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There are several versions of the story behind a series of promotional photos taken in 1951 of Marilyn Monroe wearing a potato sack dress.
The best one involves a party at the Beverly Hills Hotel in which Monroe, then 24, allegedly showed up in a revealing red dress that a columnist declared “cheap and vulgar,” adding she would have been better served wearing “a potato sack.” The Twentieth Century Fox PR department then capitalized on the moment by putting her in one.
The less colorful version of the story is that the studio was simply hoping to drum up some publicity by suggesting their starlet was so beautiful, she could even make a potato sack look good — which she indubitably does.
What is for certain is that she was photographed in the getup by Earl Theisen, a photographer for Look magazine who shot Monroe frequently. As for who tailored it to hug her famous curves, chances are good it was William Travilla, the costume designer who crafted her iconic looks in eight films, including the pink satin gown in 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and the billowing white dress in 1955’s The Seven Year Itch.
One of the sack-dress photos ran in Stare, a cheesecake magazine, in 1952 — a year before Playboy launched with Monroe on the cover. “MMMarilyn MMMonroe doesn’t care too much for potatoes because it tends to put on weight,” the Stare caption read. “But she decided to do something for the potatoes!”
This story first appeared in the May 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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Jon M. Chu