Reality says she's way out of his league. Entertainment tradition says she isn't.
Above you see a poster for the Marilyn Monroe comedy The Seven Year Itch, which we're taking a close look at today because it's a pulp movie. No, really. It isn't a pulp movie in a standard way, but how can we ignore a film, even though it's a comedy, that happens to be about the pulp industry? Perhaps some of you have forgotten this detail, but co-star Tom Ewell plays an editor at a 25¢ publishing house, where among other important duties he repackages literary classics with sexy, good-girl-art covers. If you look just below, Ewell's secretary Marguerite Chapman displays the company's latest reimagining—a racy makeover of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. They've featured scantily clad women in the art, and added the tagline: “The secrets of a girls dormitory.” So even though thousands of online scribes have written about The Seven Year Itch, its setting in the pulp publishing realm demands that we discuss it too.
But of course, pulp is merely the backdrop; the movie is really all Monroe. We know it comes across as anachronistic to some viewers, but this film is completely modern in at least one important way. The trope of a schlubby everyman scoring with—or at least turning the head of—a woman much more beautiful than him is still a linchpin of American entertainment. Let us count the examples: There's Something About Mary, Big Bang Theory, King of Queens, She's Out of My League, Night Shift, Forrest Gump, Bewitched, Superbad, Knocked Up—in fact, anything with Seth Rogen in it—and not to be forgotten, both Beauty and the Beast and Lady and the Tramp. In all of those, the female love interest, whether human or cocker spaniel, is objectively too beautiful for the lead male. It's a trope that has always worked, and probably always will because it's primarily males who are marketed to in cinema and television.
In The Seven Year Itch the hot girl/ugly guy theme is doubly funny because Ewell's wife is played by Evelyn Keyes, and she's supposed to be, we guess, not out of Ewell's league. Uh huh. Hollywood, right? Keyes is plenty hot, though of course she's no Monroe. Cue eyeroll from our girlfriends. They aren't clear on why so many men find Marilyn attractive. To them she's a little fat, which is no surprise from the perspective of our pint-sized better halves, but the weight of actresses varied greatly during the mid-century era, from the zaftig Jayne Mansfield to the reedy Audrey Hepburn. Marilyn was somewhere in the middle of the voluptuous range—i.e. not fat. However, her weight did fluctuate. In Something's Gotta Give she was thin enough to be about perfect for current sensibilities. She made any level of poundage look good though, because, first and foremost, she was impossibly cute. This look right here:
Those blue eyes of hers that are pointed in slightly different directions. That's hot. That look also captures Monroe's go-to instrument as an actress—an expression that conveys an expectant, scrubbed, and somewhat (but never totally) naive sex appeal. Having watched her dramas as well as her comedies, there's no doubt her gift was for the latter. Her comedies are unimaginable without her, and she was in her own class. Bardot played the same kittenish character at times, and Demongeot, and other actresses, but Marilyn was simply the best. The Seven Year Itch showcases an eternal star shining her brightest, as she plays a twenty-something aspiring actress who moves in upstairs from the klutzy Ewell, whose wife is away for the summer. Monroe proceeds to unknowingly fuel all sorts of male fantasies that—surprise—start to come true, as the lack of air conditioning in the upstairs flat has her increasingly avoiding it in favor of Ewell's. The way the script is built, with each encounter between Monroe and Ewell another line on the way to potential infidelity is crossed, until the crossed line becomes literal when Monroe discovers that the apartments—which had once been a single two-level residence—are reconnectible by pulling some nails out of the floor where a staircase had been closed off. The possibility of actually living with Marilyn is a delicious dilemma, ingeniously lifted right out of the male id by director/writer Billy Wilder and co-writer George Axelrod. The movie obviously isn't totally wonderful. Some see it as sexist, and certainly its opening sequence of actors painted up like a native American tribe is pure minstrelry, but just like people, movies can harbor out-of-date ideas without being malicious. As long as that line isn't crossed, we can appreciate both The Seven Year Itch, and how far we've progressed since it was made. It premiered today in 1955, and you can see a couple more excellent posters here and here.
