- Historic Sites
THE STORY OF THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO IN THE 1950S HELPED CREATE THE SEXUAL LANDSCAPE WE INHABIT TODAY
May/june 1993 | Volume 44, Issue 3
The people in Planned Parenthood thought Pincus was too optimistic and precipitous in his judgments, but this optimism was now shared by the more conservative Rock. They both were now pushing for acceptances of the Pill, and they were getting results: in 1957 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the marketing of the Pill for treatment of miscarriages and some menstrual disorders. By 1959 both Pincus and Rock were convinced that Enovid was safe for longterm use by women. In 1959 Pincus completed a paper on the uses of Enovid for oral contraception and sent it to Margaret Sanger. “To Margaret Sanger,” he wrote, “with affectionate greetings—this product of her pioneering resoluteness.”
In May 1960 the FDA approved Enovid as a contraceptive device. By the end of 1961 some 408,000 American women were taking the Pill, by the end of 1962 the figure was 1,187,000, and by the end of 1963 it was 2,300,000 and still rising. Of it Clare Boothe Luce said, “Modern woman is at last free as a man is free, to dispose of her own body, to earn her living, to pursue the improvement of her mind, to try a successful career.”
The discovery made Searle a very rich company. To Chang’s great regret the Worcester Foundation never took any royalty. Nor in the eyes of the Worcester people was Searle generous in later years. Despite several representations on behalf of his family and of the Worcester people, Searle paid only three hundred dollars a month in benefits to Pincus’s widow after his death in 1967. When the Worcester people suggested repeatedly to Searle that the company might like to endow a chair at the Worcester Foundation in Pincus’s honor, Searle not only declined but soon after donated five hundred thousand dollars to Harvard to endow a chair in reproductive studies. It was the supreme indignity: rewarding the institution that had once denied Pincus tenure with a chair in his own specialty.
“A quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex”
Marilyn Monroe was the stuff of which male fantasies were made. She was at once both lush and childlike. She knew the power of her own sexuality, knew how to turn it on and turn it off. In a way she was a photographer’s dream. “The first day a photographer took a picture of her, she was a genius,” said the director Billy Wilder, who understood her talent better than anyone in Hollywood. In 1949, very much down and out on her luck and still trying to crash Hollywood as a starlet, she agreed to do a nude shot for a photographer friend named Tom Kelley. He paid only fifty dollars, but she was living hand to mouth and she owed him a favor—he had lent her five dollars on an earlier occasion for cab fare. Besides, fifty dollars was precisely the amount of money she needed for the monthly payment on her secondhand car. She was not nervous about the nudity, only its potential effect on her career, and she signed the model release with the name Mona Monroe. In fact, Kelley noted that once she took her clothes off, she seemed more comfortable than before, in his words, “graceful as an otter, turning sinuously with utter naturalness. All her constraints vanished as soon as her clothes were off.”
The picture Tom Kelley shot was soon hanging on the walls of thousands of barbershops, bars, and gas stations. It also helped launch a sexual empire. For in the fall of 1953 a young man named Hugh Hefner, anxious to start his own magazine, read in an advertising trade journal that a local Midwestern company had the rights to the photo. Hefner drove out to suburban Chicago and bought the rights for five hundred dollars.
At the time Hefner felt himself a failure. He had been born in Chicago in 1926. His father worked as an accountant for a large company, and even in the worst of the Depression theirs was a comfortable home financially. However, there was little emotional warmth. His grandparents were pious Nebraska farmers, and theirs remained a God-fearing home: no drinking, no swearing, no smoking. Sunday was for church. Hefner’s first wife later noted that she never saw any sign of affection or anger displayed by either parent.
Hugh Hefner was a bright, somewhat dreamy child; in terms of social skills and popularity he was always on the outside looking in. He graduated from high school in 1944, went into the Army, caught the last months of the war, although he saw no combat. When he came home, he drifted for a time, unsure of his future. Then he entered the University of Illinois to be with his high school girl friend Millie Williams. He had been dating Millie for several years, but they still had not consummated their affair. After they were married in 1949, Hefner continued to drift, supported by Millie, who was teaching school.
The one thing he loved was cartooning, at which he was, regrettably, not particularly talented; for the next two or three years, he went back and forth between jobs, usually in the promotion departments of magazines. For much of the time he and Millie lived with his parents in order to save money. At one point in his drive to become a cartoonist, he quit work and stayed at home to draw. The results tended to be pornographic reworkings of popular comic strips. Millie Hefner was convinced this erotic sketching was a rebellion of sorts against his family’s Calvinist roots and the emotional and sexual aridity of that household.