THE MAN WHO DISCOVERED NORMA JEANE
Private David Conover, USA
David Conover was born in Missouri, June 26, 1919. Near the end of the Second World War he was in California and studied photography. He was an army photographer then assigned to the 1st Motion Picture Unit. The base was familiarly know as Fort Roach since it was house in The Hal Roach Studio in Culver City, California. The outfit was unique in its makeup of personnel in that many were movie stars in uniform (Alan Ladd and Clark Cable). His Commanding Officer was Ronald Reagan. The unit was inevitably known as the “Celluloid Commandos”.
Norma Jeane, age 19
In the spring of 1945, Ronald Reagan sent David Conover to the Radioplane Corporation, manufacturer of radio-controlled miniature planes used by the army for anti-aircraft practice. The corporation was owned by Reagan’s friend, Reginald Denny, and was sent there to take pictures of Women in War Work. He moved down the assembly line taking shots of the most attractive employees. He came upon a girl putting on propellers. She had curly ash-blonde hair and her face was smudged with dirt. He snapped and walked on. Then he stopped. He was stunned. She was beautiful.
Straight away he asked her if she had a sweater with her and would she pose for him in her lunch hour. He said her response to the camera was amazing. She came alive with sure and immediate instinct. He was so excited he could hardly hold the camera steady. He must have kept his excitement to himself because Norma Jeane asked him “Am I really photogenic?” She was just 19 years old. That is how it started. David Conover Sr. was transferred to the Philippines a short while after.
Conover wrote to her many times but received no reply. When he was discharged from the army, Conover did not hear a word about Norma Jeane for many years. Meanwhile, he and his wife Jeanne were concentrating on fulfilling his childhood dream to buy Wallace Island, an uninhabited refuge from reality where he had magical camping holidays as a boy. He constructed a home and five cabins and called it Wallace Island Resort. He encouraged visitors and remained there until he passed away in 1983. He wrote several books: Once Upon an Island, One Man’s Island, Sitting on Saltspring and Finding Marilyn: A Romance