She had fallen behind [in 1949] with not only her rent but also payments on her car. But the chance to up her income came via photographer Tom Kelley who’d been asking her to pose nude for several months. Threatened with repossession of her car, she called his number and on 27 May arrived at Kelley’s studio at 736 North Seward Avenue, to pose nude for a calendar distributed by John Baumgarth. To add a touch of respectability to the proceedings, Marilyn requested that Kelley’s partner Natalie Grasko be in attendance. She explained that she had agreed to pose nude because she was flat broke and felt a debt of gratitude to him for his kindness to her, a complete stranger, on the day her car broke down.
’Begin the Beguine’ played on the turntable as Marilyn reclined on a red-velvet blanket; she was paid $50 for her efforts. Years later she described the experience as, ‘Very simple… And drafty!’, and although the photos are tame compared to modern standards, she was so anxious not to be recognized that she signed the release ‘Mona Monroe’.
Within days of meeting DiMaggio [Joe, in March 1952], rumours that Marilyn had once posed naked were impossible to deny when a calendar featuring the nude photos started to appear throughout the country. Marilyn had been forewarned of this by a man in the street who approached her clutching one: ‘This ought to be worth quite a bit of money to you. Suppose I showed it around town?’ Marilyn refused to be drawn: ‘Mister. I’d just adore for you to show it around Hollywood- would you like me to also autograph it for you?‘
Her studio went in a frenzy, with executives demanding first she lie, then say nothing. Ultimately, a prepared statement allowed Marilyn to explain her version of events- she’d been broke and needed money for her rent. She played the sympathy card and was not only forgiven but also loved for her honesty and candour. Once it was clear that the photos would not negatively affect her career, she became quite proud of them. Mayor Johnny Grant, who delivered her a calendar, confirms this: ‘She… was happy to receive it. She had just gotten out of the shower and the only thing she was wearing was a towel- on her head! When she opened the door, she half way hid behind it, exposing almost the same scene I had just seen on the calendar.’
Tom Kelley later said that Marilyn had some role in the photos’ notoriety, since she had given numerous autographed calendars as gifts. Nonetheless, in December 1952, she tried to stop them being used on ashtrays, glasses and cocktail trays: ‘I don’t know exactly what rights I have, but it seems to me I should have come say in the way my own picture is used.’
-From Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed by Michelle Morgan