It’s Not Quite True I Had Nothing On: The Radio Was On

Marilyn Monroe? Sheilah Graham? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Beauty icon Marilyn Monroe’s film career was jeopardized in the 1950s when scandal-mongers reported on her past as a risqué calendar model. Interestingly, her popularity and fame actually grew. When she was questioned about the calendar she responded with a clever and hilarious remark about a radio. Is this tale authentic or apocryphal?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in the gossip column of Sheilah Graham in June 1952. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A pompous visitor asked Marilyn Monroe at Niagara—”Is it true that when you posed for that famous calendar photograph, Miss Monroe, you had nothing on?” “No,” said our Marilyn, “I had the radio on.”

Monroe was one of the stars of the film “Niagara” which was filmed in 1952 and released in 1953. It is conceivable that this tale was crafted by a humorist on behalf of Monroe and her studio; the zinger was then given to Graham for publication. Nevertheless, Monroe definitely employed the quip when she was interviewed for a 1953 profile published in “Esquire” magazine as shown further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In January 1952 popular columnist Louella Parsons stated that Monroe was open about her calendar appearance: 2

Marilyn is crazy about the calendar portrait and has autographed it for any number of people. Her bosses do not share her feeling, however, and have asked her to restrain her enthusiasm. In fact, one of her bosses was so concerned when he heard about it that an order was given to buy them up. Marilyn’s argument is “art for art’s sake.”

In June 1952 syndicated columnist Sheilah Graham printed Monroe’s repartee as noted previously. The same exchange appeared as a filler item in other papers such as the “Minneapolis Morning Tribune” of Minnesota. 3

In August 1952 syndicated columnist Erskine Johnson presented a slightly different version of Monroe’s line: 4

Then she switched to modeling—and posed for that now famous nude calendar. Her fee was $50 but it’s been worth $1,000,000 to her in publicity. Asked just the other day if she had anything on for the calendar photograph. Marilyn quipped: “Sure, I had the radio on.”

In February 1953 Louella Parsons printed a different instance of the anecdote. Monroe probably used the line on multiple occasions: 5

One of the nurses who took care of Marilyn Monroe during her siege of the flu was just bustin’ her uniform with curiosity about the famed Monroe nude calendar. Finally, she took her courage in hand and asked her patient:

“Miss Monroe, is it true you didn’t have anything on when you posed for that calendar?”

“Of course, it isn’t true,” half-sniffled, half-snapped Marilyn, now thoroughly bored with this subject, “I had the radio on.”

In July 1953 “Esquire” printed an article about Monroe by author and publisher Bennett Cerf. The discussion of the calendar included the viewpoint of the star: 6

While studio executives frantically sought to kill the story, she said, unconcernedly, “Sure, I posed that way. I needed the money. And it’s not quite true I had nothing on: the radio was on. Besides the artist’s wife was in the room all the time.” The unpredictable public sided wholeheartedly with Marilyn in the ensuing hullabaloo, and the box-office receipts for her pictures have been soaring ever since.

In conclusion, QI believes Marilyn Monroe should receive credit for this quip. Different versions appeared in 1952 and 1953. QI recommends using the earliest instance in Sheilah Graham’s column or the solid version in “Esquire” magazine.

Image Notes: Public domain postcard photo of Marilyn Monroe before she was well-known; accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

(Great thanks to Chris whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Barry Popik who located the June 23, 1952 citation. Also thanks to the “Yale Book of Quotations” which listed an August 11, 1952 citation.)

Notes:

  1. 1952 June 23, The Evening Star, Hollywood Diary by Sheilah Graham (North American Newspaper Alliance), Quote Page A13, Column 4, Washington D.C. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1952 January 21, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Monday Morning Gossip of The Nation: Louella Parsons, Quote Page 15, Column 2, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1952 June 24, Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Day Brightener, Quote Page 27, Column 3, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1952 August 2, The Daily Chronicle, Hollywood Has New “Harlow” by Erskine Johnson (NEA Staff Correspondent), Quote Page 6, Column 3, De Kalb, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1953 February 2, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Monday Morning Gossip of The Nation: Louella Parsons, Quote Page 15, Column 2, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1953 July, Esquire, Volume 40, Number 1, The ‘Altogether’ Girl by Bennett Cerf, Start Page 89, Quote Page 93, Column 1, Esquire Magazine Inc., New York. (Verified with scans at archive.esquire.com)