The magic of Marilyn Monroe

Jazz legend Buddy Greco is auctioning rare photographs of him and the actress taken just days before she died. Andrew Johnson reports
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The Independent US

Smiling in the Nevada sunshine, Marilyn Monroe looks chic in a headscarf as she embrace her friend, the jazz pianist Buddy Greco. Out of shot, a tanned Frank Sinatra is looking on. It would have been impossible to guess that Monroe is here just five days away from her tragic and still controversial death in August 1962.

These pictures, the last of one of Hollywood's biggest stars, were taken as she relaxed at Lake Tahoe where Greco and Sinatra were performing. Only six survive from an original 36 – the others were kept in a vault in the World Trade Center and were destroyed in the 9/11 attack – and Greco has just put them up for sale. They are expected to raise many thousands of pounds, despite the effect of the recession on the art and rare photograph markets.

Greco, a jazz legend who started off playing in Benny Goodman's band, and the only one in the pictures still alive, was playing at Sinatra's Cal Neva lounge; Ol' Blue Eyes himself was also on the bill. A host of their friends came to visit, including other Rat Pack members Peter Lawford and Dean Martin, as well as Monroe and mafia boss Sam Giancana.

Monroe died five days later of a drug overdose. Conspiracy theories remain that she was murdered.

Greco's former wife, Dani, took the snapshots, and the pianist put six in a desk drawer, which is how they survived. Greco, 82, who now lives in Palm Springs, has decided to sell the photos, along with other memorabilia, to raise money to reopen his dinner and jazz club.

"When she came in, she was not in a bad mood," Greco recalled. "But, she was kind of discombobulated. She said, 'Why is everybody looking at me?' When she walked in, it was like time just froze.

"I've been collecting memorabilia throughout my career. I've enjoyed my collection and these rare photos for over 40 years, taken by my manager and my then wife during that last weekend in Cal Neva. Imagine my surprise and dismay when I heard the news about my dear friend Marilyn a few short days later.

"I'm in great health. But it's definitely time to simplify my life and give a new home to this wonderful collection. I can't think of a better way to share it with the world."

Other items being auctioned include a note to Greco from George Harrison, a letter from Louis Armstrong and a painting by Sinatra.

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