The Lost Marilyn Monroe Nudes: How Norma Jeane’s Pics Differ From Today’s Stars’
Outtakes from Marilyn Monroe’s last photo shoot—a nude one—can be seen in June’s issue of Vanity Fair. Photographer Lawrence Schiller remembers the star.
“Fox should start paying as much attention to me as they are paying to Elizabeth Taylor.”
So said Marilyn Monroe to photographer Lawrence Schiller in 1960—right before coming up with the most attention-grabbing idea she could imagine: A photo shoot which would involve her jumping into a swimming pool with a bathing suit on… and then coming up for air with it off. Yes, ladies and gents: Even Norma Jeane had nude photos. But the difference between hers and most of the celebrity nude photos that appear today is that Marilyn’s were no accident.
The June issue of Vanity Fair contains an adaptation of Schiller’s upcoming memoir, Marilyn and Me, including never-before-seen outtakes from the poolside shoot—and some previously unknown revelations about Marilyn’s career in its last years. By 1960, Elizabeth Taylor’s success had been firmly established with Suddenly, Last Summer, Cleopatra was going into production, and Liz’s steamy affair with Richard Burton kept her name in the papers. About the poolside shoot, Schiller remembers that Marilyn told him, “Larry, 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.”
These days, there’s always some debate when a set of nude photos appears as to whether they were stolen from the star or whether she herself leaked them; in either case, though, they’re almost always played off as an “oops!” moment. Not so for Marilyn, though. This was a calculated move from a woman who knew exactly how she would be perceived—and how she could use that fact to her advantage. It wasn’t a scandal. It was a PR move.
Bear in mind, too, that Marilyn was no stranger to nude photos; she had helped launch Playboy in 1952 with a nude taken of her in 1949. However, throughout her career, she had mixed feelings about her status as a sex symbol. She was constantly fighting the assumption that she was a star only for her beauty, rather than her acting chops. Indeed, according to Vanity Fair, Schiller recalled that once during a photography session, Marilyn 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.” When Schiller asked if she posed for the photographer or for the mirror, she replied promptly, “The mirror. I can always find Marilyn in the mirror.”
That shoot, sadly, ended up being her last. One of her final acts before her death in 1962 was to return the nude photo from the poolside shoot to Schiller. The note included read, “Send this to Playboy, they might like it.”
Schiller’s memoir, Marilyn and Me, is due for release on May 29. Check out the much-discussed photo here:
And see more in June’s issue of Vanity Fair.
Lucia Peters is BettyConfidential’s associate editor.