Tom Kelley and the Red Velvet photos

The photo studio is virtually anonymous now, tucked into a strip mall on the east end of Ventura. Tom Kelley Studios offers little hint of its Hollywood heyday when stars lined up to be photographed.

None was bigger than Marilyn Monroe. She was not yet famous when Tom Kelley met her in 1949 after witnessing a minor car accident on Sunset Boulevard in which Monroe was involved. He gave her $5 for cab fare and an invitation to his studio, where the struggling actress eventually posed nude for the famous Red Velvet photos that helped make her a star.

The studio moved from Hollywood to Ventura a decade ago. But Kelley’s son has made a cottage industry out of marketing those racy images of Monroe, which are now part of the studio’s archives.


A photograph of a beautiful nude blonde on a 1952 calendar is hanging in garages and barbershops all over the nation today. Marilyn Monroe admited today that the beauty is she. She posed, stretched out on rumpled red velvet for the artistic photo 3 years ago because “I was broke and needed the money”.

“Oh, the calendar’s hanging in garages all over town,” said Marilyn. “Why deny it? You can get one any place. Besides, I’m not ashamed of it. I’ve done nothing wrong.”

A censored version of the infamous calender

A censored version of the infamous calender

The beautiful blonde now gets a fat paycheck every week from an excited Twentieth Century-Fox studio. She’s rated the most sensational sweater girl since Lana Turner….she lives in an expensive hotel room…She dines at Romanoff’s. But in 1949 she was just another scared young blonde, struggling to find fame in the magic city, and all alone. As a child she lived in a Hollywood orphange. She was pushed around among twelve sets of foster parents before she turned an insecure sixteen.

“I was a week behind on my rent,” she explained. “I had to have the money. A photographer, Tom Kelley, had asked me before to pose but I’d never do it. This time I called him and said I would. Tom didn’t think anyone would recognize me. My hair was long then. But when the picture came out, everybody knew me. I’d never have done it if I’d known things would happen in Hollywood so fast for me.”


In the last few years, Tom Kelley Jr. has emblazoned Monroe on everything from Swiss Army knives to 1950s-style pinup calendars.

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