Honey! There is something funny happening to your dress!
In September 1954 photographer Sam Shaw shot the famous “flying skirt” image of Marilyn Monroe.
That day, Marilyn Monroe mesmerized a crowd of lucky onlookers while her white dress blew suggestively above her knees — and sometimes over her head. It was 1954, and the director Billy Wilder was filming a scene of the film The Seven Year Itch on Lexington Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Street in New York City. In the script, Marilyn Monroe and co-star Tom Ewell exit a movie theater and a breeze from the subway passing below lifts Marilyn’s skirt. Instead of rushing to cover her legs, as any decent woman of that era would have, Marilyn exclaims, “Isn’t it delicious?”
Even if you have not seen the film, you have seen the photographs. The whole world has for over 60 years, although not everyone knows the story behind the photographs, or the name of the photographer who had the “flying skirt” idea in the first place.
The photographer was Sam Shaw. In 1951, Sam met Marilyn on the set of the film Viva Zapata. He was the set photographer and she was an unknown out-of-work actress. Marilyn drove Sam to and from the set everyday because as a New Yorker, he did not have a driver’s license. The two independent spirits instantly connected and became lifelong friends and collaborators.
A few years later Sam was asked to be the special still photographer for The Seven Year Itch, starring his friend Marilyn Monroe, who was now famous. It was his idea to use a picture from the movie theater scene as the logo to promote the film, and it was his job to create the images.
The idea originated from an earlier photo shoot that Sam orchestrated in the 1940’s for Friday magazine. It featured a sailor and a young girl at Coney Island playing in a wind tunnel. A playful photograph showing the girl’s skirt moving from the wind appeared on the cover and the magazine sold out immediately. Over a decade later, when Sam read the script for The Seven Year Itch, he saw a chance to revisit this “skirt-blowing” idea and turned it into one of the most memorable images ever created.
Most people also don’t know there were two separate shoots. One was a publicity event in New York where a large crowd of bystanders and the press were invited to create hype. The noise of the crowd rendered the film footage unusable and Billy Wilder reshot the scene on a closed soundstage in Los Angeles. Only the set photographer, Sam Shaw, was allowed into the studio.
In 2011, the white halter neck dress with a pleated skirt designed by William Travilla sold for a whopping £2.8million at auction – more than double its estimate! – to a mystery buyer.
The original article appeared in bio.