In 1956, Marilyn Monroe arrived at Heathrow Airport in London with her new husband, Arthur Miller, to begin filming 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 could have been thinking in the hours and minutes before they all met.
This is part III of my story. To read part I and II, click here.
Laurence stepped into the backseat of the car and settled in on the leather upholstery. He looked down at his hand and saw the plaster firmly placed on the palm of his hand. Like a child, he picked at the edges to see the wound underneath, but before he could unveil it, Vivien stepped inside the car. Carefully, he massaged the bandage back in place.
“Heathrow airport, Reggie, dear. And please avoid traffic, if you can. We are already late.”
“Of course, ma’am.”
Laurence noticed the freshly applied lipstick and smiled to himself. His wife was the most beautiful woman in the world, with or without her lipstick. He wished he could tell her how silly her insecurities over an empty-headed blonde were. But then again, he had thought he was safe in her arms, when, in fact, she admitted to loving another. He turned to look out the window so Vivien couldn’t see the look of utter sadness on his face. He had tried to be nonchalant about his wife’s affair, but how could he? How could anyone?
Absentmindedly, he picked at the edges of the plaster again. This time his index finger brushed against the scab. He inhaled sharply and looked down at the red and puffy scratch. He could probably leave the plaster off, but what if he shook Marilyn’s hand and the wound opened. The press would have a field day with the headlines: “Laurence Bleeds for Marilyn.”
Vivien reached over and pulled the plaster down and rubbed it firmly in place with her gloved hand. When he looked up at her, she smiled gently. Then, she leaned over and kissed his palm. “Let it heal, my love.”
As they drove through Chelsea and passed Brompton Cemetery, Laurence looked out the window. He held his wife’s hand firmly in his, afraid to let go. “You know, I feel like this is the beginning of the end.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
Laurence looked at Vivien. He struggled to keep his tears at bay, but he couldn’t help feeling this moment was the end of his marriage. Years ago, in a single breath, she had admitted to loving Peter, and in the next she vowed to never cheat again. A million thoughts raced through his mind, but instead of telling the truth, he patted her hand and said, “I just can’t believe I’m debasing myself to do a fluff film opposite a tabloid queen. Is this really what my career as led me to?”
Vivien’s eyes lit up as she giggled, that tinkling laugh she did when she was putting on a show. “Oh, don’t be silly. Like you said, you need the publicity.”
“Exactly. What happened to me where I needed publicity?”
Vivien kept quiet and took her hand back. “I don’t know, darling.” Her tone had changed to indifference and boredom like a switch. He saw her make a sideways glance to Reggie as if to tell him to be silent in front of the driver. Reggie, unfortunately, knew more about their marriage than they did, he was sure of it.
Laurence chose his words carefully. “I just feel like I’m succumbing to the Hollywood norm of sex and vulgarity. Everyone is doing it, so I must, too. And with Marilyn by my side acting as nothing more than a courtesan to a randy prince, well, I just can’t understand why I said yes to such a project.”
“Larry, you’re no saint.”
He looked at her, shocked. “So that justifies my making this film when I’ve tried to establish myself as a serious actor?”
“You are a serious actor, but sometimes, we do what we have to do. That’s all. Don’t think about it any further than that.”
They were no longer talking about the film.
“And that includes hiring sluts?” Laurence clenched his fist, and he instantly felt the wound in his palm split open again. Maybe he should reconsider having an affair with Marilyn. He was sure he could pull it off.
Vivien looked out the window. Laurence saw the anger boiling underneath her facade and a tear form in the corner of her eye. She quickly wiped it away with a flick of her glove, but she didn’t turn back and face him. Laurence glanced at the rear-view mirror and caught Reggie’s eyes for a split second. Reggie quickly averted his gaze, and instantly Laurence knew he had pushed too far.
Laurence glanced at his watch. It was close to 10:30am. The Millers would be landing in about ten minutes, and they looked to be meeting them on schedule. If this is the only thing that goes right on this day, then it’ll be fine. Once Laurence could get his wife away from the flashing cameras and nosy reporters, the better. But it would be a while yet. He massaged the plaster back onto his hand.
“Are you looking forward to the play? I almost can’t believe how stunning you are on stage, but you’re always stunning, and this week will be no different. I’m very much looking forward to seeing it again, and this time with the Millers.” He was over-compensating with adulation, but he had to change her mood, and quickly.
Vivien refused to turn back to Laurence and instead kept her gaze out the window. “I don’t know. I’m afraid it won’t much matter. Once the audience learns that Marilyn is there, no one will be paying attention to me.”
“That simply isn’t true. You will steal the show. You always steal the show.” He grabbed her hand and kissed the leather glove.
“She stole your film from me. Why wouldn’t she steal my own performance, too?” A heavy silence fell on the car when Laurence didn’t know how to respond. “Anyway, it won’t much matter. I have to pull out of the production soon.”
Laurence sighed. “Why on earth would you do that?”
Vivien looked out the window again. “I’m pregnant.”
Laurence could hardly trust his ears. He couldn’t have possibly heard that his wife was pregnant. “I’m sorry, darling. I must have misheard you.”
Vivien looked back at him. Tears in her eyes and a faint smile on her lips. “No, my love, you heard me correctly. I’m pregnant.” Then she laughed through her wet sobs.
Laurence was filled with such emotion, he couldn’t contain his joy. He threw his arms around her and kissed her, mussing her lipstick again. “Oh, my sweet, my darling! How long have you known?”
“I found out just yesterday. It’s still early, so I wasn’t sure whether to tell you or not yet. I certainly do not want to tell the press today.”
“Oh, no. Of course not. This can be our secret.” Laurence looked at his wife. He saw the lines near her eyes and her mouth. Her hair was thinning underneath her hat, but he put all of these thoughts out of his mind and held her hands in his.
“We’re here, Mr. and Mrs. Olivier.” Reggie’s bold voice interrupted Laurence’s thoughts.
“Oh! Lovely. Thank you, Reggie.” He turned to face Vivien. “Are you ready?”
She smiled her plastic smile reserved for the press and fixed her lipstick once more. “Yes.” She let his hands go and got out of the car in one sweeping motion. He waited for a split-second before grasping the door handle. The cool metal of the grip stung the exposed wound on his hand. The plaster had come loose and hung like a thread. He quickly massaged it back into place, firmly planting it on his skin. Then a thought crossed his mind: did he dare question if the child was his?
The plaster came loose again, refusing to stay put. A light tap startled him out of his thoughts. Vivien stood on the other side of the car window waving for him to hurry along. Rain was just starting to fall leaving dark dots on her dress. He smiled, pushing the plaster down again, and holding it firm with his fingertips. The pain from the pressure was noticeable but faint enough to live with.
He got out of the car and hurried to the terminal with his arm firmly wrapped around his wife.
In my research surrounding my “characters” and this event, I came across this quote from Laurence Olivier describing his wife: “Throughout her possession by that uncannily evil monster, manic depression, with its deadly ever-tightening spirals, she retained her own individual canniness—an ability to disguise her true mental condition from almost all except me, for whom she could hardly be expected to take the trouble.”
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Stay tuned for the fourth and final part coming soon.
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To read more of my writing including Dreadful Dantes, click here.
(c) Copyright 2016, Alison C. Wroblewski. All rights reserved.