'Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies': Marilyn Monroe, first actress to prove nudity doesn't destroy career

The 'blonde bombshell', known best for portraying comedic characters, rose as the country's most popular sex symbols in the 1950s and early 1960s


                            'Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies': Marilyn Monroe, first actress to prove nudity doesn't destroy career
Marilyn Monroe (Getty Images)
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Marilyn Monroe went from a munitions factory worker during World War II to one of the most famous stars to grace Hollywood screens in the 20th century. The "blonde bombshell", known best for portraying comedic characters, rose as the country's most popular sex symbols in the 1950s and early 1960s. She may as well have been the driving force behind the era's changing attitudes towards sexuality, and in particular, nakedness. Nudity, while in use since the dawn of cinema, had been largely regulated under the Motion Pictures Production rules, effectively deeming it a taboo to be shown on screen. Films with scenes of nudity would be censored, and actors of actresses who had been photographed in the nude would either be subject to scandal or would see their career end, with no hopes of rekindling. 

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'Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies' is a new documentary that traces the origins of nudity in film all the way to the present day, including the #MeToo movement that has called for incorporating intimacy co-ordinators on film sets. The film shines a light on the time that Monroe, who was propelled to stardom less than a year after she came to Hollywood, became the center of a scandal that almost jeopardized her career. However, she the 'Some Like it Hot' actress pushed through the disparaging headlines and dispelled any and every rumor that threatened her Hollywood dream. She became the first actress to prove that nudity does not destroy a career. 

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American film star Marilyn Monroe  (Getty Images)

In 1952, rumors of her having posed for nude images three years prior surfaced whilst Monroe was climbing the ladder of success with one box-office hit after another. Twentieth Century Fox, the studio that she had signed with, had learned about the photos, and together with the stress decided that in order to avoid any damage to her career, it would be best to admit it to them. Monroe stressed that the photos, which had now been featured in a calendar had been taken at a point in her life when she had been in desperate need of money. 

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Monroe, who had been strapped for cash and jobless, posed nude for a pinup photographer, Tom Kelley, in exchange for $50 that she was in need of. She described to her friend and photographer George Barris, who also documented her words in his 1995 book, 'Marilyn: Her Life in Her Own Words', that the shoot had lasted two hours, and Kelley had promised to make her look unrecognizable. “I was nervous, embarrassed, even ashamed of what I had done, and I did not want my name to appear on that model release," she told Barris. Kelley eventually sold the photos for $900 to Western Lithograph Co, and the images were published as a part of a pinup calendar entitled 'Golden Dreams.'

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American film actress Marilyn Monroe (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, only a year after she'd posed for these photographs, Monroe had found great success in Hollywood as an actress appearing in 'All About Eve' and 'The Asphalt Jungle's Angela Phinlay' in 1950. Her strategy to stay true to the original story and the real reason behind her actions gained her public sympathy and people swarmed cinemas with increased interest in her films. In the wake of the scandal, Monroe was also featured on the cover of Life magazine as the 'Talk of Hollywood', and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper even deemed her the "cheesecake queen" turned "box-office smash". 

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In 1953, while filming her film 'Niagara', a pompous visitor approached her and asked her, ”Is it true that when you posed for that famous calendar photograph, Miss Monroe, you had nothing on?”. She replied, "It's not true I had nothing on, I had the radio on." Either way, her career which had almost been on the verge of ruin was saved. She was a top-billed actress for only a decade, but her films grossed $200M ($2B in 2019). She went on to play a significant role in the creation and management of her public images throughout her career. Her influence remains strong that even long after her death (from an overdose in 1962), Monroe has continued to be a major icon in pop culture. 

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'Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies', directed by Danny Wolf, will be available on-demand on August 18.