STORY OF THE SHOT

THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH

Empire (UK) - - RE.VIEW - WORDS IAN FREER

MAR­I­LYN MON­ROE, STAND­ING on a sub­way grate, coo­ing in de­light as her white, pleated skirt bil­lows around her hips. It’s an im­age so iconic that it’s been riffed on by ev­ery­thing from Pulp Fic­tion to The

Tig­ger Movie. Other tributes have been more elab­o­rate. In 2011, artist Se­ward John­son cre­ated a 26 foot-tall, 34,000lb statue of the mo­ment which has been dis­played in New Jer­sey, Chicago and Bendigo, Aus­tralia. More bizarrely in Ja­pan, vil­lagers from Inaka­date, a pre­fec­ture of Ao­mori, paid homage to it in 2013 with a 140 by 100m recre­ation in a rice field made from nine dif­fer­ent types of rice.

Yet, when he cap­tured the mo­ment while shoot­ing The Seven Year Itch on 15 Septem­ber, 1954, Billy Wilder took a while to re­alise just what he had. “I was so stupid, be­cause we were look­ing for a rep­re­sen­ta­tive ad,” he told in­ter­viewer and su­per­fan Cameron Crowe, “and it did not oc­cur to me that this thing, where she’s kind of try­ing to keep the dress down, that this is it!” The set-up: hav­ing just seen The Crea­ture

From The Black La­goon, mar­ried Richard Sher­man (Tom Ewell) and The Girl (Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, whose char­ac­ter is never named) exit the Trans-lux The­ater in Man­hat­tan on an il­licit date and, as a sub­way train passes be­low, a breeze blooms her skirt. Yet, rather than rush­ing to cover her mod­esty, she boldly rev­els in the mo­ment. “Isn’t it de­li­cious?” she asks, per­haps rhetor­i­cally. The re­sult is multi-faceted: a provoca­tive en­cap­su­la­tion of Mon­roe’s ap­peal, a totem for a 1950s Hol­ly­wood (male) fan­tasy, and a fleet­ing de­pic­tion of on­screen joy that be­lies the pain coursing through Mon­roe’s off­screen life. And, of course, it graces the film’s poster.

The shot was ini­tially cap­tured in the ear­ly­morn­ing hours on the cor­ner of Lex­ing­ton and 52nd Street. Some 1,500 spec­ta­tors and pho­tog­ra­phers watched Wilder put Mon­roe through 14 takes. “At first it was all in­no­cent and fun,” re­called Mon­roe. “But when Billy kept shoot­ing the scene over and over, the crowd of men kept on ap­plaud­ing and shout­ing, ‘More, more Mar­i­lyn — let’s see more.’ What was sup­posed to be a fun scene turned into a sex scene.” Mon­roe took steps against in­ad­ver­tent ex­po­sure — she dou­bled up on two pairs of white un­der­wear — but all for naught: leg­end has it the loud cat calls ru­ined the sound record­ing and led to the scene be­ing re-shot un­der con­trol­lable con­di­tions on the Fox lot.

The iconic white dress — ac­tu­ally ivory-coloured rayon ac­etate crepe, be­cause white reg­is­tered grey on film — was cre­ated by Mon­roe’s go-to de­signer Wil­liam Trav­illa, who dis­missed it as “that silly lit­tle dress”. In 1971, Hol­ly­wood leg­end Deb­bie Reynolds bought the dress for $200. In 2011, when Reynolds auc­tioned it off to stave off bank­ruptcy, it went for a silly lit­tle $4.6 mil­lion. Some itches, it seems, never go away.

THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH IS OUT NOW ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND DOWN­LOAD

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