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Remembering more than a week with Marilyn

"Continuity girl" Elaine Schreyeck, 82, recalls the tension between bombshell Marilyn Monroe and actor Laurence Olivier on the set of "The Prince and the Showgirl," as well as the on-screen magic.
/ Source: NBC News

Elaine Schreyeck is clutching a shopping bag throughout our interview. Not until the end does she open it to reveal the contents: a jewellry box given to her by Marilyn Monroe, a pendant from Sir Laurence Olivier, and, of course, a script from the movie that unites them all, "The Prince and the Showgirl."

Schreyeck, 82, was a script supervisor — or as she prefers — continuity girl. She would make sure every shot matched and also help the actors with their lines. There are few people left who can talk with authority of what it was like to work with Monroe. Schreyeck did though, in 1956, witnessing first-hand the arguments between the blonde bombshell and Olivier that almost saw the production unravel. The off-camera drama has been captured in new movie, "My Week With Marilyn."

"She was like a girl, really. You wanted to look after her." said Schreyeck. "She seemed very unsure of herself, she came after all as she said to be a great actress."

Perhaps that was the source of the tension. Both Monroe and Olivier had placed great expectations on one other. She was desperately searching for credibility as an actress. Fed up with the Hollywood studio system, she had signed with the Screen Actors Guild and set up her own production company. She was also devoted to an acting technique known as 'the method'. It infuriated Olivier. He was a classical actor — considered Britain's greatest.

Schreyeck says Monroe alienated herself from the cast and crew, disappearing into her dressing rooms with her acting coach in between takes. When she did arrive, there would be an anxious wait to see if she could remember her lines. Schreyeck recalls one exhange with the star, "She said to me one day, 'oh well you're on his side.' I said 'we're not on anyone's side, Marilyn. We're all here to make a picture.'"

Others, though, point the finger of blame at Olivier. Biographer Sarah Churchwell says he sneered at Monroe's attempts to find depth in her work. "At the press conference announcing the film, he repeated questions for her, slowly, and answered them on her behalf. On set he told her just to be sexy and to stop trying to act."

Despite the off-camera dramas, nobody questions the star quality of Marilyn Monroe, whether movie fans or those who worked with her.

"Of course she was magic once she was filmed," Schreyeck remembers, "You know you would feel anxious when she went to do a scene — was she going to remember the lines? I would hold my stomach and hope that she would and then the next day when you saw the rushes ... magic!"