Palm Springs residents thought they'd seen the last of mega Monroe. They were wrong.
At Pulp Intl. we report on all things Marilyn Monroe, from her life and loves to her alleged porno film, so of course we couldn't let this one slide by. A giant Marilyn Monroe statue inspired by her famous subway breeze scene in The Seven Year Itch is set to be installed in Palm Springs, California. The twenty-six-foot high statue, created by Seward Johnson and called “Forever Marilyn,” already resided in the city from 2012 to 2014, and when she left plenty were happy to see her parachute-sized panties leave town. Now she's scheduled to return to a site near the Palm Springs Art Museum and some locals have their knickers in a twist. There are two objections: that the statue is garish and lowbrow, and that it's sexist. Both complaints inarguably state the obvious—it's garish and sexist. Sort of like Pulp Intl. In our case, we preserve historical art for discussion and learning. Since plenty of art and literature from the period we highlight is sexist, our website is sexist also—at least to some. We suggest they not visit. But the Monroe statue is a 2011 creation, and as such isn't a piece of history per se, so much as a tribute to it. It's also in a public place, which makes it a matter of public debate. We can't think of any recent item that ties more contemporary issues into a Gordian knot than this statue. Yes, it's garish. Yes, it's sexist. Yes, it's a little creepy in the #metoo era.Yes, in some amorphous way it's tangentially related to the denial of progress and rights for women. Conversely, yes, it's entertaining. Yes, it's a tribute to an icon (a sexualized tribute, as she was a sex symbol—something that barely exists today). Yes, it's a tribute to golden age Hollywood. Yes, it's inspired by a moment from a comedic film that made millions of people, both male and female, feel good. It's a thorny issue, for sure.
But there's a silver panty lining. Monroe has done something the greatest minds and most determined politicians have not been able to manage—unite right and left. When we were younger it was always conservatives who seemed to hate sex and anything that reminded people of it. Fast forward a couple of decades and now liberals are getting the same way. This isn't true of all conservatives and liberals, of course. But as groups, they both let reactionaries dominate discourse, which creates the impression of intolerance within the whole. The people who hate on the Monroe statue at the highest volume come from the sexual conservatism realm on one end of the spectrum, and the women's rights realm on the other. The discovery that they have common interests qualifies as good news.
We see this as a starting point for national healing. Don't get us wrong—in our opinion both conservatives and liberals should simply say, “Whatever,” to “Forever Marilyn,” and move on. But since they seem to be in agreement about blowing everything that hints at feminine sexuality way out of proportion, seems to us the sky's the limit in terms of other potential areas of agreement. We don't know about you, but we're heartened by that. We feel a little better about things. A nation torn nearly asunder has a chance to heal the rift starting with Monroe's granny panties. They're the most magical undergarments since Eva Braun's. Thanks, Marilyn. You may have saved us yet.
Everything tastes better with Marilyn.
With holiday season upon us perhaps you're looking for something to add to your man cave that will make friends and loved ones question your taste. Above is a Marilyn Monroe whiskey decanter, commemorating her blockbuster comedy The Seven Year Itch, manufactured by the McCormick Distilling Company. This would go well with that wall mounted singing trout you bought back in the ’80s, and the novelty gumball machine you never bothered to refill. But probably the best thing about this item is that when your wife pokes her head in the room and asks if you're coming to bed anytime soon, you can pour another drink and say, “Marilyn wants me to stay.” Get 'em while supplies last.
This ought to really blow your skirt up.
Above is an epic Italian poster for the film The Seven Year Itch, which in Italy was called Quando la moglie è in vacanza, or “when the wife is on vacation.” They probably changed the title because Italians don't understand the concept of a seven year itch. They have a seven week itch—it happens about seven weeks before the wedding. The art here is by P. Franco, aka Franco Picchioni, whose work you can find more of by clicking his keywords below. There's also a very interesting West German poster for the film here.
She's at the top of the scale.
We're big fans of return engagements, especially when they look like this. So here's Evelyn Keyes reprising her first femme fatale appearance, which was back in January of 2013. Keyes was a versatile actress, playing a mocking wife in The Seven Year Itch, an ambitious city girl in 99 River Street, and a quirky genie in A Thousand and One Nights, among many other roles. She's been great in everything we've seen so far, and has become one of our favorites. This excellent promo photo dates from around 1950.
Is there anything worse than an itch you can’t scratch?
The Seven Year Itch is one of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic roles. She’s great in it, but the movie is stagey and clunky and some of its humorous elements haven’t aged well. But Monroe successfully personifies temptation as the upstairs neighbor of married schlub Tom Ewell, and her sexy-but-virginal interplay with him demonstrates once again that she was a uniquely talented comic actress. There’s also really no way to overstate her beauty, nor the ease with which she inhabited these sorts of oops-I-made-you-love-me roles. Simply put, she made everything better, and did it with skill and something more—pure magic. The promo shots below show her famed upskirt scene, which, by the way, never occurs in quite this form in the film. Onscreen we only see her legs twice and two reaction shots. Not sure why director Billy Wilder made that decision—the whole of Monroe is surely better than just a part, no? The German title of the movie was Das verflixte 7. Jahr, which means “the cursed seventh year,” and the poster you see above is from the West German re-release of the film in 1966. The Seven Year Itch, with Monroe, Ewell, and Evelyn Keyes, originally premiered in West Germany today in 1955.
Evelyn Keyes puts the common handkerchief to uncommon usage.
American actress Evelyn Keyes started in film in 1938 and came to wide attention in 1939’s Gone with the Wind. Later she appeared in movies such as Johnny O’Clock, 99 River Street, and The Seven Year Itch. This great shot pairing her with a haystack and wearing a swimsuit put together from handkerchiefs was probably made around 1950.
The hungover and the restless.
Below are two photos of American actress Marguerite Chapman after her 1958 arrest on suspicion of drunk driving. Chapman was well known at the time, having appeared in such films as Appointment in Berlin, Relentless, and The Seven Year Itch. She was detained after rear-ending another car in Hollywood and subsequently refusing to take a field sobriety test. After an unspecified number of hours in jail, she posted bail, and of course the tabloid press was there to document her release.
Marilyn looks good even after the bomb goes off.
Above, a copy of the Uruguayan cinema magazine Cine Radio Actualidad, with a cover image of Marilyn Monroe in her famous Seven Year Itch pose. But since she was colorized and composited on a weird new background, she doesn’t look like she’s flirting with Tom Ewell so much as cringing away from a hot nuclear wind. Was that what the designers were going for? We doubt it. But sometimes you get lucky and end up with a great image anyway. This one hit newsstands today in 1955.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1964—Warren Commission Issues Report
The Warren Commission, which had been convened to examine the circumstances of John F. Kennedy's assassination, releases its final report, which concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed Kennedy. Today, up to 81% of Americans are troubled
by the official account of the assassination.
1934—Queen Mary Launched
The RMS Queen Mary, three-and-a-half years in the making, launches from Clydebank, Scotland. The steamship enters passenger service in May 1936 and sails the North Atlantic Ocean until 1967. Today she is a museum and tourist attraction anchored in Long Beach, U.S.A.
1983—Nuclear Holocaust Averted
Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov, whose job involves detection of enemy missiles, is warned by Soviet computers that the United States has launched a nuclear missile at Russia. Petrov deviates from procedure, and, instead of informing superiors, decides the detection is a glitch. When the computer warns of four more inbound missiles he decides, under much greater pressure this time, that the detections are also false. Soviet doctrine at the time dictates an immediate and full retaliatory strike, so Petrov's decision to leave his superiors out of the loop very possibly prevents humanity's obliteration. Petrov's actions remain a secret until 1988, but ultimately he is honored at the United Nations.
2002—Mystery Space Object Crashes in Russia
In an occurrence known as the Vitim Event, an object crashes to the Earth in Siberia and explodes with a force estimated at 4 to 5 kilotons by Russian scientists. An expedition to the site finds the landscape leveled and the soil contaminated by high levels of radioactivity. It is thought that the object was a comet nucleus with a diameter of 50 to 100 meters.
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