SOME LIKE IT HOT- Dueling Divas

Throughout Hollywood history, there have always been dueling divas. It shouldn’t be surprising that such beautiful, talented, hard-working and passionate women might be a tad competitive with one another. Whether on or off screen, many Hollywood women have ambitiously competed to grab their moment in the spotlight. One thinks of examples such as Bette Davis v. Joan Crawford or sisters Olivia de Havilland v. Joan Fontaine. After all, it has always been and continues to be a man’s world in tinsel town. But I can think of an exception where a dueling diva duo is challenged by quite the opposite- how to fit in a women’s world. I’m speaking of characters Daphne and Josephine in Billy Wilder’s SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959).

In Billy Wilder’s comedy masterpiece SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959), Joe (portrayed by Tony Curtis) and Jerry (portrayed by Jack Lemmon) are two musicians on their last dime and struggling to find that next gig when they accidentally stumble upon witnessing a mob hit from gangster Spats Colombo (portrayed by George Raft) and his henchmen. They are able to escape the mobsters’ clutches by taking their next gig, train-bound for warmer climates of Florida and a paycheck. But there’s an interesting caveat. This is a ‘women only’ band so they must dress up and impersonate as women to join the band. And so they do, out of pure desperation. Thus, Joe and Jerry become Josephine and Daphne.

The screwball fun continues the moment these cross-dressers board the train and meet the other lady musicians. Most notably, fellow gal band member Sugar Kane (portrayed by Marilyn Monroe) catches their eyes immediately. (How on earth could anyone NOT?!) Joe spends the rest of his time trying to woo Sugar Kane as Jerry (and by Jerry I mean Daphne) is being wooed by millionaire Osgood Fielding III (portrayed by Joe E. Brown). In an attempt to impress Sugar Kane, Joe pretends to be a millionaire himself- from speaking in his best Cary Grant stereotype accent to borrowing a yacht. Things are becoming… complicated:

Jerry: Have I got things to tell you!
Joe: What happened?
Jerry: I’m engaged.
Joe: Congratulations. Who’s the lucky girl?
Jerry: I am!
The tension builds between Joe and Jerry and chaos amplifies when the gangsters show up at the same hotel for a convention as the two try their best to avoid revealing their true identities. In the end, it all works out for both Daphne and Josephine as it does for Jerry and Joe, not to mention Sugar Kane and Osgood… even if in a somewhat unconventional way. 

 What makes this film work so well is the performances and chemistry of these great actors and undoubtedly the talented writing and direction from Billy Wilder. While feuding over differences, characters Jerry and Joe (and as Daphne and Josephine) also reveal what great chemistry the actors Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon possess. I can only imagine how fun those two actors must’ve had on the set. To see if their makeup and costuming is convincing as women, Curtis and Lemmon walked into a women’s restroom without startled responses. Jack Lemmon and Joe E Brown learned to tango from co-star George Raft. Tony Curtis needed help in getting his voice high-pitched enough to play Josephine so they enlisted co-star Paul Frees (well-known voice talent) to dub with his voice. 

Accounts of Marilyn Monroe’s experience on the set suggests something more challenging- from 3 hour starting time delays to 50 takes on a scene, with lines written on cue cards hidden within the set. To be fair regarding her moody behavior, she was pregnant at the time and some publicity stills required cropping with stand-ins. But despite Marilyn’s personal issues, the results are still amazing on-screen. Mitzi Gaynor was originally considered for the role of Sugar Kane but I can’t imagine anyone but Marilyn Monroe playing this sweet, vulnerable and incredibly sexy role.         

Considerations for the roles of Jerry and Joe were given to Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Anthony Perkins, Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis. Jerry Lewis declined because he refused to dress up as a woman. This is a decision he later regretted after Jack Lemmon earned an Academy Award nomination for his cross-dressing role. Lemmon reminded him by thanking him repeatedly in the years to follow.

Despite its huge success and staying power as a comedy classic, leading men dressing in drag on-screen in 1959 had its share of some controversy. The Roman Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency slapped it with a “condemned” rating. And my very own home state of Kansas banned the film entirely stating it was “too disturbing for Kansans.” I guess some things never change. Even with a few obstacles, nothing could stop this pair of dueling divas as a hilarious duo that remains forever in my heart as pure comedy gold. 

*This post is my contribution, via taking creative liberties, to the Dueling Divas Blogathon hosted by Lara at BACKLOTS.  There are amazing bloggers who have participated in this feast of a writing topic so be sure to ‘do them a solid’ of exploring their posts, too! As for me, I’ll finish by repeating from Billy Wilder’s epitaph… “I’m a writer, but then nobody’s perfect.”


6 thoughts on “SOME LIKE IT HOT- Dueling Divas

  1. Josephine and Daphne – brilliant! You reminded me of the great deal of fun to be had in this movie which I haven't watched in many years. I think I found my New Year's Eve flick. Thanks.


  2. Ha! I LOVE that you chose Daphne and Josephine as your theme for this blogathon! Nicely done.

    I agree that Curtis and Lemmon had fabulous chemistry in this film. You never get tired of seeing this film for that very reason…along with the Joe E. Brown's final line, the best punchline in movie history.


  3. Thanks- I thought if I'm gonna pick a pair of dueling divas- why not have a blast with the hilarious duo of Daphne and Josephine! Love the partnering of Curtis and Lemmon in this film and THE GREAT RACE too! Thanks for reading and commenting gal!


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