By Colin Clark
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In 1956, fresh from Oxford University, twenty-three-year-old Colin Clark began work as a lowly assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, the film that united Sir Laurence Olivier with Marilyn Monroe. The blonde bombshell and the legendary actor were ill suited from the start. Monroe, on honeymoon with her new husband, the celebrated playwright Arthur Miller, was insecure, often late, and heavily medicated on pills. Olivier, obsessively punctual, had no patience for Monroe and the production became chaotic. Clark recorded it all in two unforgettable diaries — the first a charming fly-on-the- wall account of life as a gofer on the set; the other a heartfelt, intimate, and astonishing remembrance of the week Clark spent escorting Monroe around England, earning the trust and affection of one of the most desirable women in the world. Published together here for the first time, the books are the basis for the upcoming major motion picture My Week with Marilyn starring Michelle Williams, Judi Dench, and Kenneth Branagh.
England was abuzz when Monroe arrived to shoot The Prince and the Showgirl. She hoped working with the legendary Olivier would give her acting further credibility, while he hoped the film would give his career a boost at the box office and some Hollywood glamour. But Monroe, feeling abandoned when Miller left the country for Paris, became difficult on the set. Clark was perceptive in his assessment of what seemed to be going wrong in Monroe’s life: too many hangers-on, intense insecurity, and too many pills. Olivier, meanwhile, was impatient and condescending toward her. At a certain point, feeling isolated and overwhelmed, Monroe turned her attention to Clark, who gave her comfort and solace. Before long, she escaped the set and a remarkable true adventure took place. Monroe and Clark spent an innocent week together in the English countryside and Clark became her confidant and ally. And, like any man would be expected to, he fell a bit in love. Clark understood how best to handle Monroe and became Olivier’s only hope of getting the film finished. Before long, young Colin was in over his head, and his heart may well have been broken by the world’s biggest movie star.
A beguiling memoir that reads like a fable, My Week with Marilyn is above all a love letter to one of our most enduring icons.
In 1956, fresh out of Oxford, twenty-three-year-old Colin Clark was employed as a "gofer" on the English set of The Prince and the Showgirl, a film featuring Sir Laurence Olivier, Britain's preeminent classical actor, and Marilyn Monroe, Hollywood's greatest star. From the outset the production was bedeviled by problems, and the clashes between Monroe and Olivier have since entered film legend. As a lowly set assistant Clark kept a fly-on-the-wall record of the often tumultuous experience in a journal he published to great acclaim almost forty years later, in 1995, as The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me.
But one week was missing from the middle of that book. For nine days during the filming, Clark found himself escorting an unhappy Monroe around England in an innocent and often idyllic adventure designed to help the actress escape the pressures of working with Olivier and an often hostile cast and crew. In the process Clark earned Monroe's lasting trust and affection. From the notes Clark made shortly after the episode he wrote My Week with Marilyn, published in 2000, two years before his death.
Here, for the first time, My Week with Marilyn and The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me are published together in the same volume.
My Week with Marilyn
All my life I have kept diaries, but this is not one of them. This is a fairy story, an interlude, an episode outside time and space which nevertheless was real. And why not? I believe in magic. My life and most people's lives are a series of little miracles – strange coincidences which spring from uncontrollable impulses and give rise to incomprehensible dreams. We spend a lot of time pretending that we are normal, but underneath the surface each one of us knows that he or she is unique.
This book sets out to describe a miracle – a few days in my life when a dream came true and my only talent was not to close my eyes. Of course I didn't realise quite what a miracle it was at the time. I had been brought up in a world of 'make believe'. My earliest memory of my parents is of remote and wonderful beings, only seen late at night, wearing full evening dress. All their friends seemed to be exotic too. Actors, artists, ballerinas and opera singers filled our house with a wonderful feeling of excitement and unreality.
And there was my older brother, Alan. Alan's imagination knew no bounds, even then. My twin sister and I were completely under his spell, and he led us into a succession of fantastical adventures and games. It was hardly surprising that by the age of twelve I had decided that 'show business' would one day be the life for me; and so it has been ever since.
