With her husband stationed in the Pacific, Norma Jeane went to work. She landed a job at Radio Plane munitions factory, a defense plant in Burbank, where she was on an assembly line putting together war machines. As luck would have it, a photographer recognized her. He was there to do propaganda photography for the war effort, a morale-boosting production.
His assignment was shooting women working stateside in support of the troops. While her image did not make the cover, her impression of photographer David Conover won the day. He said she was a “photographer’s dream girl” and asked if he could photograph her. A new career as a model commenced.
An Animal Lover
As a girl, Norma Jeane had a big heart for all kinds of creatures. Her first husband, Jim Dougherty, relayed a story about her soft spot for animals in the documentary film “The Legend of Marilyn Monroe.” He talked about his young wife who seemed no older than a child when he first heard of his mother’s plan to marry them.
He said she worried about a cow one time: living under the roof of the Dougherty family home, Norma Jeane heard a cow mooing morosely out in the rain. According to James, she wanted to bring a cow out from the fields and into the house.
Living on Catalina Island
Dougherty joined the Merchant Marine a year after they married and was stationed at Santa Catalina Island. In 1943, the two moved to the island, a short 27-mile sail from the coast of Southern California. It was during World War II, and the island doubled as a Navy base, a rather cushy military duty. In fact, although she cried and protested his joining the Merchant Marine, living on the island was like a temporary paradise.
In his memoir, Dougherty complained that the marine recruits he was training, noticed his wife’s budding beauty. She was only 17 at the time. It all ended with him being shipped to war in the South Pacific.
Divorce From Dougherty
With David Conover giving the budding model tips for new gigs, and Norma Jeane showing determination by taking classes in modeling, things were looking up. However, her still-deployed husband James was not on board. He did not allow her to have a career in pictures despite her dream to be a movie star.
The dream required signing a contract at Blue Book Modeling Agency which stipulated Norma Jeane to be unmarried. So, she further defied her husband’s will by becoming a model with the agency in 1945. The actual divorce went through the following year.
‘Jim Was a Good Husband’
Jim Daugherty talked about Norma Jeane as his wife in an interview clip in “The Legend of Marilyn Monroe.” He said she was a good housekeeper and that their place was always neat and tidy. He recalled that she liked to serve peas and carrots together, not for the flavor so much, but for how they looked on a plate.
They got along well, yet according to Norma Jeane, they had little in common. In one interview she said they didn’t speak much because they had nothing to say. But looking back, she said, “Jim was a good husband. He never hurt me.”