Pirelli Calendars, Marilyn Monroe and Glamor


Marilyn Monroe is a household name, even all these years after her death in 1962.  But who were Miss Idaho Potato, Andre de Dienes and Tom Kelley?

Andre de Dienes photographed the then Norma Jean Baker in the desert in 1945.  This was the same Norma Jean who won the title of Miss Idaho Potato, dressed in a potato sack.  On looking at the photograph, I prefer the later photographs myself!

Miss Idaho Potato.Miss Idaho Potato.

But being Miss Idaho Potato didn’t get Marilyn her stardom.  Marilyn got that on the expertise of one photographer, who paid her $50 for an afternoon’s shooting on draped red velvet.  Wardrobe assistance was not necessary, Miss Monroe was fully nude.  The year?  1949.

Tom Kelley did the shoot and is quoted as saying, “She (Marilyn) lived right around the corner at the Studio Club.  I asked her to do the calendar.  It wasn’t much of a job.  Only fifty dollars.  She said no.  About a week later she changed her mind.  She said she could use the dough.”  However, the actual calendar was not published until 1951, and the Playboy shots were not printed until 1953.

Although Kelley may have been instrumental in getting Marilyn off the red velvet and onto the red carpet, it was photographs from it appeared in the first edition of Playboy, Hugh Hefner’s groundbreaking men’s magazine.

I thought about Marilyn and the Red Velvet series when I heard this week that the 2012 Pirelli calendar had been released.  This has become the most exclusive calendar, and it is not for sale each year.  Selected people are given copies.

Pro shoot costs.Pro shoot costs.

Pirelli 2012 was shot in Corsica by an Italian photographer Mario Sorrenti and used models such as Kate Moss, Lara Stone, and Milla Jovovich.  Typical of today’s skinny ‘supermodels’, let me assure you they look better with clothes on, than clothes off.  I was hugely disappointed with the end result, which would have cost millions to shoot with the prices the stick ladies get for posing.  Awkward poses against rocks.  Give me the art that went into Norman Parkinson’s first Pirelli calendar.

Pro shoot costs

Mind you, pro shoots are expensive.  With professional photographers apparently able to command sky-high prices, some people wonder just how these shooters can justify their fees.  Let me tell you, good professional photography costs big bucks – just the same way that good restaurant food costs big bucks and good cars cost big bucks.  You can get noodles off the cart at the side of the road for 30 baht, or pay 300 baht in the restaurant.  One is food, the other a gourmet paradise.  You can go to work in a Toyota Corolla or a Mercedes.  One is transport, the other automotive enjoyment.  You can get sneaky snapshots of some lady with no clothes on taken at Nasty a go-go or look at photographs taken by the late Norman Parkinson for the Pirelli calendar.  One is porn, the other is art.

When I was a pro shooter, if a quote for say, $1000 was queried I would amend it to read – To photographic costs, film, Polaroids, props, processing and printing $100.  For knowing how to do it, $900.  If they still queried the quote I wouldn’t do the job.  There’s no point in photographing something for people who have no appreciation of what goes on.  Don’t forget, you are not only paying for “art” you are paying for expertise.

Take the shot of the “operating table” for example.  There was one day involved in building the set, getting the props and getting the basic lighting.  At the same time an assistant found the models to play the parts of surgeons and nurses.  The second day was the final shoot, monitored by Polaroid to ensure what we were getting was what the client (the advertising agency’s art director) wanted.  The shots were taken on 5″x4″ slide film and had to be ready before the end of the working day, so that re-shoots could be done before the actors went home.  These days, that one shot would be worth $2,000 all day, every day.