SOME LIKE IT HOT
SHOOTING DIRECTOR BILLY WILDER’S CLASSIC CROSS-DRESSING COMEDY PROVED ANYTHING BUT A DRAG
The classic cross-dressing comedy is about to turn 60 and we’ve got all the behindthe-scenes secrets from the set.
It might’ve been lukewarm without Jack Lemmon, but the actor wasn’t the original choice to play a musician who dresses as a woman to escape the Mob in 1959’s Some Like It Hot. “The first offer went out to Jerry Lewis, who turned it down because he said, ‘Drag just isn’t funny,’ ” Jack’s son, Chris Lemmon, tells Closer. After Jack earned an Oscar nomination for the comedy, “Pop would send Jerry a box of chocolates every year at Oscar time.”
As the movie celebrates its 60th anniversary, a new Blu-ray reveals even more sweet behind-the-scenes tidbits. After Jerry declined the role, “the money people thought Jack wasn’t a big enough star,” said Barbara Diamond, whose husband, I.A.L., cowrote the script with director Billy Wilder. The original plan was to have Frank Sinatra co-star with Tony Curtis and Mitzi Gaynor, but “Billy made a date with Sinatra for lunch, and Sinatra stood him up,” Barbara said. “That pretty much took care of that.”
Everything changed when superstar Marilyn Monroe got a hold of the script and told Billy she wanted to do it. Explained Barbara, “Once Billy had Marilyn and Tony, Jack was plenty big enough.”
Marilyn brought her own problems to the set, however. She was insecure, often late and required multiple takes to get her lines right. “She was difficult, there’s no question of that,” Jack later said. Still, he insisted, “I loved working with Marilyn.”
Transforming Jack and Tony into believable women was also a challenge. Once they thought they had nailed their looks, the guys went into a women’s restroom to see if anybody noticed. “We went right to the mirror and started putting on lipstick,” Tony recalled. “I finished mine, and as we got to the exit, a girl walked by and said, ‘Hi, Tony!’ ”
Outsiders’ expectations for the film weren’t high while it was in production. “An awful lot of people thought it was going to be a disaster,” Jack said. “They thought Billy was trying to make a feature-length farce out of a five-minute burlesque sketch.”
When the movie was first shown to preview audiences, “nobody laughed,” Tony said. “Nobody really got it. They weren’t quite sure what it was about — they thought it was a melodrama.” But Billy cut only one 60-second scene before the film was released.
The initial reviews were mixed, and the powerful Catholic Legion of Decency condemned the movie as morally objectionable for promoting homosexuality and transvestism.
Despite the fact that it was banned in places like Kansas, Some Like It Hot became a major word-of-mouth hit. “Nobody paid much attention to it until all of a sudden it started to erupt,” Tony said. “The audience got it before anybody else.”
The movie snagged six Oscar nominations, including best director and best adapted screenplay, but won only one, for best costume design. “We kind of got left in the dust by Ben-Hur,” said producer Walter Mirisch. “But the Academy made it up to Billy the following year by giving him Oscars for writing, directing and producing The Apartment,” which also starred Jack.
In the years since, Some Like It Hot has cemented its reputation as “the greatest comedy of all time,” Chris Lemmon says. As Mirisch asked, “What more could filmmakers want than the fact that a film has passed the test of time?”
— Bruce Fretts, with reporting by Amanda Champagne-Meadows
“It was original, it was outrageous, and it took a lot of courage to do.”
— Tony Curtis
“We knew we had a good picture,” said Billy, directing Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. The leading men went through five days of makeup tests beforesettling on their final looks. “I had a wonderful time with her,” Tony said of his onscreen love interest Marilyn Monroe.