In 1958, Hotel del Coronado made Hollywood history when it became the setting for director Billy Wilder’s classic comedy, Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon. Released in 1959, this romantic romp was voted the #1 comedy of all time by the American Film Institute and named #14 on its list of the 100 Greatest Movies. As film historian Laurence Maslon – who authored a companion book about the film – noted: With the addition of “the famously photogenic Del Coronado, it’s easy to see why this movie has stood the test of time.”
The Prohibition-era story follows the exploits of Lemmon and Curtis, two out-of-work musicians who accidentally witness Chicago’s 1929 “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” In a run for their lives, the men disguise themselves as women and join an all-girl band traveling by train to a “Florida” resort, with Hotel del Coronado’s vintage Victorian architecture providing the era-appropriate backdrop.
The band’s ukulele-strumming singer, played by Monroe, catches the eyes of both cross-dressing men, but it is Curtis’ character who assumes still another identity to successfully woo and win Monroe, reinventing himself as an unlucky-in-love millionaire. Lemmon’s female character, meanwhile, is vigorously pursued by a bona fide millionaire played by Joe E. Brown.
Sunshine … California-Style
At least one Floridian was less than happy with Wilder’s decision to shoot the movie in San Diego, that being Miami Mayor Robert King High, who reportedly said it was “a sacrilege” to allow Southern California to assume the role of Florida’s “Sunshine State.” This sour criticism was ably met by Coronado’s mayor, who wired back: “Some like it hot, but not as hot as Miami in September.” The mayor’s rebuttal also referenced Florida’s gnats, mosquitoes, and hurricanes, none of which plagued the temperate, insect-free island of Coronado.
The Del Plays a Starring Role
Like many American resorts, Hotel del Coronado had endured some benign neglect during the Depression and World War II, which helped preserve the 1888 destination resort, making it the perfect setting for Wilder’s 1929 story. Said Wilder, “We looked far and wide, but this was the only place we could find that hadn’t changed in thirty years. People who have never seen this beautiful hotel will never believe we didn’t make these scenes on a movie lot. It’s like the past come to life.”
Unfortunately, at least one critic didn’t believe the seaside hotel was real, describing The Del as “an uproariously improbable set,” an apt reference to the resort’s fanciful Queen Anne architecture, complete with a rambling seaside silhouette and castle-like turreted roof. Although only exterior scenes were shot at The Del, interior sets were designed to replicate the luxury hotel’s spaces, right down to the placement of the lobby’s stairs and the design of the paneling.
Only at The Del: The Stars Align
The 200-member cast and crew – most of whom made the trek from Los Angeles to the hotel via train – were housed at The Del for the duration of the shoot, a little more than a week.
During filming, Marilyn Monroe was accompanied by her husband, esteemed playwright Arthur Miller, who made a special trip from the East Coast to join her at The Del. Also in Monroe’s entourage was acting coach Paula Strasberg, along with Monroe’s secretary and press agent; Coronado policemen were assigned to guard Monroe throughout her stay.
Tony Curtis’ wife, Janet Leigh – pregnant with their second child, Jamie Lee Curtis – accompanied him. Jack Lemmon’s wife, Felicia Farr, also joined the troupe.
By almost everyone’s account, Monroe was very difficult to work with throughout the film’s production – her tardiness and inability to remember lines have become legendary. Interestingly, however, quite a few reports confirm that Monroe was “on her mettle” during the entire Coronado portion of filming.
In fact, in his book Conversations with Wilder (1999), writer/director Cameron Crowe addressed this aspect of the film with the director, saying: “I grew up in San Diego [and] the legend is that the hotel was the most magical part of the filming … that Marilyn felt relaxed there.” To which, Wilder replied, “… that was fun. We had a good time there. Marilyn remembered her lines … everything was going according to schedule.” According to another source, Wilder speculated that Monroe was inspired at The Del – where adoring spectators were plentiful – because she preferred a live audience.
Although the production attracted many onlookers to the SoCal beach resort, security in Coronado was relaxed by today’s standards, and many fans were able to come in close contact with the stars, including one small boy who remembers declining Monroe’s request for a kiss.
A last bit of Del trivia: During her stay, a hotel chef reported that Marilyn fancied his cold soufflé vanilla pudding with egg-white decoration, which she requested daily.
Through the Years
Hotel del Coronado has continued to host Some Like It Hot events, including the film’s 25th anniversary in 1984 (with Wilder, Curtis, and Lemmon in attendance); the Marilyn Monroe U.S. postal stamp dedication in 1995; and the film’s historic 50th anniversary in 2009, when Tony Curtis, the last-surviving cast member, was joined by some of the original “girls in the band.”