The actress — who was filming in what would be her final unfinished film, 1962’s “Something’s Got to Give” — had a pool scene in which she would emerge from the crystal clear water. But while she would go in wearing a flesh-toned swimsuit, America’s most famous sex symbol would come out wearing nothing at all.
Photojournalist Lawrence Schiller, who was on set documenting the shocking moment, is remembering the film icon on what would have been her 94th birthday: June 1. He is teaming up with New Orleans-based antique dealer M.S. Rau to release limited edition photos taken by the lensman.
Marilyn Monroe had an idea on how to make a major splash in her film, titled ‘Something’s Got to Give.’
The blonde bombshell passed away in 1962 at age 36 from a barbiturate overdose.
Schiller, who was 26 at the time and already gaining recognition for his work, told Fox News that Monroe knew exactly what she was doing.
“I’m in her house — [she’d] just come back from Mexico,” he recalled. “She had all these floor tiles that she was going to redo in the kitchen and she was trying to pick out what color blue she liked. … She was asking for my opinion — not that my opinion meant anything to her. Maybe she was being polite or something.
“And she said, ‘Oh, you know about that scene in the movie where I’m supposed to be in a swimming pool and I have a bathing suit on, but it looks like I’m nude?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s going to really make some good pictures.’ She said, ‘Larry, what would happen if I jumped in the swimming pool with the bathing suit on, but I came [out] with nothing on?’”
Photographer Lawrence Schiller documented numerous iconic moments from Marilyn Monroe’s unfinished film, titled ‘Something’s Got to Give.’
“I said, ‘Well, Marilyn, the problem really is … you’re already famous,’” he continued. “‘Now you’re going to make me famous.’ She looks at me and giggles and says, ‘Larry, I can fire you in two seconds.’ Of course, she didn’t fire me.”
At the time, Monroe’s Hollywood rival, Elizabeth Taylor, was in Rome filming the epic drama “Cleopatra.” The film made her the first actress to be paid a million-dollar salary. But working overtime, Taylor earned more than twice that amount.
Elizabeth Taylor, in the title role, and Richard Burton as Marc Antony in ‘Cleopatra,’ directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963.
(Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
“‘I should be getting that kind of money!’” Schiller remembered Monroe telling him about Taylor’s stunning salary. “‘That’s why I want to come out of the swimming pool with no clothes on. Because the pictures will then be on the cover of all the magazines and they won’t have Liz Taylor to look at. If you shoot the pictures, I want to make sure that when you release them, everybody’s got to put me on the cover and Liz Taylor can’t be in the same issue of the magazine.’”
Schiller admitted he was stunned at how savvy of a businesswoman Monroe was as she was often depicted as a “dumb blonde.”
“Marilyn knew exactly what to do,” he said. “You didn’t have to tell her, ‘Pose this way or that way’ in between the takes. She knew exactly what to do when she was directing herself. I felt quite honestly that I was the technical guy who was like a sponge. I was capturing it and absorbing it. Preserving it. But Marilyn was directing.”
Marilyn Monroe came up with the idea to appear nude in ‘Something’s Got to Give.’
It was a triumphant move for the star, who had developed an unflattering reputation on set for being notoriously late. And the final years of her life were becoming increasingly erratic. By 1961, Monroe was under the constant care of her psychiatrist and lived as a recluse in her Brentwood, Calif., home. She had undergone surgery for endometriosis, had a cholecystectomy (the removal of her gallbladder), was briefly hospitalized for depression, and endured addiction, U.K.’s Independent reported.
Monroe was frequently absent from the set and when she did appear, the star had to be coaxed to leave her trailer, the outlet reported. And when it came time to perform, Monroe had forgotten many of her lines. She would apologize profusely but the crew couldn’t hide their frustration.
“You have to remember that every day on set with Marilyn was problematic because everybody goes to work in the movie business like 8, 9, 10 o’clock,” Schiller said. “You’re lucky if Marilyn showed up at 11:30. And meanwhile, everybody’s sitting around just waiting, waiting, waiting. And of course, that’s money … going out the window. And then she would show up … giggle as if nobody had waited a minute … And then she would go into her dressing room and be there for another half hour, or hour.”
Marilyn Monroe’s final years were tumultuous in Hollywood.
Despite her personal battles, a noticeably slimmer Monroe was eager to show Hollywood she was still valuable and knew her worth, Schiller insisted.
But the studio and production team had little sympathy for the visibly troubled star. Just months before her death, Monroe was fired from the film.
Schiller still vividly remembers the last time he saw Monroe alive.
Marilyn Monroe was gearing up for a major comeback – but it wasn’t meant to be.
“I was going to Palm Springs with my first wife and daughter,” he said. “I went to her house because we were talking about doing the cover of Playboy magazine. She kind of liked the idea and [Hugh] Hefner had written a personal note. … The idea was a front cover and back cover. … Her press agent Pat Newcomb didn’t like the idea. You know, ‘You don’t have to go that far.’
“She already had Vogue magazine. … I went out to talk to her and see whether she really wanted to do it. By then she had been fired by the studio. … We had a conversation and then all of a sudden, she turned to me and said, ‘Oh, they’re just interested in my body — nothing else but my body!’ Something like that. … I just knew I had to get the hell out of there. I blew her a kiss and drove off. … The next morning I got a phone call. Marilyn was dead.”
Schiller was present at Monroe’s funeral and shot a now-iconic photo of a devastated Joe DiMaggio, Monroe’s ex-husband.
Today, Schiller still wonders what might have been for Monroe, a woman he described as “a fine actress,” an intellectual who enjoyed reading about her idol Abraham Lincoln, knew more about photography and lighting than expert cameramen and was determined to be taken seriously as a bankable businesswoman in Hollywood.
Joe DiMaggio and his son at Marilyn Monroe’s funeral.
“[These photos are] a mirror to another era,” he reflected. “It’s a window to what was and what no longer exists. And I don’t necessarily mean Marilyn as a person. … It’s a whole different ball game now. … [Back then, these stars], were there to entertain. And they made great films. Yes, we make fine films now. But when you start thinking about great films, you don’t think of anything made in the last five years, even though there have been some fine films made. I personally think it’s a window into a period of American history, world history, which we will never see again.”