There are countless stories of how difficult Marilyn Monroe was to work with and be around during the making of The Prince and the Showgirl. Many of them come from the her highly indiscreet co-star and director, Laurence Olivier. More recently the actress's behavior has been recounted in two books by Colin Clark, who worked as an assistant to Olivier during the filming: The Prince, the Showgirl and Me, which reads as a snipey yet entertaining diary of his time on the set, and My Week with Marilyn, his recounting of a "lost week" not included in the first book, which reads as a wish-fulfillment fantasy.The latter notably became a film starring Michelle Williams as Marilyn and Kenneth Branagh as Olivier.
When one views The Prince and the Showgirl none of the strife between the lead actors is evident. In fact, Marilyn comes off much more accessible and watchable than Olivier, who is stiff and boring. To be fair, his character may have been written that way. The staginess of playwright Terence Rattigan's play, The Sleeping Prince, was preserved in his screen adaptation. But Olivier's acting approach also seems old-fashioned and off-putting. Marilyn not only understood the camera, but the inherent comedy in the piece, aspects that seemed to elude the great British Actor with a capital A.
Marilyn, no matter the strife in her life or her personal demons, always seemed to manage to put them aside on screen. She is luminescent, sporting golden hair (a wig), rather than her trademark platinum blonde. She also looks great in the period costumes designed by Beatrice Dawson. She is still her seductive self, with just the right combination of innocence, as an American showgirl in London, Elsie Marina.
|Marilyn and Miller in New York|
"The Egghead and the Hourglass" wed quickly, and a week later found themselves ensconced in the tony surroundings of Parkside House in London. During their stay there Marilyn found some of Miller's notes for a project he was working on (which would later become his play After the Fall) — clearly inspired by her and undeniably unflattering. This was a major blow to her marriage fantasy of trust, protection, and hope. Such an incident easily kickstarted the cycle of lateness, forgetting lines, and generally difficult behavior that drove a professional working actor like Olivier mad. It didn't take much for Marilyn to slide into abusing the medications she took regularly. She was aided in these efforts by doctors who were only too willing to placate their celebrity client, and by her business partner and co-producer, photographer Milton Greene, who, along with Miller, Olivier, and countless others, was wrestling for control of the beautiful star.
Especially revealing is a poem she wrote during that time. She was already feeling insecure about the marriage:
I guess I have always been
deeply terrified to really be someone's wife
since I know from life
One cannot love another,
where his eyes rest with pleasure — I want to still be — but time has changed
the hold of that glance.
Alas how will I cope when I am
even less youthful —
Miller, very quickly in their marriage, was put in the role of caretaker, something he was highly unsuited for. It must have been an awakening, and an unpleasant one, for him, too. The responsibilities of being with Marilyn as his wife versus his lover were quite different. One can imagine when they were dating each other in New York that it would make no difference to Miller how long it took Marilyn to get herself together. He could work in the morning and see her in the evening. But sharing a house with a wife who was so addled from sleeping pills and painkillers, and who needed his help to get her up and going in the morning — with a new set of pills to achieve that effect — didn't leave much time for the strong-egoed Miller to concentrate on his own work. He wanted his time in England to bolster his own career. A production of his play A View from the Bridge was in production, and he hoped to cultivate Olivier's favor to his own advantage.
|Milton Greene, Marilyn and Miller arrive at a London premiere|
The very plot of The Prince and the Showgirl reflects this. Set in 1911, Marilyn's Elsie, a beautiful and vivacious American chorus girl in a London review, catches the eye of an older visiting foreign dignitary, Grandduke Charles, the prince-regent of Carpathia. In town to attend the coronation of George V, but with seduction on his mind, he invites her for a late supper at the embassy. Elsie proves much smarter than anyone expects, and deftly dodges the Prince's clumsy attempts to seduce her, as well as interpret some political plotting being organized by his son, the King-regent. By the end of the film it is clear that Elsie has enchanted the Prince. They have both fallen in love, agreeing to reunite in 18 month's time, when both his regency and her music hall contract end.
Elsie is similar to Marilyn, who was attracted to powerful older men. Such men would fall in love with her beauty, and she in love with their intelligence and power. But they would ultimately prove unworthy of her, and she would once again feel crushed and disappointed and abandoned, as she had since she was a child, trying to please a series of foster families, but still inevitably being shuffled off, never having a permanent base to call her own.
A person as insecure as Marilyn must have been no picnic for Miller, but his lack of compassion for the weak cannot be isolated to their marriage. Years later, when married to his third wife, photographer Inge Morath, he insisted that their second child, Daniel, who was born with Down Syndrome, be institutionalized and not socialized with the family. His need to prove his intellectual power was one of his defining features.
|Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Marilyn, and Miller at the theater,|
"It was simply impossible to agree that he could be the cheap scene-stealer she was talking about. ... Marilyn verged on the belief that he [Olivier] had cast her only because he needed the money her presence would bring. I wanted to believe that this was only half the truth; I was sure he saw the legitimate dramatic contrast between their social and cultural types, and if his motives were indeed partly cynical, they did not cancel his valid artistic judgment in casting. ... inevitably, the time soon came when in order to keep reality from slipping away I occasionally had to defend Olivier or else reinforce the naïveté of her illusions; the result was that she began to question the absoluteness of my partisanship on her side of the deepening struggle."Marilyn discovered that she was pregnant while she was in London. She suffered a miscarriage before filming wrapped. While married to Miller she later suffered an ectopic pregnancy, and yet another miscarriage after filming wrapped on Some Like it Hot in 1958. When they returned from England to their home in Roxbury, CT (a house mostly paid for by Marilyn, as Miller had not much money after his divorce), their married life hadn't improved much.
Starting tomorrow I will take care of myself for that's all I really have ever had. Roxbury — … I think I hate it here because there is no love here anymore. I regret the effort I desperately made here. ... what I could endure helped both of us and in a material way which means so much more to him than me. ... When one wants to stay alone as my love (Arthur) indicates the other must stay apart.
|Marilyn and Miller, during the filming of The Misfits, photographed by Inge Morath|
She was furious about a scene late in the film, where Roslyn pleads with Clark Gable's character Gay not to sell wild mustangs to a slaughterhouse.
"I convince them by throwing a fit, not by explaining anything. So I have a fit. A screaming crazy fit … And to think, Arthur did this to me … If that's what he thinks of me, well, and I'm not for him and he's not for me." — Marilyn to her maid Lena Pepitone, from Marilyn, by Gloria Steinem
|Marilyn photographed by Inge Morath on the set of The Misfits|
When Marilyn first met Arthur Miller she was impressed with his intelligence and his integrity. As their relationship progressed she watched her idol fade, as he let some of his ideals slip for money (he crossed lines during a writer's strike in Hollywood to act as a script doctor on her film Let's Make Love), and her belief that she would finally be safe and loved turned out to be just a dream. Miller was not the sort of person to nurture and support a fragile actress or human being. His inability to prevent her dependence on doctors, drugs, and gurus is especially puzzling. Was he too weak to stand up to the people who wanted to control her, or was he just trying to protect his interests? The sad fact is that Marilyn's life, although always turbulent, was much worse after her time spent with Miller. She never really recovered after their divorce. One wonders what might have happened if she had either never met him, or moved on to someone else while she was in New York. We'll never know.