Sunday, June 19, 2011

Backstage Moments...

Allan 'Whitey' Snyder and Marilyn Monroe on The Seven Year Itch

I routinely scour the Internet for pictures to go along with my my blog posts here and, in the process, I've come upon many interesting photos that I haven't used. I thought it might be fun to post a few of those taken on movie sets along with a little bit of movie lore (and other "extras").
Wilder, Marilyn & a $4.6 mil. dress

Above, Marilyn Monroe's makeup artist, Allan 'Whitey' Snyder, prepares her for a famous scene in The Seven Year Itch (1955). Marilyn was basking in the early glow of international fame when she began work on the Billy Wilder comedy in 1954. Her popularity had been firmly established with her co-starring turns in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and How to Marry a Millionaire (1954) and, at the time she started on her first film with Wilder, she was newly married to baseball superstar Joe DiMaggio. Legend has it that Joe stood on the sidelines watching as Wilder shot - and re-shot - takes of Marilyn's famous subway grate scene. Filming took place on the streets of New York and a crowd had gathered to watch. The slugger reportedly stormed off the set, incensed by the cheers and whistles of onlookers that erupted each time Marilyn's skirt blew skyward.

Audrey Hepburn, Blake Edwards's back and George Peppard
Monroe's marriage to DiMaggio failed in nine months, but her star continued to rise with films like Josh Logan's critically acclaimed Bus Stop (1956) and Billy Wilder's über-classic Some Like it Hot (1959). In 1961, Blake Edwards took on the film adaptation of Truman Capote's novella, Breakfast at Tiffany's. The novelist wanted Marilyn Monroe to be cast as Holly Golightly, the heroine of his tale. But Monroe balked, she worried that the role of a freewheeling party girl might have a negative impact on her career.

Audrey taking guitar lessons on the set

Enter Audrey Hepburn, Oscar-winning star of Roman Holiday (1950) who took the part of Holly Golightly and went on to make it one of her signature roles. The film provided what has become the iconic vision of Audrey Hepburn - upswept 'do, Givenchy gowns, waif-in-Manhattan persona - with or without sunglasses. The film co-starred newcomer George Peppard as Holly's love interest - but many were considered for the part. It has been said that Steve McQueen was up for the quote Holly, "the mind reels."

Breakfast at Tiffany's won Oscars for its score and theme song, "Moon River," a Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer tune.

Tony Curtis, Mia Farrow, Roman Polanski
Polish auteur Roman Polanski was known mostly to fans of foreign film and art house patrons before he began making films in the U.S. in 1968. His first full-length feature, Knife in the Water (1962) was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Film and by year's end Polanski was on the cover of Time magazine. His next masterwork, Repulsion (1965), starred 21-year-old Catherine Deneuve. It was illustrious and infamous producer Robert Evans, head of Paramount at the time, who lured Polanski to Hollywood. Their first effort was the trend-setting horror sensation, Rosemary's Baby (1968).  But the film featured no big names in its cast. Mia Farrow (Rosemary) was known only for her role on the prime-time TV soap Peyton Place and as Frank Sinatra's much younger wife. Her co-star, John Cassavetes (Guy, Rosemary's husband) had starred on a TV detective series (Johnny Staccato), been a featured player in several films and was early in his own career as an auteur director. But neither was a star. The many old-timers in supporting roles (Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans, Elisha Cook Jr.) were far past their prime. The biggest Hollywood name attached to the picture did not appear onscreen or receive a credit...he was a top star from the 1950s through the mid-'60s: Tony Curtis. In Rosemary's Baby he provided the voice of an off-camera character named Donald Baumgart, an actor whose sudden blindness is key in advancing Guy's career. Curtis's voice is heard in the scene in which Rosemary calls to ask about the circumstances surrounding his loss of sight. Farrow apparently didn't know it was Curtis, but his voice sounded familiar and this disconcerted her as she played the scene. It seems that was the effect Polanski was hoping for.

Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in Africa
John Huston's The African Queen (1951) is legendary for many reasons. It was the film for which Humphrey Bogart won his only Best Actor Oscar. It is the one and only teaming of Bogart with co-star Katharine Hepburn, a memorable pairing. The film was shot on location in Africa at a time when such location shoots were relatively rare. The production itself became famous and notorious for what went on off-camera. Clint Eastwood's 1990 White Hunter, Black Heart was a veiled account by writer Peter Viertel (Deborah Kerr's husband) of his experience with Huston and company on that set decades earlier. Even Katharine Hepburn chimed in with her own account - in book form: The Making of the African Queen: Or, How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind.

William Wyler and Bette Davis in deep discussion on The Letter
Bette Davis proclaimed loud and 'til the end of her days that William Wyler was her favorite among the directors she'd worked with and the one she respected most...and...the man that got away. The two made three films together, beginning with Jezebel (1938). They'd had a less than meet-cute introduction years earlier when neither was well-known. But by 1938 each was on their way up and with Jezebel they meshed perfectly. Onscreen and off; it was during the making of Jezebel that the two were romantically involved. Their second collaboration was The Letter (1940), an adaptation of Somerset Maugham's play. I think it's the best of their three together (the third was The Little Foxes in 1941) and one of Davis's very best films.

