Marilyn Monroe’s subway grate scene from The Seven Year Itch is one of the iconic images of 20th century cinema. But director Billy Wilder famously had to film the sequence twice, because the first time he tried it—on the actual streets of New York—the production became so swamped with leering men that the footage was declared unusable. Wilder later re-shot the sequence with Monroe on a soundstage, but the original footage has never been seen. In Wilder’s 2002 biography, Nobody’s Perfect, he noted that, “The footage immediately disappeared. But one day I’m sure some film scholar will dig it up.”
They haven’t yet, but footage of the original Seven Year Itch shoot has emerged, courtesy of the family of a New York home movie enthusiast. Per The New York Times, Jules Schulback‘s family discovered a grocery bag full of old film in a back room of his house while they were preparing to move. Looking through the home movies, they found three minutes of footage that the family’s pater familias had long claimed to have shot: Marilyn Monroe on the sewer grate, plus shots of her apparently preparing for the shoot. A furrier by trade and a cameraman by hobby, Schulback had heard that Monroe was filming in his neighborhood, and so went out to capture some footage.
The Times has released a short segment of Schulback’s work, giving a rare glimpse at film history, and also at how incredibly creepy it must have been to see hundreds of men stand, panting, around a solitary woman, waiting for her thighs and underwear to be exposed by a blowing fan. (Not to overly criticize the now 92-year-old Schulback, but his camera work is pretty crotch-focused, as well.) For her part, Monroe looks bored with the whole thing, although in another sequence, she flashes a famous smile when she notices the camera pointing her way. Existing only in excerpts, Schulback’s film isn’t exactly a substitute for the original version of Wilder’s outdoor take on the scene. But it is an interesting window into cinematic history, and how wearying the life of a world-famous movie sex symbol must have been in 1954.