Was Billy Wilder Marilyn’s best director? “It’s a marvel of characterization,” film studies professor Matthew Bernstein says of Some Like It Hot, as WABE reports. “Marilyn Monroe has never appeared to better advantage in any Hollywood film, because also because Wilder is an expert at using stars and their star images that are built up over time.” You can watch a zoom webinar about Some Like It Hot on June 19 at Atlanta’s The Temple, as part of a series, Up Close With Billy Wilder. (Other titles include Double Indemnity and The Apartment.)
Following last weekend’s viewing party, Tony and Manohla weigh up the feedback for Some Like It Hot in the New York Times. While the drag storyline is seen as ahead of its time, Marilyn’s ‘dumb blonde’ persona was also more complex than it may have appeared.
“It’s a complicated picture, bracingly ahead of its time in some ways, wincingly dated in others. Lemmon and Joe E. Brown (as the millionaire Osgood) seem to make a case for gay marriage more than half a century before the Obergefell decision. At the same time, one of the sources of the movie’s enduring appeal — Monroe’s performance as the lovelorn ukuleleist Sugar ‘Kane’ Kowalczyk — is also sometimes a source of discomfort. It can be hard to disentangle sex appeal from exploitation, or to avoid seeing the shadow of Monroe’s profound unhappiness in Sugar’s melancholy moments.
‘I think there have been more books on Marilyn Monroe than on World War II,’ Wilder once said, ‘and there’s a great similarity.’ Whatever he meant by that, it’s true that she has been posthumously transformed from sex object to object of interpretation. Some Like It Hot certainly uses her to generate erotic heat, in that almost invisible Orry-Kelly gown and in that steamy make-out scene with Curtis. But surely Sugar is more than eye candy. Lemmon and Curtis are justly celebrated for their winking, campy, affectionate sendups of femininity, but isn’t Monroe doing something equally sophisticated?
“Sugar’s masculine aggression as she seduces a sexually repressed Josephine/Cary Grant/Tony Curtis turns another male/female encounter completely inside out. The sex object playing the role of sex predator works to perfection thanks to Monroe’s performance. We realize again that what we see is seldom what we get. After all, as Sweet Sue tells us, ‘All my girls are virtuosos.’” Conrad Bailey, Prescott, AZ
What she’s doing is as knowing as the rest of the film is, which is why it remains such a fascinating object to revisit again and again. Wilder was a virtuoso and seems to have been a bastard or at least played one in life. Ed Sikov opens his biography of him with a quote in which Wilder says, ‘In real life, most women are stupid,’ adding that so are those who write celeb bios. Sikov isn’t alone in seeing, as he puts it, ‘a streak of misogyny’ in Wilder’s career, though I see him as an equal opportunity cynic, one who gave women fantastic roles.
And Sugar is a role and as much a caricature of femininity as Josephine and Daphne are. Monroe is often rightfully remembered as a victim, including of the movie industry, but it’s crucial to see that she helped create this iconic blond bombshell called Marilyn Monroe.”
Goodman Basil Espy III, M.D. loved purchasing sports and Hollywood memorabilia, so it’s not surprising that Marilyn’s romance with baseball legend Joe DiMaggio – and especially, their tour of Japan and Korea – would be at the heart of his Monroe archive, as we discover in this third post about the November 14 auction at Julien’s, A Southern Gentleman’s Collection. And first up, this ‘Official American League Ball‘ is signed in blue ballpoint ink ‘Marilyn Monroe’ – but not in the sweet spot! (You can read all posts about this sale here.)
