Wednesday, October 20, 2010

TV Bites: Some Like It Hot

Tony Curtis' Stuffed Cabbage (Töltött Káposzta)

I'm sure one could easily write a master's thesis on the subject of how in American society, where male sexuality is so filled with issues and general weirdness, that the top 2 films on AFI's 100 YEARS - 100 LAUGHS list are Some Like it Hot and Tootsie - two films about cross-dressing men.

And just saying... Tootsie wouldn't even make it to my top 500 list, though interestingly it would have been my first movie credit. I was hired to work as a Production Assistant on the film, but the actors' & writers' went on strike and the production was pushed back and I lost out. And while I like Some Like it Hot, it's not on my Top 20 list either. I don't mean to harp on this, but the fact that The Big Lebowski didn't even make it into the top 500 list of nominations leaves me suspect of the whole damn AFI list thing.

Not to say Some Like it Hot isn't an excellent and very funny movie. Always good to watch again. The script is very dense with great jokes, well-timed set-ups, extended pay-offs, double entendres, and a host of other tricks. I love how "The Sheboygan Conservatory of Music" gets two laughs - first from Josephine, then from Sugar. Then there are also recurring allusions to all things "hot" - like the fogging of Jr.'s glasses to the booze being kept in a hot water bottle.

TCM runs it, but it's not currently on their schedule. However, it is available to watch from Amazon on Demand, and it's available for renting from Netflix. If you're a Comcast subscriber with HBO/Cinemax, you can view the film till 11/30 on Demand @ Fancast.

So, with that said, and in memory of the late-great Tony Curtis, let's dig in to this new edition of TV Bites.


"See Marilyn and her Bosom Companions!" - from the trailer to Some Like it Hot.

There has been so much said, written, and recorded about this film. It has been picked apart by critics, fans, academics - even Tony Curtis never seemed to tire of speaking about and even writing a book, all on the making of this film. So, I'm just going to skate around a bit, picking a few interesting tidbits....

The film is based on an earlier German comedy, Fanfaren der Liebe, about two out-of-work musicians who (more like Tootsie) out of desperation disguise themselves to play in an all-girl band. One of the main changes Billy Wilder & IAL Diamond made to their version was adding the plot device of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre into the story.

"We decided," Wilder recalled, "that the two guys should join the girls’ band as an absolute question of life and death. Otherwise, it would seem that at any point in the picture they could simply remove their wigs and tell Sugar Kane... that they both love her and hence are rivals for her affections - then take it from there."

He continued, “So we invented the fact that they had witnessed a gangland killing and had to disguise themselves to protect their lives. Then we set the story in the Roaring Twenties, in order to make the elements of the plot more believable.... And so we brought in an actual gangland killing, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, as the killing which they had witnessed.... So it was not that Mr. Diamond and I just sat down and said that we were going to do a satire on the old gangster pictures. That is just how the scenario developed.

Later, in 1972, a musical play based on the screenplay, entitled Sugar, opened on Broadway, starring Elaine Joyce, Robert Morse, Tony Roberts and Cyril Ritchard, and (all-new) music by Jule Styne. A 1991 production of this show in London featured Tommy Steele. In 2002, Tony Curtis performed in a stage production of the film, portraying the character originally played by Joe E. Brown.

There are all the stories, of course, about Marilyn Monroe. Apparently she tried to commit suicide or just overdosed on barbiturates during the making of the film. And then there are all the tales of her bad work habits, having to do take after take, showing up late every day. Lemmon & Curtis would bet each other cash on how many takes it would take for Monroe to get her lines right.

She cried after every take, because she didn’t get it," Wilder recalled, "and then she had to be made up again... that’s a big brand-new makeup job that had to be done, you know, when the first three or four times did not work. And then we were in the forties [take-wise], and with the makeup and so on. And then she got angry with herself..... She was just a continuous puzzle, without any solution.

Billy Wilder definitely had issues with her and complained many times publicly about how much she vexed him during production. Once though, he said of her in an interview for a magazine: “Here you have this poor girl, and all of a sudden she becomes a famous star. So now these people tell her she has to be a great actress. God gave her everything she needed... a calendar girl with warmth and charm.” I think beyond all the stories of their battles, he understood her well enough to get the performance out of her that he did. He could have easily made her look "just good enough" to sell the film, but he captured much more.

Lemmon was not anyone's first choice for the role of Jerry/Daphne. The studios only agreed to him after Wilder had already signed Curtis and Monroe. Wilder's first choice was Frank Sinatra, but Sinatra wasn't keen on dressing in drag. Also Mitzi Gaynor was Wilder's first choice, not Monroe.

