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Richard C. Miller. Norma Jeane Dougherty (Marilyn Monroe) in Wedding Dress, 1946. Vintage carbro print. Signed in ink on recto; signed and annotated on verso. Image: 15 x 12.5 inches; framed: 28.5 x 24.5 inchesEXPAND
Richard C. Miller. Norma Jeane Dougherty (Marilyn Monroe) in Wedding Dress, 1946. Vintage carbro print. Signed in ink on recto; signed and annotated on verso. Image: 15 x 12.5 inches; framed: 28.5 x 24.5 inches
Courtesy Santa Monica Auctions

Hello, Norma Jeane! Rare Early Marilyn Monroe Photos at Santa Monica Auctions

Santa Monica Auctions is known for sourcing and acquiring important and interesting works of art for its legendary sales, especially in the realm of West Coast art. Often the provenance of the works is as valuable and unique as the work itself. But even among the compendium of quirky histories, one lot always seems to stand out for its even more offbeat backstory. In the upcoming Oct. 7 sale, it’s all about Marilyn Monroe.

It’s easy to imagine you’ve seen every picture of Monroe, a perennial fixture in the hearts and minds of basically everyone, from movie buffs to fashionistas, across countries and generations. And yet, somehow, the world keeps offering us more, and our appetite for them never ceases. This especially includes images from her early career — before she was Marilyn, when she was still Norma Jeane but was already clearly destined for great things.

Photographer Richard C. Miller met Norma Jeane Dougherty (her married name, as she was born Mortensen, became Baker by adoption, and then married her high school sweetheart), during this era of her initial forays into modeling and acting. In the spring of 1946, when she was 19, Miller was one of the first photographers to work with Norma Jeane, when she was a model with the Blue Book Agency. In fact, Miller and Marilyn worked together frequently; the lot at auction includes a newly reprinted portfolio of 12 prints culled from a series of their 1946 sessions and a signed self-portrait of Miller and Norma Jeane at work.

Original model release form, signed by Norma Jeane Dougherty with her Nebraska Avenue address in West L.A.
Original model release form, signed by Norma Jeane Dougherty with her Nebraska Avenue address in West L.A.
Courtesy Santa Monica Auctions

But the central feature in Lot 180A is a vintage carbro print of one particular job Miller executed with Norma Jeane — her face on the cover of the June 1947 issue of Personal Romance magazine. In the picture, she is shown wearing her own recently used wedding dress and holding a prayer book belonging to the photographer’s wife. The book itself is included in this five-part lot, as is the original model release signed by Norma Jeane Dougherty in 1946.

The auction site describes the provenance and rarity of the central image thus: “As the variation on its cover was only used during the production of the magazine, it was probably lost, making this photograph likely the only existing print from that session.” This is a carbro print, one of the most intricate color printing techniques, and of which Miller was a master. In fact, this exact print was shown in an exhibition of Miller’s photographs at the Getty Museum in 2009.

Provenance: Estate of Richard C. Miller, J. Paul Getty Museum and Craig Krull Gallery. The entry is estimated to sell for $60,000 to $80,000.

This work and more than 250 other lots can be previewed online as the auction catalog is updated daily at smauctions.com — as well in person at Bergamot Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Ave, Gallery B7, Tue.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. The next Santa Monica Auctions sale date is Sunday, Oct. 7, at 1 p.m.

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