60 Years Later, Lawrence Schiller Remembers Marilyn

Photojournalist Lawrence Schiller, who first met Marilyn on the set of Let’s Make Love before gaining exclusive access to her while filming the ‘pool scene‘ for Something’s Got to Give in 1962, has shared his memories with Joe Capozzi, a reporter in Palm Beach, Florida, where Schiller’s photos can be seen at the Holden Luntz Gallery (which also boasts images of Marilyn by Eve Arnold, Bruno Bernard, Andre de Dienes, Douglas Kirkland, and Bert Stern in its roster.)

“SHE WAS TENDING to some flowers in the front yard of her Brentwood home when the visitor arrived that Saturday morning …

It was after 9 a.m. on Aug. 4, 1962, and Schiller’s unannounced visit would be brief. He was dropping off some photographs from one of his many sessions with her, but he had another motive: To gauge her interest in a previously discussed project, posing for the cover of Playboy. Hugh Hefner wanted to use some of the more provocative shots taken less than three months earlier … ‘It’s still about nudity. Is that all I’m good for? I’d like to get publicity without using my ass or getting fired from a picture,’ she replied that morning, according to Marilyn & Me, a memoir Schiller wrote in 2012 for the 50th anniversary of her death.

You’ve been asked this before but do you feel any guilt about having approached her that morning about the Playboy cover?

I don’t because the demons in her life were far greater than one spoke in the wheel. I was one of the spokes in the wheel. She was fighting battles her entire life … Her demons were very, very deep yet there were times she was very motherly to me … 

From everything I’ve read, it seems like she took a liking to you. 

She’d been run over by a lot of trucks in her life. She was a very smart woman. This was not the dumb blonde that you see in Seven Year Itch. The short and long of it is, by the time I am in the same highway for a few moments in life as she is, she had a lot of life experiences and I had very few.”

Marilyn with her acting coach, Paula Strasberg

Many people still wonder if her death was an accident. What do you think?

I think it was an accidental drug overdose. I saw her sitting next to me in a T-bird outside Schwab’s popping pills with Dom Perignon. She was a prescription drug abuser, not an illegal drug abuser, let’s make that very clear. You could say she predated the opioid crisis where doctors prescribed pills for her because of who she was where they might not have done that for some other client.

Are you at all surprised that 60 years later it’s almost as if she is as large in death as she was in life?

The thing that’s amazing to me is that she still appeals to young people. There are names that people remember today – Marilyn Monroe, the Kennedys, Charles Manson, the good, the bad and the ugly — that still resonate in our culture and society where a lot of people are completely forgotten that may have played an important role in shaping our evolutionary process. Who remembers Dr. Spock? 

You published your memoir Marilyn & Me in 2012 on the 50th anniversary of her death. Are you doing anything special to observe the 60th anniversary?

Not at all … I don’t think of Marilyn at all unless somebody calls up and says I want to buy a print of yours or do an interview. She doesn’t exist in my day to day memory in any way.”

Marilyn celebrates her birthday on the set of Something’s Got to Give