“A set of two travel alarm clocks; the first beige metal with a ribbed plastic retractable cover by Westclox; the second brass with a red face by Tiffany & Co., engraved on the bottom ‘Marilyn Monroe;’ interestingly, MM was shot in a series of black and white photographs by Bob Beerman circa 1953 where the Westclox piece can be seen on her bedside table.”SOLD for $7,500
Following a two-year courtship, Marilyn and Joe were married in January 1954. Weeks later, they went on a ‘honeymoon‘ of sorts, as Joe promoted baseball in Japan. These four photos show the couple en route, and after their arrival in Tokyo. And sold separately, “a traditional Japanese fan likely made of bamboo and painted black with a natural wood handle … according to a catalogue description from Christie’s where it was originally sold, ‘…Joe immediately purchased this small memento for his one true love’ apparently on ‘February 2, 1954.'”Photos SOLD for $896; fan SOLD for $2,560
“A standard United States Department of Defense identification card issued to Marilyn, featuring a small black and white photograph of her in the upper left corner, text reads in part ‘DiMaggio, Norma Jeane,’ photograph is dated ‘4 Feb 54,’ card is dated ‘8 Feb. 1954,’ signed by Monroe in blue ballpoint ink on the lower margin ‘Norma Jeane DiMaggio,’ further black fountain pen ink annotations of the issuing officer appear below, verso displays Monroe’s finger prints next to her typed statistics reading ‘Height 5′ 5 1/2″ / Weight 118 / Color of Hair Blonde / Color of Eyes Blue / Religion None / Blood Type UNK / Date of Birth 1 June 26,’ laminated. Monroe visited Japan and then Korea while on her honeymoon with Joe DiMaggio in February of 1954, and she was given this ‘Noncombatant’s Certificate of Identity’ so she could perform for the American troops while there.”UNSOLD – reserve not met
A group of three snapshots, all taken in February 1954 when Marilyn was performing for the US troops in Korea; the first shows MM from the back as she walks by; the other two show a cake the soldiers presented to her (though she’s not in the shots). And sold separately, a strip of paper with a soldier’s name and other information on it, signed in blue ballpoint ink ‘Marilyn Monroe.'”Photos SOLD for $320; autograph SOLD for $2,240
“A single sheet of paper, typed with notes about Marilyn’s Korean tour that appears to be for photo captions or perhaps an interview, heavily annotated in pencil in Monroe’s hand where she revises or edits the typed text, ending with ‘I knew it was raining – but I somehow didn’t / feel it – all I could think was I hoped / they weren’t getting too wet / Korea – / an experience I’ll never forget.'”SOLD for $3,200
“A standard issue military jacket made of olive green wool, long sleeves, two front flap pockets, six button front closure, stamped on inside lining in part ‘Medium,’ adorned with countless Army-related patches, insignia, and lapel pins, further patch sewn above left pocket with white stitching reads ‘Monroe;’ presented to the star by a VIP soldier when she famously visited the troops in February 1954 while on her honeymoon with Joe DiMaggio; the jacket is displayed within a shadow box along with two black and white images [sold separately, here]: one shows MM receiving the folded-up jacket from a soldier named McGarr; the other shows MM with McGarr and Jean O’Doul [wife of baseball great, Lefty O’Doul] wearing the jacket.Jacket SOLD for $44,800; photos SOLD for $768
“A single page of stationery printed with an ‘M,’ penned in blue ballpoint ink, no date, to ‘Jimmy,’ reading in part ‘I was so happy you met us / at the airport and I got to see you / again – your [sic] one of my favorite / people you know,’ ending with ‘Have a Happy Birthday and a / wonderful time / Marilyn’ — Jimmy being James ‘Lefty’ O’Doul, professional baseball player and later a manager and mentor to Joe DiMaggio; included with its original envelope addressed to ‘Mr. Jimmy Gold O’doul [sic] / Personal.’ And sold separately, four photos taken in Korea; three depict Marilyn with others as she wears her fitted checkered dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953); one depicts Jean O’Doul [wife of baseball great Lefty O’Doul] and a soldier; versos of all display various handwritten annotations in pencil and fountain pen ink including the date of ’27/2/54.'”Letter SOLD for $6,400; photos SOLD for $1,250
Original photo, though now creased and wrinkled, depicting Marilyn in a living room with four other females circa 1954, a black ballpoint ink annotation handwritten on the verso reads ‘This is the interior / of the house in / Beverly Hills. It was / rented by Joe;’ also included are three other snapshots from the same day but printed decades later.”SOLD for $768
“A small clutch-style purse, made of beige raw silk, gold-tone metal frame with rhinestone closure, zipper on bottom opens to reveal another compartment, inside lined in tan-colored silk, label reads ‘Saks Fifth Avenue,’ additional studio label reads ‘1-6-3-1667 M. Monroe A-729; used by Marilyn as ‘Vicky Parker’ in an extended sequence with Donald O’Connor as ‘Tim Donahue’ in There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954.)”SOLD for $15,625
“A standard playbill for The Teahouse of the August Moon signed in blue fountain pen ink on the top margin of the cover by Marilyn and in turquoise fountain pen ink on the side margin of the cover by Joe DiMaggio.” [The play starred David Wayne, who had appeared with Marilyn in four films, including How to Marry a Millionaire. She would see the play again after moving to New York, when her Actors’ Studio buddy Eli Wallach joined the cast.]SOLD for $5,670
“A group of four telegrams, variously dated in December 1954, to the star and her lawyer [Frank Delaney] from an executive at 20th Century Fox, outlining how Marilyn needs to fulfill her obligation to The Seven Year Itch even though she’s sick; funny documents showing how Marilyn was being Marilyn and the studio had to acquiesce because she was…Marilyn. And sold separately, a contact sheet depicting 12 images of Marilyn wearing a white fur stole as she stands next to Itch director Billy Wilder in 1954, mounted to cardboard, signed in black felt-tip ink in the lower right corner ‘for Billy Wilder from Dick Avedon / 67.'”Telegrams SOLD for $1,024; contact sheet SOLD for $3,200
“A small piece of paper with the top and bottom portions torn off, one side has penciled questions written in another hand, likely that of Ben Hecht or Sidney Skolsky [as both men who helped Marilyn to write her 1954 memoir, My Story, which wasn’t published until 1974], reading in full ‘Think about / 1) anecdote about pics / working on / 2) about Johnny Hyde – / how helped you – gave courage,’ rest of page and other side have Monroe’s blue fountain pen ink responses, with one compelling part reading ‘for those who want to / judge – I’ve traded my (paper purposely torn off here but evidently ‘body’) / more than once / for shelter and small quantities / of understanding and / warmth. I never traded for money / or a job directly or anything (one) could see / with the naked eye / except from one man / who was also deeply lonely…’ and it ends there on that cliffhanger!”SOLD for $7,500
Some Like It Hot is featured (of course) in a chronological list of The 50 Best Comedy Movies of All Time over at Film School Rejects today, bridging the gap between silent comedians like Buster Keaton, screwball comedies starring Grant, and a wide range of comedies in the modern era.
