Before Marilyn Monroe was wildly famous, she was paid just $10 an hour to pose for photographer Earl Moran between the years of 1946-1949. Marilyn was first contracted to work with Moran through her first agency, the Blue Book Agency in 1946. Then, Marilyn was still going by her birth name, Norma Jeane. Moran’s photographs were considered “cheesecake” photography and the images he took of Marilyn would serve as inspiration for him to create pin-up paintings from them. However, the pin-up art he created is almost unimportant; it’s the images he took of Marilyn which are important. Marilyn’s vivacious and happy demeanor is abound in these photos. Hugh Hefner purchased some of Moran’s photos for Playboy and he signed them. Those images weren’t published until 1987. A Hefner signed photograph from Earl Moran’s collection sold at auction for $11,000 in 2020 through Nate D. Sanders Auctions. People still love these images of Marilyn for good reason.
I would without a doubt say that these are the best photographs ever taken of her. There are seemingly countless photography sessions of Marilyn Monroe; the most notable are by Tom Kelley, Andres de Dienes, Richard C. Miller, and George Barris. While Marilyn is iconic for many reasons, I would argue that these images taken before she was famous are some of the most remarkable. And perhaps the key is in the fact that these were taken before she was famous. Marilyn was ambitious and excited to become an actress in Hollywood, and it’s her natural and playful demeanor which brings so much life to these photos alongside her raw talent for modeling. You can see the hopes she had in her eyes, too. Marilyn’s natural charm and eagerness to engage with the camera are the most notable aspects of Moran’s photography. He also clearly made her feel very at ease because you can see through the images that she was willing and happy to be playful. It’s wonderful that people are still appreciative of Moran’s photography of Marilyn, these images should be valued for many years to come.