Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

Marilyn Monroe in Tujunga?


The famous movie star Marilyn Monroe was an LA girl. She grew up in LA and came to fame here as well. Locally, we know that her mother was a resident of Rockhaven Sanitarium, although it’s unlikely that Monroe ever visited her there. But I just became aware of two confirmed visits by her to Tujunga, in both cases before she was the blonde Marilyn Monroe, while she was still Norma Jeane Baker.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Norma Jeane had a tough childhood. As her mother sank deeper into mental illness, the girl was shuffled around to various temporary homes. In 1942, when Norma Jeane was 15, she was living with a friend of her mother’s in the San Fernando Valley. That family needed to rid themselves of the girl and saw an opportunity to marry her off to their neighbor’s son, 21-year-old Jim Dougherty. She was already a beautiful girl and Jim had no objection to this “marriage of convenience.” He courted her briefly before the marriage and those dates are described in Dougherty’s autobiography. He took her several times to Pop’s Willow Lake in Big Tujunga Canyon.

Pop’s Willow Lake was a popular Tujunga resort in the ’30s through the ’50s, with a dance hall and boats for rent. Dougherty describes their nighttime dates there when they would rent a boat and paddle to the far shore away from the lights. There they made love in the moonlight, and Dougherty fell hard for young Norma Jeane. Would it be too provocative a statement to venture that Marilyn Monroe, the greatest sex symbol of this age, lost her virtue in Tujunga?

They did happily marry, but WWII interceded. Like many couples of that time, the war pulled them apart. Jim’s service in the Pacific combined with Norma Jeane’s ambitions resulted in divorce at the end of the war.

In 1945, Norma Jeane signed a contract with Blue Book Modeling Agency. She quickly became a popular model. The camera loved her and she was a talented model.

In the summer of 1946, she was asked to pose for a photography club called “Group 13.” Although the members were mostly photography students, they were highly respected. Their photos had helped several other would-be starlets on the path to fame. They all met at the Wilshire home of Emmeline Snively, head of Blue Book Agency, and caravanned out to the wilds of Big Tujunga Creek. One of the photographers had a brand-new Cadillac, and Norma Jeane posed on the hood of the car. Emmeline Snively noted on the photograph the title “Wishful Thinking” and added, “She was newly under contract to Twentieth (Century Fox) and didn’t have a car like this of her own yet.”

Norma Jeane then changed into a white two-piece bathing suit and waded out into Big Tujunga Creek. There she posed for the five photographers lounging on rocks and standing in the knee-deep water. She was an instant hit with them. She had not yet gone blonde and with her auburn hair and youthful looks she had a “girl next door” quality, although admittedly an unusually beautiful girl next door. She was a talented model, and reading Snively’s notes from the photo session we learn: “(She) was always a good sport and really enjoyed modeling, as can be seen as she tries to pose for two photographers at the same time, and shooting from different directions. Posing for several cameras and trying to give them your best angles is no easy feat, and a challenge for the most professional models.” Snively thought highly of the young model, describing her as sweet and having a sunny personality. Soon after this photo session, Norma Jeane went blonde, changed her name to Marilyn Monroe, and her career took off.

Interestingly, these photos were never released. Instead they were filed away in obscurity and were only recently rediscovered. Google “Marilyn Monroe Tujunga” to view these photos, obviously taken in Big T. These photos, taken in our own Tujunga, record the birth of a shooting star, a young woman on the cusp of an amazing but tragically short career.