Who one may well ask is Colin Clark, a nonentity, and many years Marilyn Monroe’s junior and what was his relationship with her in 1956 so shortly after her marriage to Arthur Miller?
Two superstars of the day, Marilyn Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier both had designs on becoming even more famous. In both cases it was to highlight their versatility by also becoming famous movie stars. Marilyn had become an iconic model and singer and Lawrence Olivier a stage actor especially in the Shakespearean mould but both desired more accolades and had pretensions of being famous movie stars.
The Lawrence Olivier that entered the Pinewood Studio for filming of The Prince and the Showgirl was cocky and self-assured. On the other hand Marilyn might have been famous as a model, a singer and as an actress, yet in spite of this acclaim and fame, Marilyn was intensely insecure. In fact she had arrived with a whole array of “assistants” who would guide her every action.
On this welter of staff, the one which would particularly rankle Laurence was Marilyn’s drama coach, Paula Strasberg. Being the consummate professional, Olivier regarded Strasberg as a fraud whose only talent was the ability to “butter Marilyn up”. He recounted his attempts at explaining a scene to Monroe, only to hear Strasberg interject, “Honey—just think of Coca-Cola and Frank Sinatra.”
From the outset, Marilyn’s erratic behaviour on the set and her inability to remember her lines drove Laurence to apoplexy. Laurence’s outbursts of despair only exacerbated Marilyn’s conduct.
In spite of being recently married to playwright, Arthur Miller, his attitude towards Marilyn did not reflect that of a newly married attentive husband. Perhaps he was overwhelmed by her constant desire for validation and attention. His displeasure was revealed in his attitude towards her, condescending, unloving & with an air of disdain. Even at this stage in their recent marriage, there were clearly strains. Four years of courtship had been insufficient for Miller to assess the likelihood of nuptial success. At this point Miller took leave of the production set at Pinewood Studios.
Where does Colin Clark fit into this picture? The son of the acclaimed art historian Sir Kenneth Clark, Colin was desperate to obtain a job within the movie business. To this end, he accepted a job as a “gofer” on the set of Laurence Olivier’s film which would feature the two rising stars as the draw card.
Marilyn had already starred in a number of movies but mostly not as the leading lady. If this movie was successful, it would place her at the cusp of stardom with a new string to her enlarging bow.
Exacerbating her insecurity was her pill-popping habits which was partially the cause of her unpredictability and inability to concentrate on the task at hand.
Marilyn relished the wild adulation & attention that her presence would create but loathed the inevitable hordes that would descend upon her. Her natural flirtatious demeanour allowed her to be spontaneous & witty. Moreover she was even able to engage in limited repartee but her natural “stage fright” would rapidly overwhelm her and she would be forced to retreat back into the safety of her coterie.
At Laurence’s behest, Colin had to keep tabs of Marilyn. This meant that he had to accompany her wherever she went. In contrast to the other members of her retinue, Colin had no personal agenda. Marilyn slowly came to regard him as a safe haven, somebody in whom she could confide. Of particular concern for her was to understand what made Laurence tick. His animosity in particular irked her. Whereas her entourage and especially Paula Strasberg would continually stroke her ego, Laurence was forthright with her, chiding her continually for her inability to remember her lines and in particular the fact that she was never able to replicate them between takes. Being a professional where the tone and use of language was paramount, her use of the word “too” instead of the word “as well” particularly irked him. At this juncture, Marilyn stormed off the set in tears with Laurence screaming some inanities after her.
The production was behind schedule at great cost. Afflicted with marital woes, a rampaging Laurence and a sycophantic coterie, Marilyn sought solace in Colin. The two were poles apart in so many ways: Marilyn at 30 years of age was on her third marriage and was worldly wise as a world-wide icon whereas Colin at 23 years old still resided with his parents who funded him. This would be his first “real job” if being a general factotum on a film set could be classified as a real job.
