Issue: Issue Summer 2001
Hollywood's Child: Norma Jeane
Before she was Marilyn Monroe, she was Norma Jeane. And Joe Jasgur, now a world-famous photographer, shot her first model portfolio – the portfolio that would be the bridge to her success.
Raised in Detroit, Jasgur was self-taught, learning with a $12.50 Argus camera at 16, and by age 19, he was already teaching photography. His first jobs were for the Treasury and War Bonds Department, and the local Ford UAW.. Upon coming to Hollywood in 1939, Jasgur worked the police beat as "demon reporter" for the Hollywood Citizen News with the great photographer, Weegie. During the war, he was honored to be the chief photographer for the famous Hollywood Canteen, ending up photographing "every celebrity that passed through," as well as covering the Academy Awards and the nightclub scene for movie magazines.
Now 82, Jasgur's celebrity collection, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, includes fighter Joe Louis, the young Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, portraits of Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Russell. But it is his pictures of the young Norma Jeane Doughtery that have made his name. Many are featured in a picture book, "The Birth of Marilyn," a collectors item . Through the 1990's, the Holiday Inn in Hollywood featured his collection in a specially-lit exhibit entitled "Joseph Jasqur, Legendary Photographer of the Stars Presents The Young Marilyn Monroe." Recently, he was featured in an "E" channel documentary called "The Many Loves of Marilyn Monroe."
The good-hearted Jasgur met Monroe – then Norma Jeane Doughtery, 19, the wife of a marine -- in March of 1946 when Mrs. Sively of the Bluebook Modeling Agency, with whom he often worked, sent her to him.
"Every time she had an interesting girl who didn't have any money, she'd call, and I'd say, "Send her down, if I think she has any potential, I'll do some shooting. I always felt sorry for the kids without money."
The new girl had been "discovered" in 1944 by an army photographer while spraying parachutes in an airplane factory. Jasgur thought she was "kind of cute," and had potential.
"I asked if she was hungry and she was, so we went down to the corner to eat while I put the negatives in the developer. I put a rubber apron on her and as the prints came up, she kept crying excitedly, 'magic, magic, magic!'
In the next few weeks, Jasgur took pictures of Norma Jeane everywhere, from his West Hollywood studio to Zuma Beach, to the top of the Hollywood sign in the hills, shooting close to 100 photos.
"I said, 'how'd you like to get to the top of Hollywood?'" said Jasgur. "She said, 'Oh, yes! Yes!' I meant to the Hollywood sign up on the Outpost!"
The pictures show a young, fresh-faced girl in a plaid shirt sticking her tongue out, or on the beach, hair disheveled, looking over her shoulder, even a gag one (using a self-timer), of Jasgur comparing legs with a Monroe in plaid pedal pushers.
"I enjoyed working with her and she took a liking to me. All those first pictures were crazy – once I got to messing around with her, I turned her into a comedienne. I got her on the beach drawing hearts in the sand and donated a copy to the Heart Association. She had two changes of clothing – the one she was wearing and the one in the wash!" says Jasgur. "
His rarest and most sought after picture -- currently on sale for over a million dollars -- shows Marilyn with six toes, the only such picture existing. "I call it Norma Jeane, Six Appeal," he said (NOTE: Guess we can't use this!!).
During their months working together, Jasgur befriended Norma Jeane, taking her to movies and other places.
"I used to shoot nightclub scenes for movie magazines and one day I said, "'How'd you like to go nightclubbing?' We went to Ciros and she was supposed to hand me flashbulbs out of the camera bag But when I saw Clark Gable and said, 'Hi, Clark, how you doin'?' she got so excited she dropped the flashbulb and it exploded!" .
Their last session was March 23, 1946.
"I gave her a set of good prints and I gave the Blue Book Agency copies which were put together by an agent who presented them to the casting director at Fox Studios and within a week, she had a movie contract."
The rest of the story about the blonde bombshell is history.
Jasgur, it turns out, also had a hand in shaping that glamorous image.
"I told Mrs. Sively she'd photograph better as a blonde. Sylvia Barnhardt, the woman who did Gorgeous George's hair for the Frank and Joseph Salon did the first bleach."
"These were the things that got her started. And she used to thank me for it."
Although Jasgur never photographed her as a blonde, today his Norma Jeane prints go for several thousand dollars, with posters and cards auctioning off at $300-$500.
Did he ever realize she would become so famous?
"If I had known I would have taken more pictures," he said.