‘Some Like It Hot’ Behind the Scenes and Up Close

In 1958 the writer/director famous for “Double Indemnity,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and the “Seven Year Rich” Billy Wilder; made a film that begins as a virtual throwback to silent cinema. The movie was in black and white, and for the first three minutes, there was not one word of dialog. It would go on to be voted the best comedy of all time by members of “The American Film Institute.”

There was even once talk in Hollywood of a remake of the movie. But many Hollywood elites were vehemently against the idea of a remake. Director Sydney Pollak Famously said in “The Making of Some Like It Hot”: “My advice to anyone wanting to remake a Billy Wilder film is don’t, to try to make something like Some Like It Hot is suicide!”

Producer Walter Mirisch had started an independent company called the Mirisch Company, partnering with United Artist. Walter and his brother had approached Billy Wilder about remaking an old German Film called “Fan Fares of Love,” and it was Billy’s idea! The movie was about two German brothers in the height of the great depression who were desperate to find a job had accepted an assignment with an all-girls band. That depiction ultimately was the only similarity between the two movies.

“You Gotta Be Under 25, You Gotta Be Blond, and You Gotta Be Girls!”

Tony Curtis: “He came to me first Billy, we used to run screenings together. One day I was told to come by a bit earlier, Billy wants to talk to you. So, I went by a bit earlier, and Billy took me into his room and said to me: Tony I’m going to make a movie where two musicians see a murder, and they have to dress up as women to escape in a girl’s band”.

“You Gotta Be Under 25, You Gotta Be Blond, and You Gotta Be Girls!”
 Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon on the set of the film Some Like It Hot in 1959 in Hollywood, United States. (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)

The executives at the top decided to bring in Frank Sinatra as well, but that’s easier said than done.

Not an Easy Nut to Crack

The plan was to get Frank Sinatra to play one part and Mitzi Gaynor to play the other. After about a week the program changed. Sinatra was cut from the script after not showing up to a lunch meeting with Wilder. With the bad news came good news as well as shortly after, Billy would get a call from Marylin Monroe saying she would like to do another movie together.

Not an Easy Nut to Crack

Actors Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis perform a scene in movie ‘Some Like It Hot’ directed by Billy Wilder. ‘Some Like It Hot’ won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Billy would go on to say; “Now that we got Tony Curtis, and Marylin Monroe, we don’t need Sinatra, Jack Lemmon is a big enough star!”

Wilder and Americas Sweetheart

Marylin had worked with Wilder on the “Seven Year Rich” and had been studying method acting at the time at the Lee Strasburg acting studio with the ambition of being an actor. She had called Wilder after advice from husband Arthur Miller who encouraged her to accept the role after a recent miscarriage she had suffered.

Wilder and Americas Sweetheart
1959: Actors Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe star in the film ‘Some Like It Hot’. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

This proved to be the best decision a young Marylin could make if she wanted to dip her feet into the world of acting more seriously.

All Day in Drag

Jack Lemmon said in the making of documentary; “He said if you take the part, you’re going to be in drag for 85% of the picture, do you want to do it? I said yes without a second thought.”

All Day in Drag

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“My wife later asked me why did you accept the part before even seeing a script? I told her, it’s Billy Wilder, he’ll write the script with me in mind” Little did Lemmon know just how big this movie could make him!

Collaborating with “Is”

This would be the second collaboration with I.A.L Diamond, known as “IS.” The pair even went on to write ten more films together since! According to Jack Lemmon; “Billy felt that the writer was 90% of the film with directing the only being a small fraction of the business, and started directing to get it on film the way he wanted it.”

Collaborating with “Is”

Austro-Hungarian born American film director Billy Wilder (1906 – 2002) and Romanian-born American screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond (1920 – 1988) share a laugh during the filming of their movie ‘The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes,’ London, England, 1969. (Photo by Susan Wood/Getty Images):

This may be a testament to Billy’s success as even today most movie writers will complain that their writing gets overlooked by directors, and that changes the essence of the script they originally wrote.

Doing Things Billy’s Way

“He always tossed the structure out long before anybody wrote anything,” says Barbara Diamond, Widower of “IS” Diamond when asked why there were so little similarities between “Some Like it Hot” and its German counterpart “Fan Fares of Love.” She goes on to say; “They weren’t improvising when they said they had an unfinished script.

Doing Things Billy’s Way

Source: IMDB

They had everything carefully worked out, they had the spine of the movie, so they knew what would need to happen in each scene” Billy did not seem to want to do a remake, but his own masterpiece inspired by a great concept.

