London Letter

London Letter

How London met Marilyn Monroe

BEVERLEY BAXTER September 15 1956
London Letter

London Letter

How London met Marilyn Monroe

BEVERLEY BAXTER September 15 1956

London Letter


How London met Marilyn Monroe

It is only fitting that in a year that included such visitors as Messrs. Bulganin and Khrushchev, King Fcisal of Iraq and the Australian cricketers we should include that queen of the celluloid empire, Miss Marilyn Monroe.

Nor did Miss Monroe lack what is technically known as a buildup. Had she not chosen (and he ac-

ceptcd) the great Sir Laurence Olivier as her co-star and director for her production of the film version of Terence Rattigan’s play The Sleeping Prince—a play in which Sir Laurence had co-starred with his wife Vivien Leigh in the theatre?

There was a clattering of tongues when it was made known that Miss Monroe was to play on film the part that Vivien had created on the stage. But then, even had the role been made available to her. Vivien would have had to step aside, for it was announced that, at forty-three, she was going to have a baby. Already she had a daughter of twenty-three by her first husband, a financier named Leigh Holman. Thus with this announcement did London newspapers forget all about Marilyn Monroe for a day in their enthusiasm for Vivien and the coming event. (Unfortunately, she later suffered a miscarriage.)

Yet it is not possible to remain indifferent to Marilyn for very long. Not only has she intelligence and a provocative beauty, but she cannot even raise her eyelids with-

out it seeming like indecent exposure.

Writing merely as a contemporary observer of the passing scene, I must confess that Miss Monroe seems as normal as any young woman in any ordinary town in the great U.S.A. When she decided to marry she did not choose a casino princeling or a millionaire from Wall Street. Instead she went to the altar with Mr. Joe DiMaggio whose great days as a baseball player had ended. To marry a professional baseball player at the height of his fame would be no great catch, but to wed him when his career was ended looked like real love.

Obviously such a marriage presented dangers. No man who has experienced the adulation of the mob can fail to experience resentment, or at any rate disillusionment, when he finds that his fans have forgotten him. Much as Mr. DiMaggio may have loved his piquant Marilyn, he must have been soured by the realization that the cheers which once rang in his ears were now for his Hollywood wife.

It is, however, a compliment to her ex-husband that Marilyn married again and without undue de-

lay. She obviously believed that marriage is good for a girl and an institution to be preserved. And thus in the brevity of time she became Mrs. Arthur Miller. This was her third marriage, as she had a trial canter in the marital stakes with a continued on page 84

continued on page 84

London Letter continued from page 6

young man when she was a mere sixteen.

Unlike the eminent baseball player, Mr. Miller is an intellectual. He has a mordant wit and a sardonic philosophy. His mind moves on the path of resentment, for he does not suffer fools gladly.

But London was as uninterested in him as it would have been in Mr. DiMaggio —probably more so because the English have a deep respect for men who succeed in sport.

The climax of Miss Monroe’s visit was when Terence Rattigan, the youngish handsome author of The Sleeping Prince, decided to throw a great party at his splendid Georgian country house in the heart of Berkshire, some twenty miles from London.

Sir Laurence was co-host with him and of course Vivien Leigh was there.

That supreme actor of the English stage, Sir John Gielgud, was present at the party in all his classical melancholy. He seldom smiles yet his greatest success on the stage was in Oscar Wilde’s humorous masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest. For a time it seemed that his career was finished and that he would walk the rest of his days in darkness and in shame, but his gifts saved him from that fate.

Now let us look at our host. Terence Rattigan, like Dorian Gray, shows no sign of the passing years. He has written romantic comedies that have brought him the reward of laughter and wealth, but he seldom smiles.

As the son of a diplomat he was intended to follow in his father’s steps but the stage absorbed him instead. When the Hitler war came he was asked by the authorities to help arrange entertainment for the troops, but instead he became an air-gunner in the air force. Night after night he flew in the attacks over Germany and refused to be grounded.

Unlike most authors and all journalists, he dresses like a tailor's model. If he had a collision with an omnibus it

would be the bus that would emerge disheveled.

