Larry, Marilyn, Vivien and Noblesse Oblige

He could speak Shakespeare’s lines as naturally as if he were actually thinking them.
– Charles Bennett, English playwright

Larry was the greatest of them all – and the most handsome. He was the prince and his princess was Vivien. She wasn’t bad at acting, and she was the most beautiful of them all.

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier

Laurence Olivier directed and acted in The Prince and the Showgirl in 1957, co-starring Marilyn Monroe, who was also beautiful in a ditsy way. She was the epitome of showgirls, starlets, pinups and party girls. It is not the elegant beauty of Vivien Leigh, but it was a kind of beauty too. Actually it was the kind of beauty that was more in demand. There was nothing subtle about it. The appeal was immediate. There was no aura to it, and it did not increase with observation. I wouldn’t use the word superficial, but I would say that it was anything but classic.

Marilyn had a reputation for showing up late and for being difficult to work with. Here’s how other directors put it. The words are Larry’s: “Billy Wilder said that it had been like working with Hitler. He and Josh Logan commiserated with me and said it was hell, but that I would be getting a pleasant surprise when it was over.”

Marilyn arrived in London with new hubby Arthur Miller, as well as Lee and Paula Strasberg –
to Larry’s dismay. Marilyn’s devil was aided and abetted by those other two devils.

Here’s Larry on Lee: “My opinion of his school is that it did more harm than good to his students and that his influence on the American theater was harmfully misplaced.”

Seven years later Lee would cross the Atlantic with Studio actors to assay Chekhov’s Three Sisters on the West End in one of his very few stints as a director. He got his comeuppance for whatever transgressions he had committed. The production was described as the turkey of all turkeys and the bomb of all bombs in the British press.

And here’s Larry on Paula: “The truth came to light with uncanny speed: Paula knew nothing, she was no actress, no director, no teacher, no, adviser – except in Marilyn’s eyes, for she had one talent: she could butter Marilyn up. On one car journey I heard Paula play an innings in this, her special ploy, which pinned my ears back as I sat in the front with the two of them in the back. ‘My dear, you really must recognize your own potential, you haven’t even yet any idea of the importance of your position in the world, you are the greatest sex symbol in human memory, everybody knows and recognizes that and you should too, it’s a duty which you owe to yourself and to the world, it’s ungrateful not to accept it. You are the greatest woman of your time, the greatest human being of your time; of any time, you name it; you can’t think of anybody, I mean – no, not even Jesus – except you’re more popular.’ Incredible as that must s exaggeration; and it went on in unremitting supply, for good hour, with Marilyn swallowing every word. This was Paula’s unique gift to the art of acting, or rather the artful success of Marilyn’s career, out of which the Strasbergs stood to make much capital. This was what I realized in growing alarm, I was stuck with.”

And it can be said that the Prince as actor and director suffered as no one in film and show business had ever suffered before and after the filming of “Prince.” Time and again he was insulted and humiliated.

Vivien had played the role on the stage, but in the film, she had to give way to Marilyn. Of course she didn’t relish being passed over. She had caused a stir as Blanche in Streetcar, and now unfortunately she started to live that role to the hilt.

So poor Larry was getting his ankles snapped at from all sides. He had them snapped at on the set, and there was snapping galore after he dragged himself home by Vivian, who had been left out of things.

But ankles were not the only part of Larry’s anatomy that suffered. His nether region was getting the brunt of it too. That’s the area of the greatest ache when the fair sex has in for men.

After the royal Prince torture was over, Larry limped off the set and went on to other things.
A quarter of a century later, he saw the film again and here’s what he had to say: “I was as good as can be, and Marilyn! Marilyn was quite wonderful, the best of all.”

So a good film and good performances had come from all the suffering, and Larry the gentleman had given Marilyn her due.

There wasn’t much noblesse oblige in Arthur Miller’s After the Fall. The Marilyn character has no saving graces in the play, and not an iota of charm. Never had there been a heroine on the stage who was less of a heroine.

But Larry was not so noble with Vivien. Here’s what he wrote after her passing: “While I was keeping my short vigil in the bedroom, I noticed that between the bed and the bathroom was a stain, and connecting this with the expression on her face which had caused me to wonder, I now realized what must have happened. What a cruel stroke of fate to deliver that particular little death-blow to one as scrupulously dainty in such matters as was she.”

Quotations from Laurence Olivier: Confessions of an Actor, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1982.


The American Actress and the Italian Actor

The American actress had never met anyone like the Italian actor. He didn’t go to ball games, he didn’t go hunting or fishing and he didn’t play cards with the guys. He was there for her. And although his English was broken, he listened to her. Yes, he’d sit there with his dark liquid eyes drinking in every word that came from her mouth. It seemed that no word was ever wasted. Even if some of the words she spoke were strange to him, he seemed to get the gist of it. No, there could not be another man more understanding and attentive to a woman.

He had a reputation as a skirt chaser, but she simply couldn’t bring herself to believe that this was true. He was so kind and understanding. She would just swoon in his arms. He was her prince and she was his princess. He made every venue they found themselves in seem like Heaven.

For two years Heaven remained Heaven.

Heaven is a dream and she was dreaming.

Why do dreams end? Dreams end because one wakes up. Reality is the end of all dreams.

The actress found out, that although the Italian actor’s English was broken, what he understood was less than you can understand with broken English.

In a rented villa in Rimini, the kitchen sink was clogged and she asked him to call the plumber, but he didn’t react. He just kept looking at her with the same expression on his face. And even when she asked him again, the dreamy look was as dreamy as ever. Only when she showed her consternation, did it change.

She had been in Heaven, but now she plopped down to Earth. The sink had brought reality into her life.

He had never listened to her. He made believe that he was listening. He dreamed too. God knows what he was dreaming, but his dreams weren’t about her. He could dream with his eyes open. He could dream and make it seem that he was listening.

Now, his expression no longer pleased her. It became the drippy expression of a dope. And that was the end of that.

The actress packed it in and went her way. And the actor went his way as a successful Lothario.

Here’s how she put it: “There are so few people you can talk to. I’ve tried it with all my partners. “Dreamboat” always listened to me, but then I realized that he was only making believe.

The moral of this story is that there is one sure-fire method of seduction. You don’t have to read a “how to” book. You don’t have to use a spiel.

All you have to do is listen. Or make believe that you’re listening.

The object of your seduction may eventually wake up. But then there are other fish in the pond.

Clue: They made a film together in ‘68. It was directed by one of the world’s great directors, but it flopped. Here’s what one critic wrote: “The most god-awful piece of pseudo-romantic slop I’ve ever seen!”


to be continued . . .

– Herbert Kuhner