When we first see Marilyn she is in the doctor's office at the Wentworth Detention Center complaining of recurrent headaches. The doctor is having her read an eye chart. Anything more complex, like a No Smoking sign, would be way beyond her intellect. Marilyn, who is young, beautiful and voluptuous, unfortunately has the brains of an asparagus. She is one of the star inmates in the Australian melodrama "Prisoner: Cell Block H," now being shown week nights at 11 on Channel 5. All the prisoners are women. Most of them are in the slammer for murdering people, usually their spouses. Marilyn is in for soliciting, a word she cannot spell.
". . .A . . .T . . .O . . .," Marilyn says hestitating somewhat because her hand is covering her left eye.
". . . G.X.P.," Marilyn says, faster now because she is peeking through the covering hand.
"No cheating," the doctor says.
"Can't you give me some pills?" Marilyn asks. The camera comes in close on her face, which is remarkably similar to Brigitte's Bardot's. The thick blondish brown hair. Those cat's eyes. Those full lips, made to look like loaves of french bread by cherry, wet lipstick, lips that can take the dark out of the nighttime and paint the daytime black.
"I'll do anything to get rid of these headaches," Marilyn says.
Then, using a kind of subtlety that might be referred to as atomic-bomb-detonated-on-your-head, she puts her two hands strategically on the doctor's belt buckle and purrs, "Anything."
When we first see Margaret Laurence, the 28-year-old Australian actress who plays Marilyn, she is sitting in a restaurant in a Crystal City hotel, sipping a glass of soda and smoking a cigarette. The look still belongs to Bardot, as its has since she was 12 and people first began noticing that Margaret Laurence wore a face belonging to another woman, one she has yet to meet.
"Sometimes I think there hasn't been a day when someone hasn't come up to me and said, 'Did anyone ever tell you that you look like Brigitte Bardot?'" Laurance said, taking time to come up with just right lip pout. "As soon as a person starts saying, 'Has anyone ever . . .,' I can fill out the rest of the words, I guess when I was between 12 and 16 it was a real thrill, but from then on it was like someone saying, 'Your eyes are brown.' It got so common."
Then a hair shake. The hair, parted down the middle, falling over the outside corner of the eyelids, the casual waterfall look that Bardot popularized more than 20 years ago.
"I don't think she's a great actress," Laurence says.
"But I think she looks great."
"I'm told so constantly that I look like her that I try to look at photographs and see the resemblance."
Sip. Wet lips. Parted, leaving the keyhole.
"I can't really see it. I can only see me. I guess I could change my looks, but I'd rather use it for a while. That's how they're marketing me now, like a sex symbol. I think it's okay, as long as that's not all I am. You only have so many years to do it. Look at Raquel Welch. I think she must be in her 40s. She's getting away from it. I guess she's complained about it for so long that people say she's boring. But at least she's not an idiot. Farrah is boring. How ghastly. I can act, and that's the difference."
"I wonder how Bardot feels."
Blush. Moist laugh.
Say this about Margaret Laurence: She's sure as hell got the moves down.
She doesn't really want to dwell on "Prisoner." That was filmed so long ago it's hard to remember what she did on it; she was written out of it last July. Marilyn gets paroled. Presumably now she's a dental hygenist in Sydney.
Laurence asked to be written out of the show because she planned to come to America and be a serious actress. It's an old story. Get the apartment in L.A., "close to Beverly Hills," of course, get your union card, get a manager, get an agent, work on your American accent, go out on casting interviews and tell the reporters, "I've got so many things going for me now, now that the series is on and my face is known -- it's opening all kinds of doors. We're talking with film producers about a couple of major projects, and I just know that it'll break for me soon." Ah, dreams
Meanwhile, does she have anything firm?
So, would she go back to "Prisoner," seeing how it is still running in Australia?
No. As in eye roll, lip pout, head shake, give me a break.
Look, she can't say what she really thought of "Prisoner," that it was squish, because she's on tour promoting the show. But she can say that Margaret Laurence is not at all like "that dizzy little tart Marilyn they see on the screen," and that Margaret Laurence, who studied acting at England's Old Vic and once played Lady Macbeth in Australia, stopped playing Marilyn partially because it was getting embarrassing wearing enough lipstick to cover the Great Wall of China and making every line sound like something Suzanne Somers would say.
"Let's just say I found it one-dimensional."
Eddie the Electrician: "I'm glad you're going to be in this prison a while. We can see more of each other." Marilyn: "How much more of me do you want to see?"
You call that one-dimensional?
Well, Laurence says, tossing her hair back hard, although not quite hard enough to make it fall anyplace other than where it was before the toss, "my parents would rather I did something that was, should I say, stronger; they didn't want to see me rolling around the loft with Eddie the electrician . . . and my sister, she's an artist in New York, she'd rather I was doing something more artistic. Obviously, I got tired of it too. You know it's sort of funny but I never though it would make it here in America, and when I heard it was sold here I got a little embarrassed. I wouldn't want people to think that "that's all I do."
Then, you feel bad watching it?
"I felt worse doing it."
She always wanted to be an actress.
She came to America once before, even married an American actor, someone named Brandon Smith. That's over now.
She eats bee pollen.
The bee pollen she eats is imported from England.
"It's the best bee pollen there is," she says.
Who knows enough about bee pollen to argue? Who? John Belushi?
"I do a lot of dancing, and I need to keep my energy up. You need a lot of energy in L.A. Taking bee pollen is like taking all you vitamins."
She reaches into her purse and produces a box of bee pollen tablets, each individually foil-wrapped. They are the color of dried blood. She says they will taste like honey. They taste, instead, like wax.
"Good, huh?" she asks. It seems to matter. She cares about bee pollen. "Could you maybe mention something about the bee pollen? I mean they take my picture and put it in the health food magazine, and they interview me in those magazines."
"Bee pollen is an important part of my life."