Tag Archives: Knickerbocker Hotel in Chicago

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD Part III:  “Some Like It Hot”

We’re currently in the middle of a great many “hot” news stories.

But let’s step back, take a break from the news, and think about something else.

Something funny.

How about a film that’s been called “the greatest film comedy ever”?  It’s even been judged “the #1 comedy film of all time” by the American Film Institute.  And it’s one of my all-time favorites.

Countless words have been written about “Some Like It Hot” during the past six decades.  But in case you’re one of those unfortunates who’ve never seen it or haven’t seen it in a long time, I’ll highlight some of my favorite things about it.

Then I’ll tell you my own personal connection to it.

 

HIGHLIGHTS

The writing

Astoundingly clever, can’t-miss dialogue by Billy Wilder and his partner, I.A.L. Diamond, has garnered plaudits from moviegoers for the past 60 years.

The direction

Director Billy Wilder, also heralded for films like “Sunset Boulevard” and “The Apartment,” made his American directorial debut with the comedy “The Major and the Minor” (another film I have a personal connection to; I’ll save that for another day).

Wilder keeps the storyline in “Hot” moving along at an astonishingly rapid pace.  The audience has to stay on its toes to keep up with it.

The casting and plot

Perfection on both counts.

The two male leads are perfect.  Tony Curtis (playing Joe), already established as a young leading man, was cast first.  Once Wilder signed Marilyn Monroe as his female lead, he added Jack Lemmon (as Jerry).   Jack was known for his many appearances on TV, and he’d already starred in “It Should Happen to You” (1954) and “Mr. Roberts” (1955).

Wilder actually had Frank Sinatra in mind for this role, but Frank never showed up for a meeting with him, so he chose Jack Lemmon instead.  Jack turned out to be a brilliant addition to the cast, much better at outrageous comedy than Tony Curtis.

The duo zooms through the film at a breakneck pace, beginning with their desperate search for work as musicians in 1929 Chicago.  When no gigs (for male musicians) turn up, and they happen to witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre by mobsters in a Clark Street garage, they move fast.  They borrow some women’s clothes and makeup and add a couple of wigs, hoping to pass as women so they can join an all-girl band that’s about to depart for Florida.  They know the mob is searching for them (“Every hood in Chicago will be after us”) and fervently hope their disguises will keep them from being bumped off.

Marilyn Monroe (M for short) already had enough star power to get top billing over the two men.  By 1959, she had impressed moviegoers in a number of acting roles.  She had also earned her singing stripes in the film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953), featuring her dynamic performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”  She proved she could excel at comedy as well when Wilder directed her in “The Seven Year Itch” (1955).  (I keep wanting to insert a hyphen between “Seven” and “Year,” but darn it, the film’s title doesn’t have one.)

In “Hot,” she confirmed that she’d mastered both singing and comedy as well as straight acting.  (Too bad she didn’t believe that herself.  She reportedly felt terribly insecure throughout her career.)

Her entrance in this film is simply spectacular.  As Jerry and Joe (J and J for short) approach the train leaving for Florida, M whizzes by, stunning both of them. Dressed in chic black, she’s startled by a puff of steam that highlights her provocative derriere.  Jerry notes her enticing walk, famously blurting out “Look how she moves!  It’s like Jell-O on springs!” adding that “she must have some sort of built-in motor!”  Once on the train, M launches into her first song, a terrific rendition of “Running Wild.”

As Sugar Kane (born Sugar Kowalczak), M latches on to J and J, accepting them as sympathetic new girlfriends.  She confides that she’s always had problems singing with male bands, especially with unfaithful saxophone players, adding that “I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.”  (A great line.  She later repeats it when she’s alone with Joe in the train’s bathroom, where he learns of her hopes to marry a millionaire, and he wishes her “the sweet end of the lollipop.”)

Both of the men fall for her, but once they’re in Florida, it’s Joe who devises a complicated plot that leads M to meet with him, posing as a millionaire with a Cary Grant accent, on a borrowed yacht.  There he tells her that “girls leave me cold.”  M is so anxious to land a millionaire that she does everything she can to seduce him.  The lengthy seduction scene is my least favorite part of the film for a couple of reasons.  First, because M (who otherwise comes across as somewhat ditsy but not stupid) is depicted as too easily taken in by Joe’s charade, and second, because it goes on much too long.

Meanwhile, Jerry, who’s dubbed himself Daphne, has met Osgood, an eccentric (and real) millionaire.  We first see Osgood, who’s played for laughs by old-time actor Joe E. Brown, sitting on the hotel porch in a line-up of old geezers ogling the band members when they arrive in Florida.  He soon focuses on Daphne, and while Joe is on Osgood’s yacht romancing Sugar, Daphne is at a nightclub, hilariously dancing the tango until dawn with Osgood.

