Audiences may have loved Marilyn Monroe, but she did little to charm her co-stars in the hit movie Some Like It Hot. Although the actress delivered one of the best performances of her career in the comedy, her unprofessional antics during filming led a famous actor to launch an incredible verbal attack on her.
To many, 1959’s Some Like It Hot stands as one of the best comedies of all time. In 2017, for example, the BBC’s Nicholas Barber assessed the importance of the film. To him the movie, which is set in 1929, has it all: romance, humor and even a good moral. And those messages remain important to today’s audiences, too.
“As well as being a romantic comedy, a buddy movie, a crime caper, and a musical, the film is an anthem in praise of tolerance, acceptance, and the possibility of transformation,” Barber wrote of Some Like It Hot. “It’s an anthem that we need to hear now more than ever.”
Some Like It Hot might have been seen as a controversial movie by some audiences at the time of its release, however. Indeed, the plot revolves around cross-dressing men, and it touches on homosexuality, too.
And having completed the script, director Billy Wilder put his energy into finding the right cast to make Some Like It Hot a hit. First, he courted Tony Curtis at a party in 1958. It wasn’t a tough sell, considering Wilder ranked among the most respected Hollywood figures of the era. Talented comic actor Jack Lemmon signed on to star in the movie as well.
And Wilder pushed Some Like It Hot to the next level when he chose Marilyn Monroe as the movie’s female lead. Barber described her as being Hollywood’s “most radiant sex symbol” at the time. Prior to signing up to the film, though, she’d taken a long hiatus after marrying acclaimed writer Arthur Miller.
Nevertheless, Monroe returned to her former glories in Some Like It Hot. A 1935 French comedy named Fanfare d’amour and its 1951 German remake Fanfaren der Liebe inspired Wilder’s film. In his version, though, Curtis’ Joe and Lemmon’s Jerry are musicians in Chicago working hard to make ends meet.
Joe and Jerry witness a terrible crime that’s clearly modelled on the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, a real-life mob murder allegedly ordered by Al Capone. In Some Like It Hot, observing this event means that the two musicians have to flee Chicago. And they come up with a novel way to escape detection.
To evade the gangsters on their trail, in fact, Joe and Jerry don female disguises and join a women’s jazz orchestra. With Sweet Sue’s Society Syncopators, their alter-egos Josephine and Daphne travel to Florida. Moreover, during the journey to the Sunshine State, neither man can ignore the allure of Sugar Kane, their new group’s attractive ukulele player – played by Monroe.
The hijinks don’t start and end with Joe and Jerry hiding out in drag, of course. For one thing, Sugar Kane informs Joe that she plans to pull a stunt of her own once they arrive in Florida. She wants to win the heart of a millionaire there, so Joe adopts a second alter ego – Junior – who fits the bill of Sugar’s dream man.
At the same time, Daphne catches a man’s eye – Osgood, a wealthy tycoon who takes her out and proposes the following day. Eventually, Jerry has to admit that Daphne is just a guise. But Osgood’s reaction brings about one of the film’s most memorable moments: he simply responds, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
As Barber put it, all of the lying and deceit in Some Like It Hot isn’t meant to teach viewers a lesson about the dangers of deceit. In contrast, Barber wrote, “It has so much warmth that it carries the viewer upwards like a hot-air balloon. Rather than condemning its unscrupulous anti-heroes, it respects them and sympathizes with them.”
Furthermore, because all of the liars in Some Like It Hot get their happy endings, the movie perhaps teaches us something much more powerful. “There is nothing wrong with faking it until you make it. Experimenting with a new identity can help you become a better, happier person,” Barber explained. “It can help you survive. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll find someone who accepts you for whomever you want to be – perfect or otherwise.”
As previously mentioned, critics and audiences loved Some Like It Hot upon its release. Indeed, in all it would spend close to two months as the highest-grossing film in the U.S. And the movie had brought in some $14 million come the end of 1962 in America alone, which was a huge figure for the time.
Some Like It Hot also went on garner a slew of awards nominations. At the Golden Globes, for example, the film won Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy. In addition, Lemmon was named the year’s Best Actor and Monroe took home the Globe for Best Actress.
Such a victory meant Monroe had made a great comeback, of course, especially considering her absence from cinema screens in the period leading up to the filming of Some Like It Hot. Indeed, for nearly two years she’d relocated from Los Angeles to live with her husband Miller in New York and Connecticut.
Monroe’s time on the East Coast was marred by tragedy, however. In 1957 she became pregnant, but doctors subsequently determined that it was ectopic, meaning that the pregnancy had to be aborted. Moreover, Monroe would later endure a second loss, this time due to a miscarriage.
It was Monroe’s endometriosis that caused her pregnancies to fail. The condition forces the uterine lining to grow outside of the uterus – and its two most common side effects are physical discomfort and infertility. To deal with the former, Monroe’s doctor advised that she should consume vodka. The actress preferred champagne, however, but it did little to help.
Moreover, Monroe started using barbiturates as well. The medication made her feel drowsy, though. As a result, she began taking amphetamines. Not only did they liven her up, but they also helped the superstar to manage her weight. Of course, they also put her health in great danger.
Miller did his best to help Monroe manage her pill consumption, but neither her mental nor physical condition improved. Instead, in the autumn of 1957 she overdosed on barbiturates. Fortunately, though, paramedics arrived at the scene in time to revive her.
