What you didn’t know about Marilyn, Jack and Tony in Coronado

By David L. Coddon

If you want someone to think you’ve been living in a cave, just tell him, “You know what? ‘Some Like It Hot’ was filmed at the Hotel del Coronado!” Then expect a withering look.

It may be overstating it to say that everyone knows Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy, voted the greatest of all time by the American Film Institute and starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis (the latter two in drag), also starred the Hotel Del. But as San Diego movie history goes, it’s common knowledge.

But merely knowing that “Some Like It Hot” featured the Hotel del Coronado in the wacky tale of two musicians on the run from the mob is not enough. The story of Marilyn, Jack and Tony at the Del has a few twists and turns you may not know. Hotel Del historian Christine Donovan passed on some inside info about the “Some Like It Hot” production.

For example, each of the stars brought their true loves with them to the shoot: In Monroe’s case, her husband, playwright Arthur Miller; Curtis was accompanied by his wife, actress Janet Leigh; and Lemmon’s wife-to-be, Felicia Farr, was on hand. Another tidbit: the wildly popular Monroe was guarded throughout the production by Coronado police officers.

Given the picturesque Del, a lot of people wonder why Wilder shot the film in black and white. The answer: the director feared that Lemmon’s and Curtis’ female makeup would not translate well to color. This in spite of the fact that Monroe had a clause in her contract that insisted all her films be shot in color.

Speaking of female impersonation, an expert in the art was retained by Wilder to teach Lemmon and Curtis how to walk in high-heeled shoes. Lemmon reportedly refused the help, wanting his character, “Jerry/aka Daphne,” to look like a man who didn’t know how to walk in women’s shoes.

Although “Some Like It Hot” sizzled at the 1959 Golden Globe awards, with Monroe, Lemmon and the film all taking home trophies, the movie won only one Oscar, and that was in a category that no longer exists: Best Black and White Costume Design.

If “Some Like It Hot” didn’t impress the Motion Picture Academy, it was a hit with fans, who still cherish it, and with those at the Hotel del Coronado. “It’s very much a part of our history for a couple of reasons,” said historian Donovan. “For one thing, the movie really showcases the hotel and its architecture. Lots of people are exposed to the Del through the movie without having ever seen the hotel. I always think of it as the fourth character of the film.

“The architecture, which is so showcased in the film, is so appealing and inviting. You look at it and it’s like ‘This is the place to have some fun!’”

While the Hotel Del as it is today is clearly recognizable in “Some Like It Hot,” there’s one major difference. The movie shows the hotel’s original two front entrances – one was intended for men and women, the other strictly for “unaccompanied” ladies.

How times have changed.

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