On September 15, 1954, thousands of fans gathered near the corner of New York’s Lexington Ave and 52nd Street at 1am where a famous blonde stood on top of a subway grate clad in an ivory white dress. This famous blonde was no other than Marilyn Monroe and the scene was a set up for the filming of “The Seven Year Itch.”
Billy Wilder, the director of the romantic comedy film, wanted the scene to show Marilyn and co-star, Tom Ewell exiting the Trans-Lux 52nd Street Theatre after watching the horror film “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” When they hear the train passing below the grate, Monroe’s character steps onto it, saying ‘Ooh, do you feel the breeze from the subway?’ as the wind below blows up the lower part of her dress, exposing her legs. However, the scene wasn’t as effortless as it looked and a lot more went on behind the scenes.
In order to capture the famous “flying skirt” moment, the scene took 14 takes and around three hours to film. Between 2,000 and 5,000 spectators would cheer every time Monroe’s dress blew up and a crowd of 100 male photographers would capture photos like the one you see here. There was incessant noise on set, resulting in the final version being re-shot in California on the Fox lot.
The ivory cocktail dress that was worn by Monroe in the scene was created by designer William Travilla. The famous dress featured a halter-like bodice with a plunging neckline and a soft pleated skirt below the waistband that would effortlessly fly up when the wind blew. The dress remains as his most famous work and was sold for $4.6M at a 2011 auction.
And besides being part of an iconic movie moment, it is alleged that the scene also played a role in Monroe and Joe DiMaggio’s divorce. Despite the legacy of the dress, Joe DiMaggio, Monroe’s husband at the time, was said to have “hated” it and was very blatant about his disapproval of the scene and the commotion surrounding its filming. After returning to California, Monroe filed for divorce from DiMaggio after nine months of marriage following a violent fight at their hotel after the shoot.
With the help from Monroe and her little white dress, the classic scene from the “Seven Year Itch” became one of the most notable moments not just in her career but also in movie history. As we can see in the photo above, the event that took place on the corner of Manhattan created not only a legendary movie scene but a sensational moment that went down in Hollywood history.