NEW YORK – Forty-five years after her tragic and mysterious death from a drug overdose, Marilyn Monroe is playful, flirtatious, carefree — and in some cases, naked — in rarely-seen photographs taken shortly before she died.
Life magazine lensman Lawrence Schiller, who photographed Monroe several different times, snapped the pictures in May 1962 on the set of the film "Something's Got to Give."
The platinum blond sex symbol was ultimately fired from the movie due to chronic lateness and drug addiction. Three months later, she was dead.
"She was a very lovable, huggable person," said the 70-year-old Schiller, whose pictures are currently on display at a gallery in the artsy SoHo section of New York City. "Marilyn was a great actress, not a dumb blond bombshell. She was very smart, very astute and a good businesswoman."
• Photo Essay: Marilyn Monroe Exposed
The photo shoot was Monroe's last before her death in August 1962 at the age of 36.
In many of the pictures, Monroe is frolicking naked in a swimming pool, strategically posed to avoid full-frontal nudity. One shows her lounging on a sofa. In another, she is seen smiling over a huge cake festooned with sparklers.
And now anyone with a sizable bankroll can hang the photographs in his or her living room. Prints of all 12 color and black-and-white shots of Monroe are for sale for between $3,000 and $5,500 per picture and between $30,000 and $50,000 per complete set.
Schiller said Monroe was easy to photograph because she loved the camera — and the camera loved her.
"She knew what to do," he said. "She took direction very well, but you didn't have to tell Marilyn how to pose."
Schiller's pictures appeared in Life, Paris Match and The London Times, among other publications around the world. He remembers Monroe as being happy when he photographed her that final time.
"She was at a very, very good moment in her life," he said.
The day of her death, Aug. 5, Schiller said he met with Monroe to discuss a shoot for Playboy magazine.
"I was at her house the morning she died," he said. The star seemed fine, according to Schiller.
But she wasn't fine. Later that day, Monroe's housekeeper found the actress dead of an overdose of sedatives. Her nude body was face-down on her bed.
The exhibit is at POP International Galleries in New York for the next month.