The Prince, The Showgirl and Me – The Colin Clark Diaries

The Prince, The Showgirl and Me

‘The Prince, The Showgirl and Me’ are a set of extracts from the Diaries of Colin Clark for the six months he was on the sets of a movie starring Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. The movie, ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ was shot in its entirety at Pinewood Studios, on the outskirts of London and Clark, despite being only the third assistant director for the film, was privy to all the ups and many downs of shooting the film.

The year was 1956 and Marilyn Monroe was the greatest sensation in the world of Western film. The recent success of the film ‘The Seven Year Itch’ and her sensational photographs standing astride a New York subway grate would catapult her fame to new heights. Sir Laurence Olivier was considered the greatest actor of the time. Not only did he have a formidable stage presence he had won an Oscar for the film direction of Hamlet in 1948. It seemed like the two would be perfectly paired to star in the film, in addition to Olivier directing.

‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ was based on the Terence Rattigan play, ‘The Sleeping Prince’ that had starred Laurence Olivier and his wife and renowned actress Vivien Leigh. The plot of the play has been described as ‘paper-thin’ in the preface – and briefly consists of the Regent of Carpathia falling in love with a showgirl during his Coronation preparations.

Laurence Olivier Productions would pair with Marilyn Monroe Productions to produce the film. It was necessary to shoot the film within a narrow window of time to reduce costs, and there was a great deal of tension regarding the punctuality and timely appearance of Marilyn Monroe in the mornings, known to be notoriously late.

Colin Clark, then a young man freshly out of college was the son of renowned art historian Kenneth Clark. Clark came from a background of privilege. Educated at Eton and Chdistchurch, his parents lived in Saltwood Castle in Kent, they knew several people in the entertainment industry, particularly Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. One weekend when ‘Larry and Vivien’ came down to stay at Saltwood for the weekend, Colin’s Mother mentioned that Colin was enthusiastic about a future career in the film industry, to which Vivien Leigh persuaded Olivier to land him a job with his production company.

The following day, Colin visited Mr Hugh Perceval in Piccadilly- the offices of Laurence Olivier Productions. Through a combination of several weeks of dogged determination to secure a job, any kind of job, and remarkable initiative, Colin landed a position as third assistant director on the sets of ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’. Though being considerably low down in the pecking order and having to do trivial jobs, it is through his eyes that we gain an intimate, insider’s perspectives of the goings on of several months of filming on a set that was far from harmonious.

As with all Hollywood icons of the stature of Marilyn Monroe, there’s always a curiosity to know more about her. These diaries certainly provide a more close-up perspective of working with her. There was a considerable amount of tension between her and Laurence Olivier. Monroe never turned up at the expected time, early in the morning and would require several hours of hair and makeup before she was able to shoot. One gains a sense that all the other people on the set of the film were having to be accommodative of these difficulties.

Marilyn Monroe was newly wedded to the playwright Arthur Miller. Their relationship seems to not have been the smoothest with Miller leaving her mid shoot to return to the US.

On a personal level, I felt I gained quite a bit more insight into the process of shooting a film and how film making can be quite different from theatre production. Probably not as glamorous as it seems to us movie goers, I was impressed by the degree of discipline and hard work that making a film entails. Also, Colin Clark, presents quite a sympathetic picture of Monroe. He shows her vulnerability, her insecurities and the great deal of pressure she must have been under, shooting a film in a foreign country, on a set full of people, not always the most sympathetic towards her. With troubles in her personal life, this period must have been difficult for her.

Many thanks to the folks at Foxed Quarterly for sending me a copy of this diary for review. All opinions are my own.

Stories for Christmas and the festive season from The British Library Women Writers Series

When one picks up a Christmas anthology and flicks through the list of stories and authors, it’s not unusual to come across the old favourites – a bit of Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, the Christmas excerpts from Little Women, perhaps something by Laurie Lee or Kenneth Williams. But for a Christmas story enthusiast, the need is always for something different.

Here’s a peek at a few of my favourite Christmas anthologies.

What is exceptional about the Christmas anthology from the British Library Women Writers collection is the selection of lesser known stories and some women authors – who at least for me, were largely unknown. 

The clever chronology of the stories also meant that the stories picked up on a wide range of Christmas activities – from Christmas shopping, Christmas preparation, carol singing concerts, pageants and pantomimes, decorating the tree, skating and much more. They could be read in one go or spread over the latter half of December and the New Year.

I approach a short story anthology a bit unconventionally. A bit like a pick and mix – one story here, one story there, a title that catches my fancy next. Unsurprisingly, I dived straight into EM Delafield’s ‘General Impressions of a Christmas Shopping Centre’ first, because I’m a huge Provincial Lady fan. The excerpt is Delafield at her anecdotal best – but I would have loved something more substantial from her. 

The rest of the stories were lovely too. I laughed at The Christmas Pageant by Barbara Robinson. I thought Ticket for a Carol Concert was wonderfully crafted. Christmas Bread was poignant and full of sentiment. Snow by Olive Wadsley was dreamy and intimate and beautifully romantic. Elizabeth von Arnim’s Christmas story set in Bavaria had the effect of transporting you to a winter wonderland, celebrating German traditions of Christmastimes of yore. A favourite was The Little Christmas Tree by Stella Gibbons. The descriptions of the tiny Christmas tree really caught my attention. Richmal Crompton penned such a clever, short, memorable story that made me smile at the end.

‘Snow’ by Olive Wadsley is a lovely ode to the romance of Yuletide. Set in a country house with a select gathering of friends and family at Christmas, a young couple, Viola and John, who are not apparently suited but who find themselves increasingly drawn to one another, expectantly look for a resolution to their burgeoning love on Christmas Day. Enter an old flame of Violas and implicatory footsteps in the snow and young love is very much threatened. There is a beautiful lyrical and tender atmosphere to this story and beautifully brings out the hopefulness and romance of the festive season. 

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ by Kate Nivison tells of the nighttime wanderings of a small mouse residing in a small household. The mother is snoozing in an armchair in the living room in front of the Christmas tree, waiting for quietness to fall on her house in order to fill her children’s stockings. She is eating a misshapen mince pie and boozy warm milk, presumably left out for Santa. The story exudes a sense of the 1980’s in its ambience – making it feel very much like a Christmas from my childhood.

I should mention that I like reading cosy stories for Christmas. ‘The Turkey Season’ by Alice Munro – didn’t fit that description – at least not for me – so I chose to skip that particular one. 

I don’t think it’s possible for a short story anthology to tick all the boxes – especially when a wide range of authors are selected. But I must say – ‘Stories for Christmas and the festive season’ by the British Library, really did that for me. This book was the highlight of Christmas reading season 2022 and I’m sure I’ll be reaching for it, during many Christmases in future. 

A story by Cornelia Otis Skinner even featured the very festive topic of skating.