Hugh Hefner To Be Buried Next To Marilyn Monroe, Whose Photos Were Used To Launch Playboy Without Her Consent
Iconic Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died Wednesday night at age 91. Much like in life, the publishing legend remains an incredibly polarizing figure—and as the tributes pour in so too do the more critical takes on his life and legacy. Even Hefner's final resting place—in a crypt next to Marilyn Monroe—has spurred controversy.
He will be buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park adjacent to Marilyn Monroe, the very woman whose nude photos appear in the inaugural issue of Playboy in 1953—Hefner has long attributed the magazine's initial success with the Monroe photos. “Spending eternity next to Marilyn is too sweet to pass up," as Hefner told the L.A. Times in 2009. Sweet, right?
Well, not exactly. Monroe never consented to have her photos in Playboy. She had posed for the photos for a photographer friend four years earlier, in 1949. Her career would begin to take off a year later, but at the time the actress, then only 23, was between jobs and hard up for cash. "She was living hand-to-mouth and she owed [the photographer] a favor—he had lent her $5 on an earlier occasion for cab fare," as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam wrote in a 1993 story on Monroe. "Besides, $50 was precisely the amount of money she needed for the monthly payment on her secondhand car." Monroe was nervous about the potential effect the nudes could have on her career, and signed the release form as "Mona Monroe."
Monroe was right to be worried—the photos would ultimately almost destroy her soon-burgeoning career. As Halberstam wrote:
In February 1952, just as her career was taking off, there was an anonymous phone call to 20th Century Fox. The naked girl in a nude calendar, said the male caller, was its newest star, Marilyn Monroe. The caller demanded $10,000. Otherwise, he said, he would take his proof to the newspapers. The studio people were terrified by the call but decided not to pay, which, they decided, would only lead to more blackmail. But they did pressure her to deny that 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.
The next year, Hefner, then only 27 and trying to start his magazine, heard that a Midwestern advertising trade company had the rights to the by-then-infamous photo and drove out to suburban Chicago to make the buy. "It was a brilliant purchase for a magazine just being born—America's newest star caught lushly in the nude, posing coyly on a red velvet drape," according to Halberstam.
Hefner would purchase the photos for $500 and use them to launch Playboy, without Monroe ever providing permission or being compensated. "Exploitation of this type was a constant in [Monroe's] career," according to The St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture.
The issue sold more than 50,000 copies; Hefner characterized Monroe as "the launching key to the beginning of Playboy."
"He became an instant celebrity; she had to apologize for the photos, and feared for her career," as writer Sady Doyle put it in her book Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear... and Why.
Although Hefner and Monroe never knew each other, they were born in the same year (1926) and Hef told Los Angeles Magazine in 2002 that he always felt a kinship with her. Hefner, according to Los Angeles Magazine, "bought his crypt from a private citizen who realized that, with the right buyer, his Marilyn adjacency was worth a gold mine." He purchased it for $75,000 in 1992.
The tiny, three-acre cemetery off Wilshire Boulevard also provides a last home for Farrah Fawcett, Roy Orbison, Frank Zappa and many other famous names.
In Doyle's view (her book was published in 2016, more than two decades after Hefner purchased the plot, and a year before his death), there was nothing romantic about Hefner's purchase of the final resting place: "It was a gruesome joke, 'sleeping with' the woman he'd almost ruined, and doing so without her consent—claiming her in death, as he'd claimed the right to exploit her in life."
"I'm a sucker for blondes and she is the ultimate blonde," Hefner told CBS LA (as quoted in Doyle's book). "It has a complete notion to it. I will be spending the rest of my eternity with Marilyn."
Monroe, however, wasn't the only draw at Westwood cemetery for Hefner. "The funerals that I remember being there for—Mel Tormé, Buddy Rich, Dorothy Stratten. Part of them is still there," as he told Los Angeles Magazine in 2002. "The entire ritual related to cemeteries is connected to that—that some part of you remains. So if Marilyn were at Forest Lawn, it would be different."