To Marilyn however, Colin was like a breath of fresh air, an antidote, after the stifling otherworldly environment that she inhabited. More importantly Marilyn yearned just to experience the English countryside alone without this distraction. This is where Colin would be alone with Marilyn without her fawning helpers. She requested that her driver drop them off in a secluded English wood. Like an enthralled child in a candy store under a languid sky she played tag, galloped through the verdant fields and swam naked in a bubbling brook.
Without the stifling assistants with their obsequious manner and chatter, here she was surrounded by an unaffected youth. As if showing him the ropes, she teased him with her gentle kisses and laughed child-like when Colin stared at her naked body embarrassed.
For Marilyn it was all a game, but for Colin it signified something deeper. Without realising it, Colin was infatuated with her – nay – falling in love with her.
That night Colin slept with Marilyn. Colin avers that the word “slept” was not a euphemism for “having sex” let alone any pejorative sexual connotation as is the English genteel way of phrasing it, but rather its more prosaic meaning as being the opposite to being awake.
The next morning Marilyn was wide-eyed, cheerful and focused. For the first time on set, she was able to concentrate and many scenes were rapidly filmed. Needless to say, many of the extras teased Colin for his ability to “transform” Marilyn – nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Oblivious to these taunts, Colin was on Cloud Nine with eyes only for Marilyn. It was obvious. Colin had fallen head-over-heels in love with Marilyn.
The next morning Marilyn could not be aroused from sleep. Colin was summoned. He perched a ladder against the wall & climbed into her second floor room. There was Marilyn, barely comatose after consuming too many sleeping tablets. Colin consoled a bleary eyed Marilyn and spent the day with her in bed.
Later that day, whilst seeking comfort from Colin, he offered to sort out all her travails. Contrary to his expectations, Marilyn abruptly changed tack and declaimed that she was satisfied with her life. In brushing aside Colin’s declaration of concern – call it infatuation or even incipient love – Colin’s ego & with it his heart was shattered. In a teasing manner, she gently dispelled the notion that their relationship would be anything but platonic. His foolhardy attempt to woo a world renowned celebrity was both naive, unwise and bound to fail.
Whether they ever made love during this interlude, will never be known. Their relationship reverted to being platonic.
Grasping the nettle, Marilyn put in a stellar performance surprising even Laurence. Within short order, the movie, The Prince and Showgirl was complete.
The blond bombshell Marilyn remained the showgirl but Colin could not claim to be a Prince even in hos dreams. Instead he had reverted to his lowly role as a gofer. His days as the Prince had been exciting & revelatory but short-lived.
Colin went on to become a documentary producer. In 1996 he published a book entitled The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me: Six Months on the Set with Marilyn and Olivier which chronicled his experiences during the movie. This became the subject of a 2010 movie My Five Days with Marilyn staring Michelle Williams as the sultry, vivacious but unpredictable Marilyn Monroe.
Laurence Olivier’s next play is recognised as the most acclaimed performances of his career: the play The Entertainer at the Royal Court Theatre. He went on to become the pre-eminent actor of his generation with some even nominating him as the best actor of the 20th century. Belatedly Laurence Olivier did accord Marilyn the recognition that she deserved for an sterling performance on the set by endorsing her acting abilities.
The film itself The Prince and the Showgirl was never a huge success but Marilyn’s subsequent movie, Some Like it Hot, became one of the most popular comedies of all time.
Its success cemented Marilyn, Laurence’s bete noir, as an accomplished actress in her own right in spite of what Laurence Olivier privately might have thought of her acting ability.
Contrary to myth, in spite of her rampant success, Marilyn was intensely insecure. If the truth be told, Marilyn required the down-to-earth Colin in place of her unctuous sycophants to accept her with all her foibles and vanities for herself.
Perhaps Colin was too naive and immature to fill that role but unfortunately her fragile ego and lack of self-esteem would not have countenanced such a possibility in any event. Instead she persevered in a dream-like fantasy world until her death of a putative drug overdose in 1962.
Such is the lot of stars: flawed but talented.