Tom Kelley (photographer)
Kelley with A New Wrinkle calendar
December 12, 1914
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||January 8, 1984
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Known for||Entertainment, commercial, and advertising photography|
Tom Kelley Sr. (December 12, 1914 – January 8, 1984) was an American photographer who photographed Hollywood celebrities in the 1940s and 1950s. He is best known for his iconic 1949 nude photographs of Marilyn Monroe, which were distributed widely as calendar art—one of which was featured in the inaugural issue of Playboy magazine in 1953.
Kelley was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He learned photography as an apprentice in a New York photo studio, and then worked for the Associated Press and Town & Country magazine. After coming to California in 1935, Kelley established a photography studio in Hollywood and produced promotional photographs of motion picture stars. David O. Selznick and Samuel Goldwyn retained Kelley to take promotional photos of their stars and starlets for magazine covers and advertising. Later, Kelley's business shifted to commercial and advertising photography.
Some of Kelley's most famous photo subjects have included Gary Cooper, Greta Garbo, James Cagney, Clark Gable, Winston Churchill, Bob Hope, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Jack Benny, David Bowie, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Yma Sumac and, of course, Marilyn Monroe, with and without clothes. Tom Kelley had a way of making his subjects feel comfortable behind the camera. He would bring his wife with him to his shoots to create a more soothing and relaxed atmosphere.
The Red Velvet photos
When Kelley originally approached Marilyn about the nude shoot, she turned him down. Monroe was concerned initially about the potential negative effects that such publicity could bring her young career. She was aware that at that time it was not considered traditionally "appropriate" to be nude. Nonetheless a few days later she gave in and decided to take the photos signing them, Mona Monroe. Kelley believed that it was in part because she owed him a favor, he had lent her a few bucks for a cab ride home, but Monroe herself said several times that she really just needed the money. She was hungry and needed to make a payment on her vehicle. She did however joke that she was glad she wasn’t eating much at the time because it gave her "a real washboard stomach" in the photos. She did the shoot and Kelley stated "all of her constraints seemed to vanish with her clothes", and that she seemed to be more "herself" in the nude. He even went as far as to say that she was "graceful as an otter". Kelley gave Marilyn fifty dollars for the shoot, and despite its aggressive popularity she never received any more.
The photo also succeeded in building a relationship between Tom Kelley and Hugh Hefner. In 1953 the year that the photos were taken, Hefner was getting serious about introducing his new sexually charged magazine, Playboy. In his first ever edition he used the photos of Marilyn Monroe on the cover, launching it into popularity and selling over 50,000 copies. The pair continued to partner for future copies, Kelley always seemed to make the women more relaxed and this trait gave him the ability to get unique and popular photos of his models. One model, Neva Gilbert, Miss July 1954, remembered him in a piece from the Ledger, again recalling how he would always bring his wife with him to the shoots. During her shoot with Tim Kelley she was presented laying on a Tiger rug with red painted nails. She made $20 an hour. Neva was quoted, "I didn't think it was dirty," she said of the photos. "I felt they were in good taste. I thought nudes were lovely."
Tom Kelley Jr. attempted to auction off, not only his father's photographs of Marilyn Monroe, but also the intellectual property rights to his photos so that the buyer could remarket them in any way they so chose. Tom Kelley Jr. set the price high, but the bid only reached $840,000. He did not sell the photos.
- Aydlette, Larry (December 26, 2016). "Neva Gilbert Recalls Her Life as 1 of Playboy's Original Playmates". The Ledger. Associated Press.
- Halberstam, David (1994). The Fifties. Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0449909331.
- Mailer, Norman (1973). Marilyn: A Biography. Grosset & Dunlap. ISBN 978-0448118130.
- Alvarez, Fred (March 23, 2001). "Famous Marilyn Monroe Nudes Fail to Attract Minimum Bids". Los Angeles Times.