Behind the Camera on SOME LIKE IT HOT
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Stories about Marilyn Monroe's erratic behavior and difficulty on movie sets are so numerous and legendary that it's no surprise that Some Like It Hot was an equally problematic shoot for her. But no look at the behind-the-camera production of Some Like It Hot would be complete without at least mentioning some of the frustrations experienced by Monroe's co-stars and compatriots. Monroe was known for frequently being late - very late - or not showing up at all due to illnesses, nerves, etc. She also had problems remembering lines, which required numerous retakes on several occasions. Simple dialogue like "Where's the bourbon?" or "It's me, Sugar," had to be done again and again, with Wilder resorting to taping bits of her dialogue to props and furniture.
"We were in mid-flight, and there was a nut on board," said Wilder in reference to working with Monroe on Some Like It Hot. The director had worked with Monroe before on The Seven-Year Itch (1955) but either she was easier to work with then or Wilder's memory was short. Or, perhaps her box-office value as Sugar was so important that Wilder thought the aggravation would be worth the final result. Whatever the rationale for hiring Monroe as Sugar, problems began almost immediately on the set of the film. Wilder wanted to shoot the film in black and white because he was afraid that Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, in their female disguises, would look too ghoulish in color. Plus, their garish appearance would also require a great suspension of disbelief by the audience in assuming that other characters in the story were not wise to their drag act. On the other hand, Monroe preferred to be photographed in color but she reluctantly gave in when a color test of the male stars revealed the director was right. Still, the incident planted the seeds of mistrust, and Monroe soon became convinced Wilder was her enemy. She was positive his professed health problems were concocted to mock her own string of illnesses. In retaliation, she would silence Wilder when he tried to give direction, telling him he would make her forget how she was going to play the scene. Other times, she'd cry when she did a bad take and run to her drama coach Paula Strasberg, holding up production for minutes, even hours, at a time. Contrary to what other directors and co-stars have said, though, Wilder didn't blame Strasberg for any of this behavior, saying she was "most cooperative in trying to pull the girl together."
Marilyn had other things on her mind, too. She learned she was pregnant when production started, and because she had miscarriages in the past, she became extra cautious about how early she arrived on the set and how long she remained there. And she was having marital problems that would eventually lead to her divorce from third husband, playwright Arthur Miller, a frequent and some say disruptive presence on the set. She was also acutely aware that at least one of her co-stars was none too happy about working with her. Tony Curtis hated that his own performance deteriorated over the course of the 30 or more takes often needed to get a good scene out of Marilyn; as a result, Wilder ended up having to use more footage of Marilyn than him. And Curtis and Lemmon, who had to kick off their shoes and soak their painful feet the second Wilder said "Cut," were usually forced to stand around in painful high heels for long periods while their co-star flubbed her lines. Curtis was quoted as saying Monroe was "a mean little seven-year-old" and that he would rather be kissing Hitler than her in their love scenes. "I think Marilyn was mad as a hatter," he said later. "If she hadn't had that sexy look and the 38-inch bust, she'd have been locked up for sure." Not that Curtis was a model of stability himself. He had been going to analysis as much as four times a week for several years. And when the time came for him to appear on the set in drag for the first time, Lemmon had to take him by the hand and literally pull him out of his dressing room.
By all accounts, Lemmon was the bright spot in the whole mess. He even got along with Monroe and forgave her eccentricities. He believed Marilyn simply couldn't go in front of the camera until she was absolutely ready. "She knew she was limited and goddamned well knew what was right for Marilyn," he said. "She wasn't about to do anything else." He also said that although she may not have been the greatest actor or singer or comedienne, she used more of her talent, brought more of her gifts to the screen than anyone he ever knew.
As for his own performance, Lemmon totally threw himself into it, spending hours with makeup technician Harry Ray to get the right look, taking tango lessons (from co-star George Raft), frustrating the professional female impersonator brought in to teach him and Curtis how to act like women (Lemmon felt that too much regal perfection would be wrong for the character and dangerously unfunny). As filming progressed, Wilder became more and more impressed with the young actor. "His unabashed forwardness was making that preposterous situation work, elevating, removing the taint of transvestism," the director remarked. Wilder said he and Diamond decided right there to work with Lemmon again and began planning for the trio's next venture, The Apartment (1960). The feeling was mutual. Lemmon praised Wilder for coming up with an ingenious bit of business for the scene where Jerry/Daphne tells Joe/Josephine he has become engaged to a millionaire. To allow for the long laughs they knew would follow each of Lemmon's outrageous remarks, Wilder handed the actor a pair of maracas and had him dance around and shake them after every line.
After shooting was completed, Wilder threw a celebration dinner at his home for cast members and friends. Marilyn Monroe was not invited. The crushed star had to have it explained to her that she had cost the production roughly half a million dollars with her delays and unprofessional behavior. Wilder had generally unkind things to say about her after this film. When asked if he would do another project with her, he replied, "My doctor and my psychiatrist ... tell me I am too old and too rich to go through this again." After reading some of the things Wilder said about her in print, Monroe called his home and told his wife to please give her husband the message - "to go f*** himself." But time ¿ and boffo box office ¿ heals all wounds. Wilder changed his tune later, commenting, "It takes a real artist to come on the set and not know her lines and yet give the performance she did." A year later, at the premiere of The Apartment, Monroe threw her arms around him, told him how much she loved the picture, and whispered that she would like to play the lead in Irma la Douce (1963), a role that eventually went to Shirley MacLaine.
by Rob Nixon