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Marilyn Monroe, the consummate sex kitten, was not the dumb blonde she appeared, but a talented actress with good instincts and serious ambitions. In 1956, Monroe set up her own production company to help realize those ambitions. She acquired the rights to Terence Rattigan's hit London play, The Sleeping Prince, a comedy about a Balkan prince in London in 1911 for the coronation of King George V, and an American showgirl he sets out to seduce. Sir Laurence Olivier was not only one of the world's greatest actors, he was also a skilled director and producer, with a canny sense of what was commercial. Olivier and his wife Vivien Leigh had played the prince and the showgirl in Rattigan's play on the London stage. So Monroe set out to figuratively "seduce" Olivier into co-starring and directing the film, which would be re-titled The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). Olivier was 50, and felt his career was in a rut. He met with Marilyn, was charmed by her, and agreed to do the film.
Monroe, newly wed to playwright Arthur Miller, arrived in London in July of 1956, with husband, entourage, and much publicity. Olivier acted cordial, but he was already annoyed. Monroe had insisted that Paula Strasberg, wife of Method teacher Lee Strasberg, be put on the payroll as her "acting coach," at a salary higher than anyone's except the two stars. Olivier disliked Paula's constant presence, and was scornful of the Method. He displayed his anger by being patronizing. "All you have to do is be sexy, dear Marilyn," he said, through gritted teeth. Monroe displayed her insecurity by habitual tardiness, ignored Olivier's directions, and fluffed lines, infuriating Olivier even more. One scene in which Monroe had to eat caviar took two days, thirty-four takes, and twenty jars of caviar to complete. Dame Sybil Thorndike, who played the Dowager Queen, advised patience. "We need her desperately. She's really the only one of us who knows how to act in front of a camera!"
Remarkably, Olivier finished shooting a few days ahead of schedule. The tensions didn't show onscreen, and reviews were excellent, especially for Monroe. And years later, Olivier admitted that the agony had been worth it. "No one had such a look of unconscious wisdom, and her personality was strong on the screen - she was quite wonderful, the best of all."
Producer/Director: Laurence Olivier
Screenplay: Terence Rattigan, based on his play, The Sleeping Prince
Editor: Jack Harris
Cinematography: Jack Cardiff
Art Direction: Carmen Dillon
Music: Richard Addinsell
Cast: Marilyn Monroe (Elsie Marina). Laurence Olivier (Charles, Prince Regent), Sybil Thorndike (Queen Dowager), Richard Wattis (Northbrooke), Jeremy Spenser (King Nicholas).
by Margarita Landazuri