MARILYN MONROE, the name conjures up images of glitz and glamour. She embodies everything that people love about Old Hollywood and more, her platinum blonde hair and sumptuous red lips are still the envy of millions of adoring fans around the world. Of course, to her loyal fan base, Marilyn was so much more than that, a talented actress and comedienne, intelligent, well read and always eager to learn more and improve her craft.
However, 65 years ago, in the early morning hours of September 15th 1954, Marilyn Monroe unknowingly transformed herself into a pop cultural icon and legend when she stood over a subway grate and saw her white halter neck dress billowing over her head.
The post-midnight hours of September 15th 1954, outside of the Trans-Lux Theatre near 52nd Street on Lexington Avenue, a luminous Marilyn wearing a white pleated halter dress, stepped over a subway grating. With a crew member operating a powerful fan positioned below the grille, the stage was set for a legendary scene. Hordes of reporters and spectators (estimates range from several hundred to five thousand) watched the crew film take after take of history-making moment.
The postscript of the film of this New York sequence was unusable. Her skirt had flown up to her waist, and the cheers of the crowd were clearly audible. The famous scene’s true setting was the controlled atmosphere of a Twentieth Century FOX soundstage. Unlike the iconic images that exsist, in the finished film Marilyn’s skirt billows up only slightly above her knees and a full body shot is never shown. Back in New York, a fifty-two foot high picture of The Girl with the upswept skirt was mounted above the marquee of Loew’s State Theatre at Times Square.
Paul Wurtzel, who was then FOX’s head of special effects once remembered:
“I think they really used the wind from the subway train. At least, we never sent anyone to New York from our department for that segment, so I don’t think anybody rigged it. The location shoot was partly unsuccessful because there was just too much noise and commotion. We did not have the techniques then that we have now to dub voices. I was standing inside a wind tunnel under the stage where the subway grating was and on cue we’d remove this sliding top to create the effect of the train going by and blowing up Marilyn’s skirt. Well that scene took all day, what with Billy Wilder filming it over and over and over again, and there I was underneath her. Marilyn had a habit of squatting down and talking to me.”
Publicist Roy Croft remembers:
“The skirt blowing episode was fantastic. The production crew had picked this Lexington Avenue newsreel theatre, which they had in those days – the crew had picked this one because at two in the morning the street is entirely deserted and we’d have no problem. So they re-dressed the theatre with this monster movie and so forth.
I helped leak the story – and Walter Winchell had it – that Marilyn was going to be on Lexington Avenue at two in the morning. So they had one of the biggest crowds ever.. There were all the working progress – the real photographers – plus the amateurs.
So when the scene starts, all these flashbulb cameras were going off… pop, pop, pop and my God, you couldn’t do anything. Finally I stepped out and said to the working press, “Fellahs, will you tell this bunch to calm down and not shoot? Let them get the scene, then Billy Wilder, the director says he’ll re-do – move the big cameras out of the way – so that everybody can get real good pictures of Marilyn and Tom.”
Well they did that, finally got the shot, then moved the cameras, then everybody starts shooting. That was the night that Joe DiMaggio and Winchell came, and he was reported as saying he disapproved of Marilyn showing her legs and that sort of thing, which I don’t think was true.
I think it was a made up quote. I never heard him say it and I don’t think he ever did say it. He was quoted as saying he was irate and what not, but when he had married her she was a major personality and a sex symbol and he knew what he was getting into.”
The location of the famous “upskirt” scene still exsists today, the theatre is gone and all the surrounding shops and buildings have changed, but you can still feel the “goosepimples” of knowing you’re standing in the same spot where history was made.
The legend and image of Marilyn in the white dress has lived far beyond that night of September 15th 1954 as evidenced here:
No image in the history of pop culture is more iconic and as instantly recognisable as Marilyn Monroe over a subway grate in “The Seven Year Itch,” no-one, not even Marilyn could predict the impact that image would have on the world and here we are, 65 years on, still captivated by that “delicious” moment in time.
“Blonde Heat: The Sizzling Screen Career Of Marilyn Monroe.”
“Marilyn Monroe: Platinum Fox.”
“Marilyn Monroe: On Loction.”