A breeze, a pair of famous legs, and a couple thousand horny onlookers all drove director Billy Wilder insane. Almost 60 years ago, on September 15, 1964, Billy Wilder was shooting a scene that would push the boundaries of Hollywood in the 1960s and would be the most iconic moment in the career of superstar and sex symbol Marilyn Monroe. What most do not know however, is that because of the raucous Marilyn Monroe’s legs (and other parts of her body) did to young men surrounding the set, a bit of movie magic had to be done so the scene could play as it did on screen. As a result, not all of it was filmed in New York City as it seems.
The scene takes place around the halfway point in Wilder’s classic sex comedy The Seven Year Itch. Based on the Broadway play of the same name. The film follows a married man who fights off the desire to commit adultery while his wife and son are out of town. It becomes increasingly difficult when a new tenant moves into the building, a seemingly flawless creature only known as “The Girl”.
The husband Richard Sherman (played by Thomas Ewell, reprising his Broadway role) and The Girl walk out of a screening of The Creature From The Black Lagoon at Loews Theater on the corner of Lexington and 51st Street. During their conversation about the movie, The Girl walks on the subway grates, letting the breeze from the train rush up her skirt. The image of Marilyn Monroe’s legs were so important to the film that it is the image used in the poster for the film and it is a moment that has been re-imagined and performed countless times in other films and Halloween parties.
While yes, the real location was used during filming, Harry Brand (head of Fox publicity at the time) leaked out the location to the press before shooting, which caused pandemonium. The scene was re-shot several times, with the onlookers screaming for the breeze to blow her dress higher each time. Marilyn Monroe’s husband at the time, New York Yankees slugger Joe Dimaggio was not happy, with this incident being linked to their divorce not soon after.
According to the book On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder, Wilder had to re-shoot the scene inside a set in California. What you see in the film is a mixture of both takes, with the frames filmed in NYC being filmed without sound and later looped in post-production. For all the chaos it caused and personal turmoil it caused Monroe, the film was a huge success, rising Marilyn’s star power and giving Wilder another provocative, controversial hit.
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