“Marilyn Monroe was never taken seriously as an actress and comedienne, but just watching her keep up with comedy legends Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot is enough to see she was funnier than people gave her credit for. The film is really one of the most stacked comedies ever, with the aforementioned stars and director/screenwriter Billy Wilder and cinematographer Charles Lang (Sabrina, The Magnificent Seven, etc). It’s the perfect older comedy for people who swear that older movies aren’t funny. The smart dialogue isn’t delivered too quick for modern audiences. It’s silly enough to never get boring, but not outrageous enough that it’s campy. Some Like It Hot is a layered comedy that somehow springs more jokes the more you revisit it, but once you’ve seen it one time, you’ll gladly watch again.”Emily Kubincanek
Film historian James L. Neibaur, whose 25 books include a career retrospective for Marilyn’s idol Jean Harlow, has reviewed The Seven Year Itch on his website.
“The Seven Year Itch appears to be the film that defines Marilyn Monroe’s career. She is forever identified as the blonde airhead as she plays in this movie. People forget her range as an actress, including films like Don’t Bother To Knock, Bus Stop, and Niagara. That said, this Billy Wilder adaption of George Axelrod’s hit play is indeed the quintessential 50s-era adult comedy.
Now, in the 21st century, the narrative of The Seven Year Itch seems tame. But in 1955 it was edgy and titillating, although Billy Wilder would later state that he wished he had filmed it later on when censorship restrictions weren’t so strict. Today the film is significant for featuring the iconic Marilyn in one of her most notable performances, and as a brilliant representation of 1950s kitsch, with all of the fashions and furnishings that so clearly represent that decade. It also shows another side of the ways and mores of that decade, far different than the conservatism by which it remains defined, even in popular culture.
While it is not quite the classic it is cracked up to be, The Seven Year Itch is a pleasant comedy with some clever ideas and a great cast. Marilyn Monroe has become so incredibly iconic in popular culture, it is natural to for anyone to see the movie that best defines her screen persona.”
Michelle Morgan’s latest, The Little Book of Marilyn, is now available and has been getting rave reviews from fans. It’s packed with well-chosen photos which aren’t often seen in print, plus chapters on why Marilyn continues to inspire, hair and make-up tutorials, fashion tips, and craft ideas.
Another tempting summer read is Ji-Min Lee’s Marilyn and Me, a novel set during Marilyn’s time in Korea. It’s next on my reading list, and hope to review both books at a later date.
Of related interest is Gravité Sur Billy Wilder, Emmanuel Burdeau’s French-language study of (arguably) Marilyn’s greatest director.
Coming in September, John William Law’s Goddess & the Girl Next Door compares Marilyn and that other fifties blonde, Doris Day. It’s a timely publication, arriving so soon after Ms Day’s passing (you can read my tribute to her here.)
And finally (for now), Biographic: Marilyn retells her story in infographics, coming in October from artist and author Katy Greenwood.
Irma La Douce, Billy Wilder’s 1963 comedy starring Shirley MacLaine as a sweet-natured Parisian hooker and Jack Lemmon as the hapless gendarme who falls for her, is being released on Blu-Ray for the first time. The lead role is said to have been rejected by Marilyn, although it’s easy to imagine her as Irma, and she had loved working with Lemmon on Some Like It Hot.
She may still have harboured a grudge against Wilder, who had spoken harshly about her in the past; but he was also considering her for his next movie, Kiss Me Stupid (which was released in 1964, starring Kim Novak.) In fact, nearly all of Wilder’s subsequent movies feature a character who could conceivably have been played by Marilyn.
