My Week with Marilyn, a movie opening tomorrow (Nov. 23), looks at what happened when Marilyn Monroe arrived on British shores.
Hollywood’s reigning sex goddess visited London to shoot The Prince and the Showgirl, a wan 1957 romantic comedy in which she co-starred with and was directed by Laurence Olivier, England’s most respected theatrical star at the time.
In Marilyn, Michelle Williams plays the troubled American star and Kenneth Branagh portrays Oliver. The Englishman’s patience quickly wears thin as an insecure, pill-popping Monroe repeatedly shows up late on the set, blows her lines in take after take, and in general fails to conduct herself like a professional. (Also appearing in the film are Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike; Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh, who was wed to Olivier at the time; Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark, a young gofer on the movie who befriends Marilyn; Emma Thompson as a wardrobe assistant with a crush on Clark; and Dominic Cooper as Milton Greene, Marilyn’s favorite photographer.)
Williams gives an impressive performance, managing to capture Monroe’s vulnerability, natural smarts and humor, but the movie is a lightweight exercise in nostalgia that leaves little lasting impression.
It does, however, offer a splendid excuse to recall Diana Dors, a shapely British actress who was touted during that period as the UK’s answer to Monroe. Dors, who died of cancer at age 52 in 1984, resembled Marilyn in that she was blonde, boasted a knockout figure and exuded vavavavoom.
Dors was born Diana Mary Fluck, not exactly a name meant to be in lights. As an adolescent, she attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and changed her name when she made her first film, The Shop at Sly Corner (1946), taking her maternal grandmother’s maiden name as her last name.
“They asked me to change my name,” she said later. “I suppose they were afraid that if my real name Diana Fluck was in lights and one of the lights blew…”
She was signed by British movie producer J. Arthur Rank and appeared in a series of films, though at the time she was still a brunette and wasn’t considered a sex symbol. That all changed in 1951 when she met and, five weeks later, married Dennis Hamilton, an unctuous hustler determined to make his new wife into a star.
He quickly involved Dors in multiple publicity stunts, including appearing in a mink bikini and becoming the youngest registered owner of a Rolls Royce car (though she couldn’t drive). He also had her pose nude (with only the barest of coverings from props) for a series of 3D photographs that were collected and sold in a book entitled, Diana Dors in 3D.
In addition to courting the British press, Dors was also working, making such films as Lady Godiva Rides Again (1951), which was temporarily banned in the U.S. because she bared her belly button. She eventually landed a Hollywood film contract with RKO Radio Pictures, but it was quickly voided after a party to introduce the actress to Hollywood went disastrously awry when Hamilton badly beat up a press photographer he accused of pushing Dors into a swimming pool. “Miss Dors Go Home and Take Mr. Dors With You!,” read a typical U.S. newspaper headline.
Dors sang and danced and did comedy skits in her own TV show in England in the late 1950s and early ’60s, co-starring with comic Richard Dawson, whom she wed in 1959 after divorcing Hamilton. (Dawson would become a star in his own right in 1965 when he joined the cast of the U.S. sitcom, Hogan’s Heroes, and later as the host of the game show, Family Feud; he and Dors divorced in 1966.)
She continued to act in films and appear on TV, mostly in England, through the ’60s and ’70s and wrote a series of memoirs. In the early 1980s, Dors became a popular regular on TV-am, a U.K. morning news program. She dispensed advice for the lovelorn and shared with viewers her attempts to lose weight — she successfully shed 54 lbs. over five months.
Throughout her career, Dors remained a sympathetic figure in England because of her earthy good humor, bad luck with men, and ability to make fun of herself. Once, assessing her place in the entertainment firmament, she said, “I was the first home-grown sex symbol, rather like Britain’s naughty seaside postcards.”
The Blonde Bombshell, a two-part biopic about Dors, aired on Britain’s ITV channel in 1999. Keeley Hawes played the younger Dors and Amanda Redman the older version of the actress.
Do you have a Diana Dors memory to share?