When J and J meet up later in their hotel room, Jerry, as Daphne, announces, “I’m engaged!”  But when Joe asks “Who’s the lucky girl?” Jerry’s answer is “I am!”

A smaller role, that of hard-boiled band leader Sweet Sue, is played admirably by Joan Shawlee.  When she tells J and J that she won’t put up with her girls getting involved with two things during working hours, liquor and men, Jerry (as Daphne) immediately responds:  “Men? We wouldn’t be caught dead with men!  Rough, hairy beasts with eight hands!”  The audience is clearly in on the joke.

Marilyn’s singing

M does a sensational job performing three 1920s-era songs: “Running Wild,” dating from 1922; “I Want to Be Loved by You,” first performed by Helen Kane in 1928 (who became known as the “Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl” and seems to have inspired M’s performance here); and “I’m Through with Love,” which actually dates from 1931.  M performs this one, a much sadder song than the others, dressed in black and appearing far more somber, as befits the song and her feelings at this point in the movie.

Costuming

First, the men’s clothes: As women, both men wear authentically designed dresses that women in the 1920s would have worn.  Demure high-necked dresses, for the most part.  These were designed for them by the renowned fashion designer, Orry-Kelly, who’s much better known for the gowns he designed for M.  In some scenes, J and J don women’s hats typical of the 1920s.  And for their appearances on the bandstand, they wear more ornate black garb, appropriate for musicians performing for an audience.

M never fails to look deliciously provocative, even in a bathrobe.  But the dazzling gowns Orry-Kelly designed for her two appearances with the band (one of which she also wears in the scene on the yacht) are jaw-dropping examples of gowns that simply shout “sex.” Even though M is almost completely covered by fabric, the fabric chosen is essentially see-through, so that much of her body appears to be nude.  The designer strategically added beads and sequins in especially revealing places, but the gowns have nevertheless left moviegoers agog.  M wears a fluffy white stole that covers the gowns whenever she’s outdoors, and that stole keeps them from being totally indecent by 1959 standards.

The light-colored dress worn on the bandstand for “I Want to be Loved by You” and on the yacht was designed for the 1959 film, but it has always reminded me of the dress M famously wore three years later.  In May 1962, M appeared at a birthday celebration held at Madison Square Garden for then-President John F. Kennedy.  There were longstanding rumors that she and JFK had been intimate, but these rumors were never proved to be true.

At the 1962 fundraising event, M wore a similarly jaw-dropping sheer-fabric bead- and rhinestone-covered dress while she breathlessly sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”  She reportedly wore nothing under the form-fitting dress, which she paid for herself, and had to be sewn into it.

Sadly, with her personal life in a steep decline, M was found dead in her home, a probable suicide, a few months later.

 

Other notable things about the film:

  • The comic depiction of the Chicago mobsters is classic. Led by bootlegger-in-chief “Spats,” played by longtime movie star George Raft, the film mocks the mobsters’ somewhat idiotic personas.  When we first see Spats in Chicago, he protests being apprehended by veteran actor Pat O’Brien, Irish cop par excellence.  O’Brien tells him, “Call your lawyer if you wanna,” and Raft responds, “These are my lawyers.”  When a few goofy guys stand up, Spats adds, “All Harvard men.”  (This line strikes me as particularly funny.)

When the mobsters later show up for a convention of “opera lovers” at the same Florida hotel where J and J are hiding out, J and J immediately pack their things to leave, but their departure is stymied by some hilarious happenings, leading to a terrific chase scene.

  • The last line has become famous. In Osgood’s motorboat, Daphne tells Osgood that s/he can’t marry him, naming one reason after another.  Osgood is OK with all of them.  Finally, Jerry (as Daphne) is so frustrated that he pulls off his wig and yells, “I’m a man!”  Osgood’s reply:  “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

It’s always hard to come up with a great finish, and the writers debated what to use as the last line.  But after some debate, this one became the last line, and it’s now a cherished part of Hollywood history.

  • The film’s original preview, held at a theater in Pacific Palisades, was something of a flop. The audience wasn’t expecting a comedy, and everyone left thinking it was a failed melodrama.  For the second preview, held at the Westwood Village Theatre, the studio wisely signaled in advance that it was a comedy.  The audience laughed from the very beginning.  (The Westwood Village Theatre is close to my heart.  Another story for another day.)

