‘MM doesn’t really forget her lines. It is more as if she had never quite learnt them – as if they are pinned to her mental noticeboard so loosely that the slightest puff of wind will send them floating to the floor . . . This is very disconcerting to the other actors . . .’
It’s Tuesday, 14 August 1956, and through a combination of chutzpah and some useful contacts (he is after all the son of Lord Clark of Civilisation), Colin Clark, fresh from Oxford, has got himself a job. He’s now a ‘gofer’ or general dogsbody on the Pinewood Studios set of The Prince and the Showgirl, a light comedy starring Sir Laurence Olivier (abbreviated in the diary Colin is beadily keeping to SLO) and Marilyn Monroe (MM).
It’s been clear almost from the moment Marilyn Monroe and her new husband, the playwright Arthur Miller, stepped off the plane at Heathrow, shortly to be followed by Marilyn’s acting coach Paula Strasberg, that this ill-advised project is going to be a car crash. ‘SLO probably thought the whole thing would be a bit of a lark,’ writes Colin. ‘He could have fun, make money and add considerably to his glamour.’ Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth.
Poor SLO is increasingly grim-faced as MM fails to turn up on time, can’t remember her lines and when she does can barely speak them without consulting Paula – or worse, making long-distance calls to Paula’s husband, the guru of ‘Method’ acting Lee Strasberg in New York – a terrible affront to SLO’s dignity as he is supposed to be in charge. As for SLO, he’s out of his depth with this very un-British crowd, and Marilyn herself is a troubling enigma – impossible to deal with, unable to act, yet possessed of some indefinable magic that makes her irresistible on screen when the ‘rushes’ come through, often upstaging Sir Laurence Olivier himself. For him she’s the ultimate dumb blonde, though there are hints from Colin, who like most men on the set has fallen in love with her, that she’s brighter than she seems.
In The Prince, the Showgirl and Me, Colin Clark is in a brilliant, fly-on-the-wall position to record all this since he knows SLO personally as a family friend yet is so junior that his presence is barely noticed when crises occur and important decisions are being made. There are some delicious cameo appearances too in this tragicomedy: Arthur Miller, smug and self-important, ‘grinning like an amiable crocodile’ at the side of his trophy wife; MM’s publicity man, the appalling Arthur P. Jacobs (‘close-cropped black hair, pugnacious, bad-tempered, puffy face’) who keeps Colin waiting outside the Savoy hotel for an hour and a half and finally emerges without a word of apology; and, pouring oil on troubled waters, saintly Dame Sybil Thorndike, already in her seventies, who turns up promptly and professionally at 6.15 every morning while Marilyn is still in bed.
The Prince and the Showgirl did eventually get made and sank without trace. Some years later Colin Clark met Billy Wilder, director of Some Like It Hot, at a party and mentioned that he too had worked with Marilyn Monroe. ‘Then you know the meaning of pure pain,’ Wilder growled. Colin’s hilarious account of it, however, is pure pleasure.