Jack Lemmon Was Literally Floored By The Script For Some Like It Hot

"Some Like It Hot" is a film that on paper, doesn't seem like it should work. Here's a script that came out in the late 1950s about two Chicago musicians who witnessed the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and in desperate need of both a gig and an escape, flee to Florida in drag with a women's band. How a movie is supposed to make the sharp tonal shift from a Prohibition-era gangster flick to a classic, Shakespearian cross-dressing comedy in the span of a few minutes seems like an unlikely feat. Even more shocking is that Jack Lemmon agreed to the project before seeing a page.

Lemmon ran into director Billy Wilder while he was dining with his "Sabrina" star, Audrey Hepburn. Wilder pitched Lemmon the idea, telling him that he'd have to dress in drag for the majority of the picture. He immediately said yes without ever seeing the script.

The actor's reaction to Wilder's idea mirrors his character's eagerness in the film. As bass player Jerry, he almost seems too game to dress in drag, and not just for the paycheck. While Tony Curtis' character, Joe, goes with the feminized version of his name, "Josephine," we see Lemmon announce to his fellow female bandmates with enthusiasm that he's "Daphne." It's as though Jerry has put careful thought into being a woman long before putting on a skirt.

'Fell off the goddamn couch'

Lemmon's initial excitement wasn't deflated when he received the first sixty pages of Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond's script. If anything, he was overjoyed, he told TASCHEN:

"I fell off the goddamn couch, literally, fell off the couch. They were the greatest sixty pages I ever read. I went into his office and I told him so, I said, 'Where's the rest of these?' He says, 'You won't get it until we're already shooting' and then I found out that he and Iz never finished the script before they started shooting."

As Lemmon surmised, Wilder's genius direction ensured the movie's good taste. But like most Wilder vehicles, "Some Like It Hot" succeeded on the strength of its writing, which doesn't take cheap shots at women or men in drag. Once Joe and Jerry put on their dresses, their eyes are opened to the blatant harassment around them. They escape the mob's clutches only to find themselves trapped by uncomfortable shoes and the ridiculous advances of lascivious men.

A perfect throwaway line

The film's most famous line is one that rivals the best ending lines in cinema. As Lemmon noted, Wilder and Diamond had not finished the script when they started shooting. In fact, the writing team knew that the leading men would get away and reveal themselves to their partners, but they had no idea how Lemmon's male fiancé would react to his true identity. In the final scene, Lemmon tries to convince Osgood Fielding III that their marriage will never work out. Finally, he gives up, rips off the wig, and admits that he's a man. Fielding shrugs and smiles, "Well. Nobody's perfect." 

Wilder and Diamond fretted over the dialogue during a late night writing session, then decided to throw in "Nobody's perfect" as a placeholder, the director told Vanity Fair.

"We never found the line, so we went with 'Nobody's perfect.' The audience just exploded at the preview in Westwood. This was also very funny, how you make pictures. We wrote it on Sunday, we shot it on Monday."

I'm always amazed watching "Some Like It Hot" at how fresh the film feels. Shot more than a half century before the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, the script is filled with gut-busting dialogue that remains relevant today. What started as a throwaway line now feels like a 21st-century reaction to the idea of a same-sex relationship. It's a superior ending than one that would have ended in Fielding's shock or horror. There are countless lines like this throughout the film that, at once played for laughs, now sound like statements about marriage in general. I can't help but burst out laughing when Curtis asks Lemmon why he would want to marry a man and Lemmon quips, "Security!"

Like Lemmon, it had me rolling on the floor.