In 1955, Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond met at a Writers Guild dinner. Wilder had collaborated on scripts with a number of other writers since splitting with his longtime partner Charles Brackett in 1950. He was impressed with Diamond's skits for the guild dinner, and since Diamond already had more than a dozen film scripts to his credit, including the Cary Grant-Ginger Rogers-Marilyn Monroe comedy Monkey Business
(1952), Wilder asked him if he would be interested in co-writing a movie. They were very different men ¿- Wilder the extrovert, Diamond the shy, quiet one ¿ - but they found they shared the same sense of humor and a penchant for chain-smoking, liberal politics, bridge, and old movies. Their first project was the Audrey Hepburn-Gary Cooper romance Love in the Afternoon
(1957). When Wilder began work on his next picture, Witness for the Prosecution
(1957), he chose Harry Kurnitz, a writer he thought more suitable for the very British whodunnit. But he came back to Diamond with a project he'd been kicking around for years.
Wilder wanted to make a film based on the German movie musical Fanfares of Love
(1935), co-authored by Robert Thoeren, a friend of his in pre-Hitler Berlin. The story involved two unemployed musicians who disguise themselves in various ways ¿ as black men, gypsies, women ¿ to get work in different orchestras. Wilder bought the rights to the broadly comic property, but the only thing he and Diamond kept was the premise of two male musicians joining an all-female band. By the time he was ready to make Some Like It Hot
, Wilder had dropped his original idea of casting Bob Hope and Danny Kaye in the leads and was leaning toward an up-and-coming young actor. Spotting Jack Lemmon at a restaurant one night, Wilder walked up to him, explained the basic story and asked if the actor was interested. Lemmon said "okay."
Wilder had already approached Tony Curtis after seeing his performance in Sweet Smell of Success
(1957), and Curtis jumped at the chance. For the role of Sugar Kane, the ditzy blonde singing star of the orchestra, Wilder initially pursued musical star Mitzi Gaynor. But since none of the three actors under consideration were proven box office stars at the time, Wilder and Diamond thought about tailoring the part of Daphne for Frank Sinatra, who liked the story when he first heard it. Luckily, nothing came of that. In the meantime, Marilyn Monroe, who was without a doubt a superstar at the time, became available and was interested. With Monroe committed to the project, Some Like It Hot
finally had the marquee value it needed, and Wilder went forward with Lemmon and Curtis.
In the minds of many people in Hollywood, marquee value was the least of Wilder's problems. When he described the plot to David O. Selznick, the prestigious producer of Gone With the Wind
(1939) told him he was nuts to consider making a movie that started with the St. Valentine's Day Massacre then segued into broad gags. "Blood and jokes do not mix," Selznick insisted, having little effect on Wilder's determination.
Although the two always had a strict rule about who wrote which line, Wilder always credited Diamond with the film's justly famous closing line. The original ending, suggested by Monroe, was to have been a fade-out with Sugar and Spats (George Raft) doing a tango together. But Monroe's unpredictability made Wilder seek a solution that wouldn't require shooting ONE MORE SCENE with her. The night before the ending had to be shot, Diamond came up with the idea of having Jerry (Lemmon) as Daphne on a motorboat speeding away from Miami with his rich older suitor, played by veteran comic Joe E. Brown. Daphne tries a number of ways to explain to Osgood why "she" can't marry him, but the undaunted millionaire overlooks them all. Finally Jerry tears off his wig and says in exasperation, "Aah, I'm a man." Osgood amiably replies, "Well, nobody's perfect!" "This line is entirely from the brain of I.A.L. Diamond," Wilder said. "I had nothing to do with it. Not even the exclamation point!"
by Rob Nixon