Behind the Laughter of ‘Some Like It Hot’

The recent discovery of rare footage shot at the Hotel Del Coronado during production of Some Like It Hot (see here) has prompted the San Diego Union-Tribune to dig into their archives for an article first published on September 21st, 1958 (click scan below to enlarge.)

An Old, Old Game Moves From Hollywood To Coronado

“SAN DIEGANS, hardly rested from Fiesta and barely ready for the fall entertainment season, last week found themselves following an interim diversion, either through their newspapers or first hand. The diversion: Marilyn Monroe, here for the filming of the movie Some Like It Hot. For five days throngs of San Diegans crossed the bay to join Coronadoans on the Strand, and watched and waited. Interestingly enough, among the hundreds of spectators, women and children outnumbered the men two to one. Meanwhile, San Diego Union photographers with telephoto lenses caught a few glimpses of Marilyn, and The San Diego Union’s drama editor, Edwin Martin, waited-and gathered material for this story.

For the past week, reporters from San Diego and Hollywood, fans and tourists from every part of the United States, and certainly half the population of Coronado, have been playing an exciting and fascinating game—a game which Hollywood columnist Erskine Johnson saucily calls: ‘Waiting for Marilyn.’ Marilyn, of course, is none other than Marilyn Monroe, the beautiful and somewhat unpredictable blonde film star who has been upsetting the usual poise of the sedate and picturesque old Hotel del Coronado, while making location scenes there for her latest film, Some Like It Hot.

As Erskine, covering the event from a comfortable rocking chair on del Coronado’s broad veranda, puts it: ‘People may admire Marilyn Monroe, envy Marilyn Monroe, or like Marilyn Monroe, but most of all—people WAIT for Marilyn Monroe!’ Johnson recalls the time we waited for Marilyn in Phoenix, where a visit to the set and a chat with her on location for Bus Stop had been arranged. We waited all day and Marilyn never came out of her dressing room. Other newspapermen who had more time waited for Marilyn for five days and she never came out of her hotel room.

Reporters and columnists have waited for Marilyn to come out of airplanes. Airplanes have waited for Marilyn. Newsmen have waited for Marilyn to come out of trains. Trains have waited for Marilyn. Movie producers, directors, film companies, husband Arthur Miller, clothes designers, dance directors and movie fans have waited for Marilyn. But no one seems to mind very much, reporters have grown rather accustomed to it — because Marilyn Monroe is worth waiting for.”

Marilyn with Variety‘s Army Archerd at a press party for Some Like It Hot

Over at Variety, Brent Lang looks back at how Hollywood’s leading trade weekly covered the production. Archival reports show Marilyn was under immense media pressure and blatantly sexist criticism that would rightly be seen as unacceptable today, and casts a new light on her personal woes and battles on the set (Marilyn would suffer a miscarriage shortly after filming ended, having endured endless jibes about her weight from journalists) – as well as foreshadowing how the studios and press would finally discard her just a few years later.

“At the height of her stardom, Marilyn Monroe took an 18-month hiatus from Hollywood … In April 1958, Monroe was finally ready to return to the medium that had made her globally famous, with Variety proclaiming ‘Monroe to Do Hot.’ The Hollywood trade went on to report that after a ‘two-year absence’ Monroe was slated to play ‘a band singer in the 20s period comedy,’ which would be directed by Billy Wilder and was entitled Some Like It Hot.

The Hollywood trades feasted on the tales of trouble on the set. Variety columnist Army Archerd routinely updated his readers on Monroe’s illnesses and the delays she caused for the production. ‘Marilyn Monroe was ill again yesterday and unable to report to work in Some Like It Hot, in which she’s only appeared on set two hours so far,’ he wrote on Aug. 21, 1958. ‘And she’s nixed every still taken.’ Many similar reports would follow, along with a persistent, underlying suggestion that she might never finish work on the film.

At one point in November of that year, the production headaches grew so pronounced that Variety commissioned a more deeply reported piece that looked at the insurance issues that Monroe’s health problems were causing. In an article entitled ‘Who’s Holding Bag? Interesting Question on Marilyn Monroe Pic,’ the trade noted that productions that blow past their wrap dates weren’t indemnified for ‘female ailments, including pregnancy,’ which the article went on to imply was the cause of her missed days.

“It’s the kind of tsk-tsk-ing hit piece, prudish in its verbiage, but violating in its disregard for Monroe’s privacy, that has aged terribly in the ensuring decades. But it was also the norm for how the actress, who was prized more for her curvaceous looks than her performing chops, was treated by a media that wanted to commodify and objectify her, while remaining steadfastly unsympathetic to her struggles. It’s even there in the initial coverage of the production before things threatened to go off the rails. Archerd practically leers as he notes that at the first press conference for the film, Monroe ‘…showed up in a black gown, cut as deep in front as in the rear. ‘It’s just something I got off the rack,’ she sighed. ‘Anyone can buy it.’ Archerd went on to ask: ‘But can anyone fill it?’

Even Variety‘s critic tipped his hat to what she had pulled off, writing that ‘she’s a comedienne with sex appeal and timing that just can’t be beat.’ But the reviewer couldn’t resist diving in to Monroe’s heavily chronicled personal life, adding, ‘If at the time of filming she was pregnant, and the tight dresses she’s asked to wear just don’t fit well, never mind. This gal can take it, and so can the audience.’ How generous!”

And finally, the Some Like It Hot EP – featuring the three songs Marilyn performed in the movie, plus her vocal theme which didn’t make the cut – is being reissued on CD by Banda Sonora, the same label behind the recent Gentlemen Prefer Blondes soundtrack reissue.