Marilyn’s Method ‘Showgirl’

Vanity Fair‘s Bruce Handy re-evaluates Marilyn’s performance in The Prince and the Showgirl:

“The film is a classic example of Hollywood’s most prevalent genre: the awful movie made by talented people. The culprit isn’t Monroe’s neuroses, but rather a creaky, silly screenplay (adapted from what must have been a creaky, silly play). I wasn’t expecting it to be good, anyway, but I was hoping it would serve as a tutorial in opposing acting styles—Monroe’s intuitive emotional truths vs. Olivier’s precision-tooled affect. A clash of the titans, to reference another lousy Olivier movie.

Its best scene is a long would-be seduction, in which Olivier has invited Monroe to his apartment for a late-night repast. He then mostly ignores her, tending to business and assuming she’ll get drunk on his champagne and perforce go to bed with him. She, naturally, is onto him—she knows all the tricks—and here, Monroe is wonderful. Given a chance to show off her flair for comedy, she demonstrates that she too is capable of precise effects.

Olivier is a great on-screen, even in junk like this. For one thing, as the carriage scene shows, he understood stillness, and how to let the audience come to him, in a way that Monroe never did. She was more of a heat-seeking missile.

But it’s not a contest. When given the right scaffolding of dialogue and stage business, she too is great. Her greatest shortcoming as an actress, if it is a shortcoming, is that she didn’t know how to fake it. The second half of the film, where the story turns loopy and improbable—her character is forced into being a go-between for silly political intrigue—leaves her looking lost. Judy Holiday or Betty Hutton might have made it work, but that’s no knock on Monroe. The Prince and the Showgirl didn’t deserve to work. And when Monroe had real material—like with Some Like It Hot—she soared.”

Olivier Vs Monroe: Clash of the Titans

Elisa Jordan looks back at the tensions on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl:

“Because of all the turmoil on the set, history has often overlooked the positive aspects of the picture. First and foremost, let’s remember that Marilyn Monroe, who had been written off as a dumb sex symbol by so many, actually produced a movie with her own production company. And because she was an independent contractor, as opposed to under contract to a studio, she netted 10 percent of the movie’s profits. All this was practically non-existent in the 1950s. It was a huge leap for all actors in Hollywood—but especially for women.

Finally, let’s remember that this woman had the courage to hire the century’s most renowned and respected actor—Laurence Olivier. Not many in her shoes would have done the same. For all the attention that Marilyn’s behavior on the set gets, let’s not forget that Olivier wasn’t always a pleasant person to be around, either. To her credit, Marilyn stood up to him. And it’s also important to point out that while Olivier didn’t always treat Marilyn with respect, it wasn’t just a matter of two actors. Olivier seems to forget that this woman, whom he spoke so ill of, was also his boss.”


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 2009 biography, 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.

When Marilyn’s Strap Snapped

The New York Times recounts a press conference at the city’s Plaza Hotel on February 9, 1956, held by Marilyn and Sir Laurence Olivier to announce their upcoming film, The Prince and the Showgirl. When the strap on Marilyn’s dress broke, all hell broke loose as reporters jostled to take pictures. Olivier was horrified, but nonetheless the incident was reproduced in a scene from the movie.

“One news-hen, Judith Crist, The New York Herald Tribune’s film critic, remembers it well. ‘I was directly behind her, pushed against her by the largely male crush of reporters,’ she said via e-mail. ‘There’s a ladies’ room to the right,’ I said, ‘I have a safety pin.’”

The Millers at Parkside

Marilyn and Arthur cycling in Windsor Park, 1956

Mike Pope worked as a gardener for the Oliviers at their Notley Abbey home in Buckinghamshire when Marilyn Monroe came to England to film The Prince and the Showgirl in 1956. Marilyn and her husband, Arthur Miller, stayed at nearby Parkside House, Englefield Green, Surrey.

Pope recalls that Vivien Leigh loved tending roses, but his memories of the Millers are succinct:

“He was around for what he hoped would be the most amazing visitor of all – Marilyn Monroe, who was coming to discuss her role with Olivier in The Prince and the Showgirl.

‘We’d been brushing our hair for weeks in anticipation,’ he smiles. But then landed a major blow.

‘We were told by the head gardener that no one was to come up to the house while Marilyn and her husband, Arthur Miller, were staying.

We asked who was going to milk the cattle and remove the cowpats – the Oliviers liked it all tidied up – but they were adamant. In the end the security guards had to milk the cows by hand for two days!'”

Read Mike’s interview in full at the Dorset Echo