I got my first job in the summer of 1956, at the age of twenty-three, working on a film called The Sleeping Prince, starring Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. I had just come down from university, and I had no experience whatever. I was only employed because my parents were friends of Olivier and his wife, Vivien Leigh. The Oliviers had been frequent visitors to our home, Saltwood Castle in Kent, and they had become part of my extended family.
The news that Olivier, the best-known classical actor of his generation, was going to make a film with Marilyn Monroe, the famous Hollywood film star, caused a sensation. Marilyn was to play the part which had been taken by Vivien herself in the play by Terence Rattigan on which the film was based. Up to then she had only played strippers and chorus girls, in very limited roles. In 1955, after a terrific struggle, she renegotiated her contract with Twentieth Century-Fox and announced her intention to do more serious work. Typecasting is never easy to escape, especially in films. Her first new role had been that of a stripper (in Bus Stop), and the second, chosen for her by Milton Greene, her partner in the newly formed Marilyn Monroe Productions, was that of a chorus girl. The only 'serious' element was that both films were by so-called 'serious' writers. Bus Stop had been based on a play by William Inge, and The Sleeping Prince on a play by Terence Rattigan.
Filming The Prince and the Showgirl, as it was finally called (it was decided that the title should include a reference to Marilyn's character), went badly from the very beginning. Olivier patronised Monroe and treated her like a dumb blonde. This was exactly what she was trying to escape, and she resented it intensely. It also drastically affected her self-confidence, and as a result she constantly relied for advice on her 'dramatic coach', Paula Strasberg, whom Olivier distrusted. Paula's husband Lee Strasberg, the head of the Actors Studio in New York, was trying to control Monroe from across the Atlantic. At the same time he was extracting a huge salary for his wife, which made him very unpopular. Monroe's new husband, the playwright Arthur Miller, was treating her like a difficult child, and this also undermined her. Milton Greene was desperate to retain control of 'his' star, and was letting her take more prescription drugs than was perhaps wise. But Monroe was determined to show that she could act, despite her feelings of inadequacy when faced with Olivier and the super-professional English team that had been assembled specially for the film.
From my first day on the production as third assistant director – the lowest of the low – I kept a journal of everything that I observed. I intended to transcribe it when the film was over, but my notes became messy and hard to read, and I simply put the volume away and forgot it. Forty years later I dug it out and read it again, and it was subsequently published under the title The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me.
One episode, however, was not recorded in my diary.
For nine days in the middle of filming, I made no entries at all. Suddenly, and completely unexpectedly, something happened which was, to me, so dramatic and so extraordinary that it was impossible to include it in my daily chatterings. For a short time the attention of the major participants – Olivier, Greene and, above all, Marilyn – seemed to be focused on me. It was as if a spotlight had swung round, for no particular reason, and singled me out as the hero or villain of the piece.
When normal life resumed, I continued to write my diary as before. I made notes on what I felt had been the key events of those 'missing' days, but that is all. It was not until the filming was over that I could go back and write down what had happened, in the form of a letter to the friend for whom I was keeping my journal.
This, then, is the story of those missing nine days. Of course it goes much further than the letter (the text of which is reproduced as an appendix to this book), but I make no apology for that. The whole episode is still as fresh in my mind as if it had happened yesterday.
I could never have written this account while Marilyn was alive. I produce it now as a humble tribute to someone who changed my life, and whose own life I only wish I could have saved.
TUESDAY, 11 SEPTEMBER 1956
'Can't Roger handle it?' asked Milton Greene.
Milton and I were pacing up and down the small piece of new lawn outside Marilyn Monroe's dressing room at Pinewood Studios. As usual, Milton could not make up his mind.
'I'm not sure if anyone from the film crew should go near her home, Colin. Even you.'
