Billy Wilder’s SOME LIKE IT HOT starring Marilyn Monroe is still hot, the 60th anniversary of its making. It is screened every year to a large crowd at the Coronado Island Film Festival – on the beach in front of the Hotel del Coronado where a large part of it was filmed. Like many of Hollywood’s greatest movies, it has a fascinating backstory and a yacht-full of movie making convolutions.
Director Billy Wilder had bought the rights to a German movie about a couple of Jazz musicians pretending to be women. It was the Depression and they just wanted to get into any band with an opening . Billy and his writing partner I. A. L. (Iz) Diamond spent nearly a year on the script, changing the circumstances to having an all-woman band in the 1920s. Here their two characters get mixed up in a gangland event shooting, and are now being hunted as witnesses. Tony Curtis as Joe (Josephine) and Jack Lemmon as Jerry (Daphne) dress up as women as a disguise and join the band. They now escape by train but are stuck in their female roles as musicians. For Jerry and Joe that’s all of a sudden not so bad when they discover Marilyn Monroe as band-member Sugar Kane Kowalcyzk is aboard. Suger Kane drinks, but Jerry saves her job by stating that a fallen flask of whiskey is his, thus making a good friend. Later Suger visits his sleeping compartment and a flustered Jerry is only saved by more band-women visitors. They are on their way to the fictional Ritz Seminole Hotel in Florida, the story stand-in for the Hotel del Coronado, where they will be playing. Once there, among the resort guests is the very rich Osgood Fielding III, who immediately starts flirting with Daphne (Jerry/Jack Lemmon). Jerry is ready to give up their act as he rooms with Joe (Josephine/ Tony Curtis). But Joe says that the gangster “Spats” (George Raft) will be looking for any male musicians, and besides, he has his own designs on Suger. For this, he pretends to be the Shell Oil heir, speaking with the accent of Cary Grant as he woos her on the beach.
Censorship still existed at the time, and the characters and subject matter of the film had problems. The National Catholic Legion of Decency found Some Like It Hot to contain “screen material elements that are judged to be seriously offensive to Christian and traditional standards of morality and decency. …The dialogue was not only ‘double entendre’ but outright smut. The offense in costuming was obvious.” The MPAA was more sympathetic, citing Shakespeare as a precedent in cross-dressing.
Marilyn Monroe had worked with Billy Wilder previously on the Seven Year Itch, and asked Wilder to work with him again. She consented to work on Some Like it Hot (SLIH) for 10% of the gross. When she signed, Lemmon came on board, SLIH becoming one of seven films he made with Wilder. These were difficult times for Marilyn. She was pregnant. She was taking drugs. She had her acting coach Paula Strasberg telling her what to do. She overdosed and spent several days at the hospital. So now she couldn’t remember her lines, and take after take was needed – as many as 47 for some very simple lines of dialogue. Some days she wouldn’t come out of her dressing room ( more like a motor home) until noon.
The film’s costume designer was the famed Orry-Kelly. He was the native Australian who had dressed Bette Davis and all the other Warner Brothers stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Orry-Kelly and Marilyn Monroe got off on the wrong foot right off the bat. Orry-Kelly was known to be as temperamental as the stars he dressed. He made the mistake of saying Tony Curtis had a better looking rear-end than she did. But Marilyn had a sharp retort, she unbuttoned her blouse and said, “Tony Curtis doesn’t have these.”
But Orry-Kelly still managed to design some great looking outfits for her.
Tony Curtis and Marilyn had once had a brief affair. And according to Curtis in his autobiography, the affair had being rekindled on the set. Although the script has him playing an inhibited role in this scene, Marilyn seems very natural in this scene.
The stolen evening on Osgood’s yacht is followed the next day by chaos as the mob descends on the resort hotel. The two “girls” scurry for safety, although Daphne/Jack Lemmon ends up with Osgood/Joe E Brown escaping on a boat together. The final line has become a classic in comedic cinema, a sentence that was a place- holder sentence written by Iz Diamond until they came up with a better line. They never did.
Orry-Kelly won an Oscar for Best Costume design for black and white film. At the time, there were two costume design Oscars, the other was for color films. It also received nominations for Best Actor (Lemmon), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography (again for black & white film), Best Director and Best Screenplay. The American Film Institute selected it the #1 comedy of all time. Marilyn’s black cocktail dress pictured in this blog post sold at auction for $460,000.