the media and the public. Were model release forms a thing back then? Not sure, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and by all accounts, Monroe was desperate.
It does, however, bring an important point to light: Consent is important, and we'll never know how Monroe truly felt about having those photos come back to haunt her multiple times throughout her career.
Hefner has always maintained that Monroe made Playboy a success — in fact, Hefner will be buried next to Monroe.
Hefner bought the vault next to Monroe's final resting place for $75,000.
What a wild thing to do for someone you've never even met.