As memorable as the song, Monroe’s strapless pink dress with matching gloves and a giant pink and black bowtie became one of Hollywood’s most popular looks after the film’s release in 1953.
But the dress was, in fact, a last-minute alternative, as the original, daring dress was abandoned.
Four years prior to the film’s release, Monroe, an unknown actress, posed nude for a photo shoot, receiving only $50 for a series of photos that would later appear in the calendar.
Photographs taken by photographer Tom Kelly showed the actress sprawled across a red velvet bed sheet with her face tilted toward the camera.
In a four-part documentary series, “Paraphrased: Marilyn Monroe,” shown on CNN, Monroe said Kelly assured her that no one would recognize her in these photos. However, her curly blonde hair and distinctive red lips were unmistakably identifiable in the bold photos.
By the time the calendar appeared in 1952, a picture of Monroe in Hollywood had begun to spread.
She was soon recognized as the nude model herself, which sparked a backlash in conservative America during the 1950s, and drew negative attention to the then-rising star. But Monroe overcame that incident, winning the public’s sympathy with her honest and transparent style.
“A few years ago, when I had no money to buy food or pay rent, a photographer I knew asked me to do a nude photoshoot for an art calendar,” Monroe told United Press International’s Allen Mosby.
The film studio 20th Century Fox, which released Men Prefer Blondes the following year, asked Monroe to deny attributing the photographs to her, but she refused, explaining to Mosby that the calendar was hanging in garages around town. Why does she deny that she is the heroine of those pictures?
She added, “I’m not ashamed of it, I did nothing wrong.”
By acknowledging the nude photos, Monroe was able to control the situation, and save her public image, in the face of those who tried to shame her.
“The nude calendar scandal has really put her at the forefront of the sexual revolution,” explained Sarah Churchill, professor of American literature in the new documentaries.
Controversy at the last minute
Costume designer William “Billy” Travella, who worked with Monroe on 11 films including “Men Prefer Blondes”, later explained to A&E that the images caused a panic inside the film’s studio, as executives feared they would destroy those films. Images Monroe’s career, and the film’s investors withdrew as a result.
Initially, Travella was commissioned to design the “sexiest, sexiest, almost nude woman on screen” look, a very different look from the popular pink satin dress.
The costume designer noted to A&E that “the outfit was a mesh dress over her bare body, and the chest and hip line were covered in diamonds.”
Travella said they were preparing to shoot the scene, when a calendar carrying pictures of a nude Marilyn Monroe swept the markets.
And while Monroe has never been photographed wearing the original outfit, there are rare photos, and she’s wearing it to try it on.
Travella noted that he was instructed to “get rid of the costume” by the producers, who feared that the film would “lose the box office”, so he designed the pink dress, or the “ultra-covered dress” as a safer alternative.
However, the studios concerns about nude pictures faded when the film grossed $5.3 million at the box office, propelling Monroe to full stardom.
Another movie starring Monroe was released in the same year, “How to Marry a Millionaire”, and it earned another $8 million.
Dispel the cliche about “dumb blonde”
Although it was a second choice, the pink dress became a popular cultural phenomenon, selling for $310,000 at auction in 2010.
Many stars praised the look and the sexy song, as some emphasized the material idea behind the song, such as Madonnas 1985 video clip entitled “Material Girl”, while others turned it into a national anthem for women’s empowerment, as did singers Megan Thay Stallion and Normani in their song. Diamonds”.
Singers such as Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello and Kylie Minogue sported looks inspired by the dress for different shows, while American actor James Franco wore a version of the dress as co-host for the 2011 Academy Awards.
And Monroe has been nimble with her career, and she wasn’t just a “dumb blonde” — as she made clear through her handling of the nude photo scandal.
In the Paraphrasing: Marilyn Monroe documentary series, Churchwell references an unwritten line that Monroe created for her character, Lorelei Lee, insisting, “I can be smart when it matters, but most men don’t like it.”