"Who the hell is Marilyn Monroe?" In 1950, this is what Life wanted to know. Photographer Ed Clark had photographed the budding starlet in Los Angeles' Griffith Park, and sent his prints to the publication. At the time, she was relatively unknown, and there was no interest in the photos — although a mere two years later, she would grace the cover of Life. These photos went unpublished until about a month ago, when Life.com rediscovered them.
A barefoot Monroe balances on rocks over a tiny brook. In a 1999 interview with Digital Journalist, photographer Ed 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 Monroe.
"She was unknown then, so I was able to spend a lot of time shooting her," Clark recalled in the 1999 interview. "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?' Later, though, they did a cover of my shot of Marilyn and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."
Monroe relaxes with a script. Why Life never published this gold mine of photos after Monroe became a superstar remains a mystery. The only clue: a brief note about the shoot that was found in the archives, addressed to Life's photo editor and saying that "this take was over-developed and poorly printed."
These photos were taken in August 1950, when Monroe was 24 years old and had only had a few minor acting roles.
Monroe's first Life cover would be a mere two years later, in April 1952.
1 of 5
For full screen, click on the four-cornered arrow icon in the viewer's bottom right.