And let's discuss Curtis' and Lemmon's transformation into women. Famous French drag queen Vander Clyde (known as Barbette) was hired to come to Hollywood and teach the boys how to be girls. "He worked for two days," recalled Jack Lemmon, "and then went to Billy’s office and said: 'I quit!' Billy said, 'Why?' and he said 'Curtis is wonderful. Lemmon is impossible! He won’t do anything I tell him correctly and he’s just impossible! He’ll never be able to play a woman and that’s that and I’m through!' He got on the boat and went home. Well, one thing he did show me is that if you want to walk like a woman, you should not walk with your feet, one beside the other, but cross them so you’re walking like that. But I doubt I did that often in the film because I didn’t want to do it correctly. I thought it was much more important that Tony was better than me. I was more interested in being funny than being correct. He was more interested in being correct and didn’t give a damn about being funny. So I told Billy and he said, 'Just do what you’re doing, it’s fine.'"

[Dressing] like a woman felt like a real challenge to my manhood," said Curtis. "To calm myself, I recalled a lot of tough experiences I’d been through in life, and I told myself this couldn’t be any tougher than those... As I stepped outside the dressing room clutching my purse, I was horrified to see a crowd; there were some 50 members of the crew standing there waiting.... I felt deeply embarrassed, but actor that I was... I blushed and put my hands over my face, coyly acting the part of the reluctant diva.

"As I got more into the character of Josephine," Curtis continued, "I began to enjoy playing that part too. I imagined myself as Even Arden or Grace Kelly, or sometimes even my mother."

Something I stumbled on I didn't know before was that the great Paul Frees over-dubbed Tony Curtis' as Josephine. I always thought it sounded a bit thin, like it was done in post. Apparently Curtis' couldn't sustain the voice through an entire scene, so they had Frees come in and imitate Curtis. Frees is known for his encyclopedia of voices, including George of the Jungle, Boris Badanov and the Pillsbury Doughboy.

The film was originally set to be filmed in color, but the make-up tests of the boys as girls didn't look right, so in keeping with the 1920's vibe, Wilder decided he could just shoot in black & white.

One more very interesting fact about Some Like it Hot is that it is considered, historically, to be one of the most important films that led to the dissolution of the Motion Picture Production Code (known also as the Hays Code after its boss, former GOP chairman Will H. Hays) which functioned as the de facto censorship board for protecting the American people from seeing things that might upset them. The studio challenged the Code's domination by releasing the film without their approval. It was also the only film that year to receive a "C" (for condemned) by the Catholic National Legion of Decency, which also in those years wielded considerable power. Both organizations, let's say, were no match for Marilyn's two "Bosom Companions"...

The picture won Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture/Comedy, Monroe for Best Actress in Musical or Comedy, and Lemmon for Best Actor in Musical or Comedy. Lemmon was also nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards, and the film received nominations for Art Direction, Screenplay, Cinematography, and Directing, while only taking home the Oscar for Best Costume Design.


The 1920's and the 1950's were a lot a like in some ways. For instance, they were both decades following a world war and both times of great growth and prosperity in the United States. Both were a time when new musical styles were changing the culture - jazz in the 1920's and rock 'n' roll and rhythm 'n' blues in the 1950's. However, they were a lot different in many ways too. The 1920's was a time where certain social issues were being addressed as they hadn't been before and wouldn't again until the 1960's. It was the time of the Harlem Renaissance. Women were winning the right to vote. Fashion in clothing reflected the way people began to feel about themselves - no longer tied to Victorian era morality, this generation of Americans were the first real 20th Century citizens. The 1950's, in contrast, was an era of conservatism and comformity. While there were pockets of people setting the stage for the cultural revolution of the 1960's, free thinking was generally frowned upon.

So, while as Wilder said he and co-writer IAL Diamond did not at first conceive of Some Like it Hot taking place in the 1920's, it wound up being the perfect time to set it in. The Hays Production Code, as mentioned above was snubbed by Some Like it Hot's producers, first came into effect in 1930, in direct response to what was perceived as the "permissiveness" of the 1920's. Some Like it Hot, by virtue of its success, was a public statement against 1950's morality - but not by looking forward, but by looking backwards. The highly revealing dress Monroe wears on stage was not just acceptable fashion for women to wear in public during the 20's, but also in movies of the time.

As well, the 1920's was a time when some thought they could legislate morality by making liquor illegal. But as we know, that experiment failed miserably and the beginning of the end of Prohibition was directly spurred by public outrage over the violence of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

The facts of the Massacre are pretty straight forward - on Valentine's Day 1929, seven men associated with the gang run by "Bugs" Moran were shot dead in a parking garage. The killers escaped. After that, it's all conjecture. It is generally believed that Al "Scarface" Capone ordered the hit against his rival. But that was never proved and no one was ever convicted.


