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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/ ]

 

Italy Was Amazing, and So Were We

Have you ever watched the TV reality game show, “The Amazing Race”? It features a fast-paced race to destinations around the world.
Competitors are teams of two people who share the tension and the mishaps they encounter along the way, hoping to be the first team to reach the final destination. The teams must be in some sort of relationship, including friends and relatives, and almost every season includes one team composed of a parent and an adult child. The competition is tough, but the reward is great: the winning team shares one million dollars.
I never considered competing on the show myself, but my daughter Leslie and I lived our own version of “The Amazing Race” during our recent trip to Italy. Time and again, we went zooming from one place to another in an attempt to reach our destination on time. Hair flying, clothes flapping, our wheelies spinning behind us at a furious pace, we always got where we needed to go…but it wasn’t always clear that we would.
It all started when we arrived in Rome early on a Monday morning in October. We’d reserved online (with Trenitalia) two seats on the fast train between Rome and Florence scheduled to depart Termini, Rome’s central train station, at 2:30 p.m. Worried that our flight might be delayed, we allowed a long layover between our arriving flight and the train reservation. An Italian friend also warned us that the fast train would be packed with business travelers going to Florence from Rome on a Monday. Hence the reservation.
As things turned out, our flight arrived on time at Fiumicino, the Rome airport, around 8:30 a.m., leaving us six hours to connect with our train. We weren’t upset about the six hours—yet—because we weren’t sure how long it would take to get from the airport to Termini. A taxi would be expensive. Luckily, one of our guidebooks mentioned a new shuttle bus between Fiumicino and Termini, and hustling past passport control, we ran to find the shuttle. It was still boarding, with only a few minutes to spare, and out of breath and sweaty, we found seats across the aisle from each other.
The shuttle bus moved slowly through rush-hour traffic and stopped outside Termini at about 10 a.m. We retrieved our suitcases and entered through the door closest to the shuttle bus drop-off. We knew we had loads of time to kill, and we didn’t want to waste any of our precious hours in Italy sitting around Termini. So, hoping to learn how to get on an earlier train to Florence, we searched for a helpful employee. The first employee we encountered—in a surprisingly uncrowded part of the station–was rude and dismissive, making clear we had to keep our reservation because we had a special price we got online.
Disheartened, we envisioned a long wait at Termini, and the two of us set off in search of food and a restroom.
We walked down a narrow hallway and discovered a small snack shop, where we took turns using the few euros we’d brought from home to get something to eat. While Leslie ate, I headed for a nearby restroom. Employing the very useful phrase “Dov’è …?”, I followed the route described by a friendly clerk and was startled to discover an enormous and busy part of the station we hadn’t known existed. Hundreds of travelers were milling around, eyes focused on a huge arrivals-departures board on the wall above some ticket windows.
I went back for Leslie, and we quickly saw that several trains would be leaving Rome for Florence well before 2:30. But how to exchange our reserved tickets for tickets on one of those? Hopeful travelers like us were grabbing numbers to talk to a ticket agent, and we grabbed a number, too. But the numbers being served were hundreds away from new numbers like ours.
Even more disheartened, we resigned ourselves to hours in Termini, probably never getting on any train earlier than the 2:30 we’d reserved. Just then, an older Italian man suddenly appeared at my elbow. “Can I help you?” he asked.
Who was this stranger offering help? My first thought was that he was a con man hoping to take advantage of a pair of vulnerable American tourists. He seemed to focus especially on me, a woman of a certain age, rather than my attractive younger daughter. Hmmm…was he hoping to be Rossano Brazzi to my Katharine Hepburn?
I must have looked dubious, but I quickly explained our situation, and his English was good enough to grasp the problem. He instantly offered us real help, escorting us out of the enormous room to a Trenitalia office where a clerk immediately exchanged our tickets (for a fee I was happy to pay) and reserved seats for us on the 11:30 fast train to Florence.
But by this time it was nearly 11:25! We had to RUN. So moving even faster than we did to catch the shuttle from Fiumicino, we began running to the platform where the train was about to leave. The kind stranger grabbed one of my wheelies, and the three of us set off. Our wheelies spinning, our hearts racing, Leslie and I boarded the train just in time.
