When Avedon Met Marilyn…

Richard Avedon’s first collaboration with Marilyn was in September 1954, when she visited New York to film The Seven Year Itch with director Billy Wilder. It may also have been their first meeting, and their warm camaraderie is evident in the resulting photos, taken by Sam Shaw. Earl Steinbicker, who was Avedon’s studio assistant at the time, remembers the shoot in Avedon: Something Personal.

“I met a helluva lot of famous people with Dick … I was there for the first sitting Dick ever did with Marilyn Monroe. The Daily News had sent a photographer to photograph him photographing her. I worked the fan blowing her hair, and at the end of the sitting she came over and said, ‘Wouldn’t you like a picture of me?'”

Gemma Arterton: ‘It’s Me, Sugar’

British actress Gemma Arterton has revealed that she is playing Marilyn in It’s Me, Sugar, a new TV film about the making of Some Like It Hot, in a recent interview for the French movie website, Allocine (I have used Google Translate, so please forgive any typos!) Very little is known about It’s Me, Sugar as yet, except that the director is Sean Foley (Mindhorn.) Personally, I like Gemma as an actress, but I would have thought the ‘behind the scenes’ angle on Marilyn’s life had already been covered in My Week With Marilyn.

The title is supposedly based on a line that Marilyn blew multiple times on the set, but the line was actually ‘Where’s that bourbon.’ The situation was also more complicated than is generally perceived, as biographer Donald Wolfe (who watched the scene being filmed) believed that Marilyn was not merely flubbing the line, but was trying to persuade director Billy Wilder to let her play the scene differently.

“It’s a strong role in which you have to cry, to be in a state of almost permanent sadness. It must not be obvious …

Yes, in fact, everything depends on the role. For example, last week I played Marilyn Monroe in a TV movie, a comedy. There was a scene in which I had to cry and I could not, because it was a comedy. I was in this madness all the time.

Can you tell us more about this project you were talking about in which you play Marilyn Monroe? 

It’s called It’s Me, Sugar. It’s about the movie Some Like It Hot. Marilyn Monroe was in a period of her life really troubled. She took a lot of drugs, drank a lot. She was the biggest star in the world, she had a lot of attention on her, a lot of pressure. She is great in the movie. But there is a scene, when she comes to the door, she says, ‘It’s me, Sugar.’ It took 47 shots to make this scene. The film is about that moment, the crisis she had. It’s funny because it’s stupid not to be able to say ‘It’s me, Sugar’. She made all the variations. It’s tragic too.

It’s a film period that I love. Billy Wilder is one of my favorite directors. I have always had a fascination for Marilyn Monroe. The director is Sean Foley. He does rather theater, comedy usually. But he made a film last year called Mindhorn, which was a bizarre English comedy. He was a comedian before. I find that directors who have done comedy before do better. It’s hard to do a good comedy, because it takes rhythm. It’s really difficult.”

Thanks to MM Fan Club Belgium

‘Some Like It Hot’ in Santa Barbara

Marilyn discussing a scene from ‘Some Like It Hot’ with Tony Curtis and Billy Wilder

Some Like It Hot will be screened at the UCSB Carsey-Wolf Center in Santa Barbara at 2pm on Sunday, November 19, concluding the ‘Hollywood Berlin’ series on German directors in America. (Tickets are free, but must be reserved in advance – and there will also be a post-screening Q&A.)

Marilyn’s Sugar Is ‘Sweeter Than Ever’

The original Guardian review of Some Like It Hot – first published when it was released in the UK exactly fifty- eight years ago, on May 16, 1959 – is reposted today. The unnamed critic describes it as “a funny film with an odd flavour of humour,” reflecting director Billy Wilder’s acerbic style, and how provocative this comedy classic was for its time.

“Mr Wilder, whose films are successful and frequent, may have found that the flouting of our nicer susceptibilities is just what most of us want. Be that as it may, Some Like it Hot is a bit uncomfortable. Not that there is anything downright offensive … it is only that the vulgarity is a bit insistent – and persistent.

The women’s band includes Marilyn Monroe, even sweeter, more pathetic and, possibly, more Monroe-like than ever in her attire … Miss Monroe, as always, is irresistible, even when, as in this instance, she is being ruthlessly presented as a caricature of herself – another example of the Wilder touch.”