Bernard Schwartz (aka Tony Curtis) was a 1st generation American Jew whose father had come from Hungary. Curtis loved to spend time in Budapest, and loved to eat in local restaurants. He also founded the Emanuel Foundation for Hungarian Culture, in honor of his father. The organization was instrumental in helping refurbish Budapest's Dohány Synagogue, the largest in Europe, and preserve over 1300 Jewish cemeteries in Hungary.

There are a million variations on rolling something inside a cabbage leaf. Here's a bunch from Wiki: Balandėliai (little pigeons), Lithuania; Golubtsy, Russia; Domleye Kalam (cabbage dolma), Iran; Chou farci, France; Kåldolmar, Sweden; Bắp cải cuốn thịt, Vietnam; Krautwickel, Germany and Austria; Lahana dolması, Turkey; Malfoof, Syria; Rouru kyabets, Japan; and Niños Envueltos, Chile. Here's an entire blog of nothing but cabbage roll recipes! But basic recipe 101 is take some meat, add some grain, then bake, simmer or steam it.

Töltött káposzta (aka stuffed cabbage) was chosen as Hungary's favorite main course in a 2010 online vote to find the nation's most popular dishes. It is typically served at Christmas, wedding feasts, but is also regularly served on Pig Killing Day (disznótor).

Quickly, Pig Killing Day, a rural holiday, "begins with spiced wine or brandy and coffee cakes and then the work begins. By 11:30AM a paprikas has been prepared from pigs' brains, and pork is roasted with potatoes or layered cabbage. The meal itself will begin with a cabbage or potato soup. Throughout the day pigs are slaughtered and prepared into cuts to be separated as fresh meats and as those to be used for brining, smoking, curing, and sausage-making. Most trimmings go into the latter, but some, such as the snout and ears, are saved for a special soup for the evening meal. The pig soup, freshly prepared sausages, and roasted pork are eaten with bread and wine as well as pickled peppers, cabbage, and cucumbers."

As for our recipe, I had seen it online and at the time I first posted this, I wasn't 100-percent sure if it was real, but I've finally discovered its original source - a December 3, 1985 National Enquirer article. Anyways, I did some adapting and it turned out fantastic. As always... cook, watch, eat, and enjoy!

Tony Curtis' Stuffed Cabbage (Töltött Káposzta)
adapted from this recipe
Click for Printer-Friendly Version

Serves 6-8

1 head Cabbage, medium-sized
1 pound Ground beef
1 medium Onion, finely chopped
1 Clove Garlic, minced
1 cup Rice, uncooked
1 1/2 teaspoons Salt
1/2 teaspoon Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Sweet Paprika
1 large Egg
2 tablespoons Chicken fat or Canola oil
1 large Onion, cut in rings
1 cup Sauerkraut & juice
1 teaspoon Brown Sugar
2 cups Tomato juice, sauce, or puree
1/2 cup Water
Sour Cream, optional

In a large stockpot, enough to fit the whole cabbage, boil water. Meanwhile, core the cabbage making a hole about 2 inches deep and about 2 inches wide.

Have a large colander ready to put cabbage leaves in. Carefully, put the cabbage in the boiling water and kind of gently stir it around to start loosening leaves. They will come off on their own. Let them swim in the water for a minute or two until softened, then remove and put in colander. Continue till almost done with the leaves. Then wash in cold water. Then use a knife to trim the spines so that they're flush with the leaves.

Mix thoroughly, ground beef, medium-sized onion, garlic, rice, salt, pepper, paprika and egg.

Using two leaves (one large, one small), stuff with a handful of the meat-rice mixture, roll very tightly along the spine (so spine is in the center of the roll), and make sure you fold in the ends as you roll, tucking them in with your fingers. You might want to stick a toothpick in the rolls to keep them from opening (don't forget to take the toothpicks out when serving!)

Heat oil in a Dutch oven fry onion rings in fat until golden brown. Add tomato juice or puree, brown sugar and sauerkraut.(I used tomato puree I made from Romas I grew in the garden.) Arrange cabbage rolls in Dutch oven. Pour water over rolls. Bring to boil, then lower and cover. Simmer over low heat for 1-1/2 hours, or until rice is soft.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream (optional).

Since I served this at a dinner party and one person was a non-meat eater, I came up with a quick fish version. Use a 6-ounce piece of tilapia (or any firm fish) and cut it into 1" cubes, add some salt, pepper & paprika, and wrap in cabbage leaves as above. Cook in tomato puree/sauerkraut for about 15-20 minutes until done, and serve with rice on the side. My friend loved it, so I hope you will too.

