Friday, July 06, 2012

what happened behind the scenes on some like it hot

Here's another essay from the longer-format piece I'm working on about Marilyn Monroe.

Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot has always been a favorite film of mine. I love the combination of crime, comedy, and musical. Marilyn Monroe is breathtaking and fresh and Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, by donning women's clothes not only make the audience laugh, but are given a bird's-eye view of how the other half lives. I have reviewed the film before, but only alluded to its behind-the-scenes drama:
There are plenty of stories surrounding the making of Some Like it Hot. Marilyn's notorious difficulties in nailing a simple line. The possible casting of Frank Sinatra instead of Lemmon. But no matter how difficult filming conditions may have been, it is undeniably a classic, and Wilder had good things to say about his lovely star, "She had a kind of elegant vulgarity about her. That, I think, was very important. And she automatically knew where the joke was. She did not discuss it. She came for the first rehearsal, and she was absolutely perfect, when she remembered the line."
Wilder, Monroe, and Lemmon
Although it was one of her greatest films, Marilyn never seemed to have much fondness for Some Like It Hot. She wanted Frank Sinatra for one of the male leads (who thankfully blew off a meeting with Wilder, so they went with Curtis and Lemmon). Wilder’s collaborator, screenwriter I. A. L Diamond tells of a different sequence of events regarding the casting. “The first person we wanted was Jack Lemmon, but he was then under contract to Columbia, and the first actor we actually signed was Tony Curtis because we felt he could play both parts in an emergency. United Artists felt that we needed a big box-office name and that Lemmon wasn't big enough. They suggested that Mr. Wilder see Frank Sinatra. He made a lunch date with him and Sinatra never showed up, which may be one of the luckiest things that could have happened to us. At this point we got Marilyn Monroe, and the studio no longer felt the need for another big name. Then we signed Jack." Wilder apparently intended to cast Mitzi Gaynor to play Sugar, but after he heard from Marilyn Monroe, the part was hers.

Marilyn married Arthur Miller in 1956 and had only made one movie since they became husband and wife, The Prince and the Showgirl, which had been fraught with its own set of problems. She had been out of Hollywood, concentrating on her marriage, but she was still the clear breadwinner in the family. With Miller's continuing troubles with the government and costly legal fees, she jumped at the chance to work on another film with Wilder (they had made The Seven Year Itch together). She signed on, even though she wasn't too excited to be playing a character so dumb that she wouldn't be able to tell that her two new best girlfriends were actually guys.

The habitually late to the set Marilyn drove Curtis and Lemmon crazy, who had to wait around in their high heels, thick make-up, and wigs for Marilyn to arrive — and then to get a scene right. The most infamous story from the production involves a brief scene near the end of the film, where a bereft Sugar, dumped by Shell Oil Junior (Curtis's other disguise), bursts into the girls' room for some alcoholic comfort. Her one line was, "Where's the bourbon?" But she reportedly kept getting the line wrong, saying "Where's the whiskey?" or "Where's the bottle?" Wilder came up with a brilliant idea — to have the line written on a piece of paper and put in the drawer that contained the bottle, but Marilyn kept forgetting which drawer it was in. The total number of takes were 59. She drove Wilder crazy, but he was always glad that he cast her, and both complained about her and praised her "She has her own natural instinct for reading a line, and an uncanny ability to bring something to it. ... To tell the truth, she was impossible – not just difficult. Yes, the final product was worth it – but at the time we were never convinced there would be a final product."

Filming the Pullman scene
The story may be gospel or apocryphal, but it is true that Marilyn always suffered a sort of stage fright on set, and would delay and delay before she would come out to perform. Once she became involved in The Method, the number of her takes increased, as she would frequently ask a director if she could try a line another way, and then another. Adding to the mayhem was her omnipresent acting coach, Paula Strasberg, wife of The Actors Studio's Lee, who she was constantly consulting with, much to the chagrin of Wilder.

There were many other factors going on in Marilyn's life that made her work on Some Like It Hot difficult. She was caught in a cycle of drug-taking that had become commonplace in Hollywood, using downers and uppers to keep her going. The sleeping pills and painkillers that her doctors supplied in abundance to help curb her insomnia and extreme menstrual pain made her groggy, and it would take several hours in the morning to get her up and running and ready to go. She was trying to make her marriage to Miller work, but there had been problems between the couple from the beginning. Miller spent a lot of time hanging around the set and running interference for Marilyn, but he didn't seem to be able to curtail her pill dependencies or get her to the set on time. She was still reeling from an earlier ectopic pregnancy when she discovered she was pregnant during the making of Some Like It Hot — that brought its own cycle of joy and worry. She would ultimately miscarry the baby in December 1958, after the film had wrapped.
Some other little-known factoids: 
Tony Curtis had some trouble maintaining a higher-pitched voice for his characterization of Josephine, so Wilder had actor Paul Frees dub his lines. 
Marilyn's vocal coach was Judy Garland. 
Marilyn's film contract stipulated that all her films were to be in color, but Wilder showed her the color costume tests with the two actors, and when she saw how the garish make-up photographed she agreed with the director that it would look better in black and white.
Some Like it Hot is as funny today as it was when it first came out. To paraphrase Sugar, it's a real diamond, worth its weight in gold.


Marilyn Monroe: The Biography by Donald Spoto

Conversations with Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond, Go Into The Story, The Black List, by Scott Myers

Behind the scenes Some Like It Hot


Photos from Some Like It Hot

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