“Come to Los Angeles, the sun shines bright, the beaches are wide and inviting and orange groves stretch as far as the eye can see. ” So begins L.A Confidential’s opening voice-over by Danny DeVito as the Hush-Hush sleeze tabloid  publisher Sid Hugens. The sunny narration  accompanies scenes of cozy houses, happy families, and Hollywood movie stars. Sid types one of his tabloid stories, but as he likes to say, there’s trouble in paradise, and he quickly turns from brochure glossy jargon to organized crime headlines, tales of gangster Micky Cohen and gangland murders, all reflecting badly on the Los Angeles Police Department.  How could that happen in “paradise on earth,” he states, and with the “best police force on the earth?  This is all set in Los Angeles, 1953, based on James Ellroy’s neo-noir novel, and adapted for the screen and directed by Curtis Hanson in 1997. It’s also one of the best movies of its era.



Hanson grew up in L.A. and had a strong affinity for Ellroys’ novel. He had loved the Warner Brothers actors Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and Edward G. Robinson and the alienated characters they played. He saw L.A Confidential as an extension of that tradition. He had also admired directors John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, and Nicholas Ray. In the film he combined his favorite theme of image versus reality, with L.A. as the natural center of manufactured reality. This made the L.A. Confidential story a natural for him. After he optioned the novel he was pitched by Brian Helgelend who was also seeking to write a screenplay based on the novel. The two then teamed up. Hanson had two other strong suits: a definite visual style, and a keen ear and love of music. Out of his personal collection of Los Angeles photos and images he picked 18 to show to the producer Aron Milchan. Some of them ended up in the film, like the opening postcard of “Greetings from L.A.” and the photo of Veronica Lake. Other portraits he had were those of Guy Madison and Aldo Ray. These he showed to the two unknown Australian actors who would take on lead roles: Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe. The photos were guides to their respective time-period appearances. Hanson introduced them to Hollywood film noir classics. One of his particular favorites was In a Lonely Place, starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. He had to work hard to convince Kim Basinger to take the role of Lynn Bracken, after she had recently given birth to her daughter. He met her for lunch at the Formosa Café and showed her his photo board and wowed her with his grasp of the visuals for the film. As for Russell Crowe, he patterned his tough-guy demeanor after Sterling Hayden in Stanley Kubrick’s noir film The Killing.

The soundtrack to   L.A. Confidential is filled with Hanson song selections of the era: “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive;” “Wheel of Fortune;”   “Powder Your Face with Sunshine;” “Look for the Silver Lining;” and “But Not for Me among others. The score was written by Jerry Goldsmith. The strand throughout was the jazz trumpet of Chet Baker in a couple of classic numbers and trumpet solos in Goldsmith’s compositions. “Oh my God the man knew music,” said Kim Basinger about Hanson.




Hanson and Helgeland pared-down Ellroy’s baroque novel with its staccato mix of street slang and police procedural jingo, yet certain key dialogue was kept. Hanson would focus the story on three main characters, but even then the studio thought that was too many. They are intoduced in quick successive scenes. After the Hush-Hush intro, it’s night, and we see the face of Officer Bud White in his car. Officer Dick Stensland is in the back seat, drunk. We hear a couple arguing – with the man being abusive. Bud calls-in a domestic violence case to the Hollywood station. He gets out of the car,  sees what’s happening in the window, and pulls the electric cord to the eleborate Christmas decorations that crash down from the roof. The man comes and asks “Who the hell are you. ” Bud says “The ghost from Christmas past, and “why don’t you dance with a man for a change.” After the guy misses his swing and takes a few punches to the mid-section and head, he ends up hand-cuffed to the railing. Bud tells the guy if he ever hits her again he’ll have him sent up on a child-molestation rap. He then gives the wife money out of the guy’s wallet and asked if she has somewhere she can go.

