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The film opens with a sequence depicting the "Manhattan Indians" sending their wives and children away to the countryside during the hot summer. After their families depart, the men are distracted by the sight of a beautiful young Indian woman walking by. Voice-over narration describes the action and introduces the character of "Richard Sherman." Robert Strauss's character is referred to as both "Kruhulik" and "Krahulik" by contemporary sources. According to Hollywood Reporter news items and information in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, several studios, including Warner Bros., M-G-M and Twentieth Century-Fox, were interested in obtaining the screen rights to George Axelrod's hit Broadway play and asked PCA officials to evaluate the play's potential for translation into a movie. On December 16, 1952, Hollywood Reporter noted that M-G-M was hoping to secure the rights in order to star June Allyson and Van Johnson in the film. In every case, however, the PCA responded that the play could not be made into a film, as the Production Code maintained that "adultery must never be the subject of comedy or laughter." In the original play, Richard does have a sexual affair with "The Girl," and the PCA did not approve the final screenplay until all suggestions of the affair were removed.
Hollywood Reporter news items reported that in February 1953, director Billy Wilder was discussing an independent film deal with Axelrod and hoped to film three separate versions simultaneously: an English-language version starring Tom Ewell and Marilyn Monroe; a French-language production starring Fernandel; and a Spanish-language picture starring Cantinflas. On February 20, 1953, Hollywood Reporter announced that agent Charles K. Feldman had acquired the screen rights to the play for $255,000, and that Wilder would direct the picture and might "also figure in the ownership of the rights." According to information in the Charles K. Feldman Collection at the AFI Library, Feldman and Wilder also considered producing an Italian-language version of the film, starring Gina Lollobridgida. The February 20, 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the film could not be released before January 31, 1956, because the play was still enjoying very healthy business on Broadway, and that the payments to Axelrod and the play's producers were spread over a period of years.
The Feldman papers reveal that he approached a number of studios, including Columbia, Warner Bros. and United Artists about distributing the picture, and that while Feldman preferred to distribute it through United Artists, Wilder persuaded him to co-produce the picture with Twentieth Century-Fox and distribute through that studio. Part of Wilder's reason for wanting to work with Fox was that it would be easier to obtain the services of Marilyn Monroe as the Girl, because Monroe was under contract to Fox. Feldman was Monroe's agent, and his papers confirm that when he and Wilder signed with Fox, the deal was partially predicated on obtaining Monroe, who consequently did not have any rehearsal or vacation time between making her previous Fox film, the 1954 release There's No Business Like Show Business (see below), and The Seven Year Itch.
A Hollywood Reporter news item announced Feldman and Wilder's co-production deal with Fox on May 12, 1954. Although the February 20, 1953 news item speculated that Ewell, who would soon win a Tony Award for his role in the play, would star in the film, modern sources state that Walter Matthau was Wilder's original choice for the role of Richard. The DVD release of the film contains Matthau's screen test for the role, which was directed by Wilder on June 15, 1954 and co-starred Gena Rowlands as the Girl. [There is no indication, however that Rowlands was considered for the film.] The Feldman papers reveal that after Wilder decided against Matthau, as being too little known, both he and Twentieth Century-Fox production chief Darryl F. Zanuck considered casting either Gary Cooper or William Holden as Richard. July 1954 memos in the Feldman Collection reveal that James Stewart was also interested in the role but could not participate due to other commitments.
Eventually it was decided to cast Ewell, who is billed onscreen as "Tommy Ewell." In a September 20, 1954 memo to Feldman and Wilder, Zanuck stated: "If I had read the script at the time we were casting the picture I would never have recommended William Holden or anybody else except Tommy Ewell. No one I can think of can play this particular script. I didn't quite understand it at the time but in re-reading it again I now believe that Holden would have been as big an error as Gary Cooper." Zanuck added: "In spite of the enormous success of this play on the stage it would not be, in my opinion, 50% of the picture it will be with Marilyn Monroe. She is an absolute must for this story."
As noted by contemporary sources, a few sequences of the film were shot on location in New York City, and a frenzy of publicity surrounded Monroe's appearances there. Location sites included Manhattan, Pennsylvania Station and the outside of the Trans-Lux Theater on the corner of 52nd St. and Lexington Ave. An August 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item and the film's pressbook reported that a sequence featuring Yogi Berra and Eddie Lopat at Yankee Stadium was filmed during a "Yanks-Indians game" on September 1, 1954, but the sequence was not included in the completed picture. The Feldman papers confirm that the scene was shot and was to be included in the "gossip sequence," in which Richard imagines the news of his flirtation with the Girl spreading throughout New York. In correspondance between Feldman and others involved in the production, the sequences in which Richard imagines things are referred to as "dream bubbles."
The film's most famous scene, in which Monroe stands over a subway grating to enjoy the breeze blowing up her skirt, was filmed in the early morning hours of September 15, 1954 in front of a crowd of over a 1,000 spectators. Modern sources frequently assert that the shooting of the sequence contributed to the demise of Monroe's short-lived, troubled marriage to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio, who had married Monroe only nine months earlier, had not planned to attend the location shoot, but was encouraged to do so by gossip columnist Walter Winchell. During the filming of the "skirt blowing" sequence, DiMaggio allegedly became infuriated by the huge crowd's opportunity to ogle his wife's legs, as her skirt was blown up much higher than it does in the completed picture. DiMaggio and Monroe reportedly fought after the location filming was completed; two weeks later, Monroe filed for divorce. Modern sources confirm that the New York footage of the sequence could not be used because of the noise from the crowd and had to be re-shot on the Fox lot. The image of Monroe in the white halter dress, with her skirt flowing around her knees, has become one of the most well-known images of her and is often copied or parodied in films, television and print.
