Kissing Marilyn Monroe is Like Kissing Hitler

Tony Curtis? Fictional?

Dear Quote Investigator: Tony Curtis was a wonderful actor, and I was saddened when he passed away recently. For years I have wondered about a quotation that he supposedly said. The story goes that he was asked what it was like to kiss Marilyn Monroe and he said:

Kissing Marilyn was like kissing Hitler.

This is bizarre. I don’t believe it. Why would he say it? Could you help with this question?

Quote Investigator: There is considerable evidence that Curtis did utter these words and in his later life he did acknowledge that the words were his. The rationale behind the quotation is more complicated and Curtis gave more than one explanation.

In 1959 Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe worked together in the very popular classic comedy “Some Like It Hot” directed by Billy Wilder. Monroe was a glamorous icon in 1959, and the film contained a kissing scene between Curtis and Monroe. Curtis says he was asked repeatedly what it was like to kiss the leading screen siren of the age, and finally in exasperation he replied sarcastically that it was like kissing Hitler. He simply wanted to end the questioning with a joke. He really thought she was a great kisser, and people misunderstood the quote. That is one explanation he has given.

Another explanation is given in press accounts from the 1960s that state Curtis was very angry with Monroe because of her actions during filming which reportedly were irresponsible and self-centered. She refused to follow schedules and required a large number of retakes because she would not say her lines properly. These difficulties precipitated his comment about kissing Monroe. Curtis was simply expressing his extreme irritation.

Here are selected citations in chronological order. In May 1960 a newspaper article discusses a newsman and movie enthusiast who has seen 8,000 films. This inveterate filmgoer rates stars and movies, and he creates his own award categories:  “the best movie kiss award goes to Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe for their shipboard smooching in ‘Some Like It Hot.'” But the article continues [CTC]:

Curtis, who has no love for Miss Monroe, said after the scene was filmed that ‘kissing Marilyn was like kissing Hitler.”

Actor Charlton Heston heard reports of the provocative quotation and referred to it in an interview in June 1960 [DNC]:

“I’d really like to do a picture with Marilyn,” said Heston, “even if Tony Curtis says kissing her is like kissing Hitler.”

Curtis delivered that opinion of Miss Monroe after acting with her in “Some Like It Hot” and said he’d never work with her again.

In July of 1960 another newspaper article repeats a version of the Curtis quote and presents a critique of Monroe’s work habits [IJC]:

Tony Curtis after a hot smooching scene with her: “It’s like kissing Hitler.”

Director Billy Wilder: “After working all day with her I feel like going home and beating my wife.”

Sir Laurence Olivier told a friend that co-starring with and directing her in a movie aged him 10 years.

All are talking about Marilyn Monroe. It’s no secret that Marilyn’s delays on “Some Like It Hot” added a million dollars to the cost. It’s also no secret that the picture thus far has grossed 14 million dollars, a record for a movie comedy.

Marilyn herself responded to reports of the quote in an interview in Life magazine in 1962. The cover date of the issue is two days before her death [LMC]:

I don’t like to say this, but I’m afraid there is a lot of envy in this business. The only thing I can do is I stop and think. “I’m all right but I’m not so sure about them!”

For instance, you’ve read there was some actor that once said about me that kissing me was like kissing Hitler. Well, I think that’s his problem. If I have to do intimate love scenes with somebody who really has these kind of feelings toward me, then my fantasy can come into play. In other words, out with him, in with my fantasy. He was never there.

In 1965 a press account once again indicates that Curtis was unhappy with Monroe [PPC]:

Actor Tony Curtis who is filming in the south of France, has launched an astonishing attack on the late Marilyn Monroe in a newspaper interview.

“I didn’t like her,” he said. “She was a really mean person. During ‘Some Like It Hot,’ she gave us a terrible time and when someone asked me then what it was like kissing her, I said, ‘It’s like kissing Hitler.’

The story behind the phrase changed as the decades passed. There was a period of time during which Curtis denied the accuracy of the quotation according to a report in the Guardian in 2001 [GC]:

Monroe won a Golden Globe in 1960 for her performance in Billy Wilder’s much-loved comedy Some Like It Hot, in which she starred with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Curtis is widely believed to have likened kissing his leading lady to kissing Hitler – which he has since denied.