The next scene introduces officer Jack Vincennes, played by Kevin Spacey. He’s the flashy detective , seen here at a party on the set of the hit TV show Badge of Honor, where’ he’s the technical advisor. But now he’s dancing with a beautiful wanna-be TV star. The pairing is short-lived after Sid Hugens walks up and she huffs off. It seems he wrote a piece on “Ingénue Dikes of Hollywood,” where her name was mentioned.

The following scene introduces the third main character: “good cop”  the young Sgt. Edmund Exley,  He’s being interviewed by a journalist as the son of the legendary detective Preston Exley.  He’s filling-in that night as the Watch Commander at the HQ while the  “men” have their Christmas party. One of the other central characters, Capt. Dudley Smith, excellently played by James Cromwell, chimes in to the interview. And just as Bud White and Stensland and Jack Vincennes and all the other cops are good and fueled up on alcohol, several Mexicans are hauled in – charged with beating up two cops.  A brawl results and while Exley tries to break it up he’s pushed into a storeroom and locked in. The reporters covering Exley’s story get plenty of photos which make newspaper headlines. Some cops will have to pay for this bad press , the Police Chief says, and somebody’s going to have to stool – and that sets up some of the dynamics and plot lines that make up this riveting movie. But that’s not all, cops are not just getting rid of mafia types to rid the City of the Angels of crime, maybe some of them just want to take over the rackets for themselves?



As Hanson had wanted, L.A. Confidential is a film where it’s difficult to tell image from reality. In addition to the normal crimes of drugs, racketeering, and gambling, here we have prostitution where the hookers are “cut” to look like Veronica Lake,  Rita Hayworth, and Lana Turner. Or is it the real Lana Turner?   Ed Exley and Jack Vincennes team up, and go to the Formosa Café, still in business in Hollywood today. There  they interrogate Johnny Stompanato, a real hood back in the day. He’s having drinks with a blond, who Exley calls a whore cut to look like Lana Turner. Vincennes tells Exley that she is Lana Turner. That’s before she throws her drink in Exley’s face. And of course Lana and the Stomp really were lovers, until Lana’s daughter Cheryl stabbed him to death for being abusive, and put on trial for it. Or was it really Lana that did it? Hush-Hush.

Officer Bud White was one of the two cops set up to take the fall for the brawl at the HQ. Only Capt. Dudley Smith thought his tough guy skills too important for the bureau to lose. He gets bis badge and gun back, along with special assignments as “muscle.” Except he’s also smart, and attracted to Lynn Bracken, and he starts some investigating on his own.

The film has its own filming set, where a TV show has actor cops arresting fake criminals, while real cops are perpetrating real crimes while sending newly arrived Mafiosi back to New Jersey after a good beating. Jack Vincenes does his investigating in places like Hollywood’s Frolic Room, next door to the Pantages Theater, where The Bad, and the Beautiful  is playing, starring Lana Turner. To feed Hush-Hush with stories we have an innocent gay man Matt Reynolds set up with the crooked D.A. Jack Vincennes tries to find Matt to talk him out of it. But its too late when he finds Matt in his room. Jack has now gone full gamut from the cool show business cop to a man full of self loathing.


Meanwhile, two other characters are either centers of gravity or are pulling the strings in the plot. Bud White and Ed Exley have both fallen for Lynn Bracken, causing jealousy and fights but eventually teaming up to look for where the rot lies in the police force. This was an investigation Jack Vincennes started. And Capt. Dudley Smith and his men are particularly interested in framing some innocent men for some reason.  Exley and Bud White, polar opposites, end up partners in a snakepit. They get trapped and must fight it out – for their own lives and for the version of their story that must get told.



L.A. Confidential was a surprise hit and won universal critical acclaim. It received nine Academy Award nominations and won two: Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and best Adapted Screenplay. It went up against Titanic or it would have undoubtedtly won more.

Curtis Hanson died September 20, 2016 at age 71. His other notable films included, “The River Wild” (1994), “Wonder Boys” (2000), “8 Mile” (2002) and “In Her Shoes” (2005). He received high praise by the actors he worked with.

