by Michael Andrews
In the early 1940s, Richard C. Miller began working as a commercial photographer. His first sale was to the Saturday Evening Post, where he displaced the more usual Norman Rockwell illustration on the November 22, 1941, cover with a photograph of his daughter Linda. Because Paul Hesse, the noted photographer, had tried for years to accomplish this feat and failed, he was so astonished that he accused Dick of lying. From that point on, Dick did well selling images to various magazines, at the time a very popular and lucrative medium.
But when Emmaline Snively from the Blue Book Modeling Agency called Dick to tell him about a model named Norma Jeane Dougherty, he was doubtful that he could sell images of her, because she had already appeared on the covers of various magazines. At the time editors did not like to use a model who had posed for their competitors.
So Dick shot Norma Jeane, known at the time as “Nonny,” on spec. In March of 1946, he picked her up at the home where she lived with her first husband, Jim Dougherty, and they drove toward the Santa Monica beaches. On the way, they stopped at his friend Gene Hanson’s house, where he took his first image of her. She was wearing a bright red sweater and sitting on a huge sycamore limb, with her knee up. He went on to photograph her at the beach in various poses and outfits until too many men gathered to watch. Then they drove to the San Fernando Valley, where he took more pictures of her in a farm setting, with a barn, fence, and pasture as background.
On April 30, 1946, Dick again contracted with Norma Jeane for a day’s shoot. This time they went to the Sheraton Townhouse on Wilshire Boulevard, which had a pool that he had used as a setting for another series of images. As usual, Dick used a speed graphic with 4×5 Kodachrome film, which has stood up perfectly in the intervening years. He also shot a test roll of 120 film using Ektachrome, which did not hold up as well, fading and staining badly over the years.
Dick recalls that the models in those days did their own makeup and in general provided their own costumes. However, he had borrowed the swim suit he used on the shoot from Catalina. The usual practice was to return any borrowed outfit to the manufacturer after the shoot, but Norma Jeane asked Dick if she could keep the suit for a shoot the following day. Afterwards, she returned it to the manufacturer.
Later he also used Norma Jeane as a model to take ten images using a 5×7 one-shot camera, some with film, some on glass plates, and one an accidental mixture of glass with film. One of these was of her posing as a bride holding a prayer book. The bridal dress was hers, from her wedding to Jim Dougherty. The prayer book belonged to Dick’s wife —if you look closely, her name, “Margaret Dudley Miller,” can be read on the cover. The image appeared on the cover of True Romance in 1946.
After they had worked together for a time, Dick and Norma Jeane became friendly, and she came to dinner at the Miller family’s home. That was when she told them about her ambition to become a rich and famous movie star. Dick and Margaret did not believe that she was in any way different from thousands of other aspiring young stars until Norma Jeane Dougherty emerged as Marilyn Monroe. As Dick says now, bumping his forehead, “I had no idea when I was taking these pictures that she would become famous and that the pictures would become valuable. She was just a nice, sweet, attractive girl with ambition.”
In the years that followed, Dick occasionally took pictures of Norma Jeane as she evolved into Marilyn Monroe. In 1950 he spent a day photographing her as she tried out for a part at the Player’s Ring Theater on Sunset Boulevard. By this time Dick was using a 35mm Nikon rangefinder and a 120 twin-lens Ikoflex 3, working largely in black and white but with occasional use of the then-available 35mm Kodachrome, 120 Anscochrome, and 120 Ektachrome films.
Later, when Dick was employed as a freelancer for Globe Photos, he was assigned to shoot photographs on Some Like It Hot. He recalls walking onto the set his first day. By this time, Marilyn Monroe was an established movie star, and all her dreams had become reality. So when she passed him and said, “Hi Dick,” he merely stared at her, dumbfounded that she even recalled who he was. He said nothing in return, not knowing which of her names he should use. By then Marilyn Monroe was no longer Nonny or Norma Jeane, the subject of this portfolio. Fame and success had changed her in ways that left emotional wounds and scars barely hidden by make-up artists.
Years later Dick recalled the sweet girl who was obsessed with her ambitions. He looked out of his picture window from his electric wheelchair and sighed. “Well, they all came true,” he said, “and it killed her.”