'I rented that house for Marilyn, just as I rented yours for you,' I said. 'I hired Roger as her bodyguard, and I also hired her cook, her butler and her chauffeur. I know them all well. If we aren't very careful, everyone will just walk out. Roger is a very nice man, but Roger is a policeman. He's only used to dealing with subordinates. You can't treat servants like that. You have to behave as if they were part of the family. Believe me, Milton, I'm very familiar with these problems. My mother worries more about her cook than she does about me.'
Milton groaned. He had gone to great lengths – and considerable personal expense, he told me – to make absolutely sure that Marilyn was happy in every way. A sumptuous dressing-room suite had been built in the old make-up block at Pinewood, all beige and white, and I had taken a lease on the most beautiful house I could find – Parkside House at Englefield Green, a few miles away, which belonged to Garrett and Joan Moore, old friends of my parents. Despite all this, Marilyn did not seem to be satisfied, and Milton's pacing was distinctly uneasy.
'OK, Colin, go over to the house if you must. We can't have the servants leave. Marilyn would be mad. But whatever you do, don't let her see you. You are Sir Laurence's personal assistant, after all. And she definitely doesn't seem too keen on Sir Laurence these days.'
That was certainly true. After only three weeks of filming, a gulf had already opened between the two great stars, and everyone had started to take sides. The entire British film crew had been selected by Olivier to give him maximum support. Marilyn had brought only a small team from Hollywood – including her make-up man and her hair stylist – and they had all gone back by now. She was left with no one to support her in the studio but Paula Strasberg, her dramatic coach. Of course, she also had her new husband, the playwright Arthur Miller (their marriage – her third, his second – had taken place two weeks before they flew to England), but he had sworn not to interfere with the filming in any way.
Milton was Marilyn's partner and co-producer, but she didn't seem to be listening to him as much as she used to – probably because Miller resented the fact that Milton had once been her lover – so he needed all the allies he could get. I was only the third assistant director on the film – the person anyone can tell what to do – and as such I was hardly a threat to anybody, but Marilyn had always seemed quite sympathetic when I got yelled at, if indeed she noticed me at all. At the same time, I was Olivier's personal assistant, and I sometimes had access to him when Milton did not. So Milton had decided that he and I would be friends. On this occasion, he had probably guessed that what I really wanted was an excuse to go over to Marilyn's house; and he would have been right. After all, he spent half his time trying to stop anyone getting near Marilyn, because he knew that she was like a magnet that nobody could resist – not even a little assistant director, seven years younger than her. I should have been used to 'stars' by now. After all, Vivien Leigh and Margot Fonteyn were both family friends. But those two ladies, wonderful as they are, are both human beings. Marilyn is a true goddess, and should only be treated as such.
'I'm between a rock and a hard place, Colin,' said Milton. It was a glorious summer morning, but we had been awaiting Marilyn's arrival for over an hour, and he was getting impatient. 'Why can't Olivier accept Marilyn for what she is? You British think everyone should punch a timeclock, even stars. Olivier's disappointed because Marilyn doesn't behave like a bit-part player. Why can't he adapt? Oh, he's very polite on the surface, but Marilyn can see through that. She can sense that underneath he's ready to explode. Josh Logan1 used to yell at her occasionally, but he worked with her as she was, and not as he wanted her to be. She's scared of Olivier. She has this feeling that she'll never measure up.'
'Vivien says that Olivier fell for Marilyn's charm just like everyone else when he first met her,' I said. 'She says he even thought he could have a romance with her. And Vivien is always right.'
'Oh, Marilyn can charm any man if she wants to, but when she gets mad, it's a very different story. You watch out. By the way, what the hell has happened to her this morning?'
'I thought you said she shouldn't have to punch a timeclock.'
'Yes, but when it's her own money going down the drain – and mine . . .'
'I wouldn't mind if she kept us waiting all day. Working in a film studio is hot, boring, tiring and claustrophobic. I sympathise with Marilyn a lot.'
'Yeah, but it's her job.'
