They were taken before Marilyn Monroe became branded as the voluptuous blonde who oozed sex appeal in dozens of Hollywood films. They were taken before rumours of an affair with President John F. Kennedy swirled and her mental breakdowns became public. They were taken before the beautiful actress’ mysterious overdose that resulted in her death at the age of 36.

In a collection discovered by Life.com last month, unpublished photographs of Monroe reveal a softer, more innocent 24-year-old budding starlet in a more peaceful time, before her fame peaked.

Marilyn flashes a brilliant smile. It’s hard to believe that just four years earlier, she was Norma Jeane Dougherty, the wife of a Merchant Marine and a worker in a munitions factory.

Marilyn flashes a brilliant smile. It’s hard to believe that just four years earlier, she was Norma Jeane Dougherty, the wife of a Merchant Marine and a worker in a munitions factory.

Her flawless face bears a natural look with minimal makeup, unusual for the star, who was often glamorised in photo shoots with lipstick, designer dresses and expensive jewellery.

Marilyn pats her curls. Naturally a brunette, Monroe reportedly dyed her hair blonde during her modelling days, after hearing that’s the look agencies wanted.

Marilyn pats her curls. Naturally a brunette, Monroe reportedly dyed her hair blonde during her modelling days, after hearing that’s the look agencies wanted.

In one photo, the young Monroe lies in bliss, reading on a park bench, which editors at Life.com believe was shot at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, California. In another, her face is serene as she is perched over a bridge barefoot. The shoot, which dates to 1950, was conducted by Life photographer Ed Clark.

Lounging in the shade, Monroe studies lines of an unknown script. It was still early in her career, and she'd just begun to grab attention: Three months before this shoot, she appeared as a crooked lawyer’s girlfriend in The Asphalt Jungle, and two months after, she had a small role as an aspiring starlet in All About Eve.

Lounging in the shade, Monroe studies lines of an unknown script. It was still early in her career, and she'd just begun to grab attention: Three months before this shoot, she appeared as a crooked lawyer’s girlfriend in The Asphalt Jungle, and two months after, she had a small role as an aspiring starlet in All About Eve.

It’s a side of Monroe that the American public has rarely seen.

A 24-year-old Marilyn, wearing a simple button-down shirt monogrammed with her initials, leans against a tree in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park for LIFE photographer Ed Clark. The negatives for these photos were recently discovered during our ongoing effort to digitize LIFE's immense and storied photo archive, including outtakes and entire shoots that never saw the light of day.

A 24-year-old Marilyn, wearing a simple button-down shirt monogrammed with her initials, leans against a tree in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park for LIFE photographer Ed Clark. The negatives for these photos were recently discovered during our ongoing effort to digitize LIFE's immense and storied photo archive, including outtakes and entire shoots that never saw the light of day.

“She hasn’t really exploded as a star, yet she was on the brink of something big,” says Dawnie Walton, deputy editor at Life.com, a website harboring more than 7 million Life magazine photographs. The site was launched in March.

“I was amazed looking at her face. Although she looks very innocent, there is something very … sexy.”

Monroe leans over a railing, her short-shorts riding up. Four years later, she’d famously show off those legs again during the subway-grate scene of The Seven Year Itch.

Monroe leans over a railing, her short-shorts riding up. Four years later, she’d famously show off those legs again during the subway-grate scene of The Seven Year Itch.

Last month, Walton stumbled upon the rare photographs while combing through the company’s digital photo archives. Apparently, no one at Life.com even knew they were ever taken.

Upon investigating the photos, Walton says, she found there were few notes left on the negatives. She says the photos were probably taken for a cover shoot that were never used. Monroe appeared on her first Life magazine cover in 1952.

A barefoot Monroe balances on rocks over a tiny brook. In a 1999 interview with Digital Journalist, photographer Clark described how in 1950 he received a call from a friend at 20th Century Fox about “a hot tomato” the studio had just signed: Marilyn.

A barefoot Monroe balances on rocks over a tiny brook. In a 1999 interview with Digital Journalist, photographer Clark described how in 1950 he received a call from a friend at 20th Century Fox about “a hot tomato” the studio had just signed: Marilyn.

“It just got lost and stowed away,” Walton said. “It was just … somewhere in a warehouse in New Jersey.”

At the time the photos were shot, Monroe had her first small breakout role as a mistress in The Asphalt Jungle. The star was better known as a model at the time, though she’d had a handful of cameos in films.

Photographer Ed Clark told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune a friend from 20th Century Fox alerted him that the studio had just signed “a hot tomato.”

Monroe, changed into a bikini top, relaxes with a script. Why LIFE never published this gold mine of photos after Marilyn became a superstar remains a mystery. The only clue: a brief note about the shoot we found in our archives, addressed to LIFE’s photo editor and saying that “this take was over-developed and poorly printed.”

Monroe, changed into a bikini top, relaxes with a script. Why LIFE never published this gold mine of photos after Marilyn became a superstar remains a mystery. The only clue: a brief note about the shoot we found in our archives, addressed to LIFE’s photo editor and saying that “this take was over-developed and poorly printed.”

“She was unknown then, so I was able to spend a lot of time shooting her,” Clark said. “We’d go out to Griffith Park and she’d read poetry. I sent several rolls to Life in New York, but they wired back, ‘Who the hell is Marilyn Monroe?’”

Photographs later in the 1950s and early 1960s would display a much more confident and sexual Monroe — images that would become iconic in popular culture.

There is the famous photograph of a busty Monroe in a white halter dress, standing with her skirt blowing up in 1955 for her role in The Seven Year Itch. In 1962, American photographer Bert Stern shot a tipsy, sometimes nude Monroe in a series of delicate shots that would be known as The Last Sitting. Monroe died about six weeks later, on August 5, 1962.

Life.com staff members say there are 15 million photographs in the Life archive dating back to the late 1850s, even before Life officially began publishing in 1936. Two years ago, the publication began slowly transferring the photographs into a digital archive.

From time to time, unpublished photographs will be found that the company doesn’t know existed. Other times, the photographs may have been taken but never selected to be used for publication.

Last March, to commemorate the 11th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s death, Life.com released a series of unpublished photographs of the singer. In April, Life.com released newly recovered, never-before-seen photographs of Martin Luther King Jr. taken by a Life photographer on the day King was assassinated at a Memphis, Tennessee, hotel in 1968.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Think this is great. Life is releasing these for the masses…

  2. Marilyn K says:

    love these never seen piccies before…so pretty 🙂

  3. antonios says:

    Dear:
    I do have 297 old original photos not only with Merilyn but with so many others actress and singers.
    If you are interest to buy them let me know.
    Antonio’s

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s