James Ellroy was also born in L.A. He wrote L.A. Confidential as one his “L.A. Quartet:” The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz.  When he was ten his mother was raped and murdered. The perpitrator was never found. Ellroy transfered his confused emotions to the case of the Black Dahlia, and has written crime fiction in his adulthood.

I came to L.A when I was 4 in 1953 the year the movie takes place, growing up and frequenting the neighborhoods of Echo Park, Eagle Rock and Hollywood depicted in the novel and movie. I am the same age as Ellroy and lost my father in tragic circumstances when I was 13, so I can identify somewhat with his confused early years.

This is the Classic Movie Blog Association  Hollywood on Hollywood Blogathon

“Remember dear readers. You heard it here first. Off the record. On the QT, and very HUSH HUSH.”


He went by the stage name of Orry-Kelly.  Designers liked using just one name at the time. But he was born Orry George Kelly in Kiama Australia. His friends just called him Jack. He dressed the top movie stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, from Bette Davis to Marilyn Monroe. He was a hard drinker with a temperament more  suited to that of a  big movie producer.  He wrote his memoirs – which were never published in his lifetime. In fact they sat in drawers and boxes for decades – until last year. Orry-Kelly had been room-mates with Cary Grant, both in New York when Cary was still named Archy Leach, and then in Los Angeles. They had a falling out subsequently, and It was rumored that Grant blocked publication of the memoir. At any rate, the book Women I’ve Undressed, by Orry-Kelly has now been published in Australia and in the United Kingdom. It seems  U.S.  publishers care less about our own Hollywood heritage. The book has also been turned into a docu-drama directed by Gillian Armstrong.

Orry-Kelly Anne Sheridan

Orry-Kelly with Ann Sheridan at Warner Brothers

Kiama Australia was a small seaport town. His mother was a housewife and his father was a tailor. The young Orry developed his future passion when his mother took him to the theater in Sydney when he was seven. He loved the experience and the next Christmas he got a miniature theater as a gift. He made his own sets and actors, which he dressed with scraps from his mother’s leftover materials. His father told him boys shouldn’t be playing with dolls and one day destroyed the whole set.

As an older youth Orry moved to Sydney to attend technical school, at first living with his aunt but eventually going out on his own. Although he got a job in a bank, he hung around the theater looking for parts, with a few minor roles on stage coming to him. But It wasn’t long before he was mixing with a rough crowd of pick-pockets and prostitutes. Realizing he was only going to get in trouble he decided to move to New York.

Once in New York, he found a hotel room and looked for parts in vaudeville. His neighbor and friend was Gracie Allen, who would soon partner with George Burns. Another friend-to-be in the area was Jack Benny. And then sharing his room was another recent arrival to New York, struggling vaudevillian Archie Leach. Although this was during the Prohibition, the heavy drinking that Orry-Kelly got used to in Sydney continued to be a regular habit. Orry-Kelly had auditions and some performances, he just never made a success on the stage. So in order to make ends meet he turned to his artistic abilities. He painted some murals and experimented at home hand block-printing his designs on shawls, and selling the best ones on the street. He found a way to print his designs on ties also, and got Cary Grant to both make them and sell them on a 50-50 commission. Soon they were able to support themselves without the theater. But then he got a job designing costumes for the Schubert Theater. He even designed Katharine Hepburn’s costumes for Death Takes a Holiday, though she only lasted a week in the role.

Orry-Kelly was broke by the time he made it to Los Angeles in 1931.  Archie Leach came separately and got a screen test and then a contract at Paramount, along with the new name of Cary Grant. They met every night for a 65 cent dinner at the drug store counter- splurging for the 85 cent version on week-ends. Cary’s agent took Orry-Kelly and his portfolio for an interview at Warner Brothers. After waiting 42 days he finally got a job offer as costume designer. He said in his book that his first movie  designs were for Loretta Young, who he loved working with. This was for Week-End Marriage in 1932, Then he designed the costumes for Bebe Daniels in Silver Dollar, a period film about the Silver Queen of Denver, Baby Doe. I include below several images from my own costume sketch collection.

