I have seen at least twenty different actresses play the part of the Girl in my play The Seven Year Itch. I have seen the Girl as a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead. I’ve heard her say her lines with a British accent, in French, in Italian, in German. Many of the actresses have been wonderful in the part. A few have been a little less wonderful. But only one has ever come really close to playing the part exactly the way I imagined it when I first wrote it.
Marilyn Monroe doesn’t just play the Girl. She is the Girl. Marilyn once told me that playing the part had helped her find out who she was. Which is a pretty nice thing for a writer to hear from an actress.
I am revealing no breathtaking secret when I say that Marilyn has a reputation for not being the easiest actress in the world to work with. Her eagerness and ambition cause her to tense up. She has difficulty remembering lines. She has been known to drive directors stark, raving mad. However, an interesting thing happened during the shooting of Itch. My favorite scene in the picture comes close to the end. It is kind of a serious and extremely difficult scene in which the Girl explains to the hero (who, to all outward appearances, is the least dashing, least glamourous, least romantic man alive) why she finds him exciting and attractive and why his wife has every reason to be jealous.
Because of its difficulty and the fact that it ends with a long speech from the Girl, it was generally assumed that the scene would need several days to get on film. Billy Wilder patiently struggled through dozens of takes for every scene but this one. Three minutes later it was all over. Marilyn had done it, letter perfect and with an emotional impact that caused the entire soundstage to burst into applause at the end, on the first take. There was no need for a second.
She told me later she was able to do the scene because she believed every word of what she was saying and because it seemed to her like the story of her own life.
I have been asked if there is any symbolic significance in the fact that the Girl has no name. The truth of the matter is that I could never think of a name for her that seemed exactly right, that really fit the girl I had in mind. I think if I were writing the play today, I might be tempted to call the Girl Marilyn.
- George Axelrod, screenwriter, producer, playwright and film director