Screen legend Marilyn Monroe died 30 years ago this week.


Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—This week marks the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s untimely death. One of her most acclaimed movies was Billy Wilder’s “Some Like it Hot,” in which she co-starred with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. The film is considered one of the funniest comedies ever produced.

Curtis and Lemmon play two musicians, Joe and Jerry, who witness the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. On the run from the mob, they disguise themselves as women, morphing into Josephine and Daphne, joining an all-girls band, where they meet Sugar Cane (Monroe).

Several years ago I spoke with Lemmon about his memories of working on the movie and sharing scenes with the incomparable Marilyn Monroe. (Lemmon died in 2001.)

Front Row Features: Didn’t Marilyn end up wearing one of the your Daphne dresses?

Lemmon: Yes, she stole my dress. That’s the only time I’ve ever had any of my wardrobe stolen by a star. (He laughs) It was about 48 hours before we started shooting. She saw my black dress hanging up there and said, ‘Oh I love that.’ Orry-Kelly, he was the designer and a brilliant one, had no choice. So he whipped something up real quick for me.

Front Row Features: When it took Marilyn 47 takes to do one line, I read that neither you nor Tony Curtis ever complained. What was it that gave you that kind of patience?

Lemmon: If you start complaining, is that going to make her say the line right? She was trying, she really was. What happened was Marilyn had her own built-in alarm clock, and the only way she knew how to work was when it didn’t feel right to her, she would stop the take, not Billy. Either Tony or I bet that we would go over 50 takes, and the other one said, ‘No, she’ll get it by 40.’ We went over 50, as I remember. It was an enormous amount of takes for seven words, “Where’s the bourbon? Oh, there it is.”

Front Row Features: Was the fact that you had to be great in every take, because the one that she got right was the one that would be used, become an overwhelming burden?

Lemmon: There was a certain pressure with that, because there’s no question that that would enter into it. After awhile, when she got it right, that’s going to be the print. So you’d better be there. I’ll never forget, I was stunned one morning, I walked on the set to do one of the best scenes in the film, I think. It was in the train where I’m in the upper bunk and Marilyn jumps in bed with me. The lines are marvelous and we rehearsed it once and she was damn near letter-perfect on the rehearsal. Billy said, “Let’s try one. Okay, Marilyn?” She said, “Sure.” We did it and Billy said, “Cut. Print.” I thought I was on the wrong set. It was the first take.

Front Row Features: Was she temperamental?

Lemmon: She was not a bit temperamental in the sense that she was aware of holding anybody up. Her lateness was just her. She wouldn’t come out of her dressing room until she was psyched up enough to face the cameras.

Front Row Features: You had a much easier time than Tony Curtis had with Marilyn?

Lemmon: Oh, sure. Tony’s problems and Billy’s total exasperation with Marilyn increased and really came up in the second half of the film. I was off with a rose in my teeth tangoing with Joe (E. Brown) and having a ball. Tony had all of that long stuff on the yacht with Marilyn, and that’s what was driving him crazy because she’d be late, or not get the lines right.

Front Row Features: Did you ever have an inkling when you were making this film that you were making history?

Lemmon: No, just that I thought we had a chance to do something really terrific.