Marilyn, Jules Schulback and ‘The Seven Year Itch’

Several years ago, Bonnie Siegler was sorting through her grandfather’s attic when she found an extraordinary home movie. On September 15, 1954, Jules Schulback shot amateur video of Marilyn filming the iconic ‘subway grate’ scene for The Seven Year Itch. The scene was later recreated on a Hollywood soundstage, so this is the only surviving colour footage from that night.

Journalist Helene Stapinski got the scoop for the New York Times in 2017. Now, she has retold Mr. Schulback’s remarkable life story in a new book, The American Way: A True Story of Nazi Escape, Superman, and Marilyn Monroe, published next week.

“In this exuberant real-life adventure, the publisher of DC Comics comes to the rescue of a family trying to flee Nazi Berlin, their lives linking up with a dazzling cast of 20th century icons, all eagerly pursing the American dream.

Family lore had it that Bonnie Siegler’s grandfather crossed paths in Midtown Manhattan late one night in 1954 with Marilyn Monroe, her white dress flying up around her as she filmed a scene for The Seven Year Itch. Jules Schulback had his home movie camera with him, capturing what would become the only surviving footage of that legendary night. Bonnie wasn’t sure she quite believed her grandfather’s story … until, cleaning out his apartment, she found the film reel. The discovery would prompt her to investigate all of her grandfather’s seemingly tall talesand lead her in pursuit of a remarkable piece of forgotten history bridging old Hollywood, the birth of the comic book, and the Holocaust.

The American Way is a vivacious story of two very different men both striving to make their way in New York, their lives intersecting with a glittering array of luminaries, from Billy Wilder and Joe DiMaggio to Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. It’s a kaleidoscopic tale of hope and reinvention, of daring escapes and fake identities, of big dreams and the magic of movies, and what it means to be a real-life Superman.”


An extract has been posted on the Vanity Fair website today…

Like Yankee Stadium under the floodlights, men in hats and jackets and a smattering of ties stood around, excited for the game to begin. Some stood on fire escapes and the roofs of cars, perched on lampposts and atop traffic lights, all trying to find a good spot to glimpse the coming attraction—the American dream made flesh, with all its promises and curves. One of the Yankees was even here, Joe DiMaggio, shaking hands and working the growing crowd of photographers and cops, loiterers and fans.

Jules dove straight in. He’d never been a timid man; if he had been, he wouldn’t be here walking the Earth. Gently pushing his way through the crowd using his free hand and a few German-accented ‘Pardon mes’ and ‘Excuse mes’—he was a gentleman after all—he got as close as he could to the commotion. There was the gaffer he had met yesterday, who tipped him off about tonight. They nodded in recognition.

Then the movie director flitted past in his fedora, nervously eyeing the growing throng. His name was Billy Wilder. They were both from Berlin, Jules knew, both escaped Jewish refugees. He caught Wilder’s eye and held it for a moment, long enough to think that maybe Billy, too, knew what they had in common. As if Jules was marked somehow with invisible ink that only the fellow wounded could detect. Billy walked past, and Jules was suddenly reminded of his purpose here tonight. He squeezed his black box between his legs, screwed around with a few knobs, wound a small crank, knelt down into a narrow free space between bodies, and then placed the box up to his right eye. His Bolex 16 mm camera.

It was September 15, 1954, and it was no accident he was here. Jules was a thoughtful man who had always planned everything very carefully. Befriending that gaffer was just one of many steps that brought this furrier and amateur filmmaker to the front row of one of the most iconic moments in twentieth-century film history, one that he—and he alone—would save for posterity in living, moving colour.

Jules looked around the artificially lit New York City street corner. Always so much life, so much to capture. He had tasted the bitterness of life, but this, this was the sweet part. He peeked through the lens of his Bolex, focused on Billy Wilder and the crew in front of him. And suddenly, as if she knew he was coming, out stepped Marilyn Monroe. And . . . Action.”