Kim Novak takes direction from Hitchcock on Vertigo
In 1958, Alfred Hitchcock created what has been called his most personal film, Vertigo. It is certainly my favorite among his long list of brilliant, hypnotic films. Though not a critical or popular success in its day, Vertigo persevered and is now viewed by most as the director's masterpiece of masterpieces.

At the time, Hitchcock was grooming Vera Miles as a possible replacement for his muse, Grace Kelly, who had decamped to become Princess Grace of Monaco. But Miles was pregnant by the time Vertigo was ready go into production...and Hitchcock moved on to Kim Novak. Vertigo is the film for which Novak is best known and remembered. Her only regret? That she didn't ask for (as was often customary) the stunning Edith Head-designed white coat she wore in several key scenes...

For more on the set moments click here...


  1. Great Post (plus I like the extras). You certainly selected the cream of the crop! Most enjoyable.

  2. Thank you, FlickChick. I just learned that the dress Marilyn Monroe wore (shown here in both pictures of her) for the subway grate scene from "The Seven Year Itch" brought in $4,600,000 at the Debbie Reynolds auction yesterday.

  3. great stuff...a regular potpourri..
    GEORGE PEPPARD....ugh!!!

  4. It is a potpourri alright...I hope you also checked the pix at my other blog - no movie lore or "extras" with them but still good stuff. You're an MM fan, so here's a bit more...'Whitey' Snyder was her makeup man from her screen test at Fox until her death - and he made her up for her funeral. He was also one of her pallbearers.

  5. Nice selection Eve! Have you read Sam Wasson's "Fifth Avenue, 5 AM?" A terrific account on the making of the film and the cultural changes that followed.

    - John

  6. Thanks, John & thanks for the tip - hadn't heard of the book 'til now but will look for it.

  7. That was a very enjoyable post with backstage tidbits. I always love seeing the pics taken while the cast is just being people instead of megastars. I have a feeling it was hard to limit this one to a workable size. It could go on forever.

  8. You're right, Allen, this post could've gone on - that's what inspired me to post more pix at the other blog.
    I added the photo here of Billy Wilder and Marilyn Monroe over the subway grate after I heard that her dress sold for $4.6m at the Debbie Reynolds auction.

  9. Wonderful post... I love what you did with the backstage pictures..

  10. Thanks, know I'm interested in what goes on behind the scenes as films are being made and I thought it would be fun to include a little something with each picture.

  11. I have seen some of these pictures many times...But.. It never crossed my mind to put together a post!!

    Loved it..

  12. Good heavens, Eve, Marilyn manages to look incredibly sexy even when she is just getting her makeup on! Did Audrey EVER look bad? Well, Mia Farrow definitely DID with that awful haircut - I remember thinking yes, it was de rigeur at the time, but yuck. I had read somewhere that Kim Novak did not like the white coat, black scarf look, but if she wanted it, I guess that wasn't true. It was truly stunning.

    Very enjoyable article and wonderful pictures!

  13. Agree 100%, Becky - MM and Audrey always looked great...Mia, not so much. But hers wasn't a glamorous era either. I wouldn't be surprised if Kim didn't like the coat and scarf at the time, I've read that she and Hitchcock didn't agree on the costuming. At some point, though, she apparently woke up and realized she never looked better than she did in "Vertigo" and wished she'd kept the coat. Had I been Kim, I'd have asked for all my "Vertigo" and "Bell Book and Candle" (Jean Louis) costumes.

  14. Amen, Eve. From Vertigo, I would have kept that gorgeous coat, her lovely grey suit, her dinner gown -alter-ego Judy's clothes were much less classy, as required by the story, but the dress she wore to dinner with Stewart (I think it was some kind of lavender?) I would have kept.

    And from Bell, Book and Candle -- EVERYTHING, including the cat! LOL!

  15. I think I'd send all of Judy's outfits to the Goodwill... was thinking of "The Eddy Duchin Story" - would have taken all of those Jean Louis outfits, too!

  16. Thanks for pointing out that Tony Curtis was the off-screen voice in Rosemary's Baby--I never knew! It was a clever touch to have a blind character to whom the movie viewers were blind, and I would praise Polanski for not cross-cutting from where Mia was to where the blind character was (unless I remember the scene inaccurately, and he did!). That choice pushes the audience to imagine how the man on the other line looked, an effect similar to the film's ending. I wonder whether reviewers at the time acknowledged Curtis' voice and whether theater audiences also felt disconcerted hearing such a famous, recognizable voice.

  17. Joseph - I only learned that Tony Curtis was the voice on the other end of the phone a few years ago. I don't believe Curtis's involvement in the film was publicized at the time. Mia did look ill-at-ease in the scene, but one assumed she was playing the awkwardness of her character's situation - she's suspicious of her husband and secretly contacting the man whose blindness advanced his career. Casting Curtis was a brilliant stroke (one of many)...

  18. Nice! Really cool stuff and very inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

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  19. Hello Kylie - Thanks and thanks for stopping by my reel life. So glad you like it, the blog is all about what I love most.