When production resumed at the Fox studio shortly after the New York location sequences, Hollywood Reporter news items included George Givot, Mercedes Marlowe and Almira Sessions in the cast, although their appearance in the released picture has not been confirmed. Modern sources add Ron Nyman (Indian) to the cast. Despite complaints from Zanuck, contained in the Feldman papers, that the production was falling behind schedule, in part because of Monroe's illnesses and need for repeated takes, Feldman supported the actress, stating that the additional takes were required due to the lack of rehearsal time, and that she worked fifteen days straight in order to make up time she took off during her divorce proceedings. Monroe completed retakes for the film in January 1955, despite being on suspension from the studio for asserting that her long-term contract was no longer legally binding. Monroe formed her own corporation with close friend Milton Greene, with whom she intended to produce films, but later in 1955, signed a much more favorable contract with Fox, which awarded her greater freedom and higher pay.
After production on The Seven Year Itch was completed, the PCA agreed to issue the film a MPAA certificate number on the conditions that "all references to glands" in the dream bubble sequence between "Helen" and Richard on the patio were deleted; the hayride sequence was shortened; and one of the three shots of the Girl's skirt blowing in the subway breeze be eliminated. Numerous contemporary reviews commented that the play's story and risqu dialogue were considerably toned down for the film version. After the film first opened, however, it was protested by the National Catholic Legency of Decency, which threated to give it a "C," or condemned, rating.
Among the aspects of the picture protested by the Legion, which had been included in the original screenings of the film, were a sequence in which "the plumber" drops his wrench into the Girl's bubble bath and must retrieve it, and a line in the skirt-blowing scene in which the Girl states that she feels sorry for men having to wear " those hot pants." The Motion Picture Herald Prod Digest review called the "hot pants" line "some of the more objectionable dialogue in the picture," but the Hollywood Reporter review praised the plumber sequence. The scenes were cut from the thirty-seven prints then "in the field," according to a June 9, 1955 telegram from Feldman, and on June 30, 1955, the Legion of Decency issued the picture a less stringent "B" rating for treating "in a flippant and farcical manner marital fidelity." The Legion also objected to the implication that the Girl is nude in her much-discussed "U.S. Camera" photograph and insisted that a photograph of her wearing a bikini be inserted in order to dispel the implication. The Feldman papers reveal that all of the eliminations were restored for overseas distribution. According to information in the PCA file, the film was completely rejected for distribution in Ireland and was called "indecent and unfit for general exhibition" by the Dublin Board of Censors.
Although a April 12, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Sammy Cahn had been assigned to write lyrics for Alfred Newman's instrumental theme "The Girl Upstairs," no vocal song was included in the completed picture. The Feldman papers add that Jules Styne and Cahn wrote a song for Monroe, titled "The Seven Year Itch," to sing at the picture's end, but despite Feldman's hopes that the song would be a hit and therefore increase box-office revenues, as did the popular title song from the Fox film Three Coins in the Fountain, it was not used. One of the changes from the play to the film was the use of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in the "seduction scene" rather than Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill's "September Song," which was used in the play.
On May 4, 1955, Hollywood Reporter noted that Fox paid an additional $175,000 to Axelrod and the play's producers for the right to release the picture in June 1955 rather than in January 1956, as was originally contracted. The immense publicity for The Seven Year Itch included a four-story cutout of Monroe, in the pose with her skirt blowing up, being hung over the Loew's State Theatre marquee in New York City. According to May 24, 1955 Hollywood Reporter and New York Times news items, the Legion of Decency objected to the revealing cutout and it was replaced with a "more decorous" fifty-two foot version. A June 17, 1955 telegram from publicist Charles Einfeld to Feldman, contained in the Feldman papers, reveals that some newspapers refused to run the ad featuring Monroe's windswept skirt pose, and other ads had to be used in its place.
On June 1, 1955 a "sneak preview" was held in New York, and Monroe attended the widely publicized event with DiMaggio, even though their divorce had been finalized by then. Numerous other theaters across the country, including in Chicago and Los Angeles, used variously sized cut-outs of Monroe to adorn their marquees. According to a June 28, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, publicity for the film included a picture book entiled Marilyn Monroe as the Girl. The "over 100 candid photographs" were taken by Sam Shaw, who took the famous photographs of Monroe with her skirt blowing. The Seven Year Itch became one of Fox's highest grossing film of 1955.
The film contains numerous tongue-in-cheek references to the movie industry, such as the scene in which Helen tells Richard that he imagines things in CinemaScope with stereophonic sound; a satire on the film From Here to Eternity in the dream bubble in which Richard is kissed on the beach by "Elaine"; and when the Girl refers Richard to "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" in his dream bubble in which she is telling everyone about his alleged attack upon her. The film's inventive opening title cards, designed by Saul Bass, received much commendation from reviewers, including the Motion Picture Herald Prod Digest critic, who stated: "The picture deserves at least a variant of an Academy Award for its extremely effective main title." Ewell won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actor-Musical/Comedy for his performance as Richard. The Seven Year Itch was number fifty-one on AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs list.
In November 2000, People reported that Darryl Hannah was starring in a stage production of The Seven Year Itch in London, and that the producers had approached the Los Angeles design house of Travilla, who designed Monroe's white halter dress, for a reproduction of the dress for Hannah to wear.