Who was Colin Clark and did he have an affair with Marilyn?
Colin Clark was a lucky man, if his memoirs are to be believed. As the son of art historian Lord Kenneth Clark and younger brother to British MP and diarist Alan Clark, it’s true that he often lived in their shadow, as his memoir – Younger Brother, Younger Son – attests. Nevertheless, his other books imply that Colin had a platonic affair with international icon Marilyn Monroe in 1956, right after she married well-known playwright Arthur Miller.
Clark, who died in 2002 aged seventy, was primarily a film maker. His fluent storytelling and obsession with writing down notes about his every day meant Clark eventually also became a published writer. His first book – The Prince, the Showgirl and Me – is the journal of his experience as third assistant director during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), which pitted Sir Laurence Olivier against then rising star Monroe. The book was only published in 1995.
With the book widely commended, Clark decided it was time for a second shot. My Week with Marilyn, the memoir he published in 2000, is an account reminiscent of a Cinderella story, with Colin taking centre stage in a week-long dalliance with the most famous film star in the world. How accurate this second instalment is, however, is very questionable.
Image: ‘My Week with Marilyn’, Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) and Marilyn (Michelle Williams).
The writer himself admitted to basing this diary on remembrance and a single letter to a friend, saying he could not have written down what had happened as long as Marilyn Monroe was still alive. He believed that “the whole episode is still as fresh in my [his] mind as if it had happened yesterday.” Yet this is very doubtful, given that over forty years had passed since the events described in the book.
The film My Week with Marilyn (2011) is based on the two books, presenting it as ‘based on a true story’, never questioning the ‘fact’ that Colin and Monroe might not really have gotten so close. In the books, a sexually active young man who thinks quite highly of himself gets an outright offer from Monroe, who wants to sleep with him and gets turned down! The Colin from the film is sketchier, less cunning, more infatuated but probably not as idolising. The film centres around Marilyn and makes of Colin a naive romantic and her pawn, whilst the books render the twenty-three-year-old as a personality who thinks he always knows best for himself as well as those around him.
So, was it real or was it a fantasy? Amy Greene, wife of the late Milton Greene, who was Marilyn’s partner in her production company, denies that anything out of the ordinary happened at the time. Meanwhile, Clark’s wife and his twin Colette never opposed the making of the diaries into a film, maybe out of pride at what might have been else a belief in the truth of the accounts. I doubt we shall ever know for sure whether Colin Clark was really one of Marilyn’s many playful conquests.