Leaning boards ( also called Slant boards) were invented for Hollywood players to relax between takes. Frequently, the costumes were cut on the bias, and tailored so snugly that the actor could not sit down without bursting a ladder of seams. In fact, most of the time, there were no zippers or buttons on the costumes. Actors were sewn into their garments.
So, when you see Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight, and marvel at the impeccable fit of the famous white silk gown, be aware that Harlow’s mobility was severely limited. In fact, just breathing was something of a chore.
These days, leaning boards are still in use, but they are the exception rather than the rule.
We continue our survey of the Twenty Greatest Movies of the 1950s.
For the Twenty Greatest Movies of the 1940s, click here.
For the Twenty Greatest Movies of the 1930s click here.
For the Twenty Greatest Movies of the 1920s click here.
19. Some Like It Hot, 1959.
“Look at that!” Jack Lemmon tells Tony Curtis as he watches Marilyn Monroe in awe. “Look how she moves. Like Jell-O on springs. She must have some sort of built-in motor. I tell you, it’s a whole different sex.”
Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s screenplay for Some Like It Hot, which some consider the greatest comedy ever produced, nails the Marilyn Monroe personae with an exactitude that is almost frightening.
Ever since there were movie stars there have been star product endorsements.
Corporations and their advertising companies were quick to understand that those larger than life figures floating like angels on the silver screen were potent persuaders. Thus, the synergistic relationship between one product, the movie star, and a consumer product — cigarettes, perfume, makeup, whatever — was born, and continues with increasing power and sophistication to this very day.
The idea is simplicity itself: Buy me, be me.
The Making of Some Like it Hot by Tony Curtis and Mark A. Vieira is one of the most compulsively readable film books evuh. And believe me, yours truly has read many, in fact too many movie memoirs.
I admit that I am powerless when it comes to Hollywood memoirs. I probably need a support group, a bunch of movie memoir addicts sitting around drinking endless cups of coffee—okay latte, this is Hollywood—and kvetching about the lost hours of our lives, and fortunes wasted on out-of-print, ghost-written memoirs by long-forgotten stars.
Anyhoo, when I read a book I stick a Post It on a page to highlight—for blogging purposes—the memorable sections and quotes. But with this book I found myself putting a Post It on every single page.
Talk about overwhelming.
So here’s the plan, I’m going to open The Making of Some Like it Hot at random and whatever anecdote shows up, well that’s the one I’m going to feature.
Remember, totally random.
Here we go.
Opening… smoothing out the page… scanning… scanning…
Bingo, we’ve struck gold.
I told you, great book, you just can’t go wrong.
Let me set the stage: Some Like it Hot (1959), is about to go into production, one of the most troubled shoots in Hollywood history c/o the deeply troubled Marilyn Monroe. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, who will play most of their scenes in drag, are being fitted by the great costume designer Orry-Kelly.
When Orry-Kelly started my fitting, he noticed how fit I was. I was worried that he might think I was a dum-dum who did nothing but lift weights, so I made conversation about my father. I said he was a tailor. Orry-Kelly was interested in that. He cut quite a figure himself. He wore a spotless pin-striped suit, a dress shirt, and a Sulka tie. In his breast pocket he carried a tape measure like my father had—yellow and white, rolled up with a metal fixture at the end. Orry-Kelly made a production of the thing. He took it out of his pocket and then he whipped out the tape in this very grand gesture. It flew out with a whooshing noise.
Then Orry-Kelly went to Marilyn’s trailer. She was waiting. I heard she was reading books in there, odd things like Walt Whitman and Rainer Maria Rilke. When Orry-Kelly went in, she stood up. She was wearing a white blouse, panties and three-inch heels. Orry-Kelly said hello, and then he took measurements here and there: 37, 24. When he had his tape measure across her hips, he kind of chuckled. “Tony has a better-looking ass than you do.”
Marilyn turned around, opened her blouse, and said, “He doesn’t have t**s like these.” Of course it was true. Her breasts were so beautifully arranged. She had the best figure I ever saw in a girl.
Earlier in the book, Curtis writes that Marilyn had the hips of “a Polish washer woman.” I thought that was an insult. Maybe Curtis meant it as a compliment.
She kind of wore out her welcome with Orry-Kelly. After he’d gotten the gowns made, not only for Marilyn, but also for me and Jack [Lemmon], they were rolled to the stage on racks so that we could shoot wardrobe tests. Well, Marilyn was walking by the racks and she got curious. A little while later, Jack came to my dressing room. He looked upset.
“Tony,” he said. “You’re not gonna believe this.”
“Marilyn took my dress.”
“Whaddaya mean she took your dress?”
“She took it. The black one Orry-Kelly made for me. She saw it on the rack and said to the wardrobe mistress, ‘Ooh, this looks nice. Let me try it, huh?’ And she decided she had to have it. Orry-Kelly came screaming to me. ‘She took your dress! The b**ch has pinched your dress!’ And they’re going to let her get away with it!”
The other day, an Amazon package showed up. For the life of me I couldn’t remember what I ordered. Not a good sign. But when I opened the box, I unwrapped a Kindle, a gift from Karen. So my reading habits are going to change—except on Shabbat, when I can’t use electricity. Anyway, I’m delighted with the kindle. I’ve already downloaded Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and Mark A. Vieira’s monumental biography of Irving Thalberg.
And Seraphic Secret will be on available on Kindle, for $1.99 a month, in the next day or so.