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.”
Brigitte Bardot, the iconic French ‘sex kitten’ of the 1950s and 60s, is one of the few actresses to come close to Marilyn Monroe’s impact in beauty and charm.
The two women met just once, in the ladies’ room of the Empire cinema, Leicester Square, London, at a Royal Command performance of The Battle of the River Plate on October 29, 1956, moments after Marilyn had been formally introduced to Queen Elizabeth II.
‘I stared at (MM) hungrily,’ Brigitte recalled in her 1995 autobiography, Initiales BB, admitting that she was too nervous to speak, and simply gazed at Marilyn’s reflection in the mirror. ‘I found her sublime. She was always for me what every woman, not only me, must dream to be. She was gorgeous, charming, fragile.’
Monroe, then 30, was filming The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier. Bardot, at 22, was still on the cusp of fame, having appeared in seventeen films. Her big break came almost a year later, with the release of And God Created Woman.
Bardot retired from films in 1973, aged 39. Since then she has largely abandoned her glamorous image, devoting herself to campaigning for animal welfare. (Marilyn also loved animals and nature, and once told a reporter that she wanted ‘to grow old without facelifts’.)
Brigitte turns 76 later this month, and in recent years has come under fire for her uncompromising views on everything from immigration to homosexuality.
‘People abandon their icons as they get older,’ Choulant adds. ‘Every 10 years, there is an extraordinary actress who has a sexual impact on a new generation, someone who represents a new type of woman sexually.’ (Often, Choulant notes, they are iconic enough to become known by a single name: Marilyn. Bardot. Madonna. Angelina.)
‘I have a lot of things in common with Marilyn,’ Bardot wrote, ‘and she is very dear to my heart. Both of us had childish souls despite our starlet bodies, an intense sensitivity that can’t be hidden, a great need to be protected, a naivete! We stopped our careers at the same age, but, unfortunately, not in the same way.’
Marilyn arrived at London Airport with husband Arthur Miller. They were met by another famous couple, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. Monroe was preparing to film The Prince and the Showgirl with Olivier as director and co-star.
The former London Airport in Croydon, Surrey, is one of the few MM-related sites I have visited (or, to be more accurate, driven by!)