Typed Out Dialogue

According to Barbara, all the dialogue scenes were typed out, with “IS” even talking to himself at home in front of the typewriter to see if the cadence of the film worked out or not. The banter between Lemmon and Curtis was meant to reflect the partnership of Wilder and Dimond’s disrespectful and intimate partnership as two writers who worked together for hours every day.

Typed Out Dialogue

Photo by United Artists/Archive Photos/Getty Images:

This comedic nature would resonate much with the audience who burst in laughter throughout the movie, with many people coming back a second and third time to see it again.

It Had to be Outrageous

Billy had a dilemma on his hands. America was not an inclusive country back in the 50s, and it was not going to be easy for an audience to accept men dressed in drag in a cinema. Billy needed something outrageous to break the glass ceiling, saying “we need to come up with a good reason as to why two men would want to dress up like girls.”

It Had to be Outrageous

Actor George Raft holding a Tommy gun in a scene from the movie ‘Some Like It Hot’ in 1958. (Photo by Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)

He planned to showcase the two as witnesses of the Valentine’s Day Massacre who had to run away from the scariest mob in America!

Movies in Color

By the late 1950s, movies in color had become a commercial necessity. In the context of the time that makes a lot of sense, I mean you’re not going to film a movie in HD when 4k had just come out. This consideration was a concern to Billy as Monroe’s contract stipulated that she would only be in a film if it were in color. Wilder had to convince Monroe and the Mirisch brothers, that despite a multimillion-dollar move budget, that the film would better in black and white.

Movies in Color

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Billy argued that if the movie was going to take place earlier in time, then black and white would give it more value, his convincing argument though was that the makeup on the men would be less noticeable if the movie were not in color.

You Look Like Your Mother

Jack Lemmon spoke of a grueling makeup process that would last days, where he and co-star Tony Curtis would have to sit through long makeup trials to get the right look. Jack had lips painted on very thick so he could make crazy faces with them. He is quoted as saying. “I realized after a while that I began to look like a bad imitation of my mother.”

You Look Like Your Mother

Tony Curtis getting makeup applied by Emile LaVigne on the set of ‘Some Like It Hot’ in 1958 in Los Angeles (Photo by Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)

Tony, on the other hand, did not enjoy dressing up like a woman so much, he says in the “Making of” Documentary, “I didn’t like it I felt uncomfortable dressing up like a woman, and it took me a while to get used to it, Billy would laugh at himself silly when I came out of the dressing room, and jack looked like a pretzel!”

Testing out the New Look

According to Jack Lemmon, the two had a fun idea that before they would go show Billy their new look, they would walk down to the studio commissary and enter the bathroom and see if anyone would notice.

Testing out the New Look

Source: BBC

We went into the bathroom and put on some lipstick over our lipstick and talked in our phony girl voices, and girls came in to look in the mirror and say “Hi!” and we would answer hi how are ya! And they didn’t bat an eyeball! That’s how good our disguise was.”

The Rules of the Game

The two-cross dressing costars had to follow a lot of rules to get it right. Tony reminisces that “there was a whole slew of laws that we had to follow, like walking with the ball of your feet, we wore three to five-inch heels so it would kick your bottom up in the air!”

The Rules of the Game

Photo by United Artists/Archive Photos/Getty Images

When Billy saw it the first time, he said “don’t change anything! Leave it the way it is.” Two grown men putting on five-inch heels; who wouldn’t want to pay to see that!

Monroe’s Acting Coach

Marilyn Monroe may have looked like a natural talent, and a one of a kind beautiful woman, but she was more than that. Monroe was a professional, and she gave every scene in her movies everything she had. According to Tony Curtis Marilyn “Never took her eyes off Paula” referring to Paula Strasberg; who was Monroe’s personal acting coach. There seemed to be a conflict of interest on set.

Monroe’s Acting Coach

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Curtis goes on to mention in his The Making of ‘Some Like It Hot’ interview that although Billy was the director of the movie, Monroe paid no attention to him, and only followed the direct advice of her professional acting coach. At one point, Billy got very unhappy about the whole thing and after a scene yelled “cut!” he then turned to Paula and asked, “and how was that for you Paula?”

Running Wild with Jack

Jack Cole was a Dancer, Choreographer, and theatre director who was known as “the Father of Theatrical Jazz” He had a great relationship with all the actors on set and would have a significant input amongst all the crew involved. When Marylin was dancing in the scene where she sings “Running Wild,” she was actually dancing with Jack who was behind the cameras.

Running Wild with Jack

Source: Choreographer Jack Cole in 1966. (Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)

So, in essence, she mirrored his moves throughout the set when there would be any dancing involved. Must have been a fascinating scene!

