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 Hotto 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 ass than she did. But Marilyn had a sharp retort, she unbuttoned her blouse and said, “Tony Curtis doesn’t have tits like 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.
A new world record was set on November 17, 2016 for the most ever paid for a personal dress. This for the “Happy Birthday Mr. President” nude illusion gown worn by Marilyn Monroe on May 19, 1962 as she sang from the stage to President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden. The gown, designed by Hollywood costume and fashion designer Jean Louis, was auctioned for $4, 810,000 including commission and taxes. It was bought by the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum at Julien’s Auctions . Marilyn Monroe had the gown made for her for $12,000. She died three months later.
Marilyn called the gown “skin and beads,” and the audience gasped when she removed her coat on stage, thinking at first she was naked. The gown was made of a flesh-colored souffle, and decorated with rhinestones, not beads. But Marilyn’s point was that it was tight enough to be her skin. It sold at auction at Christie’s New York for $1.2 million in 1999. Marilyn’s film-worn “subway” dress from The Seven Year Itch actually set a higher record at auction, fetching $5.5 million dollars at the Debbie Reynolds/Profiles in History auction in 2011.
Here are the 10 most expensive movie star gowns and costumes ever sold:
1. Marilyn Monroe’s The Seven Year Itch, 1955 “Subway” rayon crepe halter dress with pleated skirt designed by William Travilla. Sold at the famous Debbie Reynolds-Profiles in History auction of June 19, 2011 for $5.5 million.
2. Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Mr. President” gown, made of souffle with hundreds of sewn rhinestones and designed by Jean Louis. Worn at the Madison Square Garden Democratic Party fundraiser/Birthday Party for John F. Kennedy. Sold at the Julien’s auction of November 17, 2016 for $4.8 million
3. Audrey Hepburn’s My Fair Lady, 1964“Ascot” white embroidered lace Edwardian gown with black trim designed by Cecil Beaton, including the large picture hat. This was another costume sold at the Debbie Reynolds/Profiles in History auction of June 19, 2011 for $4.4 million.
4. Judy Garland’s Dorothy Pinafore from The Wizard of Oz. This was the costume worn by Judy Garland throughout the movie. The blue and white checked pinafore and off-white blouse with rick-rack trim was designed by Adrian. Several “test” versions were designed before this final dress was used in the film. A solid blue “test” version was sold at the Debbie Reynolds auction in 2011 for $1.1 million, although the heavy promotion for the auction had much to do with that price. The pinafore being auctioned here is one previously owned by Kent Warner, the costumer who had “liberated” many costumes from MGM including several pairs of the Ruby Slippers. He always picked the most important items, with his rationale being to either preserve them, or in the case of the 1970 MGM auction, as payment for organizing costumes for the auction. Kent Warner first had this costume up for auction at Christies in 1981. Labels in this costume have Judy Garland’s name and the number 4461, a sure way to trace its provenance. Sold at the TCM/Bonhams auction on November 23, 2015 for $1.625 million.
5. Marilyn Monroe’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953, “Two Little Girls from Little Rock” sung with Jane Russell in a matching gown. Red sequin showgirl gown with deep V cut designed by William Travilla. Sold at the Debbie Reynolds auction of June 18, 2011 for $1.44 million.
6. Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz, 1939 “Dorothy” pinafore – a solid blue “test” variant designed by Adrian. This pinafore was worn for the first two weeks of shooting before the director was replaced. Sold at the Debbie Reynolds/Profiles in History auction of June 18, 2011 for $1.1 million.
7.Audrey Hepburn’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961 black evening gown designed for the scene where she eats a croissant while looking at the Tiffany’s window,. Sold at Christie London December 5, 2006 for $900,000. The sale was to raise money for the City of Joy – aid for India’s poor. The gown was donated by its designer Hubert de Givenchy, although it was not the gown worn by Miss Hepburn in the film.
8. Marilyn Monroe’s Some Like it Hot black souffle dress decorated with strands of bugle beads. It was designed by Orry-Kelly for her scene in Some Like it Hot, 1958, where she sings sitting on a piano. It sold at the Julien’s auction of November 17, 2016 for $460,00 .
9. Marilyn Monroe’s Something’s Got to Give , 1962 silk crepe large rose-print dress with deep V cut back, designed by Jean Louis and worn for the never completed film. Marilyn was fired from the 20th Century-Fox film but when co-star Dean Martin said he would walk if she was let go, she was later re-hired. She died in August 1962 before the movie could finish. Sold for $358,000 at the Julien’s auction of June 27, 2015.
