Hugh Hefner’s dead. In the past 30 hours or so, he’s been deified as a hero, a catalyst for the sexual revolution. Death is a cloth that polishes the most tarnished reputation, leaving a shine that lingers and distracts from the darkness.
In life and death alike, Hefner’s career incited myriad discussions about objectification and a woman’s agency over her body. Because every woman has experienced this reduction to pieces, to parts. We are asses to be touched. Hips to be brushed. Breasts to be grazed. The man we elected president reduced us to pussies to be grabbed. And we remain so even after life leaves our bodies, when that grabbable flesh has long since decayed, when we exist only as memories. That has never been clearer than right now, courtesy of one of the last day’s biggest stories: Hugh Hefner will be buried next to Marilyn Monroe.
“Jay Leno suggested that if I was going to spend that kind of money, I should actually be on top of her,” Hefner said. “But to me there’s something rather poetic in the fact that we’ll be buried in the same place.”
The two will be together forever. The two never met in life.
Monroe is known as the first-ever Playboy Playmate, but in truth she never posed for the magazine. In an early, struggling period in her career, Monroe posed nude for some much-needed cash. That $50 modeling fee she received was the only payment she would ever receive for the iconic images. Hefner bought them from a calendar company for $500 and placed them in his first issue of Playboy.
Lawrence Schiller, who photographed Monroe, once asked her about her appearance as Playmate.
“How much did they pay you for that?”
“Nothing,” she replied. She didn’t seem to mind answering my question. “They didn’t pay me anything for that first one, which Playboy used as a Playmate.” She admitted that she’d never even met the magazine’s publisher, Hugh Hefner.
She received no financial compensation, and, according to the book Marilyn: Her Life in Her Own Words, she was never even thanked.
“I never even received a thank-you from all those who made millions off a nude Marilyn photograph. I even had to buy a copy of the magazine to see myself in it … I admitted it was me who posed for that nude calendar even when the Fox executives became nervous and believed this would cause the ruination of any films I would appear in and also the end of my movie career. Of course they were wrong. The fans, my public, cheered when I admitted it was me, and that calendar and that Playboy first-issue publicity helped my career.”
For Hefner, Monroe represented a prize. His $500 investment led to the prize of an empire. His eternal resting place the chance to sleep with “the ultimate blonde.”
Monroe’s life was filled with pain. Her legacy one of body, one of debates over her dress size, words she never said and an endless existence as concept, never complete person. And even her remains are a prize, something to be won, literally, by the highest bidder. Hefner purchased his crypt space for $75,000 in 1992. Mob-adjacent businessman Richard Poncher purchased the crypt above her from Joe DiMaggio, telling his wife, “If I croak, if you don’t put me upside down over Marilyn, I’ll haunt you the rest of my life.” He was placed upside-down above Monroe, as his wish indicated, in 1986.
Monroe is exceptional for her beauty, sex appeal and iconic status. But no woman is safe from the dehumanization that comes with being a female in possession of a body in the presence of a man. Every woman has experienced, in one way or another, what it is like to be reduced to parts, like an old Chevy or a broken laptop. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately in the wake of discussions about Harry Knowles, Devin Faraci and the Alamo Drafthouse, and the women who’ve come forward, who’ve been ignored for years, who are now being dismissed by film legends like Lloyd Kaufman under the guise of fairness and “due process.” Every single one of those women was reduced to parts. Parts for touching, for groping, for clumsy, unwanted hands. They are reduced to parts now under the guise of debate and conversation, as though there is debate, as though there are sides.
To be a woman is to be a series of parts. Parts to judge and discuss and to touch, and they are always, always entitled to these parts, our consent acting only as a hurdle, the word “yes” both optional and perfunctory.
This is our fact of life. And, in the case of Marilyn Monroe, some of us can’t even escape it in death.
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