Upper Birth Scene

The set on ‘Some Like It Hot’ may sound like a joyful scene, choreographers dancing behind cameras, boys dressing up like girls, the banter between directors, writers, and producers. But Billy brought the best of the best to work with him and expected from them nothing less than a professional environment. Production culture has strict rules, one of them being to hold in your laughter at all costs.

Upper Birth Scene

Photo by Mondadori Portfolio by Getty Images

But during the shooting of the upper birth scene, when 12 “girls” were crammed into a small space to sneak off and get drunk together, it was actually Billy who finally broke the ice on set and burst out laughing in his chair!

Del Coronado

The outdoor scenes were shot in the late summer out in Del Coronado Hotel in Coronado, CA. It would be where the beach scene would be shot, along with “the boat coming away,” a significant portion of the exterior scenes were shot on the site. All the participants on set later interviewed would all mention how much fun they all had at the Del Coronado. There was one problem they had though.

Del Coronado

Photo by Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

The hotel was located next to a Navy Air Force Base, and airplanes would fly over and blow the sound on takes, forcing the editors to squeeze takes in-between.

Pregnancy on Set

During the shooting at Del Coronado Marylin was pregnant. This new pregnancy would prove a challenge for the aspiring actress, as she was very anxious and concerned about having another miscarriage. Paula Strasburg had taught Monroe a relaxation exercise to help tame her anxiety on set, but it quickly transferred into a distinctive nervous tick.

Pregnancy on Set

Source: Gettyimages

When Billy Wilder would shout to her, “Marylin darling, magic time!” she would flail her hands up and down incessantly to try and shake off her nerves and get into character.

No Need to Cut

According to Jack Lemmon, Billy “Never Said Cut.” Monroe would stop mid-scene if it did not seem right for her and start shaking her hands to try to bring herself back into the scene again. It became an emotional challenge, and unless she felt right on set, she was not going to play the scene.

No Need to Cut

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Tony tried to soften the mood with Marylin on the beach and decided to do a different voice than his natural one, in a scene when plays rich man who trips her on the beach just so he can get a chance to talk to her.

Pregnancy Struggles

Marilyn Monroe may have developed a way to shake back into character, but it was not going to help her shake off the ordinary and usual struggles women face during pregnancy. After shooting at Coronado, her ill’s, insecurity’s and anxieties had become more frequent.

Pregnancy Struggles

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

This would be of course at a time when women were not respected in the workplace as equals to men, and Billy and other fellow males, and female actors alike had grown impatient with the multiple takes needed to finish scenes with her.

A Serious Woman’s Conflicting Character

Marilyn Monroe was a classy professional woman, she was business savvy, assertive, and made it her mission to be an excellent example for young girls aspiring for success in America.

A Serious Woman’s Conflicting Character

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Her character on set though played contrary to that role, and at a time where she was mid-pregnancy, and going through so much stress, she had become troubled with the fact that her character was getting in the way of how her peers treated her off and on set.

Master Scenes

Billy Wilder had a particular way of shooting his takes, called “Master Scenes” A master scene is a recording of an entire scene from start to finish. The angle of the shot keeps all the players in full view of the camera and performs as a double function to establishing a good shot.

Master Scenes

Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

A well-done Master Scene was Wilder’s trademark, and he would be one of the first directors to shoot one with a pregnant member on set.

Half a Day in the Trash

Anyone who has ever even made coffee on a production set will tell you how stressful of an environment it is. The most common joke about production sets is “everybody is just waiting for lunch,” and when filming a master scene, you can imagine how hungry, and impatient people may become.

Half a Day in the Trash

Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Billy knew that Marylin was his star and despite her anxiety’s on set, would keep his cool and provide her with whatever she needed to get through the day in peace, but she would often mess up a take, and this would force the whole production to start over again from the beginning. According to Barbara Dimond, one Marylin screw up could cost half a day of filming.

The Archway Scene

In the Documentary “Nobody’s Perfect” – The Making of ‘Some Like It Hot,’ there is an iconic scene where Marylin asks Tony Curtis about a big fish hanging on the ceiling. “What is that?” she asks, Tony answers back in his phony accent, “It’s a member of the hearing family.” Monroe answers back in awe “isn’t it amazing how they get those big fish into those little glass jars!” Curtis reminisced;

The Archway Scene

Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images

it took us a week and a half to shoot that one!” She would ask Tony, “Tony, what’s the line?” he answers back “what is it.” Then she would get frustrated and repeat to him, “what’s the line, Tony!”, he shoots back “that is the line!”

