That Old Feeling: Hot and Heavy

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To the press, Wilder was diplomatic: "She does beautifully once she gets underway... If I demand sixty takes Marilyn accepts the additional work without question." He didn't disclose the reason he had to do 60 takes: because Monroe couldn't remember the simplest line ("Where's the bourbon?" or "It's me — Sugar"). At other times, she was a resourceful, responsible actress, nailing on the first take a long, complex scene with Lemmon in the train's upper berth. "I damn near shit," he said much later. "It was five minutes after eight and we're done."

But mostly she was stubborn. When Wilder told Monroe he wanted her to lose some of her heft (about eight pounds, or the weight of the Taschen book), she refused, saying the audience needed a way to tell her apart from her co-starring drag queens. So she went onscreen appearing much heavier than before or after, with a big gut and a big butt, though her face was never prettier. She looks even fuller in the flimsy, white, breast-caressing dress she wears on the bandstand. In the last scene, when the despondent Sugar is now clothed in widow's weeds: the same outfit, but in black.

There are plenty of "Some Like It Hot" anecdotes (retold in the new book) that display traditional on-the-set banter. Here's one: Orry-Kelly, who dressed all three stars, had the cheek to tell Monroe that Curtis' ass was better than hers — upon which provocation she opened her bloused and retorted, "Well, he doesn't have tits like these." But for Monroe, the shoot was often a hard slog. "We are going through the Straits of Dire," she wrote to her friend Norman Corwin, the radio writer. "It's rough and choppy." Of course, she was the one roiling the waters. By this stage in her career, the insecurities and illnesses that doomed her last project, "Something's Got to Give," were already vexatiously evident. Her unaccountability helped give Wilder a nagging backache, even as she later blamed him for a miscarriage she suffered after the shoot.

In her depression, she may have recalled a maxim about acting that she copied in the cover of her prompt book: "It's not more important that life." (It's only a movie, Norma Jean.) Some of the jottings are hints to Sugar's character: "inocent" [sic] and "Don't Take Their Tone!" (i.e., don't speak like a female impersonator). Some are specific: "Freeze like a bunny"; "lets herself go really relaxed." And, gee, how does Sugar pronounce her last name? Marilyn has scribbled three different phonetic spellings. Notations for the long scene on the yacht, where she tries to thaw her frigid millionaire, read like tips from Wilder, or from Monroe's acting coach Paula Strasberg: "Alice in wonderland"; "watching like a Cat"; "Continue the barrage, get him or else"; "Getting drunk on kisses." And a few are messages a child might write herself after attending a Lee Strasberg class: "WHAT I am doing not HOW"; "All I have to do is to play THAT moment"; "Trust it, enjoy it, Be Brave".

Today we can feel sorry for Monroe, dead at 36, or sympathetic to the put-upon Wilder, still around at 95. But if they had to fight and yank and delay and wheedle to get what's on the screen, so be it, because what's there is choice. She was Brave; he trusted her; we enjoy it.


It's clear that Marilyn, Sugar, Wilder and the movie all understand each other from her entrancing entrance, 24 mins. into the film. To the soundtrack sass of a trombone warbling the first notes of "Sugar Blues," Monroe clutches her ukulele case and briskly sashays down the Union Station platform. Passing the Eddie Cantor-eyed Joe and Jerry, she lets her caboose swing as if it were on a Wild Mouse track. Suddenly a whoosh of steam shoots across her stern; even the engine can't help emitting a wolf whistle and making a grab for her. The steam geyser also reminds viewers of the rush of subway air that elevated Monroe's skirt in her previous Wilder film, "The Seven Year Itch," and prepares them for another comedy in which men — those "dirty beasts, with eight hands," as Daphne righteously calls them — will scheme to take the sexy blond to bed.

Perhaps it could have been any '50s sexpot (Mitzi Gaynor?); Wilder always thought the two men carried the movie, and certainly their attempts to elude their killers while chasing after a dame gives "Some Like It Hot" its plot propulsion. But casting Monroe raised the film's and the audience's expectations. She was not just a dame; she was the dame, the reigning sex diva, and the last one in movie history whom one could call "inocent."

Monroe's acting was akin to Greta Garbo's: an art that both ignored craft and transcended it; it was off-kilter, alien and seductive. Nobody used the language, oral or gestural, in quite the way they did. In this movie set in the year that silent pictures gave way to talkies, Monroe lets Curtis and Lemmon rat-a-tat their dialogue like a couple of pre-Code sharpies — say, Gable and Cagney — while she makes cogent use of the conventions of screen miming. She slumps when discouraged, puts her hand to her open mouth when surprised. Her Sugar represents not only a "whole different sex" but an earlier, now vanished movie era. To these modern men on the run, she is a glorious cinematic anachronism.

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