The Brave Ones

The Vanity Fair photo of a pregnant, naked Demi Moore was never meant to appear in public

Key Points
  • Demi Moore appeared naked and pregnant with her second child on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991
  • The Annie Leibovitz photo was originally meant for Moore and her then-husband Bruce Willis but editor Tina Brown wanted to use the image for the magazine
Annie Leibovitz's portrait of Demi Moore, pregnant with her second child, was on the cover of the August 1991 issue of Vanity Fair magazine
Sean Gallup | Getty Images

The iconic and controversial photograph of a naked and heavily pregnant Demi Moore that appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine in 1991 was never meant to be seen in public.

Photographer Annie Leibovitz was commissioned by Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown to shoot the then-28-year-old Moore in a tight dress that would show her bump. At the time, if a movie star was pregnant, she would only be shot from the chest upwards, but Brown had just had her second child herself and was feeling rebellious.

"I had been looking for a cover that would sort of turn the mood from the '80s right into the new '90s feeling of a slightly fresher era," Brown told CNBC's "The Brave Ones."

When Leibovitz came back with the pictures, they were as briefed, with Moore in a tight dress. "And she said, 'But there is this other picture that I took, but I really did it for just Demi and Bruce Willis,'" Brown recalled.

A visitor photographs Annie Leibovitz's portrait of a pregnant Demi Moore at the National Portrait Gallery in central London in October 2008
Yui Mok | Getty Images

At the time, Moore and her then-husband Bruce Willis were among Hollywood's hottest couples, Moore having starred in "Ghost" in 1990 and Willis taking the lead in TV series "Moonlighting" and then the first two "Die Hard" movies.

"And I said, 'Well, show me it,' and then I saw the picture of Demi, naked and pregnant, in all her glory, and I said, 'Annie, we just have to have this for the cover. This is the cover.'"

Leibovitz called Moore to ask her if they could use the shot, and she agreed. But not all retailers were happy to sell it, with Walmart telling the Vanity Fair circulation department that they would not take it. "On no account would they have this cover… It was just indecent. It wasn't going to happen," Brown said. The magazine went on to sell 1.2 million copies, up from its usual circulation of 800,000.

Davos Face To Face: Tina Brown and Anand Mahindra
Davos Face To Face: Tina Brown and Anand Mahindra

"I think we did something great for women with that cover. It's one of my proudest things that we did for women, because it really liberated women from maternity clothes. And it also liberated women from a sense that pregnancy was something to be sort of covered up," Brown said.

Now it's become normal for pregnant celebrities to want to be photographed naked. "Stars who are pregnant since, all want to do that Demi Moore shot. Just recently, you saw the other cover of Vanity Fair with Serena Williams pregnant and naked on the cover, because pregnant stars want to say, my rite of passage, I get to do my Demi Moore cover."

Brown edited Vanity Fair from 1984 to 1992, helping to increase circulation by putting celebrities such as Madonna and Michael Jackson on the cover, as well as a famous 1985 shot of President Ronald Reagan dancing with first lady Nancy in evening dress.

"The Brave Ones" featuring Tina Brown premieres tonight at 2300 CET on CNBC in EMEA.