In return for his help, our kind Italian stranger asked only that I look for him at Termini when I returned from Florence and have a drink with him. I’d have gladly done that had I returned to Termini at a time when that might have worked. But I never did, and I departed Termini hoping he knew how very grateful we were for his help.
Our seats on the train were excellent, and our arrival in Florence went smoothly. A taxi took us to our hotel, where we settled in for four wonderful days and nights in that extraordinary city. On our last day, we were hoping to travel by bus to Siena. The weather forecast the night before predicted heavy rain, so we figured we’d stay in Florence instead and hit some museums we’d so far missed.
We left our hotel at nearly 11 a.m., prepared for rain, and were instead greeted by sunshine and wet pavements. The rain had come and gone. We instantly decided to head for Siena and set out on foot for the bus station. We knew it was very close to the train station, so, consulting our map, we aimed for the train station, assuming we could find the bus station from there.
We made tracks and quickly arrived at the train station. But where exactly was the bus station? Its location was NOT obvious, and we frantically searched the area till we found it. We then rushed to the ticket window and somehow managed to explain what we wanted. Cash was required. Did we have it? Rummaging through our wallets, we came up with enough cash to buy the tickets.
The next bus was scheduled to leave within a few minutes, so we tracked down the right bus and clambered on, finding seats just in time. If we’d missed this bus, we’d have been stuck at the bus station for over an hour, losing all that time in Siena. Once again, we barely made our connection. Once again, I felt like the parent in an Amazing Race parent-child team.
The hours we spent in Siena were joyful. Lunch outside, on the terrace of a restaurant facing Il Campo (where the famed horse race, the Palio, takes place every summer), was delightful, and our trek uphill to see Siena’s cathedral was worth every arduous step. But when we checked the bus schedule, hoping to get back to Florence before dark, we found we had to get to our bus stop within minutes. Quickly making our way downhill, relishing the Siena street-scene as we went, we arrived at the bus stop and discovered we had to buy tickets at an underground location beneath it. Down the stairs we went, and again cash was required. I’d used an ATM so cash was no longer a problem. But the adjoining restroom, which we both needed by this time, required not merely cash but correct change! More rummaging, more frantic glances at our watches, till we came up with the right coins and made our triumphal entrance into the restroom. Finally we emerged into the sunlight and climbed onto the bus just in time for our ride back to Florence.
The next morning we were off to the Amalfi Coast by way of Naples. We’d planned to take a fast train from Florence to Naples, then get to the port in Naples to catch a ferry to our destination, Sorrento. The fast train arrived late, but we weren’t worried about making our connection in Naples. Surely there would be more than one ferry going from the port of Naples to Sorrento. Or would there?
Arriving at the Naples train station, we tracked down a tourist office where we were assured that ferries would leave from the port to Sorrento that afternoon. So off we went in a taxi through the chaotic streets of Naples, arriving at the port and eventually finding a ticket window to purchase tickets for the ferry to Sorrento. This time we were actually early and found ourselves waiting outside on the dock. The weather was beautiful, so we didn’t mind a bit. When the ferry arrived, however, we were disappointed to find that we had to sit inside instead of outside on a deck. So we sat inside, defeating the real purpose of taking the ferry instead of the more convenient, and cheaper, train from Naples to Sorrento. Oh well….
The ferry arrived at the port of Sorrento, and we emerged to discover another setback. We had to drag our suitcases uphill to get to the taxi stand. But we made it, and our taxi deposited us at our hotel, a delightful place where we spent four wonderful nights before taking off for Rome.
We ran two fairly frantic “races” before leaving Sorrento. First, we left our hotel early one morning and walked downhill to the port to catch a ferry to Capri. The ferries didn’t leave very often, and we wanted to get an early start. Down by the water, a crowd had gathered, waiting in a long line to board the ferry. We got in line and patiently began to wait. But we soon noticed that everyone else in line was already clutching a ticket for the ferry. We queried others and learned that the ticket booth was a long distance behind us, near the stairs we’d descended a long time before. I stayed in line while Leslie ran back to buy our tickets. Nervously, I watched for her till just about everyone else had boarded the ferry and departure time was only a few minutes away. At last I saw Leslie running toward me, waving our tickets, and at the last possible moment, we boarded the ferry. It left the dock a minute later. An Amazing-Race minute? You bet!
