The Seven Year Itch

 

The expression “seven year itch” is lost on anyone under 40. The original expression wasn’t coined for the Marilyn Monroe movie; it was the other way around. The seven year itch refers to the seventh year of marriage when a married couple supposedly experiences a lull in their marriage and one or both spouses engage in an extra-marital affair (or two). In fact the seventh year is the year for divorce.The movie plays on this experience by pitting a married man named Richard Sherman Tom Ewell ) whose wife has left town for the summer, against a sexy girl who lives upstairs  (Marilyn).  Ewell plays with the idea of a dalliance with the Girl (she has no other name). Marilyn likes him because he is married and he can’t ask her to marry him like “a lot of men [who] keep asking“.  The plain-looking Ewell appealed to men and made the fantasy more “real”. It was Walter Matthau who first auditioned for the role of Sherman. His audition tape shows he was a far superior actor than Ewell in the role, but Fox didn’t want to take a chance on a newcomer with no film credits under his belt. Ewell in fact had originated the role on Broadway.

Famous for its skirt scene where Marilyn straddles a subway grate and a strong wind current blows her skirt sky-high, it included an angle where the skirt only reached to her thighs. Contrary marilynto popular misconception, both takes were used. it also used mild sexual inferences in the conversation between Ewell and Marilyn. In fact, several scenes were considered too risqué to be used in the final film and were cut in order for it to be released. All illicit expressions about adultery and obvious sexual references were removed from the script and these were usually the funniest lines in the movie. The Seven Year Itch was a Broadway script and Billy Wilder, the director, wasn’t happy with the censorship. He felt there wouldn’t be a movie with so much prohibited dialogue.  In the original script Sherman actually had an affair with the Girl then feels guilty. In the movie, Ewell only ponders having an affair yet he still feels guilty…”so it doesn’t make sense“. Some of the suggestive scenes were saved in Fox’s archives.  Though Hollywood production codes prohibited writer-director Billy Wilder from filming a comedy where adultery takes place, the review expressed disappointment that Sherman remained chaste.

Wilder, exasperated, described the filming of the movie as being “under strait-jacketed conditions”. Not surprisingly this was the only film Billy Wilder ever released under 20th Century Fox.It was the all-powerful Hays Office that controlled the censorship of movies. The office was created by Hollywood studios who were fearful that the feds would create their own censorship (sounds a bit communist to me). Joseph I. Breen, head of Production Code Board, took a definite stance: “there is no room on the screen at any time for pictures which offend against common decency and these the industry will not allow.” Tell us how you really feel, Breen. The scriptwriter, George Alexrod, explained in “the movie business everybody was so terrified of these people’. It’s remarkable that the movie even got made.

Most of Axelrod’s dialogue was removed from the film. Axelrod even had to switch goddamned and 7 yeardamn for two darns. That’s a bit like poker, don’t you think? I’ll see your twenty and raise you twenty more, or some such thing. Not only was the Hays Office a threat to Wilder’s film, the Catholic Legion of Decency had a say in the matter. The power of the Legion was such that priests could lecture a congregation about the impropriety of attending such a film. Priests were even present on the movie set with copies of the script. One wonders if any men of the cloth attended the New York City stunt (and of course frowned in disapproval). Wilder was so careful to censor the film that it was finally made and successfully released without a resemblance whatsoever to the original Broadway production. Marilyn attended the premiere with her now ex-husband, DiMaggio, who looked quite buoyant to be at her side. it is quite obvious that the film has been heavily censored. All in all it’s not very good. In fact, with the exception of the skirt scene, it’s downright boring. At the end of the film I remember thinking “what’s the big deal about this film? Even the skirt scene is a disappointment.” At the time I didn’t know how restricted Wilder et al were by Hays..However Marilyn’s performance won rave reviews with good reason. She was the quintessential Girl of Everyman’s dreams and small wonder. So pretty it was almost painful to look at Marilyn, she was the movie. Ewell’s role could have gone to anyone. What a yawn. She became one of the most powerful celebrities in Hollywood. She demanded director approval and approval of her scripts and she got it. I can only speculate as to what her rival Elizabeth Taylor thought about the New York City publicity stunt and Marilyn’s increase in box office draw. She’d say it was tacky that Marilyn had to resort to a subway grate to get people to attend her movies, but inside I do suggest she would have been seething and thinking, “why didn’t I think of that?

