The Prince and the Showgirl was to be the second and last film made under Marilyn Monroe Productions. It was filmed in conjunction with Sir Laurence Olivier’s film production company. The film was only mildly successful at the box office. It starred Marilyn as the showgirl of course, and the world-renowned stage actor Sir Laurence Olivier as the Prince. This film was the basis for the recently released movie My Week with Marilyn based on a diary written by Colin Clark. Clark was Olivier’s personal assistant with the title of Third Assistant Director and he recorded every moment of his experiences with the actress. “I was the least important person on the set; the third assistant director, a kind of superior messenger boy. Little did I know the person I would be the most intimate with would be the star herself.” Little did Vivien Leigh know that Olivier was so tempted by Marilyn (who had no interest in him herself) that he even considered leaving Leigh for her or at least having an affair with Marilyn. Vivien herself had made only one Hollywood film in her career, the blockbuster Gone With the Wind. She played the starring role as the strong-willed, beautiful Scarlett O’Hara. Scarlet later married another character and became, (drum roll) Mrs. Kennedy. In yet another irony, Clark Gable co-starred as Rhett Butler. Gable was the man Norma Jeane always fancied her real father would resemble. Had Olivier actually left Leigh for Marilyn he would have discovered he was married to yet another woman with manic-depression, as Leigh also suffered from this illness.
Coincidences aside, when Marilyn and Arthur Miller arrived in England the film looked promising. The press surrounded Olivier, Leigh and the Millers. For his part, Clark wrote about the change in atmosphere while the cast and press waited for Marilyn’s arrival. “Marilyn Monroe is like Desdemona…she makes men mad.” For more than an hour the four made statements and posed for pictures at the airport and at Parkside House..Marilyn took off her sunglasses and smiled “that famous smile” at the press and all of the photographers took pictures at the same time. It made such a blinding flash that Marilyn put the glasses back on. Personally i think Marilyn looks dreadful upon her arrival. Her hair is a disheveled mess. Vivien Leigh, worked hard to keep attention on herself, yet she looked far prettier. For his part once they reached Parkside House, Miller leered at Olivier and Leigh and stated “well, we’re going to bed.” For a moment Marilyn looked uncomfortable then managed to hide her feelings with a smile.
It was Miller’s idea for Marilyn to make the film. He believed it would “enhance her new intellectual image to play opposite the greatest classical actor of the generation.” While still preparing for the film Miller and Marilyn quietly married which startled Olivier.Marilyn and Miller could elope quietly but the press surrounded them for an interview about the honeymoon at a time when Marilyn was supposed to be focused on the film. As for Miller, Olivier thought he was a “self-satisfied argumentative, pseudo-intellectual.”
Construction of the elaborate set at Pinewood Studios took time and was well worth it. The set was divided into two rooms in such a manner that when the acting took place in one room, it was being filmed in the other. Clark noted Olivier seemed distant where Marilyn was concerned. “He only gets cozy with men,” Clark wrote, not with homosexual meaning. Clark was suggesting that Olivier wasn’t apt to show Marilyn respect and certainly not to view her as his equal. For her part, Marilyn wasn’t used to taking direction. She used her own instinct. The stage was set so to speak for the disastrous experience ahead.
Marilyn’s old habit of showing up late or not showing up on set at all began to surface. It was now that Miller saw Marilyn’s horrid work habits for himself. It can’t have been a total surprise: by the second month of their marriage, Miller was already questioning the mental health of the woman he’d married. The first day of filming Prince, Marilyn was late and when she “showed up she looked absolutely frightful, no makeup, nasty complexion, and when the glasses came off a very vague look in her eyes.” Certainly this betrayed Marilyn’s barbiturates use. The intention was to do a film test of Marilyn, first without makeup, then with makeup. The following day Marilyn was again late, however the cast and crew weren’t concerned as they were in the “viewing theatre” watching the rushes, short scenes that are played back after filming. “The film was magical,” Clark gushed. “The stuff we shot in the morning, although it resembled a police mugshot, was quite heartbreaking. The afternoon footage was even more extraordinary. Marilyn looked like an angel, smooth glowing, eyes shining with joy. We all fell in love there and then…. Her makeup man Whitey, explained… “no matter how confused and difficult she is in real life, with the camera she can do no wrong.”
