The Idea For The Apartment Came From One Simple Question

Billy Wilder's "The Apartment" is a classic film that continues to corral new generations of fans even six decades removed from its original 1960 release. Though its central premise of an insurance clerk lending out his apartment to his bosses for their affairs was considered risque at the time, the black-and-white rom-com, starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray, won Best Picture at the 33rd Academy Awards. It also won Wilder Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for the script that he co-wrote with I.A.L. Diamond.

"The Apartment" is now in the National Film Registry and the American Film Institute put it at #80 on its list of the 100 greatest movies of all time. With so many accolades, it's not surprising that people have developed a selective memory about the movie, with different names taking credit for the idea behind it over the years.

Filmmaker Cameron Crowe touched on some of this in 1999, the year before his own Oscar-winning film, "Almost Famous," released. Crowe had published a Q&A book in '99 called "Conversations with Wilder." In The Guardian, he detailed how names like that of New York columnist Sydney Skolsky, Hollywood agent Jennings Lang, and well-known actor Tony Curtis all came to be linked with theories on where the idea for "The Apartment" first originated.

However, according to Wilder, by way of Crowe, these notions were all off-base. Crowe wrote:

"Wilder rejects all these theories, and gives credit to an unlikely source – director David Lean. Seeing Lean's brilliant early film, Brief Encounter, about an adulterous affair conducted in the apartment of a third party, Wilder scribbled this idea in his notebook: 'What about the poor schnook who has to crawl into the still-warm bed of the lovers?' Years would pass before Wilder felt he could slip this concept past film censors."

Wilder's favorite assistant director inspired the name CC

Crowe continued:

"It was during the making of Some Like it Hot that Wilder first suggested to Jack Lemmon, his cross-dressing hero, that he had another picture in mind for him. Lemmon would play CC Baxter, named after Wilder's favorite assistant director, CC Coleman. Baxter was the quintessential button-down schnook, a little man in a big insurance company. At first unwittingly, then ambitiously, Baxter would loan out his apartment for the afternoon and evening trysts of his philandering higher-ups. Juggling appointments, unable to enter his own apartment even when suffering from a cold, Baxter would try but find it hard to conduct a budding romance of his own with the plucky elevator girl, Fran Kubelik [MacClaine]."

Wilder is secure in his credentials as an auteur, having helmed a number of other classics such as "Sunset Boulevard," "Some Like It Hot," and "Double Indemnity." However, film is fundamentally a collaborative medium, in which various creative people come together and mount a group effort. There's no telling who or what else might have inspired the director and his co-writer as "The Apartment" made its journey from page to screen.

Just remember, if you're someone who scribbles their own ideas in notebooks, one of those could be a movie, maybe even the next "Apartment."