The original idea to use the subway grate for a publicity stunt came from Sam Shur, an idea man for the film, who suggested, “why not have her with a frilly skirt and we’ll take her to a subway grating and blow up her skirt? It’ll be very sexy.” The idea was presented to Marilyn who was thrilled to do it. Amazing really, that they were even permitted to do the stunt.Presumably the Hays Office couldn’t interfere with PR. It was performed at 2:00 a.m. at Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street in New York City. Of course there was no subway train running beneath the grate. Instead a crew member operated a large fan and turned it on whenever Marilyn uttered the famous line “oh, can you feel the breeze from the subway? Isn’t it delicious?” This scene caused a rift in Marilyn’s marriage to Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn’s husband at the time, who was enraged by the stunt. He was shocked that people could “see her panties.” Pushed to the limit, DiMaggio simply walked away and returned to their hotel room. The movie was a source of aggravation that weakened their union.

At the hotel, Walter Winchell, a photojournalist, joined Marilyn and DiMaggio for an uncomfortable dinner. Breathy and excited Marilyn gushed, at DiMaggio, “do you know what it’s like to have 50,000 people cheering for you?” DiMaggio replied quietly, “75,000.”  The couple soon began to fight with each other, forgetting about Winchell. Anthony Summwalterers wrote in “Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe“, that“embarrassed in spite of his profession, Winchell left them to it”. Ironically, the sad scenario might have been the case in private, but the publicity that Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio were newlyweds added fuel to the movie’s fire at the box office. “Nice work Marilyn and the same to you, Joe,” a television announcer exclaimed. For Marilyn and the movie, it certainly was.

Tom Ewell’s take on the subway scene was that, “we left the film house and went to the subway grating. In the summertime it sends a little cool air up. He [Wilder] did not tell us that there was a fan, a powerful fan, that would be there and would blow the skirt sky high.That was a very hot day…Marilyn, when it was really hot, never liked to wear underthings…so she had nothing on except the gown…and there was much screaming carrying on…and Joe was seated across the street, he had seen it too, and he was furious. And he said to her, ‘If you go back out there we’re through!’ and she said ‘I’m going’. That was the last word she ever said to him…I dont think that Joe ever knew that that’s what caused the break-up.” I don’t personally believe that DiMaggio’s threat caused the break-up. It’s understandable that he would be angry about his wife showing her privates in public, even if it was an accident. And Ewell is mistaken: it wasn’t the last word she ever said to DiMaggio. DiMaggio escorted his wife to the movie’s premiere. The film earned $6 million in rentals at the North American box office, a princely sum in 1955.

Lena Pepitone in her biography Marilyn Monroe Confidential wrote that Marilyn quipped, “they should let me film the skirt scene the way I usually go around” (meaning no panties). Perhaps Pepitone remembered the statement incorrectly or she hadn’t heard about the first shoot. Certainly that Marilyn mentioned it to Pepitone must bear some truth.In spite of DiMaggio’s disapproval of Marilyn’s sexy scenes, the movie was promoted by their marriage. They were the most famous newlyweds in Hollywood. Naturally Fox took advantage of the publicity opportunity and alerted the press every time the couple went public. By the film’s release however the couple had divorced.