Orry-Kelly for Loretta Young 1932 They Call it Sin 2Above is my costume sketch of Orry-Kelly’s design for Loretta Young in “They Call it Sin,” 1932. 

His first designs for Kay Francis, the fashion-plate of Warner Brothers, was for One Way Passage. He said she was, “Well mannered, cooperative, easy to please, and knew exactly what she wanted.” Boy was he in for  a rough ride with some of his other assignments.


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Orry-Kelly costume sketch for Kay Francis


Orry-Kelly said when he first got to Hollywood  he studied the work of the top two designers: Adrian and Travis Banton. But in order to be different, he decided to design “simple, unadorned evening gowns.” The good news was Warner Brothers was picking up his contract – for $750 a week – and he could establish his own style as the Warner Brothers style.

Orry-Kelly reminisced about the first time he dressed Dolores Del Rio, star of films Wonder Bar, Madame du Barry, and In Caliente. “I draped her naked body in jersey. She wanted no underpinnings to spoil the line. When I finished draping her she became a Greek goddess as she walked close to the mirror and said, ‘it is beautiful.’ Gazing into the mirror she said in a half-whisper, ‘Jesus, I am beautiful.'”

Musicals had become a specialty at Warner Brothers ever since they brought in sound movies. The early 1930s was also the era of Busby Berkeley and his big chorus-girl musical numbers. Orry-Kelly worked with Berkeley on such hits as 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933. They would often go out drinking after the day’s work, and one night ended up at “Madam” Lee Francis’ and her girls’ establishment. Lee told him later that he was the sole representative of the designers who became a patron.


Orry-Kelly - Ginger Rogers in Gold Diggers 2

Costume sketch for Ginger Rogers in Gold Diggers of 1933. The sleeves were eliminated in the film.

Orry designed for Ginger Rogers in her small roles in 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933. In his book Orry Kelly states that subsequently it was Irene and then Jean Louis that dressed her. He had mis-remembered this, as Walter Plunkett dressed her at RKO, and then Bernard Newman.


Orry-Kelly Vinson sketch

Helen Vinson in “The Little Giant” costarring Edward G. Robinson


Orry-Kelly became so busy at Warner Brothers that at one point he no longer painted  the faces for his costume sketches.. And in fact he quit painting the costume sketches at all in favor of just doing pencil sketches.  The otherwise beautiful costume sketch for Helen Vinson above in The Little Giant, co-starring with Edward G. Robinson, has no face. The costume sketch below for Loretta Young is done just in pencil. He designed for 23 movies in 1932 when he started, but in 1933 he did 42.


Orry-Kelly for Loretta Young 2

Bebe Daniels was already a big star by the time Orry-Kelly got to Hollywood. One of his first jobs was designing her costumes for Silver Dollar, a period film. His next designs for her was for the big musical, 42nd Street. Although Ruby Keeler stole the show, the best costumes went to Bebe Daniels, including the outfit below. It was worn in an important scene with George Brent.   The fox furs were eliminated, which was indicated at right on this sketch.


Orry-Kelly Bebe Daniels in 42nd Street 2

Orry-Kelly led an active social life with the Hollywood social set and celebrities. He  remembered one of Marion Davies’ costume parties in Malibu, this one with a Spanish theme. Some of the guests included Dolores Del Rio, Carole Lombard, Constance Bennett, Jean Harlow, Marlene Dietrich, Hedy Lamarr, Eleanor Boardman, and Ann Warner (Jack’s wife), among others.

Ann Dvorak was another beauty at Warner Brothers, whose flame did not last long enough. Orry-Kelly’s fashionable outfit design for Midnight Alibi is shown below.

