Written By: Ben Cosgrove

“I’m sending only brief captions,” a LIFE magazine correspondent wrote to his editors in February 1949, in notes accompanying photographs of a little-known actress. “For one thing, time is of the essence in getting the pictures to a plane. For another, the processes shot are not terribly complicated, showing as they do how Marilyn trains herself for hoped-for movie stardom by consulting specialists in singing, dancing and drama and how she is worked on by them in the effort to produce a wrapped-up package of talent to back up her photogenic sex appeal.”

Marilyn Monroe at this point had appeared (largely uncredited) in half-a-dozen utterly forgettable movies, and there was absolutely no guarantee, or even likelihood, that the 22-year-old’s “hoped-for movie stardom” would pan out. And yet, LIFE’s J,R, Eyerman saw enough of something, a special glimmer, in the fresh-faced beauty to chronicle the training that she evidently knew she needed. The Eyerman pictures in this gallery are among the very first that any LIFE photographer ever took of Monroe—and they were never published them. Marilyn wouldn’t show up in LIFE’s pages until October 1949, when she appeared along with seven other young Hollywood actresses. 

[Buy the LIFE Special Issue Remembering Marilyn]

While it’s hardly evident in these warm and carefree photos, the next few months in Marilyn’s career would be marked by struggle. Later in 1949, desperate for money, she posed naked for a pinup calendar, a gig that paid her just $50 and later came back to haunt her. (The pictures wound up in the debut issue of Playboy).

But the beautiful and, crucially, tenacious Marilyn pushed on. She watched, practiced and learned, and as she honed her talent her opportunities grew. A slew of small roles—a memorable walk-on in the Marx Brothers’ Love Happy; a dramatic turn in John Huston’s great noir heist flick, The Asphalt Jungle; a luminous breakthrough in All About Eve—inspired Fox, the studio that dropped her back in 1947, to sign her to a new seven-year contract. By 1953, Marilyn Monroe’s “hoped-for movie stardom” was no longer an ingenue’s dream. She was lighting up the screen in movies (including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire) that allowed her to sing, dance and act all the tools of the trade that she so studiously honed under Eyerman’s sympathetic gaze just a few years before.

Liz Ronk edited this gallery for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

Marilyn Monroe, 22, takes dance lessons, Hollywood, 1949.

Marilyn Monroe, 22, took dance lessons, Hollywood, 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe, 22, takes dance lessons, Hollywood, 1949. Her instructor is Nico Charisse, ex-husband of the actress and dancer, Cyd Charisse.

Marilyn Monroe, 22, took dance lessons, Hollywood, 1949. Her instructor is Nico Charisse, ex-husband of the actress and dancer, Cyd Charisse.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe, 22, takes dance lessons, Hollywood, 1949. Her instructor is Nico Charisse, ex-husband of the actress and dancer, Cyd Charisse.

Marilyn Monroe, 22, took dance lessons, Hollywood, 1949. Her instructor is Nico Charisse, ex-husband of the actress and dancer, Cyd Charisse.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe, 22, takes dance lessons, Hollywood, 1949.

Marilyn Monroe, 22, took dance lessons, Hollywood, 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe, 22, takes dance lessons, Hollywood, 1949.

Marilyn Monroe, 22, took dance lessons, Hollywood, 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe, age 22, Hollywood, 1949.

Marilyn Monroe, age 22, Hollywood, 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe, 22, takes lessons with acting coach, Natasha Lytess.

Marilyn Monroe, 22, took lessons with the acting coach Natasha Lytess.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe, 22, takes lessons with acting coach, Natasha Lytess.

Marilyn Monroe, 22, took lessons with the acting coach Natasha Lytess.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe at age 22, Hollywood, 1949.

Marilyn Monroe at age 22, Hollywood, 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Four photographs of Marilyn Monroe at age 22, Hollywood, 1949.

Four photographs of Marilyn Monroe at age 22, Hollywood, 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe at age 22, Hollywood, 1949.

Marilyn Monroe at age 22, Hollywood, 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe, 22, takes singing lessons with bandleader Phil Moore at the famous West Hollywood nightclub, the Mocambo.

Marilyn Monroe, 22, took singing lessons with the bandleader Phil Moore at the famous West Hollywood nightclub, the Mocambo.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe, 22, takes singing lessons with bandleader Phil Moore at the famous West Hollywood nightclub, the Mocambo, in 1949.

Marilyn Monroe, 22, took singing lessons with the bandleader Phil Moore at the West Hollywood nightclub, the Mocambo, in 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe, 22, takes singing lessons with bandleader Phil Moore at the famous West Hollywood nightclub, the Mocambo, in 1949.

Marilyn Monroe, 22, took singing lessons with the bandleader Phil Moore at the West Hollywood nightclub, the Mocambo, in 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe, 22, takes singing lessons with bandleader Phil Moore at the famous West Hollywood nightclub, the Mocambo, in 1949.

Marilyn Monroe, 22, took singing lessons with the bandleader Phil Moore at the West Hollywood nightclub, the Mocambo, in 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe, 22, takes singing lessons with bandleader Phil Moore at the famous West Hollywood nightclub, the Mocambo, in 1949.

Marilyn Monroe, 22, took singing lessons with the bandleader Phil Moore at the West Hollywood nightclub, the Mocambo, in 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe, 22, takes lessons with the acting coach, Natasha Lytess, Hollywood, 1949. The note that accompanied this picture when Eyerman's photos were sent to LIFE's editors read: "in the depths of human agony. For some incomprehensible reason, it was thought that the Lytess hat would help Marilyn for this mood."

Marilyn Monroe, 22, took lessons with the acting coach Natasha Lytess, Hollywood, 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe, 22, takes lessons with acting coach, Natasha Lytess, Hollywood, 1949.

Marilyn Monroe, 22, took lessons with the acting coach Natasha Lytess, Hollywood, 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe, 22, takes lessons with acting coach, Natasha Lytess, Hollywood, 1949.

Marilyn Monroe, 22, took lessons with the acting coach Natasha Lytess, Hollywood, 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe, 22, takes lessons with acting coach, Natasha Lytess, Hollywood, 1949.

Marilyn Monroe, 22, took lessons with the acting coach Natasha Lytess, Hollywood, 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe at age 22, Hollywood, 1949.

Marilyn Monroe at age 22, Hollywood, 1949.

J. R. Eyerman The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

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