A huge 26-foot statue of Marilyn in her billowing sun dress was erected in Palm Springs California, after being moved from Chicago. However it is still making the rounds back to Chicago and in and out of New Jersey. Right now I don’t know where it is (perhaps the wind keeps blowing that skirt away and taking Marilyn with it).The statue quickly became a popular photo opportunity for tourists, much to the disdain of local

Forever_Marilyncritics: Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote even worse than the sculpture itself is the photo-op behavior it’s inspiring. Men (and women) licking Marilyn’s leg, gawking up her skirt, pointing at her giant panties as they leer and laugh. It’s not that the sculpture is shocking or sexist or obscene – but it’s definitely bringing out the juvenile goofball in many of us. …Now imagine that thing coming to life, springing to a 26-foot height and planting itself in the heart of one of the most magnificent stretches in downtown Chicago. That’s what we’re stuck with.” 

In Chicago in August and September 2011 the statue was vandalized three times, most recently being splashed with red paint. This was because the statue, according to the executive director of the Chicago Public Arts Group, is “laden with political meaning, and provocative meaning and sexual meaning”. I’m not sure what the director means about sexual meaning and red paint? It’s possible that he refers to the unseemly practice Marilyn had of never wearing underwear, even when menstruating. She sometimes wore skirts in public that had been stained by her periods, whether knowingly or unknowingly who’s to say. The statue is truly ghastly; it bears no resemblance at all to the real Marilyn. Its gargantuan proportions are anything but appealing and the giant panties exposed beneath the skirt make people laugh. I don’t know whose idea it was to make and mount the statue but it is safe to say the piece is one of the worst of movie history memorabilia. In spite of the criticism the statue receives, it is frequently uprooted and moved around the United States to be displayed at different locations.

The man responsible for the real white dress Marilyn wore in the movie was William Travilla, one of Hollywood’s most celebrated costume designers and a favourite of Marilyn’s; he dressed her for eight movies and  enjoyed a brief affair with her.No other designer knew Marilyn and her curvaceous 36-26-36 figure like Travilla. Travilla helped turn Marilyn into a silver screen goddess and she in turn made his name famous. Her patronage meant his name became synonymous with style and sex. He dressed more than 270 celebrities during his career, but it is Marilyn who became his most celebrated muse. The gold lame sunburst gown of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes made from one complete circle of fabric is hand pleated, and was one of Marilyn’s favourites. She appeared in only one brief scene wearing the dress as she danced with her back to the camera since the dress was deemed too revealing to pass the censor’s scissors.

marilyn-goldlameMarilyn decided it would be the perfect dress to create a stir at the 1953 Photoplay Magazine Awards. Travilla allegedly advised her against wearing the dress as he said she was “too fat”. The gold lame dress was cut to the navel. But Marilyn was adamant and, after two sessions of colonic irrigation, squeezed into it. When DiMaggio saw the dress, once again, he reportedly left in anger. After he sewed Marilyn into the dress, William advised her to “walk like a lady“. At the ceremony, her walk from the hall to the podium to collect Hollywood’s Fastest Rising Star of 1952 award caused an uproar. Sammy Davis Jr. and another celebrity in the Rat Pack hopped up on table tops and howled like wolves. A very jealous Joan Crawford later publicly berated her over her “burlesque show”. The journalist James Bacon was quoted as saying: “When she wiggled through the audience to come up on the podium, her derriere looked like two puppies fighting under a silk sheet” The next day, columnist Florabel Muir reported: “With one little twist of her derriere, Marilyn Monroe stole the show… After Marilyn every other girl appeared dull by contrast.” Take that, Crawford.

It was the white sun dress, however, that became a famous item. The dress was specifically tailored to Marilyn’s measurements. It is the most expensive movie costume in the world. The dress was sold at auction for $4.6 million dollars. The winning bidder for Monroe’s subway dress added another $1 million in commission. Nice to have money. Nice to have Marilyn in your closet, too. Marilyn’s wardrobe was just as important in making her into a screen icon as her platinum hair, red lips and baby-soft voice. She knew it and worked with a team to create Marilyn Monroe and to orchestrate her rise to the top. Marilyn once stated “I just want to stay in the fantasy of Everyman”. I’d say she’s done a good job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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