The Seven Year Itch at 60
This week marks the 60th anniversary of The Seven Year Itch. Billy Wilder’s film adaptation of George Axelrod’s play about Richard Sherman, a middle-aged husband who is left alone for the summer while his wife and son holiday in Maine and the girl in the apartment upstairs.
The film was shot in New York City during 1954 and premiered on June 1st, 1955 which happened to be Marilyn Monroe's 29th birthday.
Tom Ewell reprising his role from the play as Richard Sherman, a nerdy, faithful, middle-aged publishing executive with an overactive imagination and a mid-life crisis, whose wife Helen played by Evelyn Keyes and son Ricky are spending the summer in Maine. When he returns home with the kayak paddle Ricky accidentally left behind, he meets a commercial actress and former model played Marilyn Monroe who rents the apartment upstairs while in town to make television spots for a brand of toothpaste. That evening, he works on proofreading a book in which psychiatrist Dr. Brubaker claims that a significant proportion of men have extra-marital affairs in the seventh year of marriage. He has an imaginary conversation with Helen, trying to convince her, in three fantasy sequences, that he is irresistible to women, including his secretary, a nurse and her bridesmaid, but she laughs it off. A tomato plant then crashes into his lounge chair; the girl upstairs apologizes for accidentally knocking it over, and Richard invites her down for a drink.
He waits for her to get dressed, including in underwear she says she keeps cool in her icebox. When she arrives, a vision in pink, they have a drink and he lies about being married. When she sees his wedding ring, he backtracks but she is unconcerned, having no designs on him, only on his air-conditioning. He has a fantasy that she is a femme fatale overcome by his playing of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto. In reality, she prefers Chopsticks, which they play together. Richard, overcome by his fantasies, awkwardly grabs at her, causing them to fall off the piano bench. He apologizes for his indiscretion but she says it happens to her all the time. Guilt-ridden, however, he asks her to leave.
Over the next few days, they spend more time together and Richard imagines that they are growing closer, although she is immune to his imagined charms. Helen continually calls her husband, asking him to send the paddle so Ricky can use the kayak, but Richard is repeatedly distracted. His waning resolve to resist temptation fuels his fear that he is succumbing to the "Seven Year Itch". He seeks help from Dr. Brubaker, but to no avail. His imagination then runs even wilder: the young girl tells a plumber how Richard is "just like The Creature from the Black Lagoon"; the plumber repeats her story to neighbour McKenzie, whom Helen had asked to drop by to pick up Ricky's paddle. Richard imagines his wife with McKenzie on a hayride which actually takes place but into which he injects his paranoia, guilt and jealousy. After seeing The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the young girl stands over the subway grate to experience the breeze.
Eventually coming to his senses, and fearing his wife's retribution, which he imagines in a fantasy scene, Richard, paddle in hand, tells the young girl she can stay in his apartment; then he runs off to catch the next train to Maine to be with Helen and Ricky.
The brownstone at 164 East 61st Street between 3rd and Lexington is still noticeably the same as it was 60 years ago, and a quick search online for Monroe images will undoubtedly return photos of the young actress posing for the paparazzi on the steps leading up to the front door where she first makes her appearance in The Seven Year Itch; holding a bag of groceries and an electric fan, its cord trailing like a cat’s tail. Her polka-dotted dress is almost sprayed onto her body, her lips are glossy red as she asks Tom Ewell to help untangle her cord.
The classic shot of Marilyn Monroe's dress blowing up around her legs as she stands over a subway grating was originally shot on Manhattan's Lexington Avenue at 52nd Street on September 15, 1954 at 1:00 a.m. with 5,000 onlookers, who whistled and cheered through take after take as she repeatedly missed her lines. Bill Kobrin, then-20th Century Fox's East Coast correspondent, told the Palm Springs Desert Sun in 2006 that it was Billy Wilder's idea to turn the shoot into a media circus, and even had bleachers set up. This occurred in the presence of an embarrassed and angry Joe DiMaggio, Monroe's husband at the time. The original footage never made it to the screen; the noise of the crowd had made it unusable. Wilder re-staged the scene on a Fox set replicating Lexington Avenue, and got a more satisfactory result. However, it took another 40 takes for Marilyn to achieve the famous scene.
Marilyn Monroe's iconic white dress set a record when it was auctioned for $4.6 million in June 2011 rising to $5.5 million after taxes and fees were included, quintupling the previous record for a movie costume ($923,000 for Audrey Hepburn's "little black dress" from Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)).
An important promotional campaign was released for this film, including a 52-foot-high cut-out of Marilyn Monroe (from the blowing dress scene) erected in front of Loews State Theater, in New York City's Times Square.
The final scene sees Marilyn wave good-bye from the apartment window, smiling, thoughtful, natural, enchanting. In seven years, she would be dead.
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