Despite being stymied by strict morality guidelines set forth by The Motion Picture Production Code, The Seven Year Itch is best known for the iconic scene in which Marilyn Monroe's dress blows above her knees while she's standing over a subway grate. Based on a play by George Axelrod, Billy Wilder co-wrote and directed the movie version of the story of the nerdy, married Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) who, during one summer, is tempted to cheat on his wife when he meets The Girl (Monroe).
1. THE SCREEN RIGHTS WERE ACQUIRED FOR $255,000.
Part of the 1953 agreement with Axelrod was that the movie could not be released before January 31, 1956, since the play was still making money. When 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck grew impatient, he paid Axelrod another $175,000 to move up the movie debut to June 3, 1955.
2. WILDER AND AXELROD HAD A SOMEWHAT CONTEMPTUOUS FIRST MEETING.
Both Wilder and Axelrod worked on the movie adaptation. Axelrod brought his script from the play with him to his first meeting with Wilder, and told Wilder he thought they could use it as a guide. Wilder famously replied, "Fine. We'll use it as a doorstop."
3. THANKS TO THE HAYS CODE, THERE WERE KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE PLAY AND THE MOVIE.
In the play, Sherman and The Girl have sex. However, the Production Code dictated that “adultery must never be the subject of comedy or laughter.” Wilder thought he came up with a workaround and suggested they have Sherman's maid find a hairpin when making up his bed, implying the adulterous act without showing it. Zanuck refused to give Wilder—or anyone else—the go-ahead to even suggest the idea to censor Geoffrey Shurlock. Instead, Sherman only fantasizes about cheating with The Girl in the film. Two decades later, Wilder said the limitations imposed by the Hays Code made The Seven Year Itch a "nothing picture," and that he wished he had waited until the 1970s to make it. The Production Code effectively ended on November 1, 1968, with the introduction of the MPAA film rating system.
4. THE GIRL HAD NO NAME FOR A REASON.
"The truth is that I could never think of a name to really fit the girl I had in mind," Axelrod said. Apparently Wilder couldn't come up with one either.
5. AN UNKNOWN WALTER MATTHAU ALMOST LANDED THE ROLE OF RICHARD SHERMAN.
Walter Matthau tested for the part along with the then-just-as-unknown Gena Rowlands as The Girl on June 15, 1954. After considering Gary Cooper and William Holden, Wilder wanted Matthau. Axelrod agreed with the Matthau choice. Zanuck did not. James Stewart expressed interest but his schedule was already full.
6. TOM EWELL WAS SURPRISED HE WAS CAST.
Even though he played Richard Sherman 730 times in the Broadway production of The Seven Year Itch, and won a Tony Award for his troubles, Ewell said he "never expected to get the part" in the film adaptation. "In fact, I had already taken a house on Martha's Vineyard for a vacation. Needless to say, I'm happy they did choose me."
7. A SCENE INVOLVING YOGI BERRA WAS CUT.
Footage featuring Yankees catcher Yogi Berra and pitcher "Steady" Eddie Lopat that was filmed during an Indians-Yankees game on September 1, 1954 was meant to be a part of the gossip sequence when Sherman daydreams about news of his activities with The Girl spreading throughout New York City. Shooting for the film began on that Wednesday afternoon. Twelve days earlier, Hedda Hopper reported on the upcoming scene in her gossip column, adding that the script for the movie was the "best I've ever read."
8. MONROE ANNOYED WILDER WITH HER TARDINESS.
"I would get very angry at her," Wilder admitted. "For The Seven Year Itch, she was perfectly un-punctual. She never came on time once. Instead of studying with [acclaimed acting teacher] Lee Strasberg, she should have studied in Switzerland at Patek Philippe." Despite this, Wilder went on to work with Monroe again in Some Like It Hot (1959).
9. BELL CHIPS DELIVERED CASES OF THEIR CHIPS TO THE SET, HOPING THEY'D BE USED AS A PROP.
Then a west coast regional brand trying to go national, Bell potato chips sent cases of their goods to various movie sets. When Wilder ended up casting them as the chips Monroe ate, Bell became famous. However, the company went out of business in 1995.
10. NEW YORK CITY ONLOOKERS FOR THE DRESS-BLOWING SCENE WERE SO LOUD, IT HAD TO BE SHOT ALL OVER AGAIN—IN HOLLYWOOD.
Originally the scene was shot in New York on September 15, 1954 at one in the morning on Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street, in front of a crowd of an estimated 1000 to 5000 spectators. Monroe's husband, Joe DiMaggio, was one of those onlookers, and he was reportedly "embarrassed and angry" about the scene. The scene was reshot in Hollywood on the 20th Century Fox lot. Forty more takes were necessary.
11. WILDER'S CREW ARGUED OVER WHO GOT TO WORK ON THE DRESS-BLOWING MOMENT.
"I had guys fighting as to who was going to put the ventilator on, in the shaft there, below the grill," Wilder revealed to Cameron Crowe in 1999.
12. A SIMILAR SIDEWALK GRATE SCENE WAS FILMED IN 1901.
The 1901 short What Happened on Twenty-Third Street, New York City featured actress Florence Georgie's dress being blown up above her knees, too.
13. MONROE'S "GRATE DRESS" WAS SOLD FOR $5.6 MILLION IN JUNE 2011.
Actress Debbie Reynolds, a collector of Hollywood memorabilia in her spare time, was the one who put it up for auction. CNN reported that Reynolds was "in tears" when the bidding ended. The auction house believed it would only fetch $2 million.
14. MONROE FILED FOR DIVORCE DURING THE MAKING OF THE FILM.
15. A 52-FOOT BANNER OF MONROE WAS USED TO PROMOTE THE MOVIE.
20th Century Fox put up a 52-foot cutout of the Monroe grate dress shot on the façade of the Loew's State Theatre in Times Square. It had to be taken down after people complained.
16. THE FILM WAS BANNED IN IRELAND.
Due to the fact it was "indecent and unfit for general exhibition."