The Story of Iconic Photos: Marilyn Monroe’s “Flying Skirt”

You probably already know that this famous photo of the glamorous Marilyn Monroe was taken while filming The Seven Year Itch. However, there is more to the story than that, including why she faced the photographer and posed the way she did.

The photographer was a man named Sam Shaw, who worked as a set photographer for various films, and produced a few himself. His images were used to market the films he documented. It was during his work as a set photographer for the film Viva Zapata! that Shaw met Monroe, and they became fast friends.
Shaw had an eye for evocative images that left lasting impressions. He had previously played with the idea of using wind as a way to capture the playful nature of his subjects, so it should come as no surprise that he chose the subway grate scene from The Seven Year Itch to promote the film. The sequence had Monroe and costar Tom Ewell exit a building, and while walking, her skirt was caught in the updraft caused by a passing subway train. It was filmed both on location and in a studio.
During the public filming of the scene, amidst representatives from the press and bystanders alike, Monroe stood above the subway grate, allowing the air to engage in a feisty dance with her skirt. Of course Shaw was front and center, snapping shots of Monroe as she performed the scene with Ewell, as well as when she periodically paused between takes to pose for the press. According to Shaw’s granddaughter, at one point Monroe turned to face Shaw directly and yelled “Hi, Sam Spade,” which was her nickname for him. It was that moment Shaw caught in this famous image, an image that has enthralled generations.
Now that you know the story behind this iconic photograph, every time you see it you can think about the larger than life actress stopping long enough to acknowledge a friend, and picture her slightly open smile finishing the heretofore little known salutation.
Related: The Story of Iconic Photos: Lunch Atop a Skyscraper
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