The Love Scene

The “love scene” in the movie would be where Tony and Marilyn’s characters would share their first kiss, according to Jack Lemmon, the production waited two hours for Marilyn to leave the dressing room and come on set. “She came out with her hands flicking up and down yelling “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” says jack in “Nobody’s Perfect.”

The Love Scene

Photo by Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

Billy Wilder had asked Monroe to kiss Tony in front of the camera so that the camera-men can get it right, he got a flat out no from Marylin, who said, “I’ll do it on camera!” Marylin was not trying to be antagonistic though. Her preference was to stick to method theory and let the first kiss actually be the first kiss.

True or False?

By the time the first kiss scene had come around, the production had become unanimously frustrated with Monroe’s behavior on set. She was late coming out of the dressing room daily.

True or False?

Photo by Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

She forgot line after line, she often would have behind the scenes drama with assistants, makeup artists, and even Billy Himself! According to co-star Jack Lemmon, the second Billy said cut after the kiss, as the lights were turning back on, Tony got up and said: “it was like kissing a dictator!” This would be an embarrassing thing for Curtis, and he denies it to this day.

Worst Fears Realized

Monroe had become understandably and increasingly unpredictable. Less than a month filming ended, she was met with her worst fear of all. Monroe suffered a second miscarriage, in light of the miscarriage, any future scheduled shoots, where constructed in a way that had she not turned up, production would be able to carry on without her.

Worst Fears Realized

Left to right: American actor Jack Lemmon (1925 – 2001), Marilyn Monroe (1926 – 1962), and Monroe’s husband, playwright Arthur Miller (1915 – 2005), on the set of ‘Some Like It Hot,’ directed by Billy Wilder, 1959. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

This second miscarriage would spell out a big struggle for the rest of her career. Monroe would go on to develop growing mental illness accompanied by substance abuse.

The Maracas

Another iconic scene in the film Is one where Jack Lemmon’s character “Jerry” announces that he is getting married. He and co-star Curtis begin to argue about all the marriage considering Jerry was proposed to by another man. Jack was eager about the scene as it was the part of the film where he had the most lines.

The Maracas

Source: IMDB

I did not ever think of Maracas, and it was never in the script, I had different indications I set up to get my lines with “Felicia,” and I thought I had it great.”

Silly Billy

In “Nobody’s Perfect” Jack remembers every detail of the pivot Wilder made in his big scene. “I walked into the studio happy as a clam, and Billy was holding two maracas, dancing around and flailing his arms.

Silly Billy

Source: rnbee.ru

I thought to myself, what the heck is he doing? Billy says here, go get set up take these with you, and in between every line shake these around and sing “dada tata” sing whatever you want and blow your lid with happiness.

Never Doubt the Great Gazoo!

Jack goes on to express how concerned he was with Billy’s idea. “I said uh huh, sure okay. I called Tony from the dressing room, and said, you won’t believe this! We haven’t even begun shooting the scene, and he made a disaster of it! He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

Never Doubt the Great Gazoo!

Source: rnbee.ru

He may be great, but he’s lost it!” In his interview with BBC in 1992, Billy says “I had oodles of that type of stuff so that in each line I could control the length of the scene, jack at first was outraged, but then he began to understand it.” Jack would later see the film with the audience, and see their positive reaction as they laughed at each line because the maracas were able to keep their focus.

83 Takes

According to Wilder, at one point of shooting Marylin needed a total of 83 takes to get her lines right. The complicated line was “It’s me sugar.” By the 30th take, Billy says, “look we are going to put that on the door!”

83 Takes

Source: IMDB

After the 60th take, I said to her “come on Marylin relax, don’t worry, she answered, “worry about what?” For her next lines in the take, the crew put little notes in each drawer in the room for her to read the lines as she went along.

Perfect for the Part

Despite her misgivings, Wilder goes on to say “If she gets the line out, it was absolutely perfect with regards to the timing, the sound of her voice, she knew where the jokes were. You can have 50 different actresses some of them were all quite good, with great technique, but nobody would have been better than her.

Perfect for the Part

Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Marylin Monroe may have been irreplaceable, but she was consistently unreliable, and 50-day shooting schedules would almost always get stretched north of 70.

The Last Scene

The last scene of the movie was actually not planned until the night before shooting, and it was also the final scene to be shot in the film. Billy and the production were not sure what the last line should be.

