For the 1955 movie “The Seven Year Itch”, Marilyn Monroe appeared in one of the most famous photographic stunts in the history of film. Dressed in a white halter dress, with her skirt blown up by a draft from a sidewalk grate, leaning down to catch her dress so that her cleavage showed. The studio used the photographs to advertise the film, and it has become one of the iconic images of Marilyn Monroe.
The scene for the movie was to be shot on September 15, 1954 on the corner of Lexington Avenue and Fifty-second street at 1:00 A.M. The publicity department for the film leaked the time and place of the shoot and by the time it was to begin several hundred photographers and on-lookers were at the scene jostling for position. The technicians below the grate operated the fans in such a way as to give everyone revealing views of Marilyn’s legs and white panties (two pair of panties to be exact as one pair was just too see-through). Throughout the fifteen takes director Billy Wilder took, the crowd became more boisterous and rude. The material from this shoot was nowhere near good enough to be used in the final cut due to the crowd noise, the lack of freedom of movement because of the large crowd, and the fans they used did not produce the right kind of desired effect. On January 9, 1955 Wilder and Marilyn refilmed the scene at the 20th Century Fox lot, on a set replicating Lexington Avenue, and got a more satisfactory result. However, it took another 40 takes for Marilyn to achieve the famous scene.
The biggest repercussion from the live shoot for Marilyn though was Joe DiMaggio’s reaction. Their marriage was only nine months old at the time and was already in trouble. Joe’s friend Walter Winchell, a top gossip columnist, talked DiMaggio into going to watch the shoot. Joe arrived after the shoot had begun and the sight of several hundred people taking pictures and ogling his wife during the whole scene was too much for the jealous bad tempered ballplayer. He stormed off and later that night at their hotel Joe and Marilyn had an explosive fight that reportedly turned violent. Marilyn officially separated from Joe soon after and filed for divorce in October of that year with the divorce becoming final before filming of the movie was completed.
After all that, the finished scene used in the movie was much less revealing and much tamer than the shoot on September 15, 1954. In the movie, Marilyn steps over the grating, her skirt comes up to just above her knees, and there is a cut to her face registering the pleasure of a cool breeze on a hot summer night. The movie premiered on June 1, 1955 to great reviews and was a huge success.
Marilyn Monroe’s iconic white dress set a record when it was auctioned for $4.6 million in June 2011, rising to $5.5 million after taxes and fees were included. The sale quintupled the previous record for a movie costume, $923,000 for Audrey Hepburn’s “little black dress” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.