Norma Jeane to Marilyn : Modelling to Movie Stardom

It was in the autumn of 1944 David Conover photographed Norma Jeane Dougherty for the first time.   Conover saw something in the eighteen year old and organised a two week modelling trip through California.

By August 1945 Norma Jeane had signed with Emmeline Snively at the Blue Book Modelling Agency.  A month later she appeared as a model at her first trade show for Blue Book and within a couple of months began working with the photographer Andre de Dienes.

By 1946 she was working regularly with several photographers including Joseph Jasgur, Earl Moran, Richard C. Miller and Bruno Bernard.  It is during this period that Norma Jeane filed for divorce from her first husband, James Dougherty.  Legally she was required to stay in Las Vegas whilst filing for divorce, but she left by mid July and signed Harry Lipton of National Concepts Artists Corporation as her agent.  Ben Lyon of 20th Century Fox then signed her to a contract depending on her ability to pass a screen test.  On 14th August 1946, Norma Jeane had her first screen test for The Shocking Mrs. Pilgrim.  It was here that she first met Allen “Whitey” Snyder who did her makeup for the test.  Snyder and Norma Jeane remained friends and he would be her make up artist for the rest of her life.

Norma Jeane to Marilyn:

The following week, Norma Jeane met with Ben Lyon to discuss changing her name.  They discussed a few options before settling on Marilyn Monroe, after the actress Marilyn Miller and Norma Jeane’s mothers maiden name.  On 13th September 1946, she returned to Las Vegas where she was granted her divorce.  Over the next few months she appeared with other new starlets at promotional events for Fox and by the end of 1946 a memo was released to say that Norma Jeane Dougherty’s professional name had been changed to Marilyn Monroe.

In February 1947 Marilyn’s option with Fox was picked up for another six months and she filmed Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! and Dangerous Years before being officially dropped by Fox in August 1947.

1948 began with Marilyn meeting Joseph Schenck, the head of 20th Century Fox.  The two became close friends.  In March 1948, Marilyn was signed by Columbia Pictures.  It was here that she met Natasha Lytess, who went on to become her acting coach, and Fred Karger, who Marilyn dated through 1948.

In April 1948, Marilyn took the starring role in Ladies of the Chorus and spent much of the year promoting the movie.  By the following July, Marilyn was signed to the William Morris Agency and, at a New Year’s Eve party, met agent Johnny Hyde for the first time.

Hyde believed from their first meeting that Marilyn would be a big star.  However, by May 1949 she was struggling financially and, with no money to pay her rent, she agreed to pose nude for Tom Kelley in the ‘Golden Dreams’ photoshoot – something she had declined up to that point – the shoot was for a calender and Kelley paid her $50.  Marilyn had very small roles in the Marx Brothers movie Love Happy (1949)  and A Ticket To Tomahawk (August 1949), and finished the year completing her scenes for The Asphalt Jungle directed by John Huston.

Groucho Marx later said; “She was a wonderful girl really, a very nice girl.”

By 1950 Marilyn was again working solidly, starring in The Fireball, Hometown Story and All About Eve, all the while modelling for Richard C. Miller, Earl Moran, Earl Leaf and Bob Beerman.

With the release of All About Eve and The Asphalt Jungle Marilyn’s star was well and truly ascending.  From this point on she was the main attraction in box office hits and although she didn’t model to the extent she had previously, she continued to pose for photographers throughout her career, right up to her death in August 1962.