by Vanity Fair
“Fox [Studios] should start paying as much attention to me as they are paying to Elizabeth Taylor,” Marilyn Monroe told Lawrence Schiller, hatching the idea that would turn out to be the break of the young photographer’s life: for him to photograph her nude. In an adaptation of Schiller’s memoir Marilyn & Me, the June issue of Vanity Fair reveals never-before-published pictures from that shoot, as well as details of Schiller’s conversations with the star.
In 1960, as part of an ongoing battle to get Fox to take her more seriously, and out of jealousy over Taylor’s success, Marilyn came up with an attention-grabbing plan: a poolside shoot in which she’d jump in the water with a bathing suit on—and come out without it. “Larry,” she said, “if I do come out of the pool with nothing on, I want your guarantee that when your pictures appear on the covers of magazines Elizabeth Taylor is not anywhere in the same issue.” Marilyn was making only $100,000 for what would be her last film, Something’s Got to Give, in 1962, while Taylor was receiving a million dollars for Cleopatra. She wanted to show Fox that she could get the same kind of coverage as the publicity bonanza generated by Taylor’s very public affair with her co-star, Richard Burton. When Hugh Hefner agreed to pay $25,000 for a nude shot of Marilyn—the most money Playboy had ever paid for a photograph—Schiller thanked her for creating such a big payday, joking, “See what tits ’n’ ass can do?” “That’s how I got my house and swimming pool,” Marilyn said, laughing. “There isn’t anybody that looks like me without clothes on.”
Just 23 years old at the time, Schiller, at the set on assignment for Look magazine, had no idea that he was getting to know the icon in some of her most vulnerable moments. In an adaptation of his memoir about their sessions together, Schiller recounts intimate and telling conversations that illuminate the private struggles that consumed the starlet in her final days.
“I could tell you all about rejection,” Marilyn said to Schiller. “Sometimes I feel my whole life has been one big rejection.” “But look at you now,” he said. “Exactly,” she replied. “Look at me now.” Confused, Schiller protested, “You’re a star! Your face is on magazine covers all over the world! Everyone knows Marilyn Monroe!” “Let me ask you, Larry Wolf [Schiller first introduced himself to Monroe as the Big Bad Wolf]—how many Academy Award nominations do I have?” “I don’t know,” he said. “I do,” she said. “None.”
Marilyn even confided her deepest worry. “I’ve always wanted a baby,” she said. “Having a child, that’s always been my biggest fear. I want a child and I fear a child. Whenever it came close, my body said no and I lost the baby.” She talked to Schiller about being afraid that she’d wind up like her mother, who had been in and out of mental institutions her whole life.
She reflected often on her assumed identity, and where Norma Jeane fit in. “I never wanted to be Marilyn—it just happened. Marilyn’s like a veil I wear over Norma Jeane,” she admitted to Schiller. During a photography session, she told him, “I always have a full-length mirror next to the camera when I’m doing publicity stills. That way, I know how I look.” Schiller asked, “So, do you pose for the photographer or for the mirror?” “The mirror,” she replied without hesitating. “I can always find Marilyn in the mirror.”
However, Schiller reveals, Marilyn’s attitude about her sex-symbol status fluctuated wildly. While she was at times boastful of her looks and what they procured for her, she was also by turns insecure and angry. “It’s still about nudity. Is that all I’m good for?” she demanded of Schiller. “I’d like to show that I can get publicity without using my ass or getting fired from a picture,” she continued. “I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
It was to be their last conversation: the very next morning, Marilyn was reported dead at 36. One of her final acts had been to return the nude photo to Schiller, which he found waiting for him at his house. She had written, “Send this to Playboy, they might like it.”
Related: Read “Marilyn and Her Monsters,” by Sam Kashner, from the November 2010 issue,which goes inside the troubled starlet’s diaries.
Plus: a handwriting expert analyzes Marilyn Monroe’s journal entries in a VF.com exclusive.