Michelle Williams had hesitations about signing on to "My Week With Marilyn" — particularly fear over whether she'd be able to portray Marilyn Monroe in an accurate fashion. But the actress also had questions about the veracity of the tale at the heart of the film, which was released late last month and is being advertised as being "based on a true story." And Michelle is hardly alone.
The movie centers on Monroe during the filming of "The Prince and the Showgirl" in 1956. Facing marital troubles with her new husband, the playwright Arthur Miller, and plagued with insecurity about her acting abilities, the film shows the 30-year-old Monroe finding solace in a romantic relationship with a lowly, 23-year-old assistant director, Colin Clark.
In 1995, decades after Monroe's death, Clark published "The Prince, the Showgirl and Me," an account of his time on the film that included nothing about a romance with Monroe. But five years later, he wrote the follow-up "My Week With Marilyn," a far more gossipy read that included what he said was his dalliance with the movie star.
Clark explained the gap by saying that for the nine days during filming when he became close to Monroe, he was so busy that he had made no entries in his diary. It was after "Showgirl" wrapped that he first recounted his full experience to a friend in a letter — and, apparently, he decided he was only ready to share those more intimate details in his 2000 book. Clark, who went on to work in television and made a handful of documentary films, died in 2002.
Williams, who spent months watching Monroe's films and devouring biographies on her, acknowledges that she found Clark to be an "unreliable narrator."
"When you read both of his books, you do get the sense that he's writing with the advantage of hindsight, and he's put some awfully big words in his own mouth," said the actress, who added that before filming she did not speak to anyone who had known Monroe personally. "I think he says in the book that Marilyn wanted to make love, but he said, 'Oh, no!' And you're like, 'Oh, sure.' I'm sure that there was a relationship there. To what extent it was consummated, I don't know."
Many people who knew Monroe, though, are doubtful that there was ever a hint of a romantic relationship between the actress and Clark, and some even claim the filmmakers declined the opportunity to verify the authenticity of the memoirs.
"I was there every day, and I knew what was happening. [Clark] was on the set, and he was a gofer — 'Hey, I need a cup of coffee,' or whatever. No one regarded him as anything but a gofer," said Amy Greene, the widow of Milton Greene, a photographer who was vice president of Monroe's production company.
"It's a complete lie. It's a fantasy. He was a fourth-rate water boy," agreed Greene's son, Joshua, who handles his father's archives. He said he contacted BBC Films, the production company, to offer up his father's documents and photographs before production on "My Week With Marilyn" began, but his inquiry was ignored.
"There was clearly no interest in trying to make a real movie based on the situation," Joshua Greene said. "Don't sit there and say this is based on a true story and not have the decency to confirm that your story is true by going to people that are still alive."
Director Simon Curtis and screenwriter Adrian Hodges denied they were ever approached by Greene's relatives. "The fact that these books were in the public arena and had been cherished by people over the years gave me confidence," said Curtis. "I have no reason to doubt Colin's version. Who is to say what happened in those bedrooms on those nights?"
Curtis did speak to "Showgirl" script supervisor Elaine Schreyeck and Vera Day, who acted in the picture, but said neither had "a lot to say about the Colin-ness of the film."
"What we weren't making," Hodges added, "was an investigation of whether Colin's story was true. We were telling his account of it. That's the magical aspect of it. And even so, he did insist it was true."
Interviews with more than half a dozen individuals who knew Monroe paint a muddy picture of the relationship between Clark and the actress. None of Monroe's friends or colleagues who are still alive says they witnessed any intimate interactions between the young man and the star.
Day and Jean Kent, two British actresses who had small parts in "Showgirl," both said in interviews that they found it highly "unlikely" that Monroe would have been interested in Clark because she was so caught up with her third and final husband, Miller.
Monroe and Miller "were glued together on set all the time. When he wasn't there with her, she was surrounded by her entourage," Day, 76, said. "So how Colin Clark would have managed to have a whole week with her without them is a mystery to me."
Miller's sister, 89-year-old Joan Copeland, said that before seeing "My Week With Marilyn" she had never heard about Monroe having a liaison with Clark.
"I never heard anything about the romance. That might be somebody's illusion. Arthur would not have talked to me about that anyway, if there was an affair," Copeland said. "But as far as I know, the [other] events they describe are pretty accurate. She was often late and kept people waiting on set. And I know that Arthur found it very difficult to work in that situation."
The BBC Four Documentary "The Prince,The Showgirl and Me" (2004)
Don Murray, 82, who costarred with Monroe in "Bus Stop," the film she acted in immediately before "Showgirl," said he thought a Monroe-Clark romance was conceivable.
"I think that it's quite possible, because of the disillusionment of her marriage, and she was very, very insecure in her relationships and didn't really believe in loving forever," Murray said. "I think it's quite plausible that something happened and they handled it discreetly."
Although Monroe never publicly acknowledged Clark, it's clear she was insecure about her marriage during the "Showgirl" shoot. In a series of her poems and letters published in last year's "Fragments," she fretted about the possibility of true love on stationery from England's Parkside House, where she was staying during production.
"I guess I have always been deeply terrified to really be someone's wife," she wrote in one, "since I know from life one cannot love another, ever, really."
The mystery of it all is what makes "My Week With Marilyn" an intriguing film, believes Kenneth Branagh, who plays Sir Laurence Olivier in the movie.
"It seemed to me that the books quite naturally had the feeling that there was some embroidery going on, just because he was writing in the wake of what had happened. The Marilyn legend had already been exaggerated and twisted and turned," Branagh said. "He took a view on his own youth, and perhaps wrote what he thought made for a good story — not necessarily the absolute truth. And frankly, that mystery and questionable accuracy is important for a story like this. It's important that we don't quite know, but that we only have a flavor or an impression."
I'm glad that The Prince & The Showgirl (underrated imo) is getting some recognition, but I've always thought Colin Clark's story seemed a bit odd. There are so many people in Marilyn's life who claim this and that and everything in between.