Marilyn’s Manhattan, Both Public and Private

article publié sur nytimes.com
le 6 janvier 2011, par Pat Ryan

01monroe_articleLarge
Marilyn Monroe at Lexington Avenue
and 52nd Street in September 1954,
filming the subway-grate scene for “The Seven Year Itch"

A girl on a balcony: when I look out the rear window of my East 60th Street apartment, I see her as if I were watching an outdoor movie on a misty night. The girl I see is not Juliet but Marilyn, and the movie is “The Seven Year Itch.” A town house whose backyard meets mine appears in that 1955 film, in which Marilyn Monroe played the “delicious” unnamed Girl subletting an apartment for the summer.

Her admirer is a book editor (Tom Ewell) whose wife of seven years has just left Manhattan with their son for a vacation in Maine. After roaming restlessly around his lonely apartment, he moves out to the terrace. Suddenly a tomato plant in an iron pot plummets from the balcony above, just missing him. The Girl leans over the railing in dismay. Hello! Later, over Champagne and potato chips, well, it’s easy to imagine the 1950s romantic but code-cleaned comedy plot.

The ghost of Marilyn Monroe dances provocatively all around my neighborhood. In the George Axelrod play on which the film is based, the apartment is near Gramercy Park; the movie script, by Axelrod and the director Billy Wilder, changes the location to a brownstone in the East 60s, where the rent is “a modest 160 a month.”

Only two scenes were actually filmed in New York, mostly as publicity stunts. The first location was a town house at 164 East 61st Street, and during filming Monroe could be seen, “clad in lingerie,” at a second-story window. “Barricades blocked off the street, between Third and Lexington Avenues, for four hours,” The New York Times reported.

Off the set, one of Monroe’s favorite restaurants, Gino, was right around the corner, at 780 Lexington Avenue (where she dined alone or with her second husband, Joe DiMaggio, and later Arthur Miller, her third husband). After a long run, Gino closed in May. But across Lexington, at 143 East 60th Street, the divey Subway Inn is still serving from 10 a.m. until 4 a.m. daily. Vintage color photographs of Monroe shine in the dark interior, and legend has it that she sometimes used to land here when bar-hopping after work.

The second Manhattan location in “The Seven Year Itch” — for “the shot seen around the world” — was at Lexington and 52nd Street. Thanks to the 20th Century Fox publicity department, the details were released in advance.

Estimates vary, but 2,000 to 5,000 fans and photographers lined up on Sept. 15, 1954, and witnessed the billowing-dress sequence. Monroe, wearing an ecru Travilla halter dress with accordion pleats (and two pairs of white panties, she notes in “Marilyn: Her Life in Her Own Words,” by George Barris, Citadel Press, 2001), stepped onto a subway grate in front of the Trans-Lux Theater. Klieg lights and cameras hit her; the special-effects man underground started the huge fan; and Wilder shot the scene over and over again as the crowd roared for more.

The Trans-Lux has been gone for decades, but the subway grates on the west side of Lexington Avenue are still available for photo shoots. (The specific grate, alas, is not commemorated with a plaque, but I recommend the sidewalk in front of Le Relais de Venise l’Entrecôte, a bistro at 590 Lexington.)

After Wilder wrapped that scene, a drama that was not part of the film took place on East 55th Street, in Suite 1105 at the St. Regis Hotel, where Monroe and DiMaggio were staying. DiMaggio had been in the raucous crowd that night, persuaded to attend by Walter Winchell, who had sniffed out something he could dish in his gossip column. Presumably even he could not have predicted that the scene on Lexington Avenue would lead to a fight, a bruised Monroe and a divorce. On Oct. 5, 1954, The Daily News headline said it succinctly: “Marilyn Splits With Joe Over Sexy Pictures.”

As planned, a large part of the skirt scene was later reshot, less revealingly, on the Fox lot in Los Angeles; the original location shots were used for the ads. The movie’s premiere was here on June 1, 1955, Monroe’s 29th birthday.

Monroe came to New York in 1954 not only for “The Seven Year Itch” but also for a lifestyle change, the theater and an acting class with Lee Strasberg.

She took a suite at the former Gladstone Hotel on East 52nd Street near Lexington Avenue. It was convenient to the photographer Milton H. Greene’s studio at 480 Lexington, first for portrait sittings and later for business meetings when Greene became vice president of the new Marilyn Monroe Productions. She also frequently visited Greene and his wife at their apartment on 127 East 78th Street and the psychiatrist recommended by Greene, Dr. Margaret Hohenberg, at 155 East 93rd Street. (Later she would visit the psychiatrist Marianne Kris in the same building where Lee and Paula Strasberg lived, the Langham on Central Park West.)

The elegant Waldorf-Astoria was Monroe’s next home. She sublet a suite on the 27th floor and used the hotel stationery for her diary notes and poems, some of which have been reproduced in the 2010 book Fragments, edited by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

The non-Hollywood Marilyn Monroe shed her ermine wrap in favor of a scarf and dark glasses. She read Russian literature, went to the Met (where she admired Rodin’s “Hand of God”) or wandered up to 87th Street to buy cigarettes at the First Avenue Smoke Shop. In jeans and sweatshirt, she strolled around Manhattan like a “female version of Brando,” Donald Spoto writes in “Marilyn Monroe: The Biography” (HarperCollins, 1993). Monroe continued to yearn for a role like Juliet or Grushenka, but directors saw her as Sugar or Lorelei.