Although some say Marilyn refused to play a prostitute, she had previously performed a scene from Anna Christie at the Actors Studio, and was still hoping to star as Sadie Thompson in Rain. In any case, in 1962 she was focused on working off her old contract at Fox. And by the time Irma La Douce opened, Marilyn had passed away.
Although Shirley’s persona was more kooky than sex goddess, both she and Marilyn excelled in tragi-comic roles. Some Came Running (1958) and Can-Can (1959) were offered first to Monroe, and in 1964, MacLaine would star in What A Way To Go!, which Fox had planned as Marilyn’s next picture.
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.”
Another review for the new Criterion Collection edition of Some Like It Hot (see my photos of the booklet, above) is posted today on Daniel S. Levine’s Movie Mania Madness blog, this time with a special focus on the extras.
“Some Like It Hot works for me. It’s not as polished and perfect as The Apartment, as snappy as The Major and The Minor or as hopelessly romantic as Sabrina. But it doesn’t have to be. Rather, it is a successful mix of everything that made Wilder’s best movies work, minus the biting cynicism of The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard or Ace in the Hole.
- Criterion replaced the MGM/UA commentary that included interviews with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis with the 1989 commentary the label recorded for its laserdisc release. This one features Howard Suber breaking down the film and explaining why it works. It includes brief remarks from Lemmon. For the most part, it’s a good track, although Suber seems a little too obsessed with Monroe.
The 2-disc DVD also included galleries and an interactive pressbook, which are also not included here. However, considering how in-depth everything we do get is, those do not feel like big omissions. There’s a lot crammed onto this disc, ensuring that fans of the film will still want it even if they have previous editions.”
The most surprising aspect of last week’s Essentially Marilyn auction at Profiles in History was how many valuable items from the Maite Minguez-Ricart collection and others (including movie costumes) went unsold, while others only reached the lower estimate. In a post for his MM Collection blog, Scott Fortner goes as far as to call it a flop – and noting the high prices reached at Julien’s only last month, he argues that poor organisation was to blame, rather than a lack of interest. Here’s a selection of items that sold well, and others that didn’t: you can find the full list over at iCollector.
Photo of Norma Jeane aged five, with her ‘first boyfriend’, Lester Bolender ($10,000)
Wedding photo of Norma Jeane and Jim Dougherty ($15,000)
Seven photos from Norma Jeane’s first assignments with the Blue Book Modelling Agency, 1945 ($11,000)
Marilyn’s personally inscribed photo with Ben Lyon ($37,500 – more info here)
Black silk cocktail dress with oversize white bow, designed by John Moore and worn by Marilyn in 1958 ($40,000)
Gold pleated halter gown designed by Travilla for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes ($100,000)
Crème-coloured gown by Travilla for How to Marry a Millionaire ($100,000)
Crème and blue gown by Travilla for There’s No Business Like Show Business ($70,000)
Pink and purple satin pantsuit with train, designed by Charles LeMaire for The Seven Year Itch ($100,000)
Silver cigarette box inscribed by Marilyn to Billy Wilder, 1954 ($10,000)
Sheer tan dress by JAX, worn by Marilyn in 1958 ($20,000)
Patterned wool overcoat, worn by Marilyn in 1961 ($30,000)
Marilyn’s personal key to Warner Brothers, 1956 ($10,000)
Red halter dress by JAX, worn by Marilyn in her final photo session with Milton Greene, 1957 ($100,000)
Certificate of nomination from the Golden Globe Awards for Some Like It Hot, 1959 ($10,000)
Black address book ca 1960-62 ($17,000)
John Bryson’s candid photo of Marilyn and Arthur Miller on the set of Let’s Make Love, signed by both ($8,00)
Pucci silk blouse, worn by Marilyn in 1962 ($95,000)
White Ferragamo pumps, worn by Marilyn in Something’s Got to Give ($16,000)
Marilyn’s original grave marker from Westwood Memorial Park ($38,400)
Period costume by Rene Hubert for A Ticket to Tomahawk (UNSOLD)
Brown Skirt Suit by Charles LeMaire for Love Nest (UNSOLD)
Costume sketches by Eloise Jenssen for We’re Not Married (UNSOLD)
Green dress by Travilla for Don’t Bother to Knock (UNSOLD)
Marilyn’s personally owned Ceil Chapman dress (UNSOLD)
Unreleased studio master for ‘Down Boy’ (UNSOLD – more info here)
Showgirl costume by Travilla for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (UNSOLD)
Charles Feldman’s archive regarding The Seven Year Itch (UNSOLD)
Pearl encrusted gown, one of several copies made for The Prince and the Showgirl (UNSOLD)
Two address books, ca. 1950s-60s (UNSOLD)
Various exhibition prints by Milton Greene (UNSOLD)