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Although he had been working with Bette Davis for many years, the two temperamental artists could occasionaly get into tifts.  While working on Now Voyager, Bette Davis was in a bad mood for a whole week and wouldn’t look at any of the three gowns Orry-Kelly had prepared for her fittings. This caused him to drink even more than usual and get in a bad mood himself. Finally Bette tried on two of them which she wore in the film. One is shown in the photo below.





Casablanca is one of the most favorite films of all time. Orry-Kelly designed the women’s wardrobe including Ingrid Bergman’s day dress shown above. The white sleeveless top and skirt with the striped short-sleeved  sailor sweater was a big fashion hit in 1942.

Orry-Kelly also designed the costumes for Lauren Bacall’s first movie, To Have and Have Not, which paired her with future husband Humphrey Bogart. This was the role where whe said, “You know how to whistle don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”


After a brief period in unform during World War II, Orry-Kelly himself got in a tift with Jane Wyman and one of the producers in one of her films. After that he left Warner Brothers and went to 20th Century-Fox on a non-exclusive contract. Jack Warner told him he would double his money. Bette Davis had wanted him to design her costumes at 20th Century-Fox for Dark Victory – he did for $2000 a week, triple his WB salary.

He also designed films at Universal including those for Shelley Winters, who he couldn’t stand working with. This was during her brief sex-kitten days.  He didn’t renew his contract at Universal. He later had to dress her again for a  Daryl Zanuck production. Although he doesn’t relate this in his book, it’s been told that at one point Shelley Winters refused to come out of her dressing room trailer for a costume fitting. Orry-Kelly got so mad he rocked the trailer back and forth until the terrified Winters ran out.

Orry-Kelly had always wanted to dress Marilyn Monroe. He thought she had always been put in gowns and dresses that were too tight, and should be dressed in bias-cut satins that just draped her figure. When the film Some Like it Hot was announced, he asked Billy Wilder for the costuming job and got it. But Orry-Kelly was surprised when he first saw Marilyn in a meeting. She had gained wait (probably from a pregnancy that was aborted). He knew he would be dressing her along with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in a scene together where the two men were dressed as women. He selected a matt finish fabric for her skirt and a more shiny fabric for theirs, he told her, so as to make her rear not look as big since the men’s were naturally smaller. At this she took offence and was cold to him the rest of the time.  Tony Curtis gave a different story. He said he and Jack Lemmon were getting measured by Orry-Kelly, just like Marilyn Monroe was. When Marilyn got measured, “He put the tape around her legs, looked up at Marilyn and said, ‘You know Tony Curtis has a better-looking ass than you.’ She was standing there, she unbuttoned her blouse and said, ‘He doesn’t have tits like these.'”

Orry-Kelly Monroe1


One film that Orry-Kelly narrowly missed doing was My Fair Lady with Audrey Hepburn. The director George Cukor wanted him for the film and so did Warner Brothers. But Cecil Beaton was specified in Alan Lerner’s contract, so Orry-Kelly lost out. Beaton’s costumes for the film have been sanctified by time, but I think Orry-Kelly would have done an even better job. He tells many anecdotes in his book, and relates stories about other famous actresses he dressed, including Ava Gardner, Rosalind Russell, Rita Hayworth, and Natalie Wood.

Orry-Kelly died of liver cancer in 1964. Now with both the book and the film out on Orry-Kelly, and an exhibition that was held in his native Australia, he is justly being celebrated in the English commonwealth. If only we  could have such triple crowns for some of our American film costume designers.




There was a time in Hollywood when any star would recognize the name Irene. And in greater Los Angeles any woman of means would buy their custom-made clothes designed by her. Long before movie stars borrowed or were given couture designer gowns for their award shows, they’d flock to Irene at Bullock’s Wilshire in Los Angeles.  In the 1930s and 1940s, Irene’s gown prices equaled hose demanded by the Parisian couturiers. And since Irene designed for the custom trade at Bullock’s as well as designing free-lance for the stars at their home studios, the celebrated name of Irene was known by all. But now several people including her grand-niece Karlyn are trying to keep the  legacy of Irene Lentz Gibbons alive. It is a rich and visually stunning one – unique to its time but an inspiration for today.

