I have a confession to make. I hate Marilyn Monroe. Or, rather, I hate the hype about Marilyn Monroe. I would much rather see girls admire Audrey Hepburn. That being said, even in my hatred of her hype, no one can deny the many iconic aspects of this famous image:
Friday magazine featured a photo shoot by photographer Sam Shaw in the 1940s. The pictures were of a sailor and girl playing around in a wind tunnel at Coney Island. In the images, the girl’s skirt was being blown around in the wind, and one of the photos landed on Friday‘s cover. The magazine sold out almost instantly.
In 1951, Sam met an unknown, out-of-work young actress named Marilyn. They were on the set of Viva Zapata, where Sam was the set photographer. The two became friends, forming a strong bond as Marilyn drove Sam to and from the film set every day. (Sam did not have a driver’s license.) Marilyn, who reportedly had nicknames for all of her close friends, referred to Sam as “Sam Spade” in reference to Humphrey Bogart’s role in The Maltese Falcon. (On a completely unrelated note, Sam’s mustache reminds me of Howard Stark in Captain America. Why? I don’t know.)
Three years later in 1954, Billy Wilder was filming The Seven Year Itch, starring Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell. Sam was asked to be the still photographer for the film, and luckily so. When he read the script, he thought of his wind tunnel photo shoot and immediately knew how he could recreate it for the film. As the script goes, Marilyn and Tom leave a theater and as a subway passes by underground, the breeze lifts Marilyn skirt. “Isn’t it delicious?” Marilyn says, breaking every rule of 1950s modesty and concealment. Sam knew this scene would draw attention, and he wanted to get to use the image for promotional posters.
Standing on Lexington Avenue between 52nd and 53rd in NYC at 1 AM, Wilder shot the scene surrounded by very loud bystanders and press. The crowd (100 photographers and somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 spectators) had been invited to the shoot to increase hype for the movie, but the front row was reserved specifically for Sam. It took three hours to film the scene 14 times, and every time Marilyn’s skirt flew up, the (predominantly male) crowd responded with very loud cheers. The only man who seemed to disapprove of the scene was Joe DiMaggio, who was married to Marilyn at the time. Apparently all the noise stopped and you could hear a pin drop as DiMaggio very openly and publicly stormed off the set. (Though it was never confirmed, many believe Marilyn and DiMaggio argued over the filming of this scene, and this argument led to their divorce soon after Marilyn returned to California.)
The cheers returned after DiMaggio left. Wilder really wanted to get the scene right and continued to shoot. Over all the noise, Marilyn turned to look at Sam and yelled out, “Hi, Sam Spade!” Sam captured the image as quickly as he could, preserving Marilyn in what Sam always called “her composition.”
The crowd was so loud that all 14 takes were useless. They could only be used in promos. The scene was reshot in an LA studio closed to the public and press. The only photographer allowed inside was Sam, who later published one of the most famous photos in history.
Tanner (Peter and JP – you’re welcome to read this too, if you’re so inclined) – Your comment about remembering the day bin Laden was killed reminded me… I also remember it. It was pretty late at night when it was first announced, and as I was walking upstairs to go to bed, my older sister sent me a text and told me to turn on the news. I did, and I immediately sent a text to my best friend telling her to do the same. She went downstairs, turned on the tv, and woke up her younger (by two years) brother, Frank, to tell him the news. “Frank, they killed bin Laden!” she said. Frank looked at her with a blank stare and asked, “Is that good?” When she told me about that, it was the first time I realized we’re some of the last people to remember 9/11 or the months after… to remember hearing the names Hussein, al Qaeda, Taliban, and bin Laden used almost every day on the news… We may not have had an understanding of what it all meant, but we knew they were enemies of the US. It never occurred to me that someone only two years younger than me wouldn’t have any concept of those names at all. And while I understand the obvious reasoning for it, it’s kind of sad that sheltering children from the horrible events of 9/11 has resulted in them having very little understanding of that time period and the wars that have truly affected their lives, whether they realize it or not. I’ve noticed even years later that younger students don’t have the same understanding of 9/11 that our age group and above does. I don’t know if it’s something that is skipped over in history class, if they’re still being sheltered from it, if teachers feel the war is “too close” still and creates too many biased opinions to teach it objectively, if it just doesn’t occur to anyone that these younger students don’t remember… I really don’t know. In my experience, 9/11 information was taught to us on 9/11, sort of as an obligatory memorial class day. We had a small unit on the Middle East in my geography class in 7th grade, and we discussed 9/11 very briefly in my US History III class as juniors, but that was it in terms of actual lessons. Maybe I’m wrong, but it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that they were only 3 years old or younger, and that history class needs to adjust. Just thought that would be interesting food-for-thought for you.