Yours Retro: Marilyn in the UK

Yours Retro is a great read for lovers of all things vintage, and after several prior appearances, Marilyn finally graces the cover of the latest issue, available now in UK newsagents and via Newsstand. ‘When Marilyn Met Larry ‘, a four-page article by biographer Michelle Morgan, focuses on Marilyn’s time in England filming The Prince and the Showgirl, and there are also pieces of related interest about Cyd Charisse, Picturegoer magazine, and Hollywood censorship. If you collect magazines featuring MM, this is a must-have. (Yours Retro has recently been launched in Australia; however, it is several issues behind, so the UK version is your best bet.)

Publicist Shares Tales of Marilyn

Marilyn arrives in London, 1956
Marilyn arrives in London, 1956

Charles Foster, a former Hollywood publicist, has just published his memoir, CBC reports. Mr Foster claims to have accompanied Marilyn to England in 1956, for the shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl. I must confess to not having heard of him before, but as Marilyn’s own publicist, Arthur P. Jacobs, also came to England with her, perhaps Mr Foster was working for him in some capacity.

From Old Hollywood to New Brunswick: Memories of a Wonderful Life includes a chapter entitled ‘Smuggling Marilyn Into London’.  This is rather curious, as Marilyn actually arrived in London amid a blaze of publicity, and immediately embarked on a series of press conferences.

Foster’s memories of Marilyn are frankly, a little hard to believe, and seem remarkably similar to My Week With Marilyn author Colin Clark (whose lively account has also been disputed. )They include plenty of star temperament, not to mention some minor nudity with just a dash of Chanel No. 5. But Foster goes one better than Clark with the allegation that he introduced Marilyn to John F. Kennedy.

The proof is in the pudding as they say, so if you’ve read Mr Foster’s book, don’t hesitate to comment!

Colin Wilson 1931-2013

colin-wilson1

Colin Wilson, the British author whose first novel, The Outsider, was published to acclaim in 1956, has died aged 82, reports The Guardian. Initially feted as a major literary discovery, Wilson failed to repeat his early success, but published over a hundred books. He also met Marilyn Monroe in London during filming of The Prince and the Showgirl, as retold on the excellent Nickel in the Machine blog.

“On the 12th October 1956 on his way home from another party (at Faber with TS Eliot in attendance no less), and apparently worse the wear from champagne, Wilson noticed huge crowds outside the Comedy Theatre situated just off the Haymarket. Intrigued he asked the taxi driver to drop him off and he managed to make his way through the thronging crowds to the stage door.

The huge crowds were there to see Marilyn Monroe who was currently in London to appear in a film version of Terrence Rattigan’s play The Sleeping Prince – the film that eventually became The Prince and the Showgirl directed and co-starring Lawrence Olivier.

Marilyn and her husband Arthur Miller had arrived in Britain three months previously in July 1956. The couple had just gone through a tumultuous few weeks. Not only had they just got married the month before but Miller had appeared, three years after his play The Crucible had first been staged, in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee accused of communist sympathies.

Miller had been subpoenaed after applying for a passport to accompany his new wife to London. He refused, in front of the committee, to inform on his friends and fellow writers, and was cited for contempt of Congress – the trial for which would take place the following year.

Monroe, against a lot of advice, had publicly supported Miller through these hearings but generally there was huge worldwide support for the acclaimed playwright. Wary of hurting American credibility around the world, the State Department ignored the committee’s advice and issued Miller with a passport enabling him to accompany his wife to London.

While Marilyn was filming with Lawrence Oliver at Pinewood, Miller decided to put on a rewritten version of his latest play called View From The Bridge to be directed by Peter Brook. The crowds that intrigued Colin Wilson enough to stop his car to investigate, were surrounding The Comedy Theatre in Panton Street hoping to catch a glance of Marilyn Monroe who had come for the premiere of her husband’s play.

Arthur Miller was actually no fan of the ‘trivial, voguish theatre’ of the West End, considering it, not entirely unfairly at the time, as ‘slanted to please the upper middle class’. When the auditions started for View From A Bridge in London he asked the director Peter Brook why all the actors had such cut-glass accents. ‘Doesn’t a grocer’s son ever want to become an actor?’ he asked. Brook replied, ‘These are all grocer’s sons.’

Ironically at the end of the auditions a Rugby-educated lawyer’s son called Anthony Quayle came closest to portraying a working-class American accent and he was chosen to play the main part of Eddie the New York docker.