At that moment Marilyn's big black car came nosing round the studio block. It was instantly surrounded by a crowd of people who seemed to appear out of thin air. The new make-up man, the wardrobe mistress, the hair stylist, the associate director Tony Bushell, the production manager, all clamouring for attention before the poor lady could even get inside the building. She already had Paula Strasberg, with her script, and ex-Detective Chief Superintendent Roger Smith, late of Scotland Yard and protective as ever, carrying her bags. No wonder she fled inside like a hunted animal, taking no notice of Milton, or, of course, of me.
As soon as Marilyn had disappeared, with Milton trailing behind her, I tackled Roger. I knew I had only a few seconds in which to explain. Roger returned to Parkside House as quickly as he could after dropping Marilyn off in the mornings, and David Orton, my boss on the studio floor, would soon be wondering where I was.
'I'm coming over to the house tonight to talk to Maria and José,' I said firmly. Maria and José were the Portuguese cook and butler I had hired to look after Marilyn at Parkside House. 'Milton says it's OK.'
'Oh yes? Problems, are there?' Roger looked sceptical.
'It won't take long, but we mustn't let them get upset. They would be terribly hard to replace. We can have a drink afterwards, and maybe a bite to eat. Ask Maria to make some sandwiches.'
Roger is devoted to Marilyn. After thirty long years in the police force, this is his finest hour. He follows her everywhere like a faithful Labrador dog. I'm not sure how much use he would be in a crisis, but he is clearly very shrewd, and with a bit of luck he could avert trouble before it occurred. I expect that he could see through my ploy, just as Milton had; but Roger has no one to talk to in the evenings, and he gets lonely. He reminds me of the drill sergeants I knew when I was a pilot-officer in the RAF, so we get on very well. All of the other people around Marilyn talk in film language, which Roger hates. He and I can have a gossip in plain English.
'So you don't need to come over to collect Marilyn this evening,' I went on. (There wouldn't be enough room in the car if he did.) 'I'll ride in the front with Evans, and then he can take me back.'
Evans is Marilyn's driver. Like Roger he had been hired by me; and he is one of the stupidest men I have ever met. I don't think he even knows who Marilyn Monroe is; but he does what he is told, which is the main thing.
'Hmm,' said Roger doubtfully, but just then a shout of 'Colin!' came from inside the building and I dashed away before he could reply.
I have known the Oliviers since I was a child, and I've met all sorts of famous people with my parents. But Marilyn is different. She is wrapped in a sort of blanket of fame which both protects and attracts. Her aura is incredibly strong – strong enough to be diluted by thousands of cinema screens all over the world, and still survive. In the flesh, this star quality is almost more than one can take. When I am with her my eyes don't want to leave her. I just can't seem to see enough of her, and perhaps this is because I cannot really see her at all. It is a feeling one could easily confuse with love. No wonder she has so many fans, and has to be so careful who she meets. I suppose this is why she spends most of her time shut up in her house, and why she finds it so hard to turn up at the studio at all, let alone on time. When she does arrive, she flashes from her car to her dressing room like a blur. She seems frightened, and perhaps she's right to be. I know I must not add to those persecuting her, yet I can't resist being in her orbit. And since I am paid by Olivier to make her life easier and smoother, I have to be in the background of her life, I tell myself, if nothing more.
As soon as I went inside the studio building I was in the usual trouble.
'Colin! Where the hell have you been?' David says this every time he sees me, even if I've only been gone for ten seconds. 'Olivier wants to see you straight away. It's 10 o'clock. Marilyn's only just arrived. We'll be lucky to get one shot done before lunch,' etc., etc.