TCM's Some Like it Hot Page
Masterpiece: Some Like it Hot, by Charles Taylor @ Salon
Jack Lemmon on Billy Wilder, TCM Video
Tony Curtis on Some Like it Hot, with Leonard Maltin Video
Official Tony Curtis Website
Remembering Hollywood's Hays Code, 40 Years On, NPR
1920's Fashion & Music Page
About Prohibition, History Channel
About The Roaring Twenties, History Channel
NY Times Coverage of St. Valentine's Day Massacre
A History of Hungarian Cuisine, by Zsuzsa Hanko

Some Like It Hot (Collector's Edition) DVD
Some Like It Hot: Original MGM Motion Picture Soundtrack [Enhanced CD]
Some Like It Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder,
by Gene D. Phillips

Some Like It Hot: The Official 50th Anniversary Companion,
by Laurence Maslon

American Prince: A Memoir, by Tony Curtis
The Making of Some Like It Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and
the Classic American Movie, by Tony Curtis


  1. This, from today's NY Times. Director Mike Leigh on Some Like it Hot:

    I love hotels. I stay in them frequently, these days in the line of duty more than on holiday, although the occasional vacation does still happen. Recently we spent a few days in one of those friendly, small hotels right in the middle of Rome, which was delightful.

    As a kid, until the age of 15, when I went away with my parents for the last horrendous time, family holidays in hotels were an annual event. Mainly we drove from Manchester, England, across the Yorkshire Moors to Whitby, that ancient little port where the ruins of the abbey perch high on the East Cliff, dominating the harbor whence Captain Cook set forth to discover Australia, and where Bram Stoker wrote and set “Dracula.”

  2. continued...

    My parents and sister and I stayed on the West Cliff, at the Metropole Hotel, a decaying Edwardian castle of a place, surmounted at each corner by a tower. Various uncles and aunts and cousins would gather there at the same time, and when we weren’t digesting early 1950s hotel fodder, we all spent our days on the beach, or not catching fish on the jetty, or climbing the famous 199 steps up to the old abbey. There was also a repertory theater, the Spa Pavilion, where I saw “The Happiest Days of Your Life” and “Rookery Nook,” and shops that sold (and still sell) Whitby Jet, that unique shiny, black stuff so popular in Victorian jewelry, made so by Queen Victoria herself, who loved it.

    The reason for my entire extended family descending on this particular locale was that my great-uncle Izzy had won shares in the hotel in a game of bridge back in 1936. Bachelor, surgeon and amateur philatelist, he had a permanent room there, and every weekend he would race across the moors in his Ford V8 Pilot, and spend the weekend smoking and drinking whisky, or going out on the herring trawlers with the local fleet. He had gone round the world as a ship’s doctor in the 1920s and had never lost the taste for the foaming brine. Whitby is famous for its kippers (smoked herring), and he would often show up in Manchester on a Monday morning and present my perplexed mother with whole boxes of this pungent delicacy, a dozen to a box.

    So the Metropole, with its high rooms, and its big baths with their huge brass taps, and its balconies with views straight out at the bleak North Sea, was where I acquired my taste for hotels.

    I left home at the age of 17 exactly 50 years ago, in the fall of 1960. A year or so earlier, quite unaware of it at the time, something happened that would inform my experience of staying in hotels for the rest of my life. My subconscious was injected, perhaps infected, with a bizarre parallel perception which it took years for me to notice.

    This traumatic event was deeply significant for me, not only in my capacity as a future globe-trotting hotel guest but also as a budding filmmaker. I saw a new movie called “Some Like It Hot.”

    I needn’t dwell here on all the reasons why, like everybody else, I adore and revere Billy Wilder’s masterpiece (at left, Tony Curtis, left, and Jack Lemmon in the film). Obviously its great comic precision and brilliant script blew me away in 1959 as much as Curtis and Lemmon’s exquisite performances. And as to the effect Monroe had on this 16-year-old’s metabolism, detailed description would be singularly inappropriate in a respectable publication like this.

    “Some Like It Hot” is a great holiday movie. But when I’m in a hotel, on holiday or doing a film gig, it always lurks somewhere in my subconscious. Every hotel I stay at, large or small, is at some time, somehow, the del Coronado in San Diego (where I have, of course, never stayed), and which stands in for the Florida hotel in the film.

    I have participated in film festivals worldwide, many and various. But somewhere deep down I always feel as if I were attending the 10th annual Italian opera lovers’ convention that the gangsters in the film are affecting to hold.

    And whenever I’ve checked in at a hotel, and I unpack my smalls and hankies, I can never help expecting, when I open each drawer, to find Marilyn’s lines of dialogue pasted discreetly on the inside. And of course I secretly hope I’ll find Sugar hiding in the bedroom too.