During the Second World War, it was a common routine for army photographers to tour the factories around the United States and shoot morale-boosting pictures of female workers, yet it was not so common for this mundane government task to lead to the discovery of the biggest sex symbol of the 20th Century.
Two years after Pearl Harbor, there were some 475,000 women working in aircraft factories.
Among those young, selfless women participating in the war effort a was a perky brunette working at the Radioplane Munitions Factory, named Norma Jeane Dougherty.
At the time Norma Jeane was a 19-year-old housewife of James “Jim” Dougherty, who had enlisted in the Marines and left his quiet, shy wife with his parents when he was shipped out to the Pacific in April 1944.
On June 26, 1945, Army photographer David Conover had been sent by the U.S. Army Air Forces’ First Motion Picture Unit (FMPU) to the factory to take some pictures of female workers.When Conover spotted our perky brunette assembling drones, immediately recognized her potential as a pin-up model.
Although none of her pictures were used by the FMPU, she quit working at the factory in January 1945 and began modeling for Conover and his friends.
Norma Jeane moved out of her in-laws’ home, and defying them and her husband, signed a contract with the Blue Book Model Agency in August 1945. James Dougherty was against his wife having a career, and the two were divorced in September of the following year.
She began to occasionally use the name Jean Norman when working, and had her curly brunette hair straightened and dyed blond to make her more employable.
As her figure was deemed more suitable for pin-up than fashion modeling, she was employed mostly for advertisements and men’s magazines. According to the agency’s owner, Emmeline Snively, Monroe was one of its most ambitious and hard-working models; by early 1946, she had appeared on 33 magazine covers for publications such as Pageant, U.S. Camera, Laff, and Peek. Impressed by her success, Snively arranged a contract for Monroe with an acting agency in June 1946 and, well, you know the rest.