Why don't they ever realise that, like it or not, this is Marilyn's pattern, and we might as well get used to it? Olivier argues that if we didn't make a fuss she'd never turn up at all, but I'm not so sure. Marilyn wants to act. She even wants to act with Olivier. She needs to make a success of this film to prove to the world that she is a serious actress. I think she'd turn up if the pressure was off. She might even be early, but I suppose that is a risk no film company would dare to take. Olivier talks about her as if she was no more than a pin-up, with no brains at all. He seems to have nothing but contempt for her. He is convinced she can't act – just because she can't clip on a character like a suit of clothes in the way he can – and he despises her use of Paula as a dramatic coach. He can't see that Paula is only there for reassurance, not to tell Marilyn how to play the part. He only has to look at the film we've already shot to see that Marilyn is doing a very subtle job all on her own. The trouble is that he gets so frustrated by all the 'ums' and 'ahs', the missed cues and incorrect lines that he fails to recognise the flashes of brilliance when they come. Every evening the screenings of the previous day's filming remind him of the pain that he had to go through in front of and behind the camera, and he seems to take a perverse enjoyment in them. Why doesn't he get the editor to cut out all the horrors, and only show the bits that went well, however short? Imagine how exciting that would be. We all file into the viewing theatre; the lights go down; there is a thirty-second clip of Marilyn looking stunning and remembering all her lines; the lights go up again to a ripple of applause; Marilyn goes home encouraged instead of depressed; the editor is happy; Olivier is happy.
In your dreams, Colin! For some unknown psychological reason, blamed of course on technical necessity, we have to see every stumble and hesitation in giant close-up, repeated again and again, failure after failure, until we are all groaning and moaning, and Marilyn, if she has turned up, flees back to her house in shame. I just wish I could have a quiet chat with her and reassure her. But there are too many people already doing that – and patently failing.
I had only been over to Marilyn's house once since she moved in five weeks ago, and there was no point in thinking that I would get a chance to talk to her, or even to see her, if I went there again. All I wanted now was the excitement of riding in the front of the car, with this heavenly creature in the back. I wanted to feel as if I was her bodyguard, instead of Roger. I wanted to feel as if her safety depended on me. Luckily, Evans takes no notice of me whatsoever, and nor does Paula Strasberg. She has been 'coaching' Marilyn all day in the studio, but then there are sixty or so technicians there with her, not to speak of twenty other actors, and Olivier himself. In the car, Paula is only concentrating on getting Marilyn to herself for a few last minutes. She grips her arm fiercely and never stops talking, never draws breath, for the whole trip. She repeats herself again and again, pouring reassurance into Marilyn's ear: 'Marilyn, you were wonderful. You are a great, great actress. You are superb, you are divine . . .' and so on.
In the end, her praise of Marilyn's performance and acting ability gets so exaggerated that even Marilyn starts to get uneasy. It's as if Paula knows she only has this short moment in which to implant herself on Marilyn's mind for the night, and thus make herself indispensable for the following day.
Olivier, as the director of the film, naturally resents Paula's presence intensely. Paula knows nothing of the technical difficulties of making a movie, and often calls Marilyn over to give her instructions while Olivier is in the process of explaining to Marilyn what he needs, as the director. On these occasions Olivier's patience is really incredible. Nevertheless, I like Paula, and I feel sorry for her. This dumpy little woman, swathed in differing shades of brown, with her sunglasses on her head and her script in her hand, is clinging for dear life to a human tornado.
The only person who seems completely unaffected by all the hubbub is Arthur Miller, and perhaps that is why I dislike him so intensely. I must admit that he has never actually been rude to me. On the four occasions that our paths have crossed – at the airport when he and Marilyn first landed in England, on their arrival at the house I had rented for them, once at the studio and once out with the Oliviers – he has ignored me completely. And so he should. There is no one on the whole film crew more junior than I am. I am only present to make Marilyn's life, and therefore his life, run more smoothly.
And yet I don't quite think of myself as a servant. I'm an organiser, a fixer. Laurence Olivier takes me into his confidence. So does Milton Greene. But Arthur Miller takes it all for granted – his house, his servants, his driver, his wife's bodyguard, and even, so it seems to me, his wife. That is what makes me so angry. How can you take Marilyn Monroe for granted? She looks at him as if she worships him; but then, she is an actress. Vivien Leigh often gazes at Olivier like that, and it doesn't seem to do him much good. Miller just looks so damn smug. I am sure he is a great writer, but that doesn't mean that he should be so superior. Perhaps it's a combination of his hornrimmed glasses, his high brow and his pipe. Added to all this there is a gleam in his eye which seems to say, 'I am sleeping with Marilyn Monroe, and you are not. You midget.'