Time magazine published an interview with Tony Curtis in 2008 which contains his response to a question about the famous quote [TMC]:

There was a scene Marilyn and I did [in Some Like it Hot]. They were screening the rushes and I was stunned by how good it was. It made me feel wonderful. Then all these guys who were watching the rushes with me started to needle me. “Hey Tony, where did you stick it? Did it work, or didn’t it? Tell us what it was like.” So I said, “F— you. Kissing Marilyn was like kissing Hitler.” I was just pissed at them bringing it up like that. I thought I quieted it down. Little did I know that it would end up as a line that everyone remembered.

In another interview in 2008 Curtis says that Monroe “was amazing to kiss”, and the quote was “a joke” [GMC]:

When some rushes were being screened, some of the technicians working on the film asked Curtis what it was like kissing her. His response: “Kissing Marilyn was like kissing Adolf Hitler.” Naturally, the quote stuck in people’s minds. He now explains that he was dumbfounded by such a silly question. “Of course Marilyn was amazing to kiss,” he says. “I was making a joke.”

The kissing incident is given a new twist by the assertion later in life by Curtis that he and Monroe were in the middle of a love affair at that time. However, the testimony of Curtis is disbelieved by some. A movie reviewer in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2009 wrote critically [SFC]:

Tony Curtis’ new book, “The Making of ‘Some Like It Hot,’ ” underscores one of the unsung advantages of longevity: If you live long enough, you can claim to have had sex with any of your contemporaries, so long as they’re not around to deny it.

In his previous book, the autobiography “American Prince,” Curtis repeated a claim he’d made a few years earlier, that he and Marilyn Monroe had had a tender, beautiful affair – one of the great romances of his life – back when he was a young up-and-comer and she was just starting out. I didn’t believe that story, but in the new book, which he co-wrote with Mark Vieira, he goes that one better. Curtis now claims that he had another affair with Monroe, this time during the “Some Like It Hot” shoot.

In conclusion, the evidence shows that Tony Curtis did say that kissing Marilyn Monroe was like kissing Hitler. He said it during the making of the popular comedy “Some Like It Hot” after the kissing scene with Monroe was filmed. It is less clear why he said. At the time Curtis may have loved Monroe, or hated her, or some combination. QI thanks you for your question.

[CTC] 1960 May 22, Cumberland Times, Newsman Who Has Viewed 8,000 Films Lists Best, Page 26, Column 3, Cumberland, Maryland. (NewspaperArchive)

[DNC] 1960 June 3, Deseret News, Charlton Heston Would Trade Biblical Roles For Comedy, Page B3 (GNA Page 12), Column 1, Salt Lake City, Utah. (Google News archive)

[IJC] 1960 July 15, Idaho State Journal, “Marilyn Has Faults, But Not in Box Office Appeal” by James Bacon, Page 3, Column 1, Pocatello, Idaho, (NewspaperArchive)

[LMC] 1962 Aug 3,  Life magazine, “Marilyn Monroe Let’s Her Hair Down About Being Famous: ‘Fame May Go By and So Long, I’ve Had You'” Page 32, Column 4, Volume 53, Number 5,  Time-Life. (Google Books preview) link

[PPC] 1965 Oct 29, Pittsburgh Press, “Continental Diary: ‘Best Dressed’ Priest Wears Robe Of Exclusive Fashion” by Noel Anthony, Section 5, Page 13 (GNA Page 83), Column 4, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

[GC] 2001 June 1, The Guardian (UK) Website, “Marilyn Monroe” by Imogen Tilden and Sara Gaines, London. (Accessed online at guardian.co.uk on 2010 October 4) link

[TMC] 2008 October 17, Time magazine, “Q&A Actor Tony Curtis” by Gilbert Cruz.  (Accessed online at time.com on October 4, 2010) link

[GMC] 2008 November 18 [Last updated 2009 March 31], The Globe and Mail, “Tony Curtis: Picture This” by Matthew Hays, Toronto, Canada. (Accessed online at theglobeandmail.com on October 4, 2010) link

[SFC] 2009 November 06, San Francisco Chronicle, “Some Like It True: Curtis’ Monroe Tale Unlikely” by Mick LaSalle, San Francisco, California. (Accessed online at sfgate.com on October 4, 2010) link