Some Like It Hot opened at cinemas across the US sixty years ago today, on March 29, 1959. In an article for Perth Now, Troy Lennon celebrates the diamond anniversary of one of the most beloved movies in history.
“The press were out in force at Marcus Loew’s newly refurbished Capitol Theatre on Broadway in New York to cover one of the biggest film premieres of the year. It starred matinee idol Tony Curtis and up-and-coming comic talent Jack Lemmon, best known from comedy hits Mr Roberts and Bell Book And Candle.
The support cast of actors was also stellar, with big names from classic gangster films … Quirky, sexy, slightly subversive and the work of one of the most in-demand directors at the time, Billy Wilder, it had hit potential. But what really made Some Like It Hot such a big deal was that it was Marilyn Monroe’s first film in nearly two years. Monroe had been taking time off to focus on her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller.
On the night of the premiere, March 29, 1959, 60 years ago today, Monroe, accompanied by Miller, told reporters Lemmon was the ‘funniest man in the world’ and like the rest of the audience laughed all the way through the film. Critics also loved it and Some Like it Hot is now regarded as one of the all-time great film comedies.
The film was inspired by a 1935 French farce titled Fanfare d’Amour (Fanfare Of Love), about two musicians, Jean (Fernand Gravey) and Pierre (Julien Carette) … Gravey’s love interest, bandleader Gaby, was played by Australian actor Betty Stockfeld.
The story and screenplay were co-written by German screenwriters Michael Logan and Robert Thoeren, who had fled Germany in 1933 after the Nazis came to power. After the war they returned to Germany and in 1951 remade the film as Fanfaren der Lieben.
For the leads Wilder wanted Frank Sinatra as musician Joe and singer Mitzi Gaynor as bandmember Sugar. But Sinatra never turned up for the audition and when Monroe discovered Wilder was doing the film she wanted to play Sugar … having Monroe as a drawcard gave Wilder a freer hand with the rest of the casting. He had already asked Tony Curtis to play Jerry, but without Sinatra he instead cast him as Joe and Lemmon as Jerry.
The director was fastidious about the look of the film. It was to be shot in black and white, because it was a period piece and a tribute to gangster films, also so that it would be easier to pass off Curtis and Lemmon as women. Famous Australian-born designer Orry-Kelly worked on the costumes (winning the film an Oscar).
During filming, Monroe was as difficult as ever … Curtis did his best to disguise his irritation but Lemmon was sympathetic, trying to calm Monroe’s nerves.
But the result was screen magic. From the moment Monroe sashays past Lemmon at a train station causing him to utter ‘That’s just like Jell-O on springs’ the farce hardly ever lets up.
It won three Golden Globes, an Oscar and a BAFTA and made bigger stars of Curtis and Lemmon, but was arguably Monroe’s last truly great role.”
Carol Channing, the legendary Broadway star who originated the role of Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, has died aged 97.
Born in Seattle in 1921, Carol and her parents moved to San Francisco when she was two weeks old. Her mother Adelaide was of German Jewish descent and her father George was part African-American (on his mother’s side.) A newspaper editor by profession, George was also a Christian Science practitioner and teacher.
At sixteen, Carol left home to major in drama in Bennington College in Vermont. In 1941, she won her first Broadway part as Eve Arden’s understudy in a revue, Let’s Face It! That year she was married for the first time, to writer Theodore Naidish. They divorced after five years.
In 1948, Carol won a Theatre World Award for her featured role in another revue, Lend An Ear. Stacy Eubank noted in Holding A Good Thought For Marilyn: The Hollywood Years, that on June 16, a little-known starlet, 22 year-old Marilyn Monroe, attended the opening night at the Las Palmas Theatre in Hollywood, where she was photographed with director Bill Eythe and actor Bill Callahan.
Illustrator Al Hirschfeld published a caricature of Carol as a flapper in the show, the first of many portraits to come. She even credited his artwork with helping her win the part of Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Jule Styne’s musical adaptation of the 1926 novel by Anita Loos opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre in December 1949, running for almost two years. In her 2002 memoir, Just Lucky I Guess, Carol wrote that Loos had told Styne, ‘That’s my Lorelei!’ after seeing Lend An Ear in New York. Styne promptly wrote a new song for Carol, ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.’
In January 1950, Carol made the cover of Time magazine. She was married again that year, to footballer Axe Carson, and they had a son, Channing Carson. After her third marriage to manager and publicist Charles Lowe in 1956, he was renamed Chan Lowe and went on to become a successful cartoonist.
Darryl F. Zanuck swiftly acquired the film rights to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for Twentieth Century Fox. Carol was duly invited to Los Angeles for a screen test, but it was generally assumed that Betty Grable, the studio’s reigning blonde star of musical comedy, would get the part. In any case, Carol had already decided to take the show to London after the Broadway run ended.
In mid-June of 1951, Marilyn Monroe flew to New York, where she spent several days. Columnist Dorothy Manners would report that she had been given tickets by Fox to see Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – perhaps as a warning to Grable, who was then on suspension. ‘Physically, Marilyn fits the bill,’ Manners noted, ‘but whether she is experienced enough to take on a top comedy performance remains to be seen.’
In her autobiography, Carol claimed that Marilyn was instructed to see the play every night for a month, which is doubtless an exaggeration given Marilyn’s busy schedule. Chronically shy, Marilyn never ventured backstage. “Our orchestra never saw anyone that beautiful before,” Carol recalled. “For the first time they were all looking at Marilyn instead of our conductor…”
That November, after Blondes finally closed, the New York Post‘s Earl Wilson reported that Marilyn hoped to play Lorelei on the screen. In his 1992 biography of Monroe, Donald Spoto wrote that Fox informed Marilyn the part was hers on June 1, 1952 (her 26th birthday.) Nonetheless, the studio kept up the intrigue for several weeks before announcing it to the press, still claiming that Grable would star, with Marilyn turning brunette to play Lorelei’s friend Dorothy.
When the news broke on June 23, Hedda Hopper wrote that Carol had responded with a 200-word telegram to Fox, while Grable denied asking Zanuck for the part. Marilyn was now the studio’s rising star, but as Stacy Eubank observes, she was still on a standard contract and would cost Fox far less than either Grable or Channing.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a golden opportunity for Marilyn, and a huge success when it opened in 1953. “I was heartsick over the whole thing, of course,” Carol admitted, and she also felt that Jack Cole’s flamboyant choreography “completely upstaged” the lyrics.
“I do think it was one of her best movies,” Carol reflected on Marilyn’s performance. “Not funny, however. They didn’t use one word of Anita’s original book, which was hilarious and which was what constantly kept the stage musical on a higher level. Anita didn’t write the musical’s book. So where they didn’t insert the original book it was mundane. It was the stock formula for a dated Broadway musical. I followed Anita’s original Lorelei character ferociously…”
“You can cast Lorelei two ways,” Loos explained. “With the cutest, prettiest, littlest girl in town, or with a comedienne’s comment on the cutest, prettiest, littlest girl in town. I wrote her as a comedy, and Broadway is attuned to satire.” Carol’s broader interpretation was perfect for the stage, whereas Marilyn brought a softer, more innocent quality to Lorelei.
During the 1950s, Carol replaced Gracie Allen as a comedy foil to George Burns. “Finding roles that suit the strange and wonderful charms of Carol Channing has always been a problem to Broadway showmen,” a 1955 cover story for LIFE read. “She looks like an overgrown kewpie. She sings like a moon-mad hillbilly. Her dancing is crazily comic. And behind her saucer eyes is a kind of gentle sweetness that pleads for affection.”
Her next great role was in Hello, Dolly! (1964.) She befriended Broadway newcomer Barbara Streisand, only to lose out again when the younger actress was cast in the film adaptation. A registered Democrat, Carol campaigned for Lyndon B. Johnson and was a favourite of his wife, Lady Bird. In 1966, she won the Sarah Siddons Award, and finally achieved movie stardom alongside Julie Andrews in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), winning a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actress, and an Oscar nomination.
In 1970, Carol became the first celebrity to perform at a Super Bowl halftime. Three years later, she was revealed to have been on disgraced president Richard Nixon’s Master List of Political Opponents – which she quipped was the highest accolade of her career.
The 53-year-old revisited her early success in Lorelei (1974), a reworking of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes featuring songs cut from the original play, and broke box-office records by selling out for six consecutive days in just 24 hours. She also frequently appeared on television, including a 1987 Jules Styne special in which she performed ‘Little Girl From Little Rock.’
In 1998, Carol separated from her husband of forty years, Charles Lowe. He passed away shortly afterwards. She would marry once more in 2003, after rekindling her romance with high-school sweetheart Harry Kullijian. He died in 2011. Carol maintained her faith in Christian Science, followed a strict organic diet and swore off alcohol.
A much-loved resident of Rancho Mirage, California, Carol had a star dedicated to her on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars in 2010. She returned two years later to honour Marilyn Monroe, praising her “brilliant and unique” performance in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Carol also attended a farewell party for Seward Johnson’s giant sculpture, ‘Forever Marilyn‘, when it left Palm Springs for the East Coast in 2014.
A red taffeta gown with black lace overlay and fishtail skirt worn by Marilyn in 1952 has been recovered and will be on display at the New York Open House at the city’s French Embassy this weekend, reports NY1. Marilyn wore the dress for a photo shoot with Bob Landry, and on several public outings.
“‘We are pretty sure that it belonged to her but the mystery remains, we don’t know why it is here, because to our knowledge, she never came to the French Embassy,’ said Benedict de Montlaur, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy.”
The French embassy is situated on Fifth Avenue, at the former Payne Whitney family mansion. Ironically, Marilyn was briefly a patient at the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Hospital on East 68th Street in 1961. She also received a Crystal Star award at a venue described as the French Film Institute or Consulate in 1959, but wore a different outfit to the ceremony.
Christopher Nickens wrote about the dress – purchased ‘off the rack’ in 1951, after Marilyn rejoined Twentieth Century Fox – in his 2012 book, Marilyn In Fashion:
“With a steady pay-check coming in, she indulged in some new clothes. She bought this evening gown at I. Magnin’s department store. It is a strapless red silk taffeta, snug from the bodice down to just below the hips, and covered in black French lace. The black lace gloves and a black fox boa Marilyn wore with the dress helped soften some of its gaudiness. ‘I paid a stiff price for it,’ Marilyn said. ‘I was told that the dress was the only copy of an original purchased by a San Francisco social leader.’
Marilyn wore the dress on several occasions, including the 1952 Photoplay magazine awards, and for the party celebrating the opening of Don’t Bother to Knock. She considered it her lucky dress because of the attention it always brought her although it was criticised in the press. ‘This was the dress that provoked so much comment … it was proof positive, they claimed, that I was utterly lacking in taste. I’m truly sorry, but I love the dress.'”
Reality TV star Lucy Mecklenburgh has recreated Marilyn’s famous ‘potato sack’ photo shoot as part of a campaign to promote ‘healthy carbs’ for UK supermarket Asda, reports The Sun.
“There are two theories as to why Marilyn Monroe originally wore a sack of potatoes in her 1951 photoshoot.
One is that Twentieth Century Fox capitalised on a female journalist suggesting the actress would look better in a sack of potatoes than a particular vulgar red dress.
The other is that someone simply made an off-the-cuff comment about her being so attractive she could make even a sack of potatoes look good, Twentieth Century Fox then taking the stills to prove him right.”
Arthur Miller was born 100 years ago today. In this extract from her 1960 interview with Georges Belmont for Marie-Claire magazine, Marilyn describes how they first met and what attracted her to him.
“When I met Arthur Miller for the first time, it was on a set, and I was crying. I was playing in a picture called As Young As You Feel, and he and Elia Kazan came over to me. I was crying because a friend of mine had died. I was introduced to Arthur.
That was in 1951. Everything was pretty bleary for me at that time. Then I didn’t see him for about four years. We would correspond, and he sent me a list of books to read. I used to think that maybe he might see me in a movie – there often used to be two pictures playing at a time, and I thought I might be in the other movie and he’d see me. So I wanted to do my best.
I don’t know how to say it, but I was in love with him from the first moment.
I’ll never forget that one day he said I should act on the stage and how the people standing around laughed. But he said, ‘No, I’m very serious.’ And the way he said that, I could see that he was a sensitive human being and treated me as a sensitive human being, too. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s the most important thing.”
Writing for the excellent Girls Do Film blog, Victoria Loomes takes a welcome look back at one of Marilyn’s lesser-known early roles, as secretary Harriet in 1951’s As Young As You Feel. (While you’re visiting the site, check out related posts on The Misfits and Some Like it Hot.)
“Monroe’s part is small but impactful: in one great scene she becomes so frustrated at her boss she sticks her tongue out. In fact, one of the most remarkable things about her performance is her voice: it lacks the breathy whispery tones for which she would become synonymous, instead it’s warm (almost husky) with a matter-of-fact edge. Although she might be a ditzy secretary, Monroe is actually a lot less ditzy that in some of her other roles, but the studio were keen to play up her bombshell role.
There’s a lot of characters and sub-plots in As Young As You Feel, but Marilyn’s wardrobe ensured that she stood out from the noise. Marilyn might have been ‘window dressing’ but Renié, the film’s costume designer, made sure she looked the part. Harriet’s wardrobe doesn’t exactly match her lowly secretary status…there’s no disguising Marilyn herself was a movie star in the making – it’s finished with rhinestone pins, stacked bangles and showy earrings.”
Actor Robert Wagner is now 84, and still busy – both onscreen, and in print. He began his career at Twentieth Century-Fox in 1950.
On June 14, 1951, Wagner made a screen test alongside one of the studio’s most promising starlets. “I was the guy they always used when the studio was making screen tests of new actresses,” he told author Warren G. Harris in 1988. “And believe me, no job is more dead-end than that. The only interesting thing that came out of it was when they were testing a new kid and asked me to do a couple of scenes with her. Her name was Marilyn Monroe.”
