"Try to be sexy." Did Laurence Olivier humiliate Marilyn Monroe on the set of "The Prince and the Showgirl?
"I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful,
but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else." - Marilyn Monroe
"What's my motivation in this scene, Mr. Sir?"
"To finish it without fluffing your lines, darling - and try to be sexy."
The Trouble With Larry:
when an immovable object meets an irresistible force
LAURENCE OLIVIER WAS BRITAIN'S FINEST ACTOR AND THE GOLDEN BOY OF A THEATRICAL GENERATION - admired and adored by millions. Strange then that he should have been so troubled by a mere slip-of-a-girl from America who had rose to fame from a distinctly unprivileged background. "Norma Jean Baker" had spent her childhood in foster homes sans father with her mother in a mental institution, a situation she feared for herself and was a driving force in the creation of her alter-ego, "Marilyn Monroe" - the woman who had hired Olivier to produce, direct and costar with her in "The Prince and The Showgirl", a rather apt title for their partnership. Oliver, then 50 to Monroe's 31, was at the height of his fame, having been knighted following a glittering career on stage and screen. He reportedly regarded Monroe, the star of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "Bus Stop", and Hollywood's hottest property, as his inferior.
It was already know that all was not well on the set of "The Prince and The Showgirl" . The spectacle of the world's most glamorous movie star residing in the sleepy English countryside of Surrey to make a film with the world's most distinguished stage and film actor and knight of the realm, was not without public or media interest and word soon began to seep out that Sir Larry was becoming frustrated with his star. From what is known, Monroe undertook the project in good faith, tired of the dumb-blonde treatment from the Hollywood studios, she had quit, joined the Actor's Studio in New York, set up her own production company and began the search for a project that allowed her more creative control. Unfortunately for Monroe, Olivier did not seem to treat her as an equal in their joint enterprise and expected her to just take direction. Famed cinematographer, Jack Cardiff, whom Monroe personally asked to photograph and light her for the film, wrote in his memoir, "Conversations with Jack Cardiff", by Justin Bowyer, "Marilyn had this ghastly obsession with method acting and was always searching for some inner meaning with everything, but Larry would only explain the simple facts of the scene. I think she resented him".
Cardiff says that Olivier went out of his way to be a "pain in the arse" to Marilyn. "He invited his wife, Vivien Leigh, the star of "Gone With The Wind", who had played the part of the showgirl on stage, to the set - her presence visibly terrified an already nervous Monroe", Cardiff recalled. Olivier's dislike of Monroe "seems to have been based on her refusal to socialise with the cast and crew, and her obsession with method acting, which led her to question decision he made as the film's director. Monroe resented his treatment of her and was particularly hurt by his refusal to acknowledge even her status as a sex symbol".
When culture and egos collide - Olivier and Monroe take a breather.
Laurence Olivier reportedly described Marilyn Monroe, his star in "The Prince and the Showgirl", as 'a bitch' .
She called him "Mr. Sir" because he had been knighted.
"From the first, it was evident that Marilyn was going to be a problem for Larry on the film", said Cardiff. "Most actors will come on the set and chat, but she would never come on the set. She went through so many agonized times with Larry because he was, to her, a pain in the arse. She never forgave him for saying to her once, 'Try and be sexy'. Cardiff adds: "I saw Larry years later on The Last Days of Pompeii, which was made for television in 1984. We talked a lot on set and I asked him one day what he had thought about Marilyn and he just said, 'She was a bitch.'
So what was Sir Larry's problem with the sexy blonde superstar? Could it have been good old upper-class English snobbery? Unlikely. Or to his relative inexperience as a film director? Sure, he could handle armies of men but Marilyn Monroe was a different proposition. He failed to appreciate her need to be taken seriously (the reason she abandoned Hollywood) on the first film under her new company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, a project that she obviously very much wanted to succeed. Billy Wilder showed only a few years later how to get the best out of Monroe in the film, "Some Like it Hot", support and a lot of patience being part of the essential requirements. The fact that Monroe questioned his direction suggests she may have had ideas of her own that were ignored. It's a film with a piece of the puzzle missing. Her input may well have made it a better film.
Or perhaps it was all just a storm in a teacup - a mad moment in history when a Hollywood Cinderella went to an English Ball, met the Prince but they didn't fall in love - in fact, he called her a bitch! So she returned home, hurt, and died of a broken heart a few years later. Or maybe Olivier was right in his observations and behaved like any reasonable person would in a similar situation? People have different views, He does, however, seem to have reached some kind of 'closure' in his 1983 autobiography "Confessions of an Actor" - "upon meeting Marilyn Monroe preparatory to the commencement of production of The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), he was convinced he was going to fall in love with her. During production, Olivier bore the brunt of Marilyn's famous indiscipline and wound up despising her. However, he admits that she was wonderful in the film, the best thing in it, her performance overshadowing his own, and that the final result was worth the aggravation." Olivier said. "Her work frightened her, and although she had undoubted talent, I think she had a subconscious resistance to the exercise of being an actress. But she was intrigued by its mystique and happy as a child when being photographed; she managed all the business of stardom with uncanny, clever, apparent ease."
Jack Cardiff and Monroe were personally good friends and he remained loyal to Monroe in his memoir. He describes her as genuine, intelligent and possessing an appealing child-like quality at times. (He described visiting her for the first time where she emerged from her bedroom with tousled hair and no make up and had the face of a child.)
Bryan James, Classic Films Reloaded
The Miller, The Wife, and the Director.
"The Prince, The Showgirl, and Me" is a BBC documentary produced in 2004, and is based on the diary-turned-book of Colin Clark - Laurence Olivier's assistant on the film The Prince and the Showgirl. The production was very stressful for everyone. Clark delightfully narrates the documentary and guides us through what it was like to film a movie with two of the biggest stars in the world.
In her will, Monroe left Lee Strasberg her personal effects, which amounted to just over half of her residuary estate. She expressed her desire that he "distribute [the effects] among my friends, colleagues and those to whom I am devoted." Instead, he stored them in a warehouse, and willed them to his widow.
Daily Telegraph: Conversations with Jack Cardiff, by Justin Bowyer
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"Marilyn is a kind of ultimate. She is uniquely feminine. Everything she does is different, strange, and exciting, from the way she talks to the way she uses that magnificent torso. She makes a man proud to be a man." - Clark Gable