The second day, it took Marilyn eight takes to remember her one and only line: “oui.” Clark noticed an interaction between Paula Strasberg and Marilyn, and claimed “now I know the secret of Paula’s control over Marilyn: total, abject, sycophancy, continual flattery, blatant pandering to the very nerve-end.” A ride back to Parkside House included Paula, Marilyn and Clark. As soon as the car pulled out of the parking lot she began flattering Marilyn to the point where she “got on her knees in the car as she demonstrated how she “had prayed to God to give her a great actress to guide and now He has given me you.” Clark could hardly believe the scene that unfolded in front of him, finding it more surreal than the movie itself.
In spite of this, Marilyn’s misbehavior began. She showed up between 9:30am and noon for what should have been a 6:45am arrival onset. Olivier became irate when Marilyn didn’t learn her lines and she’d suddenly stop speaking mid-line. One line, “no”, kept escaping her. When Olivier told Marilyn to apologize to a supporting actress in the film “Marilyn was stunned,” Clark wrote. She seemed unaware of how her actions affected others. However as he slowly got to know her, Clark began wondering how much of the Marilyn image was contrived. He came to realize that “acting dumb was a good way to make others make fools of themselves.” Clark noted about Marilyn’s relationship with Miller that she seemed scared of him. “He really is unpleasant. He treats her as if she is just an accessory.” If that was indeed the case then Miller was a fool. Marilyn was a remarkable woman and not just because she was beautiful. She was highly intelligent, she merely lacked a formal education. She guided her own career from her earliest beginnings as a model for cheesecake magazines, to becoming the most sought after celebrity in the world. She owned her own film production studio. Miller couldn’t claim the same. Most likely Marilyn supported them both financially. If anyone was an accessory, it was Arthur Miller.
Marilyn didn’t like Olivier’s directions. She didn’t require them. Marilyn had a natural instinct for the camera that Olivier failed to recognize in her. For his part, Olivier’s concept of Marilyn was that she was an actress and he was the film’s director: she would do exactly as told. Marilyn of course, would do no such thing. She had her own interpretation of her character. Any Hollywood director could have told Olivier that ordering Marilyn to do anything would be a losing cause. The two butted heads frequently during filming, something that made Vivien Leigh quite smug.For reasons of their own the lighting crew couldn’t “stand Marilyn.They think she’s totally unprofessional…”if it wasn’t for loyalty to Laurence Olivier, I’d have edged a spanner off the ledge and onto her head,” said one.”
There was an interesting entry that became the foundation for the film My Week with Marilyn. He wrote a letter to a friend and mentioned that he hadn’t written in his diary for 9 days because his days and nights were too extraordinary to be believed and he would write about them at another time. He eventually revealed he spent the 9 days with Marilyn. She escaped from the Pinewood Studios lot with him to spend a day together. They talked for hours. She got to know him and he got to know a side of Marilyn Monroe he never knew existed.One sad entry described a creepy night at Parkside House. “Marilyn was sitting with her back against the wall. If I had gone on for another few feet I would have fallen right over her. Now she simply sat there wrapped in a pink bedcover staring straight into my eyes. She didn not give the slightest sign that she could see me. Had she been sleepwalking? Or was she drugged? There were many rumours floating around the studio of the number of sleeping pills she took. This ravishingly beautiful and vulnerable woman was literally at my feet.”
A more amusing moment came when Clark was sent to look for Marilyn’s script. Assuming she was on the set “I just barged into her dressing-room.There stood Marilyn Monroe completely nude.I stopped dead. All I could see were beautiful pink and white curves. Marilyn gave me her most innocent smile. ‘Oh Colin, she said. And you an old Italian…I realized behind the fog Marirlyn could be a bit brighter than all of us think.'” Yet while filming (not nude) Olivier was so displeased with Marilyn’s delivery of her line in one scene it took 29 takes to complete. “29 takes was an historic amount even for Marilyn Monroe…I really think Sir Laurence wanted to break all visible records as proof, actual visible proof, of how difficult it is to work with her.”
Clark joined Olivier for a drink in his dressing room one evening. “Can you believe it Colin? Am I such a bad director? The bloody Strasbergs have won the day! I’ve never been in a situation like this before Colin and I’m bloody sure I never will again! it’s a fucking nightmare…I thought Marilyn would make me feel young again. Some bloody hope!” The day Marilyn and Miller left Clark realized they would never see Marilyn again. “It was a great relief,” he admitted.Tellingly he wrote, Marilyn wasn’t at fault. “The great engine of publicity surrounds her … and one day it will crush her.” Clark concluded with “I expect we will all recover. It will take a long time.”