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Marlene Dietrich was completely focused on her image. She knew exactly where to stand under the lights when being  photographed.She would patiently wait through exacting fittings for her custom clothing. She always dressed when going  out and always demanded that her gowns be “a la Dietrich.” For her personal wardrobe she turned to Irene, and after Banton left Paramount, she had Irene design her film costumes as well. One such design is shown above, and Marlene looked fetching in this Irene-designed beaded outfit in The Lady is Willing1942

Irene designed devastatingly glamorous gowns. She had studied couture in Paris after her first husband, the movie director F. Richard Jones, died in 1930. She had closed her small dress shop and packed her bags to spend time with a friend. After she returned to the U.S. Irene combined those  skills into her own look of glamour, mixed with elegance and sexual allure, looks that Adrian and Travis Banton had pioneered in Hollywood. Such combinations of strength, sex, and style had not yet become acceptable in continental couture.

.Irene Bullocks3a

Beginning in 1933, Irene designed with her own label for The French Shop at Bullock’s Wilshire.The costume sketch above was for an Irene creation for Bullock’s Wilshire, the art deco palace of shopping and fashion in Los Angeles. Irene was also simultaneously designing the movie wardrobe for many of her customers. The costume sketch below is also an Irene design for an unknown production, circa 1940. 

Irene Unknown 4a

Irene designed the gown below for publicity photos for Paulette Goddard’s appearance in Second Chorus1940. Paulette was photogenic, but she never looked more alluring than in this gown.

Irene Paulette Goddard 1

Before Jean Louis came to the U.S. and began designing for Rita Hayworth at Columbia, Irene designed the glamorous gowns for Rita in the films You Were Never Lovelier in 1942, below, and You’ll Never Get Rich in 1941. Irene could always be counted on to provide both elegance and sex appeal. She often used nude souffle and lace to provide that eye-catching balance between exposing and concealing the figure that stimulated the eye.

Irene-Rita 1

After Adrian left MGM in 1941 to open his own fashion business, Robert Kalloch designed for the studio for a brief period. But soon thereafter MGM hired Irene to become its executive designer, at a salary she couldn’t refuse. Even as MGM lost Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, a new stable of stars was being groomed. One of them was the beautiful champion swimmer Esther Williams. Irene designed the gown below for publicity photos for Esther in 1942, showing off MGM’s newly-signed star. Irene was the perfect designer for Esther, accentuating her athletic physique in her suit designs and gowns. Helen Rose who followed Irene prefered the New Look, which I believe was not as flattering to her.

Irene Esther Williams 1

Irene designed the costumes for Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Lana Turner makes her entrance in the movie bare legs first. She’s dressed in white shorts and a white halter top. Janine Basinger describes the scene as “…one of the iconic showstoppers in modern motion picture history.”   Irene designed an almost all-white wardrobe for Lana, wanting to emphasize her sun-tanned California look in her crisp white Twin Oaks uniform. Irene also wanted to help create that heavenly vision of Lana first coming down the staircase. The contrast of her platinum blond hair and white outfits with co-starJohn Garfield’s darker complexion makes for the perfect film noir atmosphere. As Lana was described in this film, “a black widow in white shorts.”

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) Directed by Tay Garnett Shown: Lana Turner (as Cora Smith)

Irene also designed the costumes for Katharine Hepburn, who was also new at MGM. Below is a costume sketch for Kate in State of the Union, 1948. Irene designed for several of Hepburn’s films co-starring Spencer Tracy. Irene and Hepburn never got along, and Hepburn had her favorite designer of historical costumes  Walter Plunkett, brought in to MGM, he of Gone With the Wind fame. They had worked together at RKO and were close friends.