 

  • The “Florida” hotel, called the Seminole-Ritz in the film, is actually the Hotel del Coronado, a luxurious and historic beachfront hotel located across the bay from San Diego. The scenes shot there were shot first, and all went well.  Later scenes, shot at the studio, proved to be more difficult, especially for M, who sometimes needed 50-plus takes.

The Coronado is still a beautiful hotel, well worth a visit.  I was a guest at a rehearsal dinner held there in 2007, and that event was even more memorable than the wedding itself, held at a location in San Diego.

  • High heels play a role in this film. When J and J arrive at the Chicago train station, they’re both struggling with wearing high heels.  Jerry exclaims, “How do they walk in these things?”  Both actors, trained by a famous female impersonator, eventually mastered wearing heels.  But the appearance of heels on Jerry, near the end of the film, is a tip-off to the mobsters that the newly-disguised men are the witnesses the mob has been pursuing.  (A similar giveaway appears in the 1938 Hitchcock film “The Lady Vanishes,” when a fake nun is spotted wearing high heels.)

By the way, I’ve long disparaged the wearing of high heels.  [Please see the most recent blog post where I’ve argued against them:  https://susanjustwrites.wordpress.com/2017/06/28/declare-your-independence-those-high-heels-are-killers/ ]

 

MY PERSONAL CONNECTION

Whenever I see this film (and there have been countless times), I can never forget the very first time I did.

When my high-school senior prom loomed, my most pressing concern was who would be my date.  My current crush, a friend since first grade who’d metamorphosed into the man of my dreams?  (I hoped so.)  Last year’s junior prom date?  (I hoped not.)  Who would it be?

As luck would have it, an amiable and very bright classmate named Allen T. stepped forward and asked me to be his prom date.  I could finally relax on that score.

Allen and I went on a few casual dates before the prom.  On one notable date, we saw “Some Like It Hot” at a filled-to-capacity downtown Chicago movie theater, one of those huge ornate palaces on Randolph Street, where we sat in the last row of the balcony.

The film was brand-new and terrifically funny, and both Allen and I loved it.  But Allen’s delight was unfortunately cut short.  When he heard the now-famous last line, he laughed uproariously, threw his head back, and hit it–hard–on the wall behind our seats.

I felt sorry for him—that must have hurt—but I still found it pretty hard to stifle a laugh.  Luckily, Allen recovered right away.  And I don’t think it hurt his brainpower.  As I recall, he went on to enroll at MIT.

Although the bloom was off the rose by the time the prom came along, Allen and I went off happily together to dance on the ballroom floor of the downtown Knickerbocker Hotel.

But what I remember even more vividly than the prom itself is the time Allen and I shared our first viewing of “Some Like It Hot.”

 

[You can see what I wrote about my senior prom, and proms in general, in my blog post, “Proms and ‘The Twelfth of Never’”  https://susanjustwrites.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/proms-and-the-twelfth-of-never/ ]

 

Proms and “The Twelfth of Never”

It’s prom season in America.

Do you remember your senior prom?

The twelfth of June never fails to remind me of mine.

The prom committee named our prom “The Twelfth of Never,” and it’s easy to remember why.  The prom took place on June 12th.  The name was also that of a popular song recorded by Johnny Mathis–one of my favorites on his album, “Johnny’s Greatest Hits.”

As one of Johnny’s fans, I owned this album and played it over and over till I knew the words to all of the songs, including this one.  Many of his songs became standards, and PBS has recently been showcasing his music in one of its most appealing fund-raising lures.

I immortalized the song title in my own small way by writing in my novel Jealous Mistress that the protagonist, Alison Ross, hears it playing while she shops in her supermarket in 1981: “My fellow shoppers were gliding up and down the aisles of the Jewel, picking items off shelves to the tune of ‘The Twelfth of Never.’”

When I was 11 or 12, my favorite crooner was Eddie Fisher, who was then at the top of his game.  But by my last year of high school, I’d shifted my loyalties to Johnny Mathis and Harry Belafonte.  In addition to Johnny’s album, I treasured Belafonte’s astonishing “Belafonte” LP and played it, like Johnny’s, over and over, learning those words, too.

Although I wasn’t part of the prom committee (I was busy chairing the luncheon committee), and “the twelfth of never” referred to a date when something was never going to happen, I was okay with the name the committee chose.  My more pressing concern was who would be my date.  Would it be my current crush, a friend since first grade who’d metamorphosed into the man of my dreams?  (I hoped so.)  Would it be last year’s junior prom date?  (I hoped not.)  Who exactly would it be?

