Yasumasa Morimura is known as an appropriation artist. He borrows images from art history and pop culture and recreates them using his own face and body. Red Marilyn was Morimura’s homage to Tom Kelley’s well-known photo of Marilyn Monroe.
Kelley photographed Monroe on May 27, 1949. Previously, she had modeled for Kelley for a few advertising jobs. He had asked her to pose nude before, but she had always refused.
But with no immediate job prospects and running a week behind on her rent, Monroe needed money. She agreed to pose nude on the condition that Tom Kelley’s wife, Natalie, be there during the photo shoot. Natalie helped to prepare the red velvet backdrop and the cameras.
The shoot lasted two hours while Kelley shot a sequence of photographs from a ten-foot ladder using a Deardorff 8” x 10” camera.
After signing the photo release as “Mona Monroe” in a slight attempt to disguise her true identity, Monroe received $50 for the shoot. Kelley earned small fees when he sold two of the images to a calendar company.
In 1952, journalist Aline Mosby broke the story that one of Twentieth Century-Fox’s starlets had posed for a nude calendar. Rather than deny that the photos were of her, Monroe gave a candid interview in which she admitted that she had posed nude because she needed the money.
A year later, Hugh Hefner bought one of the photos from the calendar company and used it as the centerfold for the premiere issue of Playboy. Due in no small part to his decision to use Monroe’s photo, Hefner sold over 54,000 copies of the first issue. Profits were used to publish future issues, and the Playboy empire was established.
Monroe received no compensation beyond her original $50 fee.