All this was whirling round in my head as I jumped into the front seat of the car that evening. I had stocked up Olivier's dressing room with whisky and cigarettes, and told David that I had to go to Marilyn's house on an urgent mission, implying that I would be spying on her for Olivier. Since David is always trying to discover Marilyn's movements so that he can plan the filming schedule a little better, this seemed to him an excellent idea.
Speeding through the English countryside in the front of Marilyn Monroe's car I felt frightfully important; but as soon as we arrived at Parkside House Marilyn simply vanished inside, and that was that. Even Paula could not keep up with her. She must know that Arthur is going to take over from here on, and she followed slowly, looking very dejected, as if she had lost her child.
Roger came out of the house to meet me, grunting and chuckling, cheeks puffed out like a beardless Father Christmas, and together we went round towards the back entrance. Then, just as I had expected, Evans drove away. He had been sitting in the car since 6.30 that morning, and I'm sure that the last thing he wanted was to be given another job or errand.
'He was meant to wait and take me back to Pinewood!' I cried. 'Now I'm stuck here without a car. I'll have to walk to the village and catch a bus!'
'Don't worry,' said Roger patiently. 'As soon as they've settled down for the night' – jerking his head at the first-floor bedroom windows – 'I'll give you a lift. Come in and have your talk with José and Maria, and then we can have a drink and a smoke in my sitting room until the coast is clear.' This was a charade that we both understood. It would give us a chance to have a gossip, and to laugh at the crazy behaviour of everyone in the film world. I can sometimes do that with Olivier, but then I have to be careful how far I go. With Roger I can say absolutely anything and he will just smile and puff at his pipe – although he will never say a word against Marilyn herself, and any mention of Arthur just has him rolling his eyes.
Talking to José and Maria just meant listening to their problems for half an hour. They both speak very little English, and naturally nobody speaks Portuguese, although I can remember a little of what I learned when I was there the year before. I simply say 'Pois' ('Yeah, sure . . .') whenever there is pause, and it usually works. On this occasion, however, the problems seemed more serious than usual, and I was forced to fall back on my schoolboy Latin to guess what on earth was going on.
'Meez Miller,' they said – they had been introduced to 'Mr and Mrs Miller' when Arthur and Marilyn arrived, and since they had never been to the cinema in their lives, they appeared to have no idea who they were – 'Meez Miller is sleeping on the floor.' They seemed to be saying, 'Is it because we make the bed wrong? We think it is our fault. If so, we should leave.'
This seemed to me pretty egotistical reasoning even by the standards of domestic servants. I told them that I would investigate, but that I was quite sure that they were not to blame.
'This house is "louca",' they said. 'Mad.' There was shouting in the middle of the night and silence in the middle of the day. Mr and Mrs Miller would not speak to them. Mrs Miller acted like she was in a dream.
I realised that it was time to be firm. 'That is no concern of yours,' I said sternly. 'Mrs Miller has a difficult job. She needs to conserve her energy very carefully. And she doesn't speak Portuguese, so she couldn't speak to you even if she wanted to. You must take no notice of her and Mr Miller. The company pays you good wages to look after Mr and Mrs Miller. We think you are the best – otherwise we could no longer ask you to stay.'
This policy worked. They both nodded nervously, and left the room as quickly as they could. I went in search of Roger.
'What's this, Roger old bean?' I asked when I had found him. 'Maria tells me that Marilyn is sleeping on the floor these days.'
Roger put a gnarled forefinger beside his nose and gave his usual chuckle. I'm never sure what this means. Sometimes he will follow it by saying, 'A nod's as good as a wink to a blind man,' which is equally confusing, if not more so.
'Trouble between Mr and Mrs M already?' I asked. 'They've only been married a few weeks.'
'I've not heard either of them complain.' Roger gave a watery leer. 'But I have heard them playing trains at all hours of the night. No doubt about that.'
- On Sale
- Oct 4, 2011
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Hachette Books