Fifty Dollars

Christie Chisholm
3 min read
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I subscribe to this daily e-newsletter called "Delancey Place,’" which sends excerpts from different works of nonfiction. Most days I skim over the excerpt with only mild interest, but other days it validates my subscription with fascinating trivia, a memorable story or unadulterated entertainment. I found myself engrossed in today’s excerpt for a mixture of these reasons and thought I’d share it in case anyone else finds it interesting.

I give you Marilyn Monroe, nudie pictures and the inception of
Playboy magazine:

"In 1949 [Marilyn Monroe] agreed to do a nude shoot for a photographer friend named Tom Kelley. He paid only fifty dollars, but she was living hand to mouth and she owed him a favor–he had lent her five dollars on an earlier occasion for cab fare. Besides, fifty dollars was precisely the amount of money she needed for the monthly payment on her secondhand car. She … signed the model release with the name Mona Monroe. …

"In February 1952, just as her career was taking off, there was an anonymous phone call to Twentieth Century-Fox. The naked girl in a nude calendar, said the male caller, was its newest star, Marilyn Monroe. The caller demanded ten thousand dollars. Otherwise, he said, he would take his proof to the newspapers. The studio people … pressured her to deny she was the girl. It was a terrible moment for her: She was sure that her career was over. But she also decided to tell the truth and to take the initiative by leaking the story herself to a friendly writer. It was her on the calendar, she said, and there was no sense lying about it. ‘Sure, I posed,’ she said. ‘I was hungry.’ The public rallied to support her. …

"In the fall of 1953 a young man named Hugh Hefner, anxious to start his own magazine, read in an advertising trade magazine that a local Midwestern company had the rights to the photo. Hefner drove out to suburban Chicago and bought the rights for five hundred dollars. … It was a brilliant purchase for a magazine just being born. … Hefner was only twenty- seven when he started [ Playboy ] magazine on a shoestring in the fall of 1953. He had been so uncertain of his chances of success that he did not even bother to put his name on the masthead; nor for that matter did he bother to put a date on the first issue–he hoped that if the initial sale was not high enough, he might be able to put it on the newsstand for another month. All of his limited savings were tied up in the magazine, and he was extremely nervous about the possibility of failure and bankruptcy. …

"Hefner printed 70,000 copies of the first issue hoping it would sell at least 30,000 copies at 50 cents an issue. Instead, bolstered in no small part by the word of mouth on the Monroe photos, it sold 53,000, a huge success. Still, in the early weeks of its appearance Hefner was like a nervous parent, casing newsstands and checking sales, making sure that his magazine got proper display, covertly rearranging it in front of the other magazines. … Within a year
Playboy ‘s circulation had reached 100,000. By early 1955, less than a year and a half after the first issue was so timidly cast forth, Playboy had $250,000 in the bank and Hefner turned down an offer of $1 million for the magazine."

David Halberstam, The Fifties , Ballantine, 1993, 567-572.
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