On Sept. 29, 1955, she went to the Broadway premiere of Arthur Miller’s “View From the Bridge.” She had met Miller in Hollywood, and at the play he introduced her to his parents. On June 29, 1956, Miller and Monroe were married.

She had been renting an apartment at 2 Sutton Place, not far from 36 Sutton Place (at 55th Street), the classy digs in “How to Marry a Millionaire,” in which she played the myopic, diamond-seeking Pola. After their wedding, Monroe and Miller moved to an apartment on the 13th floor of 444 East 57th Street.

She often took her Maltese terrier, Maf (short for Mafia Honey), for walks to the park on Sutton Place. They would sit on a bench and gaze at the East River, Maf recalls in his ghosted memoirs (“The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe,” by Andrew O’Hagan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010), and she would “stare into space and mention names.”

“Men’s names,” the memoir continues.

Miller wrote the final draft of “The Misfits” in the East 57th Street apartment, and it was the couple’s New York home until they divorced in 1961.

Monroe lived in New York off and on until just before her death in 1962. Here she was free from what she saw as the slavery of the Hollywood studio, but she was never Juliet. On the balcony or over the subway, Marilyn Monroe remains fixed in time as The Girl.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 25, 2011
A picture on Jan. 7 with an article about sites on the Upper East Side of Manhattan associated with Marilyn Monroe carried an erroneous credit. The picture, a still from the film “The Seven Year Itch” showing Monroe, should have been credited to Sam Shaw/Shaw Family Archives — not to 20th Century Fox/Photofest.


Marilyn and the City

02_20110107_monroe_slide_YST8_slideMonroe in the Grand Central Subway station on March 24, 1955.
Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
"The ghost of Marilyn Monroe dances provocatively all around my neighborhood," writes Pat Ryan. "In the George Axelrod play ['The Seven Year Itch.'] on which the film is based, the apartment is near Gramercy Park; the movie script, by Axelrod and the director Billy Wilder, changes the location to a brownstone in the East 60s, where the rent is “a modest 160 a month.”

03_20110107_monroe_slide_HWX3_slideMonroe at 164 East 61st Street, where a scene from "The Seven Year Itch" was shot.
Credit: Sam Shaw/Shaw Family Archives
"Only two scenes were actually filmed in New York, mostly as publicity stunts. The first location was a town house at 164 East 61st Street, and during filming Monroe could be seen, 'clad in lingerie,' at a second-story window. 'Barricades blocked off the street, between Third and Lexington Avenues, for four hours,' The New York Times reported."  

04_20110107_monroe_slide_RSGC_slideThe Actors Studio at 432 West 44th Street, where Monroe studied under Lee Strasberg.
Credit: Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

 


05_20110107_monroe_slide_6OC7_slideA photo of Monroe at Subway Inn on East 60th street.
Credit: Edward Keating/The New York Times
"Off the set, one of Monroe’s favorite restaurants, Gino, was right around the corner, at 780 Lexington Avenue (where she dined alone or with her second husband, Joe DiMaggio, and later Arthur Miller, her third husband). After a long run, Gino closed in May. But across Lexington, at 143 East 60th Street, the divey Subway Inn is still serving from 10 a.m. until 4 a.m. daily. Vintage color photographs of Monroe shine in the dark interior, and legend has it that she sometimes used to land here when bar-hopping after work."

01monroe_articleLargeMonroe at Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street in September 1954.
Credit: Sam Shaw/Shaw Family Archives
"The second Manhattan location in 'The Seven Year Itch' — for 'the shot seen around the world' — was at Lexington and 52nd Street. Thanks to the 20th Century Fox publicity department, the details were released in advance."


06_20110107_monroe_slide_PLDU_slideDaily News
Credit: NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
"After Wilder wrapped that scene, a drama that was not part of the film took place on East 55th Street, in Suite 1105 at the St. Regis Hotel, where Monroe and DiMaggio were staying. DiMaggio had been in the raucous crowd that night, persuaded to attend by Walter Winchell, who had sniffed out something he could dish in his gossip column. Presumably even he could not have predicted that the scene on Lexington Avenue would lead to a fight, a bruised Monroe and a divorce. On Oct. 5, 1954, The Daily News headline said it succinctly: 'Marilyn Splits With Joe Over Sexy Pictures.'"

07_20110107_monroe_slide_782O_slideSeven Years Itch
Credit: Sam Shaw/Shaw Family Archives
"As planned, a large part of the skirt scene was later reshot, less revealingly, on the Fox lot in Los Angeles; the original location shots were used for the ads. The movie’s premiere was here on June 1, 1955, Monroe’s 29th birthday."

08_20110107_monroe_slide_T90O_slideThe subway grate in front of 590 Lexington Avenue today.
Credit: Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times 

 

  09_20110107_monroe_slide_GLIO_slideMonroe lived at this East 57th Street address with her third husband, Arthur Miller.
Credit: Chester Higgins Jr. for The New York Times
"Monroe lived in New York off and on until just before her death in 1962. Here she was free from what she saw as the slavery of the Hollywood studio, but she was never Juliet. On the balcony or over the subway, Marilyn Monroe remains fixed in time as The Girl."