Irene - Katharine Hepburn in State of the Union 2 copy

Irene is pictured below in her MGM office with some costume sketches from Easter Parade, 1948, The movie starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire was a festival of period costumes. In that same year she started her own fashion label and fashion design business. She used the hobble-skirt silhouette from Easter Parade in her own slim designer label skirts and suits.

Irene & Easter Parade sketches

The costume sketch below was a design for Patricia Vanever in, Easter Parade. She  was seen in the movie as one of the fashionable ladies strolling down 5th Avenue during the “Easter Parade” scene.

Irene - Patricia Vanever in Easter Parade 2 (1)

The costume sketch below was an Irene design for Ginger Rogers in The Barkleys of Broadway from 1949. This was the last film in which Ginger Rogers appeared with Fred Astaire. This design shows Irene’s flair for designing suits, which she would include regularly in her own label. Along with those from Adrian, there were no better suits ever designed.

Irene Barklays of Broadway 2 copy

Irene left MGM in 1949 after problems due to her drinking. She could now concentrate on her own fashion business. Her line was carried by the leading department stores across the country. The stunning ball gown below was designed by Irene with white silk illusion fabric (normally used for bridal veils) over yellow, accented by a black velvet waist girdle and streamer and long black gloves. One can imagine the gasps heard when the woman wearing this creation made her entrance.

Irene-velvet and tulle

A classic Irene suit is shown below featuring a row of seven buttons on a peplum jacket with diagonal buttons on the flap pockets.  Irene loved using buttons of distinction, often using buttons made of special materials and semi-precious stones. Her revers cuffs were another trademark. Irene’s suits could be worn for years and often were.  They represented the pinnacle of women’s design and tailoring. Irene’s gowns also stayed fashionable for years, Marlene Dietrich took several of her Irene glamour gowns, purchased in the 1930s, to entertain the American troops during World War II.

Irene suit

Irene also loved floral prints. The bold print of roses on this column dress – with its open neck and bodice was perfection, heightened by the exact matching of its floral print on both sides of the bodice.

Irene-floral print dress

Irene returned to do a few more movie costumes, notably for Doris Day in Midnight Lace and Lover Come Back in 1960 and 1961. While her designing talents stayed at the top of her form, her personal life was plagued with anguish and melencholy. On November 15, 1962 she took her own life at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood.



High Noon Screen-Shot





High Noon, the 1952 classic western starring Gary Cooper, directed by Fred Zinemenn and written by Carl Foreman, set the model for the lone hero standing up to a bunch of outlaws.  Cooper played the part of Will Kane, the newly-married town marshall. He has just resigned to leave town with his bride, a pacifist Quaker played by Grace Kelly, and a new marshall will soon arrive. But so will outlaw Frank Miller who Kane previously sent to prison, but now set to arrive on the noon train. And Miller’s bringing three other outlaws  to join him. The wedded couple are no sooner on the outskirts of town than the marshall says he must turn back and do his duty, his bride aghast.  Yet he never thought of taking on the outlaws alone. But now  his deputy leaves him out of spite and jealousy, and then his wife makes plans to take the first train out of town. He tries to deputize men in a saloon but none of them will budge. He goes to a church and asks for help, but the men just want peace and the mayor doesn’t want the bad image of a gunfight in the street. His  mentor and the past marshal won’t help him, and he even gets in a fistfight with his now-drunk deputy before he resolves to face four gunslingers on his own. Walking out in the middle of the street, western-movie style, he shoots it out with them, killing one, then two, and with the help of his wfe who shot one, shoots the last one standing: Frank Miller. He tosses his tin badge to the dirt street and they leave town. The marshal has done his duty as the lone hero and can now ride off in the sunset, albeit he leaves with a wife in a wagon.


Shane 1 crop


Shane quickly followed High Noon as another classic western, the two cementing the myth of the lone hero in western movies. Here Alan Ladd stars in the film directed by George Stevens and