As luck would have it, an amiable and very bright classmate named Allen stepped forward and asked me to go to the prom.  I could finally relax on that score.  But we weren’t really on the same wave length.  When we went on a few other dates before prom, they became increasingly awkward.

On one date we saw “Some Like It Hot” at a filled-to-capacity downtown Chicago movie theater, where we sat in the last row of the balcony.  The film was terrific (it’s been judged the top comedy film of all time by the American Film Institute), and Allen clearly loved it.  His delight unfortunately ended in an ache or two.  When he heard the last line, spoken by Joe E. Brown to Jack Lemmon (“Well, nobody’s perfect”), Allen laughed uproariously, threw his head back, and hit it on the wall behind our seats.  I felt sorry for him—it must have hurt—but it was still pretty hard to stifle a laugh.  (I don’t think it hurt his brainpower, though.  As I recall, Allen went on to enroll at MIT.)

Although the bloom was off the rose by the time the prom came along, Allen and I went off happily together to dance on the ballroom floor of the downtown Knickerbocker Hotel, noted for the floor’s colored lights.  (The Knickerbocker spent the 1970s as the icky Playboy Towers but since then reverted to its original name.)  We then proceeded to celebrate some more by watching the remarkable ice-skating show offered on a tiny rink surrounded by tables filled with patrons, like a bunch of us prom-goers, at still another big hotel downtown.

Most of us were unknowingly living through an era of innocence.  For some of my classmates, the prom may have involved heavy kissing, but I doubt that much more than that happened.  In my case, absolutely nothing happened except for a chaste kiss at the end of the evening.

For better or worse, proms have evolved into a whole different scene.  In April, The Wall Street Journal noted that although the rules of prom used to be simple, they’re more complicated today.  At Boylan Catholic High School in Illinois, for example, a 21-page rulebook governs acceptable prom-wear.  Other schools require pre-approval of the prom dresses students plan to wear–in one school by a coach, in another by a three-person committee.

Administrators add new rules every year “to address new trends and safety concerns.” These have included banning canes, boys’ ponytails, and saggy pants, as well as two-piece dresses that might reveal midriffs and dresses with mesh cutouts that suggest bare skin.

But students have begun to revolt.  The students at Boylan Catholic have organized their own prom, arguing that the 21-page dress code contributed to body-shaming.  They point to a rule that states: “Some girls may wear the same dress, but due to body types, one dress may be acceptable while the other is not.”  A male student who helped organize Morp (the alternative prom) said that “girls were offended…. Somebody needed to step up and do something.”

At a school in Alabama, one student hoped to take his grandmother to his prom since she’d never been to one, but her age exceeded the maximum of 20, so she wasn’t allowed to go.  The student was “mad,” skipped the school prom, and celebrated at his grandmother’s home instead.  Not surprisingly, the school defended its rule, stating that it wanted to discourage students’ inviting older relatives who might present a safety issue by drinking alcohol:  “It just causes problems.”  But the school district later joined with a senior center to host an annual prom for senior citizens.  Presumably, Granny went to a prom after all.

According to the Journal, New York City students have another option altogether.  The New York Public Library hosts an annual free “Anti-Prom” in June for students 12 to 18, who can attend in any garb they choose.

In the Bay Area, another phenomenon has occurred:  “promposals”–photos and videos posted on social media in which one student asks another one to prom.  The San Francisco Chronicle views these as a way for kids “to turn themselves into YouTube, Twitter and Instagram sensations.”  In 2014, a boy trotted up to school on a horse, holding a sign that asked his girlfriend to “ride to prom” with him.  Last year, a kid built a makeshift “castle” and wrote a Shakespearean-style play to ask a friend to prom.  And in Berkeley, a boy choreographed a hip-hop dance routine with a bunch of other kids and performed it for his hoped-for date in front of 200 classmates.

In April, the Chronicle reported data on the national emergence of promposals.  From only 17 on Twitter in 2009, the number grew to 764,000 in 2015, while on YouTube, videos went from 56,000 in 2009 to 180,000 last year.  (Millions of teens also post pictures about the prom itself on Instagram.)  The promposal phenomenon may be dying down, with fewer elaborate ones noted this year at a school in Oakland.  But who knows?

One thing we know for certain:  The high school prom-scene has changed.

But even though things have changed, prom-goers today are still teenagers much like us when we went to prom, with all of the insecurities and anxieties that go along with being a teen.

For me, mostly-happy memories of “The Twelfth of Never” return every year on the twelfth of June.   Maybe mostly-happy, or not-so-happy, memories of your prom return every year as well.

As Johnny’s song reminds us, our memories of prom can endure for “a long, long time.”