“Who the hell is Marilyn Monroe?” That was the response received by photographer Ed Clark when he sent these pictures to his paymasters over at LIFE magazine. And the pictures were never published.
The year was 1950, and Clark had a friend working at 20th Century Fox, the studio that had first signed the then-Norma Jean Dougherty in 1946. Despite having been unceremoniously dumped by Fox, something about Norma Jean held the studio’s attention, and she was re-signed in 1950.
Clark’s friend got on the phone and told the photographer about this new “hot tomato” signing, as he put it. Even though 1950 was a busy year for the newly christened Marilyn — she would appear on screen in no fewer than six films, including small roles in both All About Eve and The Asphalt Jungle — it’s fair to say that LIFE magazine’s response was not unusual. The world had yet to fall in love with her.
Ed Clark, though, agreed with his friend and took the 24-year-old “hot tomato” into the trees of L.A.’s Griffith park. Three years later, Marilyn Monroe was on the cover of LIFE.