Of course, it wasn’t just just endometriosis-related pain that pushed Monroe to take drugs. Another major factor was her difficult childhood, during which her mother Gladys had placed her into foster care. Gladys and other members of Monroe’s family suffered from mental health issues. Moreover, as a girl, the actress was subjected to sexual abuse.
Along with the memories of her past traumas, Monroe also felt more and more anxious about her acting career. And yet, after her two-year break, failed pregnancies and an overdose, Some Like It Hot drew her back to work. Some of that had to do with Miller, in fact, who’d encouraged his wife to take the role.
Monroe hesitated to accept the part at first, however. Career-wise, she’d grown tired of playing characters that she perceived Sugar Kane to be: the dumb blonde. But the studio then stated that it would allow her to take home one-tenth of the movie’s profits on top of her fee.
So, Monroe accepted – and the rest, as they say, is history. But she, Wilder, Lemmon and Curtis didn’t create a classic like Some Like It Hot without incident. In fact, Monroe quickly built a reputation on set that wasn’t nearly as positive as the reviews she’d receive for her performance in the movie.
Wilder had at least prepared himself for this possibility. Indeed, he’d already worked with Monroe on The Seven Year Itch in 1955. As such, he knew that she wasn’t just emotionally fragile, but also that she could be unreliable. And her hiatus from show business – along with the heartbreak that came with it – made these qualities even more prevalent.
In addition, for Some Like It Hot, Monroe came to the set with her acting tutor Paula Strasberg in tow. According to the Irish Examiner, Strasberg was “notoriously prickly,” and Monroe knew it. Apparently, Monroe would look to her for approval after every take instead of her director, Wilder.
Co-star Curtis later recalled Wilder making a comment about Monroe’s relationship with her acting coach. “She was under the auspices of… Paula Strasberg,” the actor said. “And when she finished a shot, she wouldn’t look at you – she’d look at [her]. Billy caught onto that very early, and after one shot, he said, ‘How was that for you, Paula?’”
In addition, Monroe also lived up to her reputation for arriving late on set – or not turning up at all. And the actress would rarely arrive in a condition conducive to producing a good performance. Instead, she flubbed through her lines – even the simplest of sentences.
In one infamous case, Monroe apparently required close to 50 attempts before successfully saying the words: “Where’s the bourbon?” This type of behavior led to Wilder printing out her dialogue on cue cards so that she didn’t have to memorize it. And while this certainly caused Monroe embarrassment, her co-stars didn’t have much sympathy for her.
For one thing, Curtis and Lemmon had to accept that their best takes would seldom be the ones to make the final cut. Instead, Wilder would cease filming as soon as Monroe had finally delivered her lines properly.
Then there was the fact that Lemmon and Curtis had to wear full drag for much of the movie. This meant they were forced to wait in uncomfortable outfits for Monroe to eventually get her lines right. Of the two, Lemmon was said to have been the more tolerant with her. But Curtis was acutely aware that his own acting was being adversely affected by the constant delays that Monroe’s antics caused.
As a result, Curtis would later make a scathing comment about working with Monroe on Some Like It Hot. As the public saw it, he had the chance to smooch with the most beautiful woman alive. When asked what the experience had been like, however, Curtis said that locking lips with her was “like kissing Hitler.”
For her part, meanwhile, Monroe seemed to have had more issues with Wilder than she did with Curtis. She didn’t like the director’s notes on the way he thought she should portray Sugar Kane, for example.
Monroe also confided to friends that the production of Some Like It Hot felt like a disaster. Anthony Summers’ book Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe contains a letter she wrote to playwright Norman Rosten. “We are going through the Straits of Dire. It’s rough and choppy,” Monroe began.
Ultimately, though, Monroe wondered if she should care at all. “Why should I worry, I have no phallic symbol to lose,” she wrote. Of course, once the movie came out, neither she nor the rest of the Some Like It Hot team had to fret about the road that got them there. They’d made a great film, after all.
According to Donald Spoto’s 2010 book Marilyn Monroe: The Biography, that’s precisely how Wilder felt. He said of Monroe’s work on the movie, “Anyone can remember lines, but it takes a real artist to come on the set and not know her lines and yet give the performance she did!”
Years later, Curtis, too, would clarify his infamous “Hitler” comment. He published a memoir in 2009 entitled, Some Like It Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Classic American Movie. And in it, he revealed a huge secret about his true relationship with his co-star.
Long before filming Some Like It Hot, Monroe and Curtis had embarked on a short relationship in the late 1940s. In his 2009 book, Curtis claimed that they’d then rekindled their romance on the set of Some Like It Hot.
Despite the fact that each of them was married, Curtis and Monroe apparently couldn’t stay away from one another. “What I experienced with her was unforgettable,” Curtis stated of their time together on set. The actor also said that he later found out that Monroe was expecting a child, and that the baby could have been his. “I was stunned,” he wrote of the revelation.
Both Curtis and Monroe eventually divorced their then-spouses, but they didn’t get back together. One thing Curtis did do, though, was clarify his infamous comment about smooching his co-star. “Someone said to me, ‘Hey, what’s it like kissing Marilyn?’” he told The Guardian in 2008. “I said, ‘It’s like kissing Hitler. What are you doing asking me such a stupid question? That’s where it came from.”