10.Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” hot-pink silk taffeta gown with the huge bow at the back worn when she sings the song in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953. Designed by William Travilla, sold at the Profiles in History auction of June 11, 2011 for $356,500
Movie costumes and gowns are fragile and rare collectibles, and few of the older ones have survived from Hollywood’s Golden Age. They command even higher prices than jewelry, and have that quality of being the most intimate and iconic of objects. Six of the top ten were once owned and worn by Marilyn Monroe. Two were worn by Audrey Hepburn. Two of the others were worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. If other Oz costumes were included, they would have made the top ten also, such as the Cowardly Lion costume and the Ruby Slippers. One of the most expensive of costume items are Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers. There are several pairs in existence. The ones in best condition were purchased from the Profiles in History consignor in 2013 after they failed to sell for $2 million. They were purchased privately by Leonardo diCaprio and Steven Spielberg to go to the new Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences Museum. The Wicked Witch’s Hat from The Wizard of Oz, fetched $230,000 at its last auction. Some costumes came close to the Top Ten, including Kate Winslet’s “Rose” dress from Titanic at$330,000, Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss “Fire” gown from The Hunger Games, designed by Trish Summerville, which sold at auction for $300,000 in 2013. One of Julie Andrew’s costumes from The Sound of Music was frequently reported in the media as selling at auction for $1.56 million. These media sources failed to say that the auction was for a set of costumes from the film, not just hers, so I do not include it in the Top Ten. The prices quoted in the Top Ten includes auction house commissions, which are generally the total figures reported in the media.
The stellar prices paid for these costumes, and the fact that relatively few are in institutional hands, should mean that some will reappear at auction and set new records. This is the second Top Ten list I’ve produced in as many years.
The 1950s are presented in various and changing images as the years go by, bolstered by films and TV shows: suburban growth; stereotypical families; mass consumerism; the cold war and the threat of the atomic bomb; rebelious rockers; and a seemingly simpler even idyllic time. In Hollywood the Production Code was still in force, and therefore the censor still prevailed in what was shown on the screen and how far a screenplay could go in subject matter and treatment.
In the post-war 1950s, the combined restrictions from film censorship and the lagging societal constraint on sex in general had the effect of unleashing an ever-present focus on the image of female sexual attraction on film. While beautiful movie stars with sex appeal had been around since the silent screen, the overt sexual magnetism of the 1950s stars is contrasted and often made contradictory by the wholesome image of the star. This role was played by several stars including the beautiful Esther Williams, and was perfected by Doris Day.
The European movie-stars on the other hand provided the desired amount of foreign, and a perceived lack of restraint to play daring roles in film, while wearing provocative costumes and fashions. American G.I.s during World War II already had a taste of their appeal. Sofia Loren, beginning her film career in Italy in 1950, virtually defined the post-war look of continental sexual allure. Such a look is not based on showing a lot of skin, nor is it entirely based on the French New Look in fashion. But in the dress above worn by Sofia Loren, the style shows off the contours of her body perfectly, and it does share with the New Look a reliance on corsetry to pinch the waist in order to accent the hips and bust, the latter the particular sexual fetish of the 1950s.
Another European bombshell exploded on the scene in the 1950s: Brigitte Bardot. She began making movies in 1952, but her beauty and looks typecast her in lightweight eye-candy roles. Her then-husband Roger Vadim, part of the French New Wave, cast her along with Jean-Louis Tintignant in And God Created Woman (Et Dieu Crea la Femme) in 1956, and an iconic star was born. Bardot was very much a portent for the look of the coming 1960s (and later decades). She is pictured below in a costume from And God Created Woman. The outfit was designed by French couturier Pierre Balmain. It is a simple black shirt with a long center-buttoned skirt. Later in the film she dances in the outfit with the buttons undone to her waist. Brigitte Bardot had previously popularized the bikini bathing suit on the French Riviera.
America’s swimsuit goddess was Esther Wiliams, a previous National champion swimmer who became a movie star at MGM. The studio created the wildly popular genre of “acqua-musicals” based on her skills and personality. Following years of the Great Depression and WWII, the smiling face and healthy physique of Esther Williams combined with the sunny skies of California made for a popular series of films. The costume and fashion designer Irene dressed Esther Williams in her early MGM movies, although Helen Rose designed for her 1950s films, including the classic Million Dollar Mermaid, 1952; Easy to Love, 1953; and Dangerous When Wet, 1953. Both designers designed Esther’s unique swimsuits for the films.
The fashion trend that defined the basic look of the 1950s started in Paris with the couture creations of Christian Dior. Following years of deprivation during World War II, French couture went on a splurge in the use of fabric, which had previously been rationed. The
“New Look” as it was dubbed by Life Magazine in late 1947, was based on a pinched waist, a full skirt with layers of petitcoats, and a full breasted-bodice, the whole based on foundation undergarments. The style was a return to the hourglass silhouette popular during the 1860s and earlier.
The model below shows a Christian Dior fashion. During the 1949-1950 period, both the New Look and the broad-shouldered, pencil-skirted look of the 1940s could be seen side-by-side. There were some groups of women that demonstrated against the New Look, asking why was Dior trying to hide women’s legs.
