These stunning photos of the Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe were captured by photographer John Florea during the 1950s. The mere name of Marilyn Monroe represents different images for different people. For some, it suggests the absolute standard of female sensuality. Beauty. Grace. Sophistication. For others, insecurity comes to mind. Misery. Tragedy.
Florea started as a photographer for the San Francisco Examiner, then was signed onto the staff of LIFE in 1941, living in Hollywood and specializing in celebrity portraits of actresses, such as Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe.
After the war, Florea returned to Hollywood to continue to photograph celebrities, leaving LIFE in 1949. Portraits of movie stars he made in color in the 1950s were part of an exhibition “Masters of Starlight: Photographers in Hollywood” in 1988 at the LACMA, Los Angeles. He later became producer, director, and writer for more than 130 TV shows from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s.
Florea photographed Marilyn Monroe for the first time in 1951. She had already appeared in two acclaimed movies before her 24th birthday, ‘The Asphalt Jungle’ and ‘All About Eve’. Twentieth Century-Fox recently signed her to a seven-year deal.
On March 29, 1951, Marilyn presented the Academy Award for Best Sound Recording to Thomas Moulton for ‘All About Eve’. Florea photographed her that day in an elegant black gown, and the pictures were used to illustrate a feature, ‘1951’s Model Blonde’, published in Collier’s that September.
On June 19, Florea accompanied Marilyn on a trip to the USS Benham at Long Beach, where he photographed her with sailors. She wore the black netted dress seen in ‘As Young as You Feel’.
This period also yielded two of the loveliest portraits of Marilyn, lying on a rug. In one shot, she faces the camera with heavy-lidded eyes, and a finger dangling from her mouth. In another shot, she rests her hand on her head and looks up in angst.
Monroe was already a gifted model, but she had yet to find the great portrait photographers who would transform her from starlet to goddess. Most of her publicity shots from this period fit the ‘cheesecake’ mould, and Florea was happy to play along.
Marilyn posed on a rock in a tight-fitting bathing suit, with one strap pulled down. Other sessions showed Florea’s sense of mischief. For one shoot, Marilyn sat at a dressing table, clad in a negligee, pouting sulkily as the telephone rang.
Another series depicts Marilyn by a roaring log fire, clad in thermal underwear. It was snapped up by men’s magazines that winter, seemingly proving that she could look sexy in anything.
Throughout 1953-54, Florea photographed Marilyn on the set of her movies. During filming of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she posed in character as gold-digging Lorelei Lee, sitting cross-legged and counting a pile of money.
(Photo credit: John Florea / Wikimedia Commons / Unabridged Marilyn, Randall Riese, Neal Hitchins, 1987 / Article based on Marilyn’s Photographers: John Florea by Tara Hanks at tarahanks.com).