Marilyn Double Bill at the Carolina

Marilyn on the set of ‘The Seven Year Itch’, 1954

If you’re in Durham, North Carolina tomorrow night, don’t miss out on a comedy bonanza at the Carolina Theatre, featuring Marilyn’s two films with director Billy Wilder: Some Like It Hot, and The Seven Year Itch.

Marilyn’s Lost ‘Itch’ Footage

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Amateur footage from the set of The Seven Year Itch has resurfaced, as Helene Stapinski reports for the New York Times. Shot by Jules Schulback, a furrier and home movie enthusiast, in September 1954, the missing reel – in pristine condition, and lasting for three minutes and seventeen seconds in total – was found by his granddaughter Bonnie Siegler and her husband Jeff Scher almost sixty years later.

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“The film starts with a spliced-in intertitle that reads ‘World Premiere,’ Mr. Schulback’s little inside joke.

And then there is Marilyn Monroe, in a white terry robe, coming down the stoop of a white-shuttered building at 164 East 61st Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues. It was the earlier scene — before the subway grate footage — that Mr. Schulback had shot. Cameramen and press photographers are gathered outside as the actress smiles and waves.

Cut to Ms. Monroe in a second-floor window wearing a slip and blow-drying her hair. Mr. Ewell walks down the street and into the building. The film cuts inexplicably to 30 seconds of what must be a Shriners parade in Manhattan, then jumps to another intertitle, which reads ‘Our Baby.’

And suddenly, there is Ms. Monroe again, this time on the subway grate in that famously fluttering white dress, holding a matching white clutch in her right hand and a red-and-white-striped scarf in her left.

Mr. Schulback was incredibly close, filming right behind Mr. Wilder’s shoulder, stopping to wind his hand-held camera every 25 seconds. Now and then, a silhouette of the director’s arm intrudes into Mr. Schulback’s crystal-clear shot. At one point Mr. Wilder, in a fedora, passes across the frame. Ms. Monroe gets into position and yawns, while the cinematographer sets up the camera. Through a gap in the film crew, Mr. Schulback captures just her face, looking off to the left, serious and unsmiling.

Then Mr. Ewell is there, chatting with Ms. Monroe, who pushes him into position. The dress flutters again, Ms. Monroe holds it down, bending slightly, smiling and talking to Mr. Ewell, but it flutters up some more and she laughs, her head thrown back. It blows up again, but she doesn’t push it down this time, and it flies up over her head, clearly revealing two pairs of underwear that, because of the bright lights, do not protect Ms. Monroe’s modesty quite as much as she might have liked.

Then, as suddenly as she appeared, Marilyn is gone, and the film reverts to home-movie mode: Edith Schulback walking on the grass at a family outing in the country. It’s like being shaken from some crazy dream, back to reality.”

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Elsewhere in the Times, Alexandra S. Levine retraced Marilyn’s steps in today’s New York.

“We started outside 164 East 61st Street, the townhouse shown in the film.

The house is still standing, and this week, it appeared to be the only one on the block still adorned with Christmas decorations.

(It’s also now directly across from Trump Plaza, which was certainly not part of the movie’s quaint side-street landscape.)

We then walked to Lexington to visit Gino, a restaurant where Ms. Monroe would often eat with her second husband, Joe DiMaggio, and later with her third, Arthur Miller.

We regret to inform you that the eatery is long gone. It’s now Sprinkles, a cupcake shop, and the outside of the building has an A.T.M. that dispenses cupcakes. (How far we’ve come in 63 years!)

We headed south, to 52nd Street, the site of the celebrated subway grate.

There was no Marilyn Monroe plaque or street sign to be seen; the block is designated Lew Rudin Way. And the Trans-Lux Theater, which stood behind Ms. Monroe as she filmed the scene, is no longer there.

So we stopped above what we imagined was the same grate, now in front of the bistro Le Relais de Venise l’Entrecôte, to see if it might elicit an out-of-body experience.

Not quite.

The long, narrow subway grate was sandwiched on one end by a garbage can, and on the other by a large, thirsty-looking potted plant.