Luckily Colin Wilson had recently become a slight acquaintance of Anthony Quayle and after pushing through the crowds surrounding the stage-door he used Quayle’s name to be allowed to the party back-stage. He soon saw Marilyn standing alone in front of a mirror where she was trying to pull up a, very beautiful, but tight strapless dress. Wilson noted that, despite her best efforts, the dress ‘was slipping down towards her nipples’. Not wasting the chance of a lifetime, he went to introduce himself – ‘I had been told she was bookish’, he once remembered .

According to Wilson there was a definite ‘connection’ with Marilyn and she actually grasped his hand as they made their way through the throng to their waiting cars.

A gossip columnist buttonholed Wilson before he left the party and asked what he was doing there. Wilson said that he had spent the evening hoping to talk to TS Eliot and ended up meeting Marilyn Monroe.

The next morning the columnist duly wrote about the young author meeting Marilyn at the premiere adding that Wilson, while there, had been asked to write a play for Olivier.”

The Millers arrive at the Comedy Theatre
The Millers arrive at the Comedy Theatre

Michelle Morgan interviewed Wilson for her 2012 biography, Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed, detailing a second encounter between Wilson and MM:

“On 18 November, during a last public appearance in England, the Millers attended an intellectual discussion at the Royal Court Theatre. The event was supposed to be dedicated to the state of British drama, but was quickly transformed into a war of words between authors Colin Wilson and Wolf Mankowitz. The two members had opposing views on most subjects, leaving the other members of the discussion panel, Arthur Miller, Kenneth Tynan and Benn Levy, lost for words. Sitting on the fourth row and dressed demurely in a black suit, Mrs Miller looked tired but calm as the discussion took place on stage. Wolf Mankowitz remembered that there was a great deal of excitement when Marilyn entered the building, as once again there were rumours abounding that the star was pregnant. He recalled that there was a lot of fuss in order to find her a seat, and many people were ‘running around as if she were about to have a baby on the spot.’

Having been brought in to discuss great British drama, Mankowitz was disappointed to discover that Marilyn’s presence destroyed the point of the occasion, as the audience was far more interested in trying to see her, and Arthur Miller seemed so preoccupied that he could hardly concentrate on the discussion at all. Still, Mankowitz managed to say a few words to Marilyn at the end of the discussion, although he remembered she wasn’t too communicative – something he put down to the rumoured pregnancy.

Colin Wilson also remembered meeting Marilyn in the backstage of the theatre, after the discussion had ended. By this time the crowds had become huge outside, so Wilson found himself helping the Millers make their escape by the back door, and recalled Marilyn grabbing his hand during the ensuing escape.”

Marilyn at the Royal Court Theatre
Marilyn at the Royal Court Theatre

V&A Acquires Vivien Leigh Archive

Vivien Leigh kisses Marilyn goodbye as she flies to the US after filming 'The Prince and the Showgirl', November 1956
Vivien Leigh kisses Marilyn goodbye as she leaves England after filming ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’, November 1956

This year marks the centenary of Vivien Leigh’s birth. Leigh is perhaps best-known for her roles in Gone With the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire – and offscreen, she became one half of England’s most celebrated theatrical couple when she married Sir Laurence Olivier.

In 1956, Olivier directed and starred with Marilyn Monroe in The Prince and the Showgirl (with MM in the role Leigh had played onstage.) While their mutual enmity is well-documented, Leigh’s private thoughts on Marilyn are less clear.

Like Monroe, Vivien was prone to depression (she suffered from Bipolar Disorder.) During the filming of Prince, Leigh became pregnant – but she subsequently lost her baby. Marilyn was also said to have miscarried at this time, but the rumour remains unconfirmed.

As reported in The Independent, Leigh’s personal archive has now been acquired by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The collection includes diaries, photos and letters from many famous names – including both Marilyn and Arthur Miller.

“The archive also contains more than 7,500 personal letters addressed to both Leigh and Olivier from the likes of TS Eliot, Arthur Miller, Sir Winston [Churchill], Marilyn Monroe and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother who thanks the couple for remembering her.”

 

 

Brian Seed: Photographing Marilyn

Native Londoner Brian Seed photographed Marilyn in 1956, in full movie star regalia at a theatre premiere with her new husband, Arthur Miller, on a night off from filming The Prince and the Showgirl in England, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

These rare pictures – unattributed until now – will be displayed at this year’s Ray Bradbury Dandelion Wine Festival, today at Bowen Park in Waukegan, Illinois, where Brian now lives.

“‘That Marilyn Monroe was a really smart cookie,’ said Seed, a retired freelance photographer for Life magazine.

Sifting through photos he took of the Hollywood icon in October 1956, he says: ‘Look at this picture — she’s looking directly at me, because she knows I’m likely the only photographer in there who’s working for a magazine, and that the photo that would result would not be used in one day’s paper and then gone forever.’

