Though a childhood accident left him with impaired vision in one eye, Lawrence Schiller became an obsessive photographer; even while attending Pepperdine College, his pictures had already appeared in Life, Sport, Playboy, Glamour, and the Saturday Evening Post.
Schiller’s interests and ambitions soon developed into a profession in print journalism, documenting major stories for glossy magazines all over the world, including Life, Look, Newsweek, Time, Paris Match, Stern, and the London Sunday Times. His iconic images of Robert F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Bette Davis, Barbra Streisand, Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali, and Madame Nhu, among others are tributes to his doggedness, ingenuity, and charm as well as to his technical proficiency.
In November 1963, while on assignment for the Saturday Evening Post, he reached Dallas in time to photograph Lee Harvey Oswald. Later, he landed Jack Ruby’s final interview. After extensive interviews with the widow of Lenny Bruce in 1968, Schiller and the writer Albert Goldman published Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce (1974); and, with the photographer W. Eugene Smith, he produced Minamata (1975), the epic pictorial chronicle of mercury poisoning in Japan.
Schiller moved into motion pictures by directing a portion of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and Lady Sings the Blues (1972) with Diana Ross. In 1971, he produced and co-directed with L.M. Kit Carson the acclaimed documentary, The American Dreamer on Dennis Hopper. His editorial direction of The Man Who Skied Down Everest (1972) won an Oscar for Best Feature Documentary for its producer. After obtaining extraordinary cooperation from the Kremlin, in 1986, he executive produced and co-directed Peter the Great, the Emmy Award-winning television mini-series starring Maximilian Schell, Vanessa Redgrave, and Laurence Olivier.
Perhaps nothing in Schiller’s career proved more remarkable, though, than his collaboration with Norman Mailer — a friendship unique in American literary history. For nearly thirty-five years the two worked closely together, on books including Marilyn (1973), The Faith of Graffiti (1974), Oswald’s Tale (1995), Into the Mirror (2002), and The Executioner’s Song (1979), for which Mailer won the Pulitzer Prize. Schiller, who conceived of the project, did much of the legwork, interviews, and research for the book, while outmaneuvering numerous other reporters to gain exclusive access to the book’s subject, Gary Gilmore, and went on to produce and direct the award-winning television miniseries based upon it, starring Tommy Lee Jones.
Schiller embedded himself into the so-called “Dream Team” defending O. J. Simpson, and with his unique insider’s perspective on the case, co-wrote (with James Willwerth) the New York Times number one best-selling American Tragedy (1996). His reporting on antisocial behavior soon became the basis for many books and motion pictures and documentaries for television, many of which he produced and directed.
Schiller has been a consultant to NBC News, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, and the Annie Leibovitz Studios, among many other photographic archives; and has written for The New Yorker, The Daily Beast, and other publications. Upon the death of Norman Mailer, in 2008, Schiller was named the President and Co-Founder of the Norman Mailer Center and Writer’s Colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He currently is a consultant and advisor to various estates and trusts on monetizing and preserving the legacy of noted figures in America.