On paper, they were an odd match. When an eccentric, aristocratic English poet and a glamorous American film star were brought together by a magazine, editors hoped for a clash. Dame Edith Sitwell and Marilyn Monroe got along famously, however, with a shared interest in poetry and philosophy.
Now the encounter in Hollywood between the pair at the behest of Life magazine has been reimagined for a new audio play.
The Dame and the Showgirl, written by the first-time playwright Simon Berry, is a fictionalized retelling of the 1953 meeting between Sitwell and Monroe at the Sunset Tower hotel. The unlikely pair compare notes on everything from Sigmund Freud’s theories and Aldous Huxley’s books to harsh media treatment and how to make the perfect dry martini.
The little-known encounter came as Sitwell, whose best-known poem is “Still Falls the Rain,” about the Blitz, was asked to write a feature about Los Angeles.
Almost 40 years older than Monroe, Sitwell recalled the commission in her memoir: “But, still more important to them, was that Miss Monroe and I should be brought face to face, since it was obvious that we were born to hate each other, would do so at first sight, and that our subsequent insults to each other would cause a commotion when reported. They were mistaken.”
Berry, former chairman of the wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd, was inspired by George Silk’s photograph of the women. The pair were said by Sitwell’s great-niece Alexandra Hayward to have “recognized each other’s insecurities”, having both been criticized in the press for their looks.
The unlikely pair compare notes on everything from Sigmund Freud’s theories and Aldous Huxley’s books to harsh media treatment and how to make the perfect dry martini.
In the audio play, to be released by Audible on May 6, Dame Emma Thompson plays Sitwell, while Sinead Matthews is Monroe. Berry, 63, asked Thompson, an Oscar-winning screenplay writer, for advice on his script but “it never occurred to me in a million years” that she would want to be in it.
Thompson, 62, said she would be “forever grateful” for a role in the “imagined encounter between two of the most extraordinary women of the 20th century”.
Sitwell never wrote the magazine piece, but she met Monroe again in London when the actress came to film The Prince and the Showgirl, and in New York. Berry has already written a second act about their next meeting.
Liam Kelly is an arts and entertainment correspondent for The Sunday Times of London