In 1956, 23-year-old Colin Clark got a job working on The Prince and the Showgirl, the film that disastrously united Laurence Olivier with Marilyn Monroe. Here, in an extract from his memoir My Week With Marilyn, which has been made into a film starring Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh, he reveals how he ended up sharing a bed with the troubled Hollywood star.
In the summer of 1956 I worked on the set of a film starring Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe.
I had just finished university and was only there because my parents were friends of Olivier and his then wife, Vivien Leigh.
Filming on The Prince and the Showgirl went badly from the beginning. Olivier, the best-known classical actor of his generation, patronised Monroe – who before then had played only strippers and chorus girls – and treated her like a dumb blonde. Monroe’s new husband, the playwright Arthur Miller, dealt with her like a difficult child, and Milton Greene (her business partner in Marilyn Monroe Productions) was desperate to retain control of ‘his’ star by giving her prescription drugs. But Monroe was determined to prove that she could act.
From my first day as third assistant director I kept a journal that was later published as The Prince, the Showgirl and Me. But nine days during the middle of filming were missing from my account. During those days something happened that was impossible to include in my normal entries. I could not have written this account while Marilyn was alive. It is a tribute to someone who changed my life, and whose own I only wish I could have saved.
TUESDAY 11 SEPTEMBER 1956
I’ve met all sorts of famous people, but Marilyn is different. Her aura is incredibly strong and in the flesh is almost more than one can take. When I am with her my eyes don’t want to leave her. It is a feeling one could easily confuse with love. No wonder she has so many fans and spends most of her time shut up at home. She seems frightened. I know I must not add to those persecuting her, but it is my job to assist her and I can’t resist being in her orbit.
WEDNESDAY 12 SEPTEMBER
Though Marilyn never arrived at the studio on time, Olivier was always there at seven o’clock sharp. Just before lunch, to everyone’s surprise, Marilyn did show up, but by four o’clock that afternoon she was even more distressed than usual. Olivier decided to call it a day and when I went to his dressing room he was angrily discussing with Milton Greene why Marilyn was so upset.
‘Colin,’ said Olivier, ‘go across to Miss Monroe’s suite and ask her very politely whether she intends to come to work tomorrow.’
‘Colin,’ Marilyn’s voice was no more than a whisper, ‘what is your job on the picture?’
‘I’m what they call a “gofer”. Anyone can boss me around.’
‘Are you a spy for Sir Laurence? I always see you round him.’
‘I’m not a spy but it’s my job to report anything that will help his movie get made. He’s sent me to see if you are coming to work tomorrow.’
‘Mr Miller is flying to Paris tomorrow so I’ll stay home to see him.’
‘Of course, Miss Monroe.’
There was a long pause.
‘Colin, whose side are you on?’
‘Oh, yours, Miss Monroe. I promise you I’m on your side and always will be.’
THURSDAY 13 SEPTEMBER
The phone in the studio rang. Milton happened to be standing next to it and picked it up. His face crumpled a little when he told me, ‘It’s for you.’
It was Roger, Marilyn’s bodyguard: ‘Miss Monroe wants you to visit this evening.’
‘Me? Why me?’
Milton exploded from across the room, ‘What is my star doing phoning my third assistant director?’
Marilyn came on the line, ‘See you later, Colin. OK?’
‘Come on, Colin,’ Marilyn laughed, ‘let’s have some dinner. I’m starved. Or are you meant to be with somebody else? There’s not a Mrs Colin is there, waiting for you at home?’
I looked at her across the table and for the first time realised what was going on. Marilyn was lonely. She needed someone to talk to, someone who didn’t expect her to be clever or sexy, but just to be whatever she felt she wanted to be.
FRIDAY 14 SEPTEMBER
As soon as we broke for lunch, Milton Greene was waiting for me: ‘Colin, I must talk to you very seriously. I had a call from Arthur Miller in Paris. He called Marilyn late last night and when he asked her why she took so long to answer the phone she said she had been saying goodbye to you. What were you doing there?’
‘I wasn’t doing anything!’
‘Colin, please don’t go over to see Marilyn again. Or even talk to her without telling me. I’m going to have dinner with her this evening and I’ll explain the situation to her. She told us that she might see you again tonight, and clearly that must not happen. OK?’
It had been fun while it lasted but I didn’t want to lose my job. Nothing had happened, but I felt desperately sorry for Marilyn. She was trapped by her own fame.
SATURDAY 15 SEPTEMBER
Around lunchtime I heard the noise of a car on the gravel drive outside my house. It was Roger – he’d come to take me out to lunch.
‘Where to?’ I asked, climbing into the front seat.
‘Just shut the door, would you?’ He scrunched into first gear.
‘Surpri-hise!’ Marilyn’s blonde head suddenly erupted in the rear-view mirror. ‘Roger and I thought we’d surprise you. I want to go to Windsor Great Park. Aren’t you pleased? I don’t like being on my own in the back. Come and join me.’
This was all going much too fast for me. It was incredibly exhilarating to be in the back seat of a car with Marilyn Monroe, but what would happen next? How could I go back to working on the film?