Once, Marilyn Monroe was enjoying a day out in New York City with her actress friend Susan Strasberg. A surprised Strasberg observed that they hadn’t been flocked by fans or photographers all day. “Do you want to see me be her?” Monroe asked. And then, in the words of Strasberg, “Something ‘turned on’ inside her, and suddenly — there she was — not the simple girl I’d been strolling with, but ‘Marilyn Monroe.’”
It was clear, then, that even one of the most famous, most photographed and most iconic women in the world couldn’t be “on” all the time. And these 20 rare photos of her definitely show her in more unguarded moments.
As all true Marilyn Monroe fans know, the beauty’s real name was actually Norma Jean Baker and she was born on June 1, 1926. There are very few pictures of Monroe’s early years, however – a time in which her mother didn’t have the money or the emotional stability to raise her. Still, the photos that do exist from this troubled early period prove that Monroe was a beautiful baby.
And, unfortunately, little Norma Jean had a grim childhood, bouncing from foster home to foster home and suffering appalling sexual abuse. But she not only had a love of acting and of the movies at that time but also a spirit that couldn’t be quashed – as this rare shot of her at 16 years old demonstrates.
At the very young age of 16, then, circumstances forced Monroe to either marry or to return to an orphanage. Ultimately, she opted to marry her 21-year-old neighbor James Dougherty. And although this shot of them from 1943 is faded, the trepidation in her eyes is still clear.
But Monroe wasn’t content with life as a stay-at-home wife. As a result, she started putting in shifts at the Radioplane Munitions Factory to help with the war effort. There, she and her fellow workers were photographed by army photographer David Conover for propaganda purposes. And although her pictures were never used for posters in the end, it was obvious even from this shot that Monroe was a talented model.
In her early days as a model, moreover, Monroe sported her natural locks. What’s more, she was still very much a brunette when she quit her job at the munitions factory and went to work for Conover.
But no matter what her hair color was, one thing was for certain: Monroe had a winning smile and a beautiful face. As such, she was perfect for modeling. And so eventually she defied her husband, who didn’t want her to pursue such ambitions, and began to pose for postcards. Although tame by today’s standards, pictures like this one would have been quite provocative in the 1940s.
This image looks almost like an Instagram selfie from the year 2016, but it’s actually a simple close-up of Monroe in which her performative smile isn’t so much on display. And once her hair was dyed, her husband was divorced and her name was changed, the icon of Marilyn began to take shape – for better or worse.
Yet while Monroe undoubtedly showed a vivacious image to the world, in reality she was very different. In fact, she once said, “I’m shy, and when you’re shy you can’t help it. I’ll probably never be daring.” And like many a wallflower – secret or not – Monroe owned a huge collection of books that she devoured during her downtime.
Still, no matter what was going on in her photos – whether she was alone or with others; whether she was looking at the camera or not – Monroe was the very definition of beauty. And even in behind-the-scenes shots such as this one – an image that likely wasn’t intended for the public – she looked effortlessly polished.
By the 1950s, then, Monroe was making the transition from modeling to movies. She’d also undergone plastic surgery to further her chances of making it big in Hollywood and, unfortunately, had experienced yet more troubles in her personal life. Nevertheless, this picture of her cartwheeling on the beach shows a woman caught experiencing a joyful moment – and totally unguarded.
In many of the more recognizable Monroe images, the actress is seen pulling some come-hither pose. Lesser seen, however, are the photos in which she’s just being herself. But her beauty really shines through in this shot by Eve Arnold, a photographer who captured her often.
Back in Monroe’s day, moreover, the celebrity gossip circuit didn’t exist in the same way it did now. Photographers and paparazzi, for example, simply weren’t present at every single event, poised to document every single celebrity moment. But occasionally cameras would snap Monroe doing normal things, like munching on a carrot.
The cameras were, however, definitely present when Monroe went to perform for troops in Korea. By this time, she was a big star with a new husband – Joe DiMaggio – and was doing a frantic publicity tour to distract her fans from her rift with 20th Century Fox. Clearly, though, no-one in the audience cared about what the studio thought of her – they were besotted.
Indeed, no matter where Monroe went, men were often utterly and completely taken with her. That wasn’t always the case, though. Laurence Olivier, for example, is seen here giving the star his full attention. Behind the scenes of their film The Prince and the Showgirl, however, he called her “a b***h.” The veteran actor even once gave his co-star the condescending direction, “Try and be sexy.”
Of course, Monroe didn’t need to “try” to be sexy – she just was. This picture, for example, sees her still radiant even when merely sitting on a staircase and accepting a drink from a child. In fact, while she may well be at a party and she may well be drunk, she can’t help but look absolutely spectacular.
By 1956, though, Monroe had divorced Joe DiMaggio and married a third husband, playwright Arthur Miller. The media made much play of the unusual beauty-and-the-geek couple, spawning the famous Variety headline “Egghead Weds Hourglass.” This wedding picture, however, shows only a woman in love.
In addition, it’s often pointed out that despite her status as a sex symbol, even Monroe didn’t have a “perfect” body. This picture, for one, shows that the beauty wasn’t a size zero and that she even had cellulite on her thighs. Of course, these days those things would most likely be Photoshopped out.
In fact, looking at the more candid shots of Monroe – like this one of her greeting a furry fan – it’s obvious that like every person she had physical flaws. She had perfectly normal marks, freckles and fat, and even the plastic surgery couldn’t hide them all. And had she been around in the 21st century, she might even have been asked to lose some weight.
However, some of the best, and rarest, pictures of Monroe show the star dressed down and casual. In this one she’s wearing perfectly ordinary, even slightly frumpy clothes while enjoying a bike ride with her husband. And she almost looks like any other woman out having fun and not giving a thought to her appearance.
This Monroe image, however, is perhaps the most telling. It shows her seemingly not caring at all what she looks like. She’s wearing an unflattering shirt, has no makeup on and is even posing next to some trash-eating bears. Hardly fitting for a sex symbol – and yet she looks perfectly content.