In 1956, Marilyn Monroe and her new husband, Arthur Miller, arrived at Heathrow Airport in London to begin filming with The Prince and the Showgirl. Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh met them there and talked briefly with reporters before leaving.
I have taken this event and explored what each of these four power-houses must have been thinking in the hours and minutes before they all met.
This is part II of my story. To read part I, click here.
Vivien sat at her vanity staring at her face. Her eyes were bare and without their youthful sparkle, and her skin was sallow and sagging. Dark circles formed under her eyes from a fitful night sleep, and she could just make out the edges of small cracks around the lips. She was getting older, and she didn’t like it.
A loud, mumbled curse from the lavatory broke her concentration. She blinked away the unpleasant image of herself and half turned to face her husband. “Are you all right, dear?” Her voice lacked true sincerity, but she didn’t have the will to sound convincing.
After a moment, she heard a disgruntled, “Yes.” A short answer for a short temper. Laurence walked past the open door clutching his wrist. He was shirtless but wore his trousers high on his waist with his braces dangling on his sides. “Do you have ointment or a plaster near by? I’ve cut myself.”
Vivien turned back to her vanity and sighed. “The plasters are in the left drawer, darling. Do you need help?” She said this more to herself.
Laurence looked at her through the mirror. He seemed to be surprised that Vivien didn’t rush to his side. “No. I can manage. Don’t trouble yourself.” The edge in his voice irritated her, but she had no patience for his attitude this morning. She knew he was nervous for today’s meeting. This film would be a milestone in his career and having Marilyn come to London for a shoot was a coup, but why he had to have that bumbling, blonde wet dream was beyond her.
She studied her reflection and saw why he hadn’t picked her for the role–not that she wanted it. She reached for her cold cream. Her painted nails disappeared into the white pudding and scooped out a small coating. Methodically, she massaged the cream into her fingers before bringing it to her cheeks. The tiny shock of the icy liquid on her face sent goosebumps up and down her arms. She coated her face and rubbed the salve into the fine cracks. She grabbed a tissue and wiped away the excess and tossed it in the bin.
The shine on her forehead reflected brightly in the intense lights, but before she powdered her face, she pulled open the drawer to her right and found a cigarette and her lighter. Covering the flame with her hand, she lit the end and took a deep breath. The smoke filled her lungs, and she let out a serious of hacking coughs. Her eyes went red with the lack of oxygen as she waved the smoke away.
“Are you all right, dear?” Lawrence’s voice had the same contempt she had said to him. She placed her cigarette down until her coughing subsided.
Laurence sighed as he walked toward her. “Darling, why are you acting like this?” He still clutched his wrist, and she could plainly see the plaster on the palm of his hand. A thin line of blood peeked through. She softened her face and reached for a tissue. She dabbed at the blood all the while Laurence never took his eyes off her.
“I just don’t like it, is all. Why her? You know her reputation.”
Laurence knelt down and touched her cheek. She knew he could feel the cream on her skin and suddenly she wished she hadn’t put it on yet. “Viv, we cannot hurt each other more than we already have, so I will be completely honest with you. Her reputation is exactly why I want her. Scandal follows her everywhere and people will want to see my film. Besides, what makes you think she’ll cause a ruckus? She’s a newlywed.”
Vivien knew he was right. She was box office gold. “I know, but…”
“Just leave it. There is nothing to be done.” The edge came back to his voice with full force. Laurence stood and took the tissue from her. He threw it away in the bin with careless regard if it made it inside or not. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.” He walked away as if expecting this to land casually.
Vivien snapped her head in his direction. “You don’t want me there?” Her fury bubbled to the surface as her painted nails dug into the chair back.
“I didn’t say that. I’m giving you the option,” he called over his shoulder.
She turned back to the mirror. The cream had settled on her skin revealing the cracks near her eyes and lips. She pressed at them with her fingertips, trying desperately to make them disappear, but as soon as she let go, the lines sagged back into place. “I will go. We cannot have the press looking into our own marriage right now.” She felt Laurence’s eyes on her but instead of looking back at him, she reached for her powder puff and carefully applied her make up.
* * * * *
Standing in front of the full length mirror, Vivien gave herself a final look over. Her face looked matte and stenciled with her eyebrows perfectly curved. Her lips were painted and her hair curled nicely in its short bob. But her perfect facade was merely a mask. Her peach dress suit looked frumpy on her, but she had no desire to look like a tramp. She was sure Marilyn would steal the spotlight with her cleavage and tight frock.
She looked down at her hands. Once lithe and soft, they were spotted and bony. It was one thing to have her face on display for the world to see her age. That was unavoidable. But, by god, she wouldn’t let the press talk about her hands. She opened the drawer next to the wardrobe and pulled out her long, brown gloves.
As she adjusted the fingertips, Laurence stepped out of his bedroom in his dark suit and perfect tie. He brushed the remaining lint off his arms and stopped short when he saw what Vivien was doing. “Darling, it’s July. I don’t believe you’ll need your gloves.”
“Larry, would you fetch my hat. It’s on the top shelf.” Vivien could feel the tears burning inside her eyes, but the slightest drop would smear her make up, and she would have to start again. She could not face her husband or she would fall apart.
“Of course.” Laurence reached above her head and pulled down a small hat box and took the lid off for her. Gingerly, he pulled it out and gave it to her like a gift. It was a gift. A gift of acceptance and understanding. There was no way for him to know how she felt about meeting the Millers in front of dozens of cameras, but she would do her best to hold it together.
She took the hat and placed it on her head carefully not to muss her hair. She pinned it in place and made the final adjustments to her stray curls. She was far from perfect, but it would have to do. Finally, she broke her gaze with herself and faced Laurence. He wore a sad dog look in his eyes that told her he pitied rather than supported her. She forced a smile and laughed. “Darling, don’t look so serious. We’re going to meet the Millers. We must welcome them with open arms.”
Laurence grasped her shoulders and kissed her firmly. Vivien gave in to the kiss and melted in his arms. “Vivien, I love you with all my heart.”
Vivien giggled when she saw the smears of red lipstick on his mouth. Like a schoolgirl, she took out a tissue from her purse and wiped it away. “Let’s go, now, before we’re too late.”
“Okay,” he whispered, giving her his best smile before turning toward the door.
Vivien looked once more at herself and saw the smear marks on her own lips. Her giggles were gone and her laugh lines diminished. Raising her eyebrow, she reached for another tissue and wiped away the salacious evidence. She mechanically reapplied the war paint, and leaned into the mirror for a close up inspection. God help her in the press had close up lenses. With a sigh, she clipped her purse closed and left the kissed tissue on the table.
* * * * *
Thanks for reading! Leave me a comment below and tell me what you think!
To read more of my writing including Dreadful Dantes, click here.
(c) Copyright 2016, Alison C. Wroblewski. All rights reserved.