American Film

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Billy Wilder spoke to Fellows at AFI Conservatory on December 13, 1970. Among the classic films he wrote and directed are THE LOST WEEKEND (1945), A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948), SUNSET BLVD. (1950), THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955), SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) and THE APARTMENT (1960). Wilder immediately established ground rules for his talk: “No big monologue. I’m not an orator or anything like that...just questions and answers.” One Fellow asked if he could share stories about working with Marilyn Monroe. Here is Wilder’s reply.

“You want me to talk about Marilyn? My God, I think there have been more books on Marilyn Monroe than on World War II, and there’s a great similarity.

It was a very complex thing working with her because she had tremendous problems with herself. She was on the edge of deep depression – whatever you want to call it – at all times. There was always a question, which you sweated out: ‘Is she going to show up? Is she going to show up on time? Is she going to live through the scene? Is she going to finish the picture?’ And that is a very nerve-wracking thing if you’ve got eight million dollars in the enterprise. But when it’s all done, it’s well worth it. It’s that old thing that I said, I don’t know, four hundred years ago: ‘Look, if we wanted somebody to be on time and to know the lines just perfectly, I’ve got an old aunt in Vienna. She’s going to be there at five in the morning and never miss a word. But who wants to look at her?’”

In the most famous scene in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, Marilyn Monroe stands over a subway grating to enjoy the breeze blowing up her skirt. The scene was filmed in the early morning hours of September 15, 1954 in front of a crowd of over a thousand spectators. Modern sources frequently assert that the shooting of the sequence contributed to the demise of Monroe’s short-lived marriage to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio.

For more on Billy Wilder and Marilyn Monroe, visit the AFI Catalog of Feature Films