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In the 50 years since her death the legend of Marilyn Monroe has lost none of its power to fascinate. One of this summer’s must-see films is My Week With Marilyn starring Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench. It’s based on two diaries written in 1956 by Colin Clark, then an Oxford graduate who landed a job as a gofer on the set of The Prince And The Showgirl.
Usually I prefer to read the original book before I see the film and conveniently HarperCollins has just re-released the two diaries in one volume. My Week With Marilyn by Colin Clark ($24.99) is an engrossing period piece. It may not shed a great deal of light on who Marilyn really was beneath the veneer of fame and beauty – Clark like most men fell under her spell and this clouded his judgement – but it does provide a glimpse into an extraordinary and vanished world.
The reason two diaries cover the same period is Clark waited until after Marilyn’s death before publishing the details of his more intimate relationship with the star.
The first diary is the longest. It opens with Clark’s dogged attempts to get a job at Laurence Olivier’s film company. He gets his foot in the door partly because he is well-connected – his parents live in a castle and are friends with everyone from Olivier to Noel Coward. Still he seems likeable enough: cheeky but charming, a lover of parties and pretty girls, and breezily determined to break into the movies.
At first he’s unimpressed with the woman he refers to as MM. “She looked absolutely frightful,” he says of her first appearance on the film set. “Nasty complexion, a lot of facial hair, shapeless figure and, when the glasses come off, a very vague look in her eye.” Yet by the very next day she’s worked her magic and he’s describing her as looking “like an angel”. Soon he’s finding excuses for her behaviour: her chronic lateness, her reliance on her acting coach, her need for booze and pills.
Observant and smart, Clark is in pole position to record the few ups and many downs of filming. His insights are interesting and he watches Marilyn especially closely, observing the contradictions in her character as well as her wonderful figure.
The second diary fills in the blanks Clark left in the first. It covers the nine days when Marilyn, whose new marriage to playwright Arthur Miller is already shaky, draws him close to her. First they share a chicken salad and confidences; then a day trip, a swim and a kiss on the lips; finally a night in bed.
Clark – who died in 2002 – is adamant “nothing improper” happened between them. I’m not convinced and neither does his account of their private conversations always ring true to me. Nevertheless I found both diaries intriguing and entertaining, and I’ll be queuing for my ticket for the movie version.