The Last Scene

Tony Curtis rides a bicycle on the set of ‘Some Like It Hot’ in 1958 in Hotel Del Coronado (Photo by Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)

In a tribute to I.A.L. Diamond in 1988, Billy said on a podium, “We needed a final line, a final, final line, a spleen shattering belly laugh, then “IS” came up with “nobody’s perfect “, we were not crazy about it, but it was late at night, and we were pooped. So, we said let’s put it mimeograph and, in the paper, and when we get to it, we’ll come up with something better. That just goes to show you how little we know.”

The Perfect Bid

Barbara Diamond reflected on the last scene as well saying; “IS” wrote the scene, and left it with me, and I read it, and he asked me what I thought, and I said I absolutely loved it but the last line was weak” and he said “that’s what Billy thinks too, but your absolutely wrong, and so is Billy, and I’ll tell you why.”

The Perfect Bid

Source: Photo by Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

This is a classic bid. The audience loves to know what’s coming, they love anticipating a joke, and everyone knows the last line for Jack is going to be “I’m a man,” and their waiting and waiting and waiting for the explosion, and then we surprise them by giving them the flattest line there is.”

Last Line

The final lines of the movie are by far the most outrageously funny lines in movie history. (Spoiler Alert!) The final lines of the movie come when Jerry dressed as a girl still, is sitting on a speed boat with his fiancé, “OSGOOD” and is trying to convince him that they should not be together anymore. Jerry says, “I have a terrible past. For three years now, I’ve been living with a saxophone player“. OSGOOD answers back, “I forgive you.”

Last Line

Source: medium.com

Jerry with growing desperation says, “And I can never have children!” that gets shot down with, “we’ll adopt some.” Jerry finally rips off his wig; and in a male voice says, “But you don’t understand OSGOOD, I’m a MAN!”, Then in the final line, OSGOOD says, “Well, Nobody’s Perfect.

One of a Kind

Billy Wilder really was a one of a kind movie maker. The film itself was cut entirely only a couple of days after filming was finished. No other director ever did anything like that. Wilder would yell “cut!” in the middle of a scene, and when everybody thought “why doesn’t he just wait a couple more seconds until the scene is over.”

One of a Kind

Photo via John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

What they didn’t know is that he would physically cut the film in the camera exactly where he cut the scene, meaning he wouldn’t have to put much effort into cuts after the filming.

Overbudget

Everyone was happy when the film was finally released, everyone that is except the accounting department at “United Artists.” United Artist were the financial backers of the Mirisch brothers. According to them, the picture was exceptionally over budget.

Overbudget

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Their relationship with the Mirisch brothers was still somewhat new at the time, and the only thing they were left with was the hope that the movie would do well enough to bail them out.

First Preview

According to Lemmon, the first preview was “the worst reaction” he had ever witnessed. The first preview was an utter disaster. The audience that showed up at the Bay Theatre in Pacific Palisades California was picked abruptly and were not expecting the movie to be a comedy.

First Preview

Photo by Michael Crabtree – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

Jack goes on to mention how mothers and fathers took their children by the hand in the first fifteen minutes of the movie vocally protesting the movie saying “what is this terrible thing!”

The One Laugher

Amongst all the unhappy moviegoers that night, there was one man that laughed incessantly throughout the whole showing; Comedian Steve Allen. Allen famously made a shout out in an interview to all the people who sat with by him that night.

The One Laugher

Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

I’d like to say to the other 1,200 people that were in the theatre that night, I told you so dummies, I have a list of their names here, and I think you should be interviewing them, because the real question is, why weren’t they laughing? Any sensible person would laugh at that it was a classic!

Billy Misunderstood

At the end of the showing, Billy stood outside the theatre, and all the Mirisches or “Miri” as Jack used to call them, had huddled up around him and demanded he cut 15 minutes out of the movie. According to them, the movie was a farce, and a farce could never stand profitable for two hours. The most it would do was an hour forty.

Billy Misunderstood

Marilyn Monroe in the middle of a throng of fans on the beach on the set of the movie ‘Some Like It Hot’ at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego in 1958. (Photo by Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)

The next morning Billy called Jack and told him “we will preview this Friday again in Westwood.

The Proof was in the Pudding

Jack was admittedly concerned about the reception of the next preview. It would be the ultimate test, these were the younger crowd, students from USC. If they didn’t like it, then it wasn’t right! Jack asked Billy “so what did you cut?” Billy answered back bullishly, “60 seconds, and if they don’t like it, that’s too bad for them, its 60 seconds because I say so!” Billy wasn’t concerned about the movie as much as he was worried about respect for his artistic process.

The Proof was in the Pudding

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

This straight edge work ethic is what ultimately earned films like ‘Some Like It Hot’ the rightful recognition they deserved. He knew it was good, he knew he was right, and no opinion could change that. The proof was in the pudding all along.