When Jim was shipped overseas. Norma Jean moved in with Jim’s mother and began work at the Radio Plane Company in Burbank, a defense plant.Within a few months, army photographer David Conover visited the plant on assignment in 1945 to shoot photographs of women working to aid the war effort. He was searching for someone to boost the morale of the boys overseas when he discovered 18-year-old Norma Jean, who looked quite fetching even in her company overalls.
When Conover found out that Norma Jean had a sweater in her locker, he asked her to model for his series of photographs for Yank magazine. Conover’s appealing shots of Norma Jean resulted in her first magazine cover and led to her career as a model. Norma Jean discovered that she was in her element as a photographic model. Having never felt a sense of belonging in her entire childhood, Norma Jean now knew exactly where she belonged, in front of the camera. Some photographs of Marilyn ended up on the desk of Emmeline Snively, head of the Blue Book Model Agency in Los Angeles. Snively sent Norma Jean a brochure and expressed interest in using her if she was willing to take Blue Book’s three-month modeling course.
Though the agency’s $100 fee almost frightened Norma Jean away, Snively assured her that the fee could be taken out of her model’s salary. Norma Jean signed a contract with Blue Book in the summer of 1945 and landed a modeling assignment right away, though it was not in front of the camera lens. She was hired by Holga Steel for a ten-day engagement as the hostess for their booth at an industrial show at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. After the show had concluded, Norma Jean reluctantly returned to the defense plant but continued to attend Blue Book’s classes.
In class, Snively taught Norma Jean to lower her smile to alleviate the shadow cast by her nose. This modified way of smiling resulted in the quivering lips that would later become Marilyn Monroe’s trademark. She would study every photograph made of her, pick out the ones she thought were not successful, and ask the photographers what she had done incorrectly. She took their advice very seriously and never repeated what she considered to be a mistake.
“I used to go to movies on Saturday night when I worked in a factory and that was my only time that I could enjoy myself, really. I used to be very disappointed if I went to a movie and it was a bad movie or I thought people didn’t do their best. I really was mad,” Marilyn commented in an interview years after she abandoned Norma Jeane.
Blonding Norma Jean
There are two tellings as to how Norma Jean went blonde. One afternoon in 1946, Snively sent Norma Jean to Frank & Joseph’s Beauty Salon to have her hair done for a modeling assignment for Rayve shampoo. Frank & Joseph’s had built a solid reputation by styling the hair of such Hollywood notables as Rita Hayworth, Ingrid Bergman, starlet Judy Clark, and even professional wrestler Gorgeous George. Norma Jean asked if something could be done to make her look better for her shoot that evening. Tint technician Sylvia Barnhart and shop owner Frank immediately set out to straighten Norma Jean’s hair, which Barnhart has described as “brown and kinky.” The strong solution used in the process also lightened her hair, giving it a reddish-blonde cast. Norma Jean was quite pleased by the effect and wanted to go blonder. Over the next four to five months, Barnhart changed the color of the young model’s hair to a golden honey-blonde by lightening and toning it a step at a time.
The other tale states that Snively advised Marilyn to go blonde, since photographer lighting reflected better off of fair hair and she would invariably be offered more jobs. Supposedly Marilyn was uncomfortable with the newly tinted hairdo. ``I just couldn`t get used to myself.“ Snively reported Norma Jeane was opposed to anything that wasn’t absolutely natural and it took her some convincing to get the young model to colour her hair. Barnhart continued to style Norma Jean’s hair for the next five to seven years, long after the shy, timid Norma Jean had become starlet Marilyn Monroe.