Written By: Ben Cosgrove

There’s nothing quite like being there at the earliest emergence of a new Hollywood star, and as the premier pictorial weekly of its era, LIFE magazine was uniquely positioned to feature more than a few famous faces at the start of their careers, well before they became bona fide legends.

Here, LIFE.com offers a gallery of some of moviedom’s most celebrated (and gorgeous) young talents on the very brink of life-altering fame, from Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn to Kim Novak, Ann-Margret, Liz Taylor, Rita Moreno, Barbra Streisand, Catherine Deneuve and others who would go on to dazzle audiences for years. 


Marilyn Monroe poses in 1947

Marilyn Monroe posed in 1947. The next year, she’d get a six-month Columbia Pictures contract.

J. R. Eyerman/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Seen here in a 1954 photo that ended up on the cover of LIFE, Moreno debuted on Broadway at 13 before making it big years later in the film version of West Side Story.

Seen here in a 1954 photo that ended up on the cover of LIFE, Rita Moreno debuted on Broadway at 13 before making it big years later in the film version of West Side Story.

Loomis Dean/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Actress Rita Moreno demonstrates the "sexy-sophisticated" type, 1954.

Rita Moreno, 1954.

Loomis Dean/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Kim Novak Lounges in Bed, 1954

.Kim Novak, 1954

J. R. Eyerman/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Kim Novak, 1954

Kim Novak, 21, posed with crystal figurines in 1954. The Chicagoan started off as Miss Deep Freeze for a local refrigerator company, and was recruited by Columbia Pictures to be a more manageable replacement for Rita Hayworth.

J. R. Eyerman/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Taylor in 1947, age 15

Elizabeth Taylor in 1947, at age 15.

J.R. Eyerman/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Sophia Loren poses in 1957, the year she began to make a name for herself in America in such movies as Boy on a Dolphin (her U.S. debut) and Legend of the Lost.

Sophia Loren posed in 1957, the year she began to make a name for herself in America in such movies as Boy on a Dolphin (her U.S. debut) and Legend of the Lost.

Loomis Dean/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Audrey Hepburn in 1951   two years before her film breakthrough in Roman Holiday   posing under a theater marquee for the stage version of Gigi.

Audrey Hepburn in 1951—two years before her film breakthrough in Roman Holiday—posing under a theater marquee for the stage version of Gigi.

Time Life Pictures/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Catherine Deneuve, 1961

Catherine Deneuve in 1961, at age 18.

Loomis Dean/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Margarita Carmen Cansino, soon to be Rita Hayworth, models tennis fashions in 1939.

Margarita Carmen Cansino, soon to be Rita Hayworth, modeled tennis fashions in 1939. After her small turn in Only Angels Have Wings that year, fan mail started pouring in. She was soon a major star.

Peter Stackpole/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Wisely abandoning the name Tula Ellice Finklea, Cyd Charisse, seen here in 1945, was best known for her dancing roles opposite Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.

Cyd Charisse, seen here in 1945, was best known for her dancing roles opposite Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.

Peter Stackpole/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Ann-Margret, 1961

Nineteen-year-old Ann-Margret belted out a tune during a screen test for the movie State Fair in 1961.

Grey Villet/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Esther Williams, 1943

Esther Williams, the famed synchronized swimmer (seen here in 1943), got her start in movies when MGM wanted a female sports star to rival Fox’s figure skater, Sonja Henie.

Peter Stackpole/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Eva Marie Saint opens a prop door during a TV shoot at NBC studios in 1947. The Newark, N.J.-born actress started her career as an NBC page.

Eva Marie Saint opened a prop door during a TV shoot at NBC studios in 1947. The Newark, N.J.-born actress started her career as an NBC page.

Andreas Feininger/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Eva Marie Saint, 1949

Eva Marie Saint (in 1949) got her film break in 1954’s Oscar-winning On the Waterfront.

Nina Leen/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Jeanne Crain 1946

Actress Jeanne Crain took a bubble bath for her role in the movie Margie in 1946.

Peter Stackpole/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Jane Fonda was a well-regarded actress by the time this shot was taken in 1959, when she was 22, but it took the screwball Western Cat Ballou (1965) to turn her into a movie star.

Jane Fonda was a well-regarded actress by the time this shot was taken in 1959, when she was 22, but it took the screwball Western Cat Ballou (1965) to turn her into a movie star.

Allan Grant/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Jane Fonda, 1959.

Jane Fonda, 1959.

Allan Grant/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Gene Tierney, 1941

The actress Gene Tierney posed in 1941. Best remembered for 1944’s Laura, Tierney left New York’s socialite life to be an actress.

Grey Villet/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Judy Garland, 1939

Mickey Rooney kissed co-star Judy Garland at the premiere of Babes in Arms in 1939. The two starred in nine movies together, among them the popular Andy Hardy series.

Peter Stackpole/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Barbra Streisand, 1962

Barbra Streisand sang in the musical that was her Broadway debut, I Can Get It for You Wholesale, in 1962.

George Silk/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Shirley MacLaine, 1955

Shirley MacLaine sang on the TV program Shower of Stars in 1955.

Loomis Dean/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

Debbie Reynolds, circa 1950

Debbie Reynolds, circa 1950. She’d won a film contract just two years earlier, after winning the Miss Burbank pageant at age 16.

Loomis Dean/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Julie Andrews, 1956

Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews ran lines in My Fair Lady rehearsals, 1956. Though the stage musical helped launch Andrews’ career, she was replaced in the big-screen version by Audrey Hepburn.

Leonard McCombe/LIFE Pictures/Shutterstock

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