Long ago ...
Sometimes books have a very brief trip from store shelf to the to-be-reviewed pile, and this is one of them … my having just run into it at the dollar store a scant ten days ago. I guess what pushed Lawrence Schiller's Marilyn & Me: A Photographer's Memories
through my reading pipeline was that it was small, short, and not a particularly taxing subject (compared to some of the other stuff I've been reading of late), so it offered something easy and distracting. What more can you ask for a buck?
Frankly, this is a very brief look into the past … it's scarcely over a hundred pages, it's a small-format book, and has many pages (17?) of photographs, mostly from shoots described in the book. The author, still extant, is turning 80 this year, and he's evidently working on putting out “memories” of points in his career while he can still connect with them. He notes that he doesn't have
“notes” from back then (1960-62), so this is from his recall from a half a century on. This leads to a less detailed telling, but one with an almost dream-like arc.
The book starts out in 1960 when the author was a 23-year-old photographer … but hardly a novice, having done considerable work for various of the top magazines at the time. He had been assigned by Look
to photograph Marilyn Monroe on the set of a film she was doing, and was being shown around the studio by one of their publicists when he first met Marilyn. At this point, she was already in her mid-30's and seemed amused to be working with a press photographer so much younger than her, being both playful and open with Schiller.
One of the things that he recalls was the “business” side of Marilyn … she, for instance, insisted on being able to approve all shots, and could be very picky about what she thought was OK, too much muscle tone in a leg, the wrong angle on the hair, the eyes not being just right, and it would get a red X on the proof sheet. Oh, yes … and this was back in the real film
days – Schiller carried multiple cameras around with him, loaded with both color and B&W film, which he personally took back to his darkroom to process and print. So there were delays involved, ones that he tried to minimize by getting the contact sheets (kids: that's where the strips of film were shot directly onto the photo paper, creating 8x10's with many small images on them) done as soon as possible, and back to Marilyn.
He did notice, however, that Marilyn, even using a pro magnifier, was rejecting shots because she really couldn't see the details … he eventually printed enlarged versions on large sheets, and found that she was rejecting far fewer images.
Another thing about that side of her that he returns to a number of times is her insecurity, if not anger, about being paid as little as she was compared to other actresses. She even insisted, on one set of images, that the magazines could only use them if they had nothing
about Elizabeth Taylor in the issue.
One film that he was on set for involved a scene where Marilyn was swimming nude in a pool, and one of the places Schiller was looking to sell the more revealing images was Playboy
(with Marilyn's approval). He has a record of his correspondence with Hugh Hefner, some of which is reproduced here – offering a fascinating window into the dynamics of the early days of that magazine (Hef had a great idea for a front and back cover shoot, which never got done).
Much of Marilyn & Me
is like that, a look at what seems like a long-ago era, with vignettes of the movie studios (and assorted actors, and ancillary staff), the photographers of the time (he teamed up with some for a couple of projects here – back in the days of film, exclusivity drove up the price of images significantly), and Los Angeles of the era.
Schiller was there right at the end … he had swung by Marilyn's house soon after Fox had re-started Something's Got To Give
, and he was going to drop off some prints to her, and see if what her publicist had said on the phone to him (about how the Playboy deal was off) was true (Marilyn said that “she wasn't authorized to make that call”
). That was Saturday morning, the next day she was dead.
As noted above, there are a number of photographs in this, as you would expect, but far fewer than one might anticipate. Most, naturally, are of Marilyn, but there's one of the author, a few of Marilyn with co-stars on set, a couple “newsy” ones following her death (including a very poignant one of Joe DiMaggio and his son), and the cover of Life
that he scored with a portrait shot for a memorial issue. It's hardly a “photo book”, but it has just enough of those images to give a visual counterpart to the narrative.
Again, I found Marilyn & Me
less than two weeks ago at the dollar store, so it might well still be kicking around those channels at this point. It's still in print (in a very nice deckle-edge hardcover and an ebook edition), so might be out there in the brick & mortar stores. The on-line big boys have it, of course, at a bit of a discount, and there are some copies via the new/used vendors as well (but, oddly, not in the penny-plus-shipping range yet). Having been a child of the 60's, a lot of the ambient detail of this book was quite nostalgic (especially the old-style photography stuff) … it certainly is an interesting look into a world that one is familiar
with, on the surface, but one that wasn't easy to access. The author had that access, and opens up that world to the reader.