Before she was Marilyn Monroe, blonde and voluptuous and a heart breaking flirt, she was a dark-haired 19-year-old girl who had no money.
She walked into Joe Jasgur’s photo studio in Los Angeles in 1946 and asked him to shoot publicity photos. She needed them, she said, to break into modeling.
Jasgur, then age 26, took the photos. Two weeks later at Zuma Beach he would take more. They would transform his life and consume his last years. He died in poverty in an east Orange nursing home in 2009 at age 89, but his lawyers kept up the fight to get back those photos.
This week, an Orlando bankruptcy judge ruled in his favor: The photos, wrote U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Karen Jennemann, belong to Jasgur and a bankruptcy trustee.
They will now be rounded up, inventoried and sold, most likely at auction, said Richard Lee Barrett and Liz Green, Jasgur’s attorneys.
Jasgur’s estate will get 35 percent of the profit and the bankruptcy trustee 65 percent. Those are the terms of a pretrial settlement.
There are two big losers here. One is Robert L. Fox Sr., a bankrupt Orlando drywall contractor, identified by the judge as a villain and swindler.
Jasgur had signed a deal with him in 2000, giving Fox the right to market the photos for $6,250 plus 30 percent of the profits, but that deal quickly soured and Jasgur began to fight for their return. Each described the other as a cheater.
The other loser is Dartlin Africh, the Orlando businessman to whom Fox sold some of the photos. Africh paid $200,000 cash and $700,000 in debt relief.
The judge ordered Africh to return them.
Roy Kobert, lawyer for Fox and Africh, was not available for comment Friday.
Jasgur’s best-known photos show Monroe, then known as Norma Jean Dougherty, in a striped bathing suit at the beach. In one, she appears to have six toes on her left foot, something Hollywood historians have debated for years.
But Jasgur’s photo collection also includes hundreds of other celebrity photos, among them Humphrey Bogart and Ronald Reagan. Jasgur was the official photographer at the Hollywood Canteen, a club for World War II soldiers that was also popular with movie stars.
What all those photos are worth, no one knows, according to Barrett and Green. One appraiser valued them at several million dollars.
Long-time friend Tom Endre manages Jasgur’s estate.
He was thrilled with the decision but unsure if there would be any money left once all the bills are paid. The legal battle has dragged on for six years, and Jasgur’s lawyers have yet to be paid.
“I took this case because I fell in love with an old man who I thought was cheated out of his collection,” said Barrett.
The sad part, Barrett said, is that Jasgur is not alive to enjoy it.
Jasgur has one daughter, Cindy Ferrier, 55, of East Windsor, N.J. They were estranged.
“I feel like I’m entitled to something,” she said Friday.
Endre said she should expect nothing.
“She has no standing in probate,” he said.