Marilyn, wearing a simple button-down shirt monogrammed with her initials, leans
against a tree in Los Angeles' Griffith Park in August 1950..
Few Hollywood stars of the 1950s and 1960s were so compelling, so utterly
unique, that they actually came to define the era in which they worked and
played. Marilyn Monroe was one of those stars.
From her earliest days as an actress until late in her career — when she had,
against her will, been cast in the public eye as the century’s ultimate Sex
Goddess — Marilyn posed for LIFE magazine’s photographers. Many of those
pictures never ran in LIFE magazine.
The negatives for the revelatory images seen here were discovered during the
years-long effort to digitize LIFE’s immense, storied photo archive — an archive
that includes outtakes and entire photo shoots that, for reasons as varied as
the subjects they covered, were never published.
Here, then, is a series of stunning shots of the one and only Marilyn, as
well as some possible explanations why the pictures never made it into
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
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
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..
was unknown then, so I was able to spend a lot of time shooting her," Clark
recalled. "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 Blonde..
leans over a railing, her short-shorts riding up. Four years later, she'd show
off those legs again in the now-legendary subway-grate scene in The Seven