When we stood over the grate, we didn’t feel the swoosh of the subway swiftly blowing at our heels. When we looked down, all we could see was our own reflection in some murky water. And we certainly didn’t look like we were having an exceptional hair day.

What we’d suggest, to better recreate that unforgettable New York (but made in Hollywood) moment, is to ask a friend to come along with a giant fan and an iPhone. Ask that kind soul to turn on the fan, encourage passers-by to cheer your name, and let the photo shoot begin.”

Billy Wilder, Marilyn and ‘that Bourbon’

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In an article for Fredericksburg.com, Gary Olsen repeats an oft-told tale about Billy Wilder’s on-set travails with Marilyn:

“Film director Billy Wilder was tearing out what little hair he had on his head while filming a scene in Some Like It Hot. His ire was directed toward Marilyn Monroe, who was botching her lines as she was looking for a bottle of bourbon in a bureau.

He decided to tape her written line inside the drawer. On the next take, she opened the wrong drawer. Finally, he papered every drawer with the line, so it wouldn’t matter which one she opened. Eighty-three takes later, she nailed the line: ‘Where’s that bourbon?’

Wilder’s adventures with Monroe’s work habits during the film’s production are legendary…But Monroe’s performance in the 1958 film is cited as the best in her career. Wilder was astonished at what he saw live, versus what he witnessed viewing the rushes on the screen. ‘[Monroe’s performance] looks like nothing on the set,’ said Wilder, ‘and then when it goes on the screen, it all comes out in neon light. It’s fantastic how celluloid loves Monroe. Just incredible.'”

Like so many of Wilder’s anecdotes, this story – and in particular, the exact number of takes Marilyn allegedly required – has grown over time. However, there is no question that Billy found her difficult to work with, although the results were always stellar.

With Marilyn out of the picture for so long, she was never really able to tell her side of the story. In Volume II of Icon: The Life, Times and Films of MM, author Gary Vitacco-Robles reviewed the episode in detail – drawing a more complex picture of their fraught collaboration than has hitherto been noted.

“Biographer Sarah Churchwell observes that the scene was filmed with Marilyn’s back to the camera, enabling her to easily dub the line in post-production. Wilder’s demand for repeated takes suggests an overt power struggle between director and star. Donald H. Wolfe theorises that Marilyn staged the repeated takes in order to control the interpretation of her character and as a way to defy Wilder’s direction. She would deliver an incorrect line in the manner Wilder instructed for a series of takes (‘Where’s the whiskey?’ ‘Where’s the bottle?’) and purposefully wear down her director. In later takes, she would deliver the line verbatim to the script in the manner in which she believed fit her characterisation. Donald H. Wolfe observed: ‘She knew she was right and believed that a star of her stature had the prerogative of playing the scene the way she felt it.’ It was a battle of the wills but in the end, Marilyn won.”

Marilyn, Jerry Lewis and ‘Some Like it Hot’

Marilyn with Dean Martin (left) and Jerry Lewis (right) at the Redbook Awards, 1953
Marilyn with Dean Martin (left) and Jerry Lewis (right) at the Redbook Awards, 1953

Comedian Jerry Lewis has claimed that he turned down the role of Jerry/Daphne in Some Like it Hot, which was ultimately played by Jack Lemmon, the New York Post‘s Page Six column reports. Lewis revealed his greatest regret to film director Martin Scorsese and critic while being induced into the Comedy Hall of Fame this week.

“I would have had a chance to kiss Marilyn Monroe. Instead, [director Billy] Wilder called me ‘the schmuck who turned down Some Like It Hot’ for the rest of his life, and Lemmon [who was nominated for an Oscar for it] sent me chocolates every year until he died.’’

Marilyn was fond of Jerry Lewis. She appeared on his radio show with Dean Martin in 1952, and later named Lewis among a list of attractive men in a magazine interview. When Lewis was being honoured for charitable work in 1955, Marilyn stepped up to the mic to give him a kiss, adding, ‘I love you, Jerry.’

However, Lewis wouldn’t have had an opportunity to kiss her again in Some Like it Hot. While MM and Lemmon briefly – and chastely – shared a bunkbed during the train scene, her love interest in the movie was played by Tony Curtis.

In recent years, Lewis has even claimed he had an affair with Marilyn, though there is no evidence to support that allegation.