On the strength of this test – a love scene – Wagner was cast alongside Marilyn in a romantic comedy, Let’s Make It Legal, starring Claudette Colbert. The pair never acted together, but became friends and were often pictured together at Hollywood parties. Wagner, who had affairs with many beautiful actresses, was never romantically involved with MM.
“Nothing happened easily for Marilyn,” he said later. “It took a lot of time and effort to create the image that became so famous.”
In recent years, Wagner has published two books: Pieces of My Heart (2008), an autobiography; and the just-published You Must Remember This, a memoir of Hollywood’s golden age, in which he recalls Marilyn’s tragic death.
“It’s odd how your mind associates certain people with certain events. In August 1962 I was in Montecatini, Italy, the same time as Sheilah Graham [the Hollywood gossip columnist.] I was on the terrace of my hotel when she leaned out a window and yelled, ‘Marilyn Monroe died! Marilyn Monroe died!,’ to the world at large, in exactly the same way she would have announced that her building was on fire. That was how I found out that the girl I had worked with twelve years earlier, and who had since become a legend in a way nobody could have foretold, was gone.”
Wagner is no stranger to tragedy. His wife, Natalie Wood, drowned in 1981 during a yachting trip. Her death, like Marilyn’s, is the subject of endless speculation.
Natalie was the child star of Marilyn’s first film, Scudda Hoo, Scudda Hay! She admired Marilyn, and spoke with her at a party weeks before her death.
Natalie married Robert in 1957 and they divorced five years later, but were remarried in 1972. There are shades here of Marilyn’s relationship with Joe DiMaggio, who had grown close to her again in the years before her death.
Dr Thomas Noguchi, so-called ‘Coroner to the Stars’, performed autopsies on both women. He was demoted in 1982, after speaking too freely in the media about the case, and in that year’s reopened investigation of Monroe’s death. His career has since recovered, however.
In Pieces of My Heart, Wagner criticised Noguchi:
“Noguchi was a camera-hog who felt he had to stoke the publicity fire in order to maintain the level of attention he’d gotten used to. Noguchi particularly enraged Frank Sinatra, who knew the truth and, in any case, would never have allowed anyone who harmed Natalie to survive.”
Natalie’s case would also be reopened in 2011, when the captain of the boat claimed that a fight with Wagner had led to her drowning. The official cause of death was later amended from accidental drowning to ‘drowning and other undetermined factors.’ Wagner was ruled out as a suspect.
In You Must Remember This, he speculates on the proliferation of conspiracy theories in the internet age:
“Intellectually, I understand the perception that the rich and privileged are invincible. That’s why some people need to believe, for example, that Marilyn Monroe was murdered by the Kennedys…The randomness of life and death can be terrifying, so a certain kind of person seizes on minor discrepancies of memory or the garbled recollections of marginal personalities to cast doubt on a reality they don’t want to acknowledge.”
This extract reveals how the romance began in 1951. The photo above shows Marilyn and Nick at a preview of John Huston’s The African Queen.
“Atop the list of glamour girls romantically linked to the director was Marilyn Monroe. One of Hollywood’s rising stars, just starting to get good parts, Monroe shared a flat with Shelley Winters, who blew hot and cold on Ray over the years. Winters and Monroe passed Ray back and forth in the early 50s, but Winters later reflected that the very things about Ray that daunted her – his age and intelligence – were the traits that turned Monroe on.
While Ray was working on ‘The Lusty Men’, Monroe was filming ‘Clash by Night’, the Fritz Lang film of Clifford Odets’s play that Jerry Walf was producing for RKO. Ray had known Monroe for a while by then, escorting her to Gene Kelly and Betsy Blair’s parties more than once. He had a real crush on Monroe and often talked about working with the actress on a film one day, but Monroe always kept a few steps ahead of him. Whether Ray and Monroe were in Wald’s office or out on a date, the director ‘monopolised’ her, as one columnist put it, fluttering around the sexy blonde as if she were a personal trophy. Monroe sincerely liked Ray, but her interest in him ebbed and flowed, not always coinciding with his interest in her.
Richard Baer, Wald’s young assistant, was also pining for Monroe and kept trying to finagle a date with the actress. Monroe loathed watching dailies but insisted that Baer phone her nightly to report on her scenes in ‘Clash by Night’ – how she performed, how her hair and costume looked. Baer kept hinting that it would be easier if he could just come to her place in person. ‘Over the phone is just fine,’ Monroe always replied sweetly.
Finally, Baer coaxed Monroe into a lunch date at Lucey’s. They were just getting settled when Ray swept in, wearing some kind of cape, and headed straight for their table. The director plunked himself down in their booth, fawning over Monroe, stroking her arms and patting her thighs. Balefully eyeing Baer, Ray kissed Monroe good-bye on the cheek before making a grand exit. The actress waited until Ray was out of sight, then gave Baer a look and murmured dolefully, ‘I never knew a man with such terrible teeth.'”