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This review is from: My Week With Marilyn (Paperback)
The book in this edition is in two parts. The first, originally published in 1995 under the title "The Prince, the Showgirl and Me", is a transcript of the diaries Clark kept of the 24 weeks in 1956. It begins with the day on which he tried to get a job on the production crew of `The Prince and the Showgirl', of which Sir Laurence Olivier was director and producer and in which he will also star with Marilyn Monroe (MM). It ends with the savage relief all round when the filming was finally done. In the middle of the diaries there is an entry reading "I haven't written for a whole week" (nine days, actually) and that of course is his "Week with Marilyn" (nine days, actually) which were so heady that Clark only jotted down notes, which he wrote up many years later (passages of dialogue are certainly longer, more crafted and therefore less believable than they were in the diaries) and published in 2000 (two years before his death).
Colin Clark was only 23 during the events he narrates in his diary - but a pretty shrewd judge of men and women, with a gift of humorous description, and at the same time with a young man's susceptibility to being star-struck. He had the enormous self-confidence and savoir-faire that I suppose came from having been to Eton, not to mention being the son of Sir Kenneth Clark who provided the initial connection with Olivier. The determination with which Clark, completely inexperienced in anything to do with film-production, secures the job of 3rd Assistant Director (`the lowest of the low' and known as `gofer' because anyone can tell him to `go for this' or `go for that') is impressive. And he gets responsibility quite soon - finding houses for MM and her staff to stay in, hiring the servants in these houses, organizing police protection for MM, etc.
His writing hits off everything perfectly: the technical aspects of a production - the swarm of people involved in making a film, the rituals and the pressures of it, the stroppy "closed shop" unions; but above all the characters: MM, spoilt, little-girlish, terrified of Olivier, utterly dependent on her Svengali-type drama coach Paula Strasberg who constantly stands between her and Olivier, insecure, frightened, vulnerable, completely "unprofessional" amid professional actors and technicians, muffing her lines, and permanently unpunctual (work was supposed to start at 6.45 a.m. every day, and she lodged some eight miles from the Pinewood Studios) and yet an irresistible star; Olivier with his surface charm, but insensitive, irascible, first condescending and then understandably teeth-gnashing towards his co-star, which is probably the reason why his acting in the film was so stiff; Sybil Thorndike's genuine warmth and kindness; the members of MM's competitively possessive entourage; Arthur Miller, MM's self-satisfied and brand-new (third) husband, already out of love with her on this, their "honeymoon" ("another insensitive male in her life is the last thing she needs"); Roger Smith, MM's bodyguard, the stolid and utterly reliable policeman referred to simply as "Plod", and perhaps the only completely sane person in the book.
Fascinating as all his comments and portrayals are, I found the Clark of the diaries at least as interesting as the people he writes about. He is acutely observant and perceptive; compassionate (not just about MM, but about Olivier, too); picks up all the nuances of the interaction of his characters; is frank about his brief fling with a wardrobe girl who has "not a brain in that pretty little head" and of whom he quickly tires, as well as about a homosexual encounter. And now I am impatient to read his autobiography, "Younger Brother, Younger Son". (P.S. See my Amazon review of this, 5 January 2012)
The accuracy and reliability of the second part of the book has been seriously impugned (see Tim Mobile's Amazon review of 16 November 2011), but it's still a rattling good read. Arthur Miller had flown off to Paris; MM was lonely, and turned to the star-struck young man who could not believe his luck, but (chastely) rose to the occasion. The account of the fifth of those nine days is especially hilarious. Then MM plunges back into her depression; and one must doubt whether he really did deliver those long avuncular passages of therapeutic advice to her.
It's still a very good read (four stars, perhaps), though not as superb as the first part (definitely five stars). The enchanting film based on the two books is very true to them, not only in substance but also in tone. And it helps to have seen a video of "The Prince and the Showgirl" before you read the book: though that was not a very good film, you will then have in your mind the scenes when Clark writes about them being shot.