An American Legend: The Marilyn Monroe Photographs by Lawrence Schiller

4 minute read

Hollywood starlet. Sex symbol. American icon.

Marilyn Monroe’s status as an enduring figure of glamour made her one of the most famous figures in American history. Printed from film that was lost for decades, it is the timeless fine photography in these signed, limited-edition photographs taken by famed photographer, director and author, Lawrence Schiller, that have brought this larger-than-life figure back into the spotlight.

Marilyn from the "Something's Got To Give" photoshoot. May 1962. This image was used for the August 17, 1962 cover of Life magazine, just after Marilyn's death. Marilyn from the "Something's Got To Give" photoshoot. May 1962. This image was used for the August 17, 1962 cover of Life magazine, just after Marilyn's death.

Early Life

Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson in Los Angeles on June 1, 1926. She spent much of her childhood in foster care until marrying the son of her foster family’s neighbor, James Dougherty, just after she turned 16. Dropping out of high school, Monroe became a housewife. Her husband joined the Merchant Marines and was deployed to the Pacific in 1944, and soon, Monroe took a job at the Radioplane Munitions Factory in Van Nuys, California.

It would be here that she caught the eye of photographer David Conover. He was hired by the Air Force’s First Motion Picture Unit to create morale films for the war effort. Soon, she quit working at the factory to work for Conover as a professional model, posing for pin-ups and advertisements in men’s magazines. It was these early modeling jobs that attracted the attention of 20th Century Fox. After signing an initial six-month contract, she and Fox executive Ben Lyon, came up with the stage name that would take the world by storm – Marilyn Monroe.

Rise of an Icon

She was determined to learn all she could about acting and the movie business, fully immersing herself in acting classes and spending as much time behind the scenes at the studio as possible. However, after a year, Fox did not renew her contract. She began modeling again and played small parts in several movies between 1949-1950. Her success in these films prompted Fox to sign Monroe to a seven-year contract by December of 1950, officially launching her movie legacy.

By 1953, Monroe reached Hollywood star status, staring in such memorable films such as Gentlemen Prefer Blonds, How to Marry a Millionaire and The Seven Year Itch. In 1955, Fox would award Monroe a new contract and larger salary. By the time she filmed her last completed movie, The Misfits, in 1961, the actress had a Golden Globe win and her own production company under her belt. She truly seemed unstoppable.

Through the Lens of a Virtuoso

Marilyn form the "Let's Make Love" photoshoot, April 1960. Marilyn form the "Let's Make Love" photoshoot, April 1960.

Schiller first shot Marilyn in May of 1960 on the set of Let’s Make Love. During this “golden age” of Hollywood, studios hired and depended heavily on photographers to take pictures on the set of their movies as a means to publicize their films. Movie stars had much more say over the pictures that were taken of them at this time, and of the dozens of shots Schiller took during filming, this adoring image is one of the only she personally approved.

Schiller didn’t photograph Marilyn again until 1962 when he was hired to shoot the star on the set of what would become the last film she would ever work on, the unfinished Something’s Got To Give. Marilyn had the idea of emerging from the water nude in the now-famous pool scene shortly before filming, but no one knew for sure if she would actually do it. She went in with a custom-made beige bikini, and true to her word, stepped out of the pool nude.

Marilyn poolside during the "Something's Got To Give" photoshoot, May 1962. Marilyn poolside during the "Something's Got To Give" photoshoot, May 1962.

“Marilyn was a photographer’s dream subject with her clothes on, and even more stunning with them off. Her wet skin glistened. Her eyes sparkled. Her smile was provocative… As I shot, I was sure the pictures I was taking were going to be beautiful and unforgettable. The flow of her spine complemented her natural curves as the water reflected the lights, and the whole scene came alive.”

-Lawrence Schiller

On August 5, 1962, less than three months after these indelible photographs were taken, Marilyn passed away in her Brentwood, California home. She was interred at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, with arrangements made by her ex-husband, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. Schiller was there to document the events of the day, and this image of DiMaggio with his son in full Marine dress is one of profound emotion.

A touching image of Monroe's ex-husband, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, with his son at Monroe's funeral, August 8, 1962 A touching image taken by Schiller of Monroe's ex-husband, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, with his son at Monroe's funeral, August 8, 1962

Of all the images taken of this incomparable movie star, these are perhaps the most iconic. The Marilyn Monroe photographer created only 75 sets of these telling photographs, and none will ever be created again. Each image is numbered and signed by Schiller, and measure 20” x 24”. The full portfolio includes 10 black and white silver gelatin prints and two color photographs.

These Marilyn Monroe collectible photographs pay homage to the vibrant, unforgettable woman. Each timeless image speaks volumes about a woman who was both a cultural phenomenon and, in many ways, a misunderstood, gentle soul ahead of her time.

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