Earl Theisen, my dad: Daughter finds negatives of Marilyn, more

August 21, 2012 | By Roxie Livingston | Archive, Entertainment, Friends, Iconic, Our artists

When Dad died, I was just 30 years old and had three young children.  Mom was a real trooper, and started her new life without all the chaos that surrounded them during the years after LOOK ceased publication, when he and Mom went from place to place teaching, and lecturing.

All the negatives, pictures and special booklets he created stayed in closets for almost 60 years.  Tucked away, but not forgotten.

Mom considered making a photo book, but was turned down by a publisher, so she just gave that up and the collection of negatives and photos were left in a closet.

When she became ill and we closed her house, the negatives moved to my house.  It was about 1990, and I also stored them in my closet.  I closed that closet door, never realizing who was in those pictures or what those negatives were about.  They were ignored, but not forgotten.

A few years ago I realized… “OK… enough, you need know something about those negatives and do something about them.” But what? I finally started looking through the collection.


Marilyn Monroe chats with photographer Earl Theisen during a portrait session in February 1952 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Earl Theisen/Getty Images)


I was overwhelmed at the thoughts of whom and what I should pursue to get these historic photographs out for the rest of the world to enjoy.  For others to glimpse what it was like during the “Golden Years.”  What a wonderful experience I had looking at the negatives.  I would get lost in the memories of when Dad would come home from faraway places telling us all about his adventures.

I had been taking some computer classes at an Apple Computer Store.  One day, as I sat there learning new things I started chatting with the nicest couple beside me; they were about my age.  Since we were talking about Photo programs, I mentioned my Dad had been a professional photographer and I didn’t know exactly who or what to do with the negatives.  The woman said, “Our daughter works at Getty Images – Let’s ask her!”

I am sure my mouth dropped open at the coincidence of that afternoon!  What are the chances of me sitting beside these people?  A small miracle we will call it!

Their daughter was so helpful, immediately emailing me and connecting me with Jonathan Hyams, and you know the rest….

I had thought of Getty Images the year before, and had attempted to call, but lost my nerves I guess, because I didn’t follow through.

Recently, the images from this collection were made available for license, and they certainly are captivating. But he was just Dad to me.


Walt Disney poses for a portrait at home with daughters Diane (right) and Sharon circa 1938 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Earl Theisen/Getty Images)


Actress Claudette Colbert poses for a portrait while skiing circa 1948 in Sun Valley, Idaho. (Photo by Earl Theisen/Getty Images)


Author Ernest Hemingway poses writes at a portable table while on a big game hunt in September 1952 in Kenya. (Photo by Earl Theisen/Getty Images)

I grew up, never thinking twice about my Dad’s work, He was just my DAD!  He pulled weeds on the weekends he was home, and polished his cherished car, every morning, without fail.  The last thing he did before he left for work was to get a dust cloth and wipe the dust off his car, making sure it shined.

Notice I said on the weekends he was home? Dad traveled and traveled and traveled.  I probably spent half my kid years in the back seat of the car as we either drove him to the airport, or picked him up from the airport.  As soon as I started driving, I also drove back and forth to the Los Angeles International Airport.

I assumed everybody’s Dad took them to the studios on the weekends, and could drive up to Clark Gable’s house and ring the bell on the gate and go in to visit with Mr. Gable.

I had to become an adult to finally realize “what” Dad really did. He had an important life, and he recorded for all time the Icons of his generation.  He LOVED his job, and how many people can say that?  He was so enthusiastic about a new lens, about a new story; I think he would vibrate with enthusiasm when he knew he “got the shot,” when he knew his subject was captured on film.

I have such admiration for what he accomplished in his lifetime. I was so proud of my Dad.

How he could command a room with his stories of movie stars, of wild bear hunts with Gary Cooper, or of weeks spent with Ernest Hemingway in Africa.

I finally realized that Dad could take the most beautiful black-and-white photos, rich in darks and lights in their absence of colors. Then, when he did start shooting color, he set up a darkroom behind our house, and experimented with color techniques.

I would stand beside him and watch while he worked what I thought was magic as the pictures appeared in the tray of solutions. Each tray had its own purpose and he was always patient with me, bumping his arm as I watched.

He was a really good Dad — not perfect, because his missed lots of my Birthdays being out of town with…  Oh, just some incredibly important person as he recorded for all time. Another photo story!

Editor’s note: Roxie Livingston grew up in Sherman Oaks, Calif.  She has been married 50 years, and has three adult children (and three awesome grandchildren). She is retired now, as is her husband, and most of her married life has been focused on raising the children, and now enjoying the grandkids! When she’s not unearthing boxes of her famous father’s negatives, her joy lies in donating her time and energy to charitable efforts, traveling and visiting new places. You can view the full Earl Theisen collection on our site; we are so grateful Roxie took the time to share her stories with us!

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  • Paul Troxell

    Earl was a great insperation for all the photographers who had the honor to be trained and guided by the master. He gave me the great insite of how to photograph people. Not only was his art a gift to us all but his sharing of his skills with so many of us who needed that incouragement to go to that extra mile and above was wonderful. Having worked in the News field for many years and am now retired I never forgot the mentorship that he gave me. To Roxie Livingston Thank you and God bless you for the memories. You and your family were blessed to have such great parents. Both your Mom and Dad shared the love with so many of us. Photography was his way of sharing this love with the world. Thanks again. Paul Troxell

  • Musyoka Maingi

    Hi Roxie,
    I own a farmhouse in Kitanga, Kenya which was built in 1909 for Theodore Roosevelt and in which your father stayed with Hemingway and Phillip Percival while hunting in 1933. I wonder if there were any photographs taken during that Safari which show the house and how I can get to see them.
    I contacted the Roosevelt foundation two years ago and got some of Ted Roosevelt at the house. I have restored the house completely and am interested in researching it’s great heritage.
    I look forward to a favorable reply from you. My e-mail address is