The only one who rivaled him for quiet elegance at the party was Douglas Fairbanks who would be automatically Sir Douglas if he would exchange his American citizenship for British. The honor was bestowed on him in principle, and deservedly so, but he chooses to remain an American — in fact, almost “The American” in London.

But what was our heroine doing all the time at the party? Marilyn danced with three partners only—her husband, then her hairdresser (Sidney Guillaroff) and finally her host. Since we are recording history to be read a hundred years from now (perhaps), it should be put on record that Miss Monroe danced a second time with her husband to the tune of Embraceable You.

“No damage at all”

At four o’clock, as a lovely summer’s morning was waiting to spread its largesse upon the awakening earth, the party broke up. Vivien Leigh had two performances to play that day and thought it time to depart.

As all dramas must have a final line to bring down the curtain, let us quote the verdict of the host: "It was such a friendly party. There was no damage at all.”

By an odd coincidence there was a rival attraction to all these activities, sponsored by the man who discovered Miss Monroe and gave her a first chance in Hollywood. I refer to Ben Lyon, who married the famous Bebe Daniels. They have lived in London for the last quarter of a century. Their daughter Barbara was married to her television producer on the Saturday of the week preceding the party for Miss Monroe.

Ben Lyon is the most modest of men, a pilot in the First World War, yet as gentle as a lamb. Somehow he got a job

as a young man with one of the great producing studios in Hollywood as a sort of talent scout. No one paid any attention to him, which, he admits, was fortunate because they would have fired him if they had known he was still there.

But one day there came to his office a frightened girl whose real name was certainly not yet Marilyn Monroe but who was the heroine of our tale. She had no experience of acting; in fact, she had no experience of anything. She was just filmstruck.

Ben told me the story one night of how he talked to her on that first momentous meeting and, greatly daring, he decided to give her a screen test. It was hard to say which of them was the more nervous because Hollywood was in a cautious mood and preferred the established stars even if they were waning before their eyes.

"She looked so small and helpless,” said Ben. “I just couldn't tell her to go. Somehow I got the studio to give her a screen test but no one bothered to look at it. Yet she stayed on in Hollywood and suddenly got an offer from another studio. I guess some soft-hearted guy fell for her, like me.”

Whereupon Ben’s company put her on the payroll and eventually the path of glory was open to her.

It must have seemed like a jest of the Sardonic Satirist that at the reception following Barbara Lyon’s wedding the question which the guests asked of Ben ad nauseam was: “Is Marilyn Monroe coming?” At any rate Marilyn did not come and we had to hide our disappointment according to our temperaments.

Strangely enough I heard that question more than once at the Buckingham Palace garden party to which, among others, MPs and their wives are invited on a rotation basis. "Will Marilyn Monroe be here?” But it was not to be. Personally I am glad, because the crowd would either have surrounded her or else ignored her, and both would have been painful.

But the fates are not finished with the heroine of our tale. Even before she was married her husband had been called to testify in New York before the U. S. House Committee on Un-American Activities. It was alleged that, like so many intellectuals in New York, he had dallied with the Communists. Later, because he wouldn’t reveal certain names, the committee cited him for contempt.

At the time of writing he is here in London, but I suppose that he will leave very soon to face the ordeal of the grand inquisition.

A philosopher once said that people go to the theatre to escape for a few hours from the drama of real life. It may well be that Marilyn Monroe will find escape in the filming of The Sleeping Prince from the grim drama of her husband facing a tribunal that has charged him as an enemy of the American way of life.

Perhaps it would have been better if she had not parted from her baseball husband. Joe DiMaggio might have felt ill at ease in the presence of Olivier, Gielgud, Rattigan and Fairbanks, but when the party ended his rugged normality might have been a comfort to the little creature for whom there is no privacy, no home life and no anonymity.

Suddenly Miss Monroe has ceased to be news. With the fickleness of the mob a new hero has replaced her. A handsome young curate playing in a test match against the Australians at Old Trafford, Manchester, has scored a century.

Long live the curate! Long live cricket! The English have turned from the goddess of the films and returned to the god of sport. ★