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.

2 thoughts on “The Prince, The Showgirl and Me – The Colin Clark Diaries

  1. Nice! Marilyn is such a legend that I’m sure we’ll still talk about her for generations to come. I love reading about people whose lives are larger than life. I’d check this out. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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