Regarded by critics as one of the finest American movies ever made, Some Like It Hot continues to delight audiences 50 years after it debuted in 1959; in fact, the American Film Institute named it No. 1 on their list of the 100 best comedies of all time.
Filmed in 1958, the United Artists movie was shot on location at the Hotel del Coronado, Southern California’s landmark Pacific resort. The Del’s iconic Victorian architecture made it the perfect backdrop for the film’s 1929 setting, along with acting icons Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.
Says author and scholar Laurence Maslon, who released Some Like It Hot: The Official 50th Anniversary Companion in September 2009 during the 50th anniversary celebration at the Hotel del Coronado (published by Collins Design, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers in the US and Anova Books in the UK), “There have been a lot of movies shot on a lot of locations, but only a few marriages of celluloid and place can be considered truly legendary. Chief among those magical moments is the sight of Marilyn Monroe cavorting on the beautiful beach at the footsteps of the Hotel del Coronado.”
The Prohibition-era story follows the exploits of Lemmon and Curtis, out-of-work Chicago musicians who accidentally witness a gangland slaying. Making a run for their lives, the men disguise themselves as women and join an all-girl band traveling by train to Florida. Here, a ukulele-strumming singer, played by Monroe, catches the eyes of both men, but it is Curtis’ character who assumes still another identity – an unlucky-in-love millionaire – to successfully woo and win Monroe.
Lemmon’s cross-dressed character, meanwhile, is vigorously pursued by a bona fide millionaire, played by Joe E. Brown. The hilarious gender-shifting romantic romp is played out at California’s famed Hotel del Coronado, which director Billy Wilder found to be the perfect substitute for Florida in the Roaring Twenties.
Sunshine … California-Style
At least one Floridian was less than happy about Wilder’s decision to shoot the movie in San Diego. Miami Mayor Robert King High reportedly said it was “a sacrilege” to let Southern California play the role of Florida’s “Sunshine State.” This sour criticism was ably met by Coronado’s mayor, who wired back, “Some like it hot, but not as hot as Miami in September.” The mayor’s rebuttal also referenced Florida’s gnats, mosquitoes and hurricanes, none of which plagued the temperate island of Coronado.
An “Uproariously Improbable Set”
Like all American resorts, the Hotel del Coronado had endured some tough years during the Depression and World War II, but it was this period of benign neglect that helped preserve the resort, making it the perfect setting for Wilder’s 1929 story, which he co-wrote with I.A. Diamond. Said Wilder, “We looked far and wide, but this was the only place we could find that hadn’t changed in thirty years. People who have never see this beautiful hotel will never believe we didn’t make these scenes on a movie lot. It’s like the past come to life.”
Although at least one critic didn’t believe the hotel was real, describing The Del as “an uproariously improbable set.” The hotel’s 1888 Queen Anne Revival-style architecture does tend toward the fanciful, with rambling white clapboard, lazy verandas and red-turreted roofs, which an earlier writer had characterized as a cross between an ornate wedding cake and a well-trimmed ship.
Although only exterior scenes were filmed at hotel, the interior scenes do look very Del-like (right down to the placement of the lobby elevator and stairs). This probably explains why so many Some Like It Hot devotees – even after seeing the Hotel del Coronado for themselves – absolutely refuse to believe that the movie’s interior scenes were not filmed at The Del.
Favored by the Fans, Overlooked by the Oscars
The movie was a box office success, grossing over $8 million initially and earning several million more over the next few years – somewhere between $10 and $15 million.
Monroe’s financial deal – she received between $100,000 and $300,000, as well as 10 percent of the film’s gross profits – was a very lucrative arrangement in its day, and Some Like It Hot turned out to be her most profitable venture.
The movie was also a critical success. Variety called it the biggest hit of 1959; Monroe received a Golden Globe for her performance, as did Jack Lemmon. The film itself also won a Golden Globe for “best comedy.”
In spite of its financial success and public accolades, the film received only one minor Academy Award for “Best Black and White Costume Design.” Today it is thought that Some Like It Hot was just too risqué for 1959, when the big winner that year was Ben-Hur (also in the running for various Academy Awards were the likes of Diary of Anne Frank, Room at the Top, Pillow Talk and Porgy and Bess).
The Some Like It Hot story line is racy, and Monroe’s costumes are incredibly revealing, even by today’s standards (though, according to Wilder, Marilyn was not interested in fashion … as long as the costumes revealed “something,” she was satisfied). Ahead of its time perhaps, present-day reviewers marvel that the movie still comes across as such a wholesome film; this was Monroe’s forte: she was sexy, but childlike.
Although this is the Monroe film most shown on television today, the actress reportedly never liked her performance.
~ Story and photos courtesy of Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego.