Marilyn Monroe Lets Loose on Lexington Avenue

A new look at The Girl and the scene.

The New York Times has scratched a 63-year-old itch.

It’s a well-known fact that early on the morning of Sept. 15, 1954, around 1 a.m., photographers, passers-by and others gathered near a subway grate on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to watch Billy Wilder film a version of the famous scene in The Seven Year Itch when Marilyn Monroe’s character (The Girl) unconventionally cools herself on a hot summer night. As some new coverage in this Sunday’s New York Times reminds, the fanned subway-grate shoot turned out to be calamitous for Monroe on a personal level:

Gathered at that late hour were hundreds of gawkers, almost all men, who catcalled and yelled things like, “Higher! Higher!” as Monroe’s dress blew up over her head. For two hours, the men watched from surrounding buildings and from the street. …

Joe DiMaggio hadn’t planned on visiting the set that night, and was waiting for his wife at the St. Regis Hotel, where the couple were staying. But the columnist Walter Winchell had persuaded him to come along. Ms. Monroe was not happy her husband had shown up. But he was even more unhappy and angrily stormed off. Later that night the couple had a screaming fight in their room. The next morning, her hairdresser covered up Monroe’s bruises with makeup. Three weeks later, Monroe filed for divorce.

The hook for the Times piece is that some film shot that night by Jules Schulback, a New York furrier, has been shared with the paper. The found footage was first screened for people beyond immediate relatives in 2004, at the upstate New York home of journalist Kurt Andersen and wife Anne Kreamer.

The total amount of footage found runs about three and a half minutes. The Times piece features a 12-second excerpt, from which the still above is taken. A USC professor tells article writer Helene Stapinski that Monroe was at the time having an affair with her musical director, which further contributed to tensions between the actress and recent husband DiMaggio.

The story of how the “family myth” of Schulback’s footage was resolved is a good one. We’ve also embedded, below, a fascinating deconstruction of the specifics of the Sept. 15 shoot at Lexington and 52nd Street by Room 111 Photography.

Previously on FishbowlNY:
Marilyn Monroe Emerges From the Archives of Bert Stern
A Missed Marilyn Monroe Headline Opportunity
Palm Springs Unveils Massive Marilyn Monroe Statue

Screen grab image, courtesy and with permission of: New York Times