As it turned out, Seed’s photos from that night outside London’s Comedy Theatre would sit unseen for more than a half-century.

Though Seed was pleased with his results, Life editors didn’t use any of the images they commissioned of Monroe. The magazine would eventually release a career’s worth of negatives to Seed in the late 1970s and he filed everything away until recently stumbling across the images.”

 

Marilyn’s English Adventure

Writing for London’s Time Out magazine, Wally Hammond investigates the true story behind Marilyn’s visit to England in 1956.

 “Marilyn’s transcendent, radiant quality is inimitable. And it would be fair to say that Williams’s performance in ‘My Week with Marilyn’ copies but does not capture it. This is despite the efforts of director Simon Curtis and his lighting, hair and make-up team to stress 31-year-old Williams’s physical similarity to Monroe. What Williams does do well, however, is suggest some of the complexities in her personality.

‘Marilyn was a very curious little person,’ Olivier told Michael Parkinson in 1969, ‘a divided personality… She wouldn’t know how humiliating she could be.’

Olivier didn’t know how humiliating he could be  either. Nor did his wife Vivien Leigh, whose presence on set crushed the insecure Monroe. Reports testify to the umbrage Monroe took to the ‘coldness’ of the Pinewood film crew. You could even read Rattigan’s script of ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ as an essay on patronage, in its secondary, condescending, sense.”

An additional article – first published by BBC News in April 2010, includes local people’s memories of Marilyn’s stay at Parkside House in Surrey.

The widow of Marilyn’s chauffeur is interviewed, and her comments cast some doubt on Clark’s version of events in My Week With Marilyn. An attempt to trace Mabel Whittington – named as Marilyn’s English housekeeper in Randy J. Taraborrelli’s sources, also leads nowhere.

However, Nigel Hammett remembers meeting Marilyn at Parkside House, while Patrick O’Shea recalls that the tennis shoes which Marilyn wore while cycling were purchased at his parents’ shop.

Terence Rattigan Centenary

Marilyn With Olivier and Rattigan, photo by Milton Greene

“Perhaps the apex of (Rattigan’s) glittering career can be identified as August 18 1956, the night he threw a party to coincide with the filming of his 1953 play The Sleeping Prince, re-dubbed The Prince and the Showgirl. His two co-stars – Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier – were royally entertained at his country pad in Sunningdale, Berkshire, along with Monroe’s new husband, Arthur Miller, and anyone who was anyone at the time. The whole ritzy episode is being recreated from the diary of bemused set-assistant Colin Clark in a forthcoming star-studded Simon Curtis film, My Week With Marilyn.

Daily Telegraph

With Rattigan at a New York press conference, February 1956
Dressed for Rattigan's house party, with husband Arthur Miller in England

Michelle Williams on Reading ‘Fragments’

Michelle Williams, while filming 'My Week With Marilyn'

You just finished playing Marilyn. Was it amazing?
Many things — amazing being one of them. The movie (‘My Week With Marilyn’) takes place when she was making ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ and married to Arthur Miller. I didn’t stop shooting that long ago, so I’ve still got one foot in it.

Did you read ‘Fragments,’ the book of Marilyn’s writings?
Oh, isn’t that a beautiful book? You know that was an auspicious day on set. We were filming at Park Side House, which is where she stayed when she was in London, and it was our first day there and it was the day the book came out and there are notes in the book written on Park Side House stationary.

Ever come home from work depressed?
Um, look, there is residue, always, always for me. No matter what the role, there’s some residue and rightly so, necessarily so. But my primary commitment in this world is my daughter and I cannot commit myself, not to say I haven’t, but I can’t stay there.

PopEater

Parkside House, photographed by MM fan

Norman Wisdom 1915-2010

Sir Norman Wisdom, who Charlie Chaplin once described as ‘my favourite comedian’, has died aged 95.

Marilyn met Wisdom in 1956 while filming The Prince and the Showgirl at Pinewood Studios in England, as he told biographer Michelle Morgan:

“I was making my film A Stitch in Time*, and on several occasions she came in to watch my work. In fact, she quite unintentionally ruined a couple of takes. Obviously, of course, once the director has said ‘Action’, everyone must remain silent, no matter how funny the situation might be, but Marilyn could not help laughing, and on two occasions she was politely escorted off the set. The nicest thing that happened was that we passed each other in the hallway one lunchtime. It was crowded, but she still caught hold of me, kissed and hugged me, and walked away laughing. Everybody in the hall could not believe it, and I remember my director, Bob Asher, shouting out, ‘You lucky little swine’ – I agreed with him.”

From Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed

*A Stitch in Time was released in 1964. Perhaps Sir Norman was thinking of Up in the World (1956) or Just My Luck (1957)?