31 January 2015

Blaming Billy Wilder

On 5 November 1954, Billy Wilder concluded filming of "The Seven Year Itch". Production had taken two weeks longer than originally scheduled, which was in large part due to leading lady Marilyn Monroe. Not only was Marilyn always late on the set but she also needed numerous takes to get a scene right (Wilder once said that directing Marilyn was like pulling teeth). Because of the delay, production costs exceeded the original budget and amounted to a total of $1.8 million. 

A week after filming had ended, Darryl F. Zanuck, head of production at Twentieth Century-Fox, wrote a confidential letter to Charles Feldman, co-executive producer of "The Seven Year Itch". The two men had been having issues on the film before, and this letter shows how Zanuck disagreed with Feldman about whom to blame for the delay (in his opinion it was Wilder's fault, not Marilyn's). Incidentally, Zanuck couldn't have known then that "The Seven Year Itch" would be one of Twentieth Century-Fox's biggest successes of 1955, eventually earning the studio millions of dollars. 

Marilyn Monroe dancing with Charles Feldman 
Left: Darryl Zanuck. Right: Marilyn and Billy Wilder on the set of "The Seven Year Itch"; Wilder would have even more problems with Marilyn four years later during the shooting of "Some Like it Hot" (read more here and here). 
Image courtesy of profiles in history

Transcript:

November 12, 1954

Confidential

Dear Charlie: 

I do not want to bring up an argument again as there is no use crying over spilled milk. For your own information, SEVEN YEAR ITCH was scheduled for 35 days but it took 48 days to make it.

This is only 9 days less than it took us to photograph THE ROBE. I know you will say that we did not have Marilyn Monroe in THE ROBE.

Let me combat this argument by telling you that we made HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE in 34 days and this was at a time that we were experimenting with CinemaScope and the cast included Monroe.

These are accurate figures and I am only reciting them to you for the purpose of trying to set you straight. Wilder did a sensational job from the standpoint of quality. He certainly did not do a sensational job from the standpoint of shooting time and schedule.

Regards,
Darryl (signed)

Mr. Charles Feldman
9441 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, Calif.

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