Book: Billy Wilder: From poor Austrian journalist to Hollywood superstar

The director’s newly translated writings reveal how his life as a penniless reporter shaped his hit movies

18 April 2021 | Donna Ferguson | Observer (original link)

In an arresting scene from one of director Billy Wilder’s most famous films, Some Like It HotMarilyn Monroe sashays along a Chicago railway station platform in a figure-hugging outfit, leaving Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis gobsmacked.

Until now, few have made the connection between this scene and some of Wilder’s own experiences as a young Austrian journalist in the 1920s. This month, the first major collection of Wilder’s journalism ever published will reveal the way his early writings shaped and influenced memorable scenes, characters and plots from films he later wrote and directed, including Sunset Boulevard and The Apartment.

In Billy Wilder on Assignment, Wilder’s German-language journalism from both Austrian and German publications is collected together in one volume and translated into English for the first time.

The all-female musical troupe in Some Like It Hot appears, for example, to have much in common with the Tiller Girls, a famous British dance troupe Wilder wrote about for an Austrian tabloid in 1926. “This morning 34 of the most enticing legs emerged from the Berlin express train when it arrived at Westbahnhof station,” he writes, aged 19, in a paragraph that could have been lifted straight out of the movie’s script. “Those figures, those legs…”

Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane, singer and ukulele player for the female band in Some Like It Hot. Photograph: APL Archive/Alamy


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