We arrived at Capri and looked around the port for a short time, then purchased tickets (for cash) for a boat trip around the entire island. If weather conditions permitted, we would be able to visit “the blue grotto,” a remarkable spot where small rowboats take four people at a time into the grotto to see the astonishingly “blue” water, a natural phenomenon. So off we went on our tour around Capri. Luckily, conditions allowed us (lying perfectly flat in the rowboat) to enter the blue grotto, our rower singing “Volare” at the top of his lungs while we surveyed the very blue water surrounding us. One of the other passengers in our rowboat was quite hefty, weighing maybe 300 pounds, and I worried about capsizing, but nothing untoward happened, and we made it safely back to the larger boat for the rest of the trip around the island.
Back on the island, we spent the afternoon strolling around its sites, relishing beautiful vistas from various perches above the water. As evening approached, we decided to head back to Sorrento. That meant descending to the level of the port and taking a ferry that would return in time for dinner. As we made our way to where the ferries departed, we saw we had only a few minutes to make the next ferry. Missing it would leave us in Capri for another hour, and we’d seen all we wanted to see. So another race began, and we ran as fast as we could to catch the next ferry. No wheelies spinning behind us, but the race was frantic just the same. We made the ferry with no time to spare and got to Sorrento just as the sun was setting. We trekked back uphill to our hotel, changed for dinner, and selected a charming restaurant, followed by a stroll up and down the busy shopping streets nearby.
No other frenzied races happened during the rest of our time in Sorrento. Our boat trip to and from Amalfi went well, and we easily got to Pompeii and back on the circumvesuviana train (a local line that goes around Mt. Vesuvius on its way to Naples). We left Sorrento on the same train line, leaving lots of time to get good seats on the train (which originated in Sorrento) so we could stash all of our suitcases before anyone else could grab those seats. Arriving in Naples, we again had plenty of time to await our fast train to Rome. The train got to Termini as it was getting dark. We emerged from the train and immediately hopped into a taxi to get to our hotel.
I’ll skip the nightmarish arrival at our hotel in Rome (it’ll appear soon on TripAdvisor). Once we settled into our room, we wandered around the surrounding streets till we were hijacked into eating at a mediocre place for dinner, but we were too tired to find somewhere else. We soon felt energized enough to go elsewhere for gelato. The rest of our stay in Rome, including gelato at least once every single day, was wonderful.
We had only one “race” in Rome, but it was memorable. On our last morning, we had a reservation for the Galleria Borghese, the fabulous art museum in the Borghese Gardens. Patrons are warned that they must arrive on time and are allowed exactly two hours to see the museum before being compelled to leave. Relying on my memory (from a trip 12 years earlier), I optimistically thought we’d have enough time to walk to the museum…but we didn’t start early enough. We set out after breakfast for the Spanish Steps, a relatively short walk from our hotel, planning to make our way to the Galleria from there. But we didn’t walk as fast as we thought we would, and we kept checking the time on our watches as we approached the Spanish Steps. We climbed the seemingly endless stairs to get to the top, but by the time we arrived there, out of breath, the chances of getting to the museum on time seemed unlikely. Suspecting that we might need a taxi, we darted into the posh hotel at the very top, the Hassler, to ask for advice. A charming doorman who spoke English (of course– it was the Hassler) checked his watch and the time on our reservation, and he confirmed our suspicions. If we continued on foot, we’d never get to the museum on time. He led us, looking mighty shabby for patrons of the Hassler, to a waiting taxi, and off we went to the Borghese Gardens, arriving at the museum with only a few minutes to spare before our entry time.
The museum was worth the anguish it took to get there, and the rest of our day was filled with a multitude of wonderful sights and sounds in Rome, ending with dinner outside at a delightful restaurant in the Campo de’ Fiori. We staggered back to our hotel and headed for bed, knowing we had to be up early for our flight home. You can be sure we allowed plenty of time to get to Fiumicino without needing to race there! And we did.