As would increasingly be the case, youth, led the way in starting the trend in the U.S. The movies continued to have a major impact through the combination of costume designer and star they dressed. One such combo was Elizabeth Taylor and Helen Rose. Helen Rose had been dressing Elizabeth since she was 15 and starring in A Date with Judy. Her violet eyes, dark hair and prominent eyebrows made for a beautiful impression on screen – and a star was born. Rose designed the Father of the Bride movie in 1950, and subsequently Elizabeth’s real wedding gown, and then the movie sequel. This was followed by Love is Better Than Ever, made in 1951 but released in 1952. In this film Rose dresses Elizabeth Taylor in New Look dresses. Elizabeth had become themodel for teenage girls, and both the New Look and Helen Rose became hot.
The New Look with its petticoats and prim attention to proper dress seems foreign to the last 30 years of teenage styles, but it was the trend of the day. As ever, teenage girls wanted to look different than their mothers. Shown below is a costume sketch designed by Mary Wills for the movie Teenage Rebel, from 1956. This design was for the teenager played by Betty Lou Keim, the “rebellious” daughter of the character played by Ginger Rogers. A teenage girl yearning for womanhood and showing decollete was the height of fashionable statements of the day.
Elizabeth Taylor matured quickly. The red dress that Helen Rose designed for her in The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), caused problems with the on-set fiilm censor because of the amount of cleavage that was displayed. This caused a work stoppage and loud arguments by the director Richard Brooks. Brooks ultimately won.
Elizabeth Taylor and Helen Rose teamed up on the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1958. Helen Rose created a dress that would become the fashion rage. The “Cat” dress it would be called, and garment manufacturers were knocking it off all over the world. The chiffon cocktail dress with full skirt and Grecian bodice became so popular that Helen Rose decided to start her own fashion line, and continued selling it in various colors for years. When dressing Elizabeth Taylor, her shoulders and chest were always emphasized to good effect.
Another screen goddess from the 1950s was Grace Kelly. Her smashing entrance into Jimmy Stewart’s apartment in Rear Window (1956) dressed in Edith Head’s stunning black and white evening outfit is unforgettable. The costume is a simple black decollete top and a full white chiffon skirt decorated with beaded twig decorations in black. It was one of Edith Head’s best designs. Grace wears black strappy heels with the outfit.
Edith Head also designed Grace Kelly’s costumes for To Catch a Thief (1955). Grace Kelly was the perfect embodiment of the 1950s sexual image: the wholesome and proper young woman with a lurking sexual appetite, waiting for the right occasion. “Do you want a leg or a breast” she asks Cary Grant as they go out on a picnic. Her rose-colored skirt and white-embroidered sleeveless top shown below is a beautifully-designed outfit for the occasion.
Grace Kelly had worked as a model in her acting student years, and her poise shows in the photo below, wearing an Edith Head gown for the 1955 Academy Awards, where she won Best Actress for Country Girl.
Doris Day seemed to represent the ethos of the 1950s in America. She had started as a singer with big bands and became a hit with the movie Romance on the High Seas, in 1948. U.S. G.I.s in Korea voted her their favorite movie star in 1950. Her movies in the 1950s often had songs that became hit singles, and her teamwork with co-stars Rock Hudson and Tony Randall started in 1959 with Pillow Talk and continued into the 1960s. Doris Day was always a great dresser in her roles, and she worked with the best: Jean Louis; Edith Head; Helen Rose, and she was especially close to Irene, with whom she worked on Midnight Lace, and Lover Come Back, two of the last three movies Irene designed before her death.
In the photo below Doris Day wears a popular leisure outfit of the 1950s, capri pants, called pedal pushers in the day, along with a long-sleeved, collared blouse.
Some actresses were more daring in their looks on screen, and film directors and producers pushed to accent their beauty and sexual appeal. Martha Hyer is shown below in 1957, showing the silhouette that emphasized the then-popular missile-cone bustline.
The movie star looks of Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, and Kim Novak in the1950s created a huge demand for a moulded silhouette emphasizing curves and a prominent bust line. What was achieved through foundation undergarments on film was now becoming increasingly available to the average woman consumer. Nylon was making bras lighter and cheaper, and conical stitching was providing that perfect “missile bra” look so desired in the mid 1950s.
The “Sweater Girl” look had also became popular, starting with the films of Lana Turner. In the 1950s there was a competition for the title of “National Sweater Queen.” In the early 50s the tight sweater was worn with the very full circle skirts made popular by the New Look. Later in the decade and into the early 1960s, tight pants were joined with tight sweaters to make the very hot look as shown below by Kim Novak.
And of course what would the 1950s be without Marilyn Monroe, star then and everlasting star. She had so many looks, but costume and fashion designer William “Billy” Travilla dressed her best in her films for 20th Century-Fox. Below she wears a gold lame gown from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Travilla knew how to accentuate Marilyn’s curves while providing her glamorous and beautiful costumes. He was also daring with such outfits as the one below.
As the 1950s rolled into the early 1960s, fashions made no particularly big swings. The “revolutionary” styles were around the corner in 1963 and beyond. The sexual revolution of the 1960s was concentrated on the young. By then the sexual tidal wave in film fashion had already been crashing on the censor’s gates for years.
A blog about classic movie costume design and fashion