Marilyn Monroe’s only nude scene of her career… was her idea! The world never got to see the legendary Marilyn Monroe nude sequence, intended for the unreleased movie Something’s Got To Give. Now on-set photographer Lawrence Schiller has made limited edition prints of his striking on-set images, and is currently selling them through New Orleans antique dealer M.S. Rau.
The movie was to feature Monroe’s character Ellen Arden swimming in a pool naked. In reality Monroe would be wearing a flesh-colored costume. However the star cheekily decided to go topless on emerging from the water. She then had publicity pictures taken bare-chested and fully undressed.
To Schiller’s surprise, Monroe asked him about disrobing before going through with the plan. Interviewed by Fox News to promote the picture sale, he revealed: “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?’” When he replied it would make him famous she quipped back “Larry, I can fire you in two seconds.”
Why was Marilyn keen to strip down? The answer was showbiz rivalry. News that Elizabeth Taylor was receiving $1 million dollars for starring in ‘Cleopatra’ rankled the iconic actress. Her fee for Something’s Got To Give was $125,000. Schiller quotes Monroe to Fox: “I should be getting that kind of money!… 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.”
Page Six, who also spoke to the seasoned snapper, writes “one condition of the shoot was that when Schiller sold the pics, they couldn’t appear in any magazines that also featured Elizabeth Taylor.” It was the ultimate diversionary tactic, devised by someone frequently pigeon-holed as an airhead blonde.
“What I came to discover was that she didn’t feel that she was respected and reimbursed for her talent” Schiller tells Page Six. Fox writes that in his opinion she “knew more about photography and lighting than expert cameramen”. Schiller continues: “Marilyn knew exactly what to do. 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.”
Schiller also recounted how Monroe wasn’t the most punctual person to work with: “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. You’re lucky if Marilyn showed up at 11:30…And then she would show up, giggle as if nobody had waited a minute, then go into her dressing room and be there for another half hour, or hour.”
While the nude scene went ahead, the film didn’t. Co-starring Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse, the 20th Century Fox picture was directed by George Cukor. Suffering from health problems, Monroe’s unprofessional behavior eventually got her the sack and production was shut down. Fox relented and tried re-hiring her but it wasn’t to be. Monroe passed away a couple of months later in August 1962 aged 36. Eventually the film was reworked into Move Over, Darling the following year, starring Doris Day and James Garner.
Schiller spoke to her in the run up to her demise, concerning a new Playboy shoot. “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” he says to Fox News. “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.”
Schiller was present at the funeral, where he took a famous shot of Monroe’s ex-husband and friend Joe DiMaggio. That photo is available as part of the sale. Describing one example where the star is seen naked from behind, M.S. Rau writes “The limited edition photograph pays homage to the vivacious and playful spirit of the starlet through the lens of a virtuoso.”
They add, “Printed from film that was lost for decades, Schiller made only 75 editions of these breathtaking photographs, and none will ever be created again. The silver gelatin print is numbered and signed by Schiller.” Schiller went on to become a popular photojournalist, as well as a writer, producer and director. He is credited as still montage director on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).
Referring to his photos as “a mirror to another era” (Fox), he paid tribute to her skill in front of the camera. “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.”