Marilyn Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier teamed up in London in 1956 to make the film The Prince and the Showgirl. It was a comedy about the lonely Prince Regent of Carpathia, who encounters a flirtatious American showgirl. The movie was a complete flop.
The film’s Oscar-winning cinematographer, Jack Cardiff, stated in his memoirs that Sir Olivier called Monroe a “b——-h” decades after filming.
“She was a very curious little person,” Olivier says. “There’s a proper word for it but I think it always sounds very horrid, she was a divided person, I’ll say. When I first met her I thought she was the most enchanting thing I’d ever met in my life. And it was impossible then when she was like that, and she was like that in ordinary life, it was impossible not really to fall a little in love with her absolutely on first meeting. I looking forward madly to working with her because I admired her so much.”
Even though Olivier was ecstatic to work with Marilyn, things didn’t go as planned when the time came. “She was always late, always late. Sometimes 4 hours late. That obviously isn’t just being naughty. That’s obviously something that’s, sort of, something chronic.”
“She used to get rather bad tempered and people used to get rather frightened of her after a bit,” Olivier recounted of Marilyn when she would show up for work. “I used to get rather frightened but after a while there wasn’t an assistant who would go and call her [to the set].”
Years later, according to reports, Olivier showed the film to guests at his house and was forced to concede Marilyn was the greatest part of the movie. Marilyn’s work habits were her undoing, but they typically yielded the results she sought. The studios wanted the money, but they wouldn’t give Marilyn the freedom to make anything she wanted. Mae West, on the other hand, would not film a single frame unless she was in total control and had written every line. Stars are unique individuals who should never have been viewed as commodities.
“That humiliation Marilyn Monroe faced on the set of ‘Prince and the Showgirl’ is legendary,” NPR’s Elizabeth Blair remarked. “And it happened at a time when Monroe was hoping to eventually distance herself from the dumb blonde persona – easier said than done for a woman in Hollywood in the 1950s.”
Michelle Williams, who plays Monroe in the new film “My Week With Marilyn,” expressed sympathy for her during a press conference for the film.
Williams said, “I wish that she could experience what I’ve been able to, which is to work outside of a studio system, to not be bound to playing the same role, to not be a contract player, to not basically be on salary and to have to take what’s given to you.”
Blair added, “In ‘My Week With Marilyn,’ you get the sense both Monroe and Olivier felt there was a lot riding on this movie; that somehow, it would be the game-changer their images needed. In the end, “The Prince and the Showgirl” made them look like just that.
Fortunately for them, both of their subsequent films were nominated for Academy Awards. Laurence Olivier was nominated for Best Actor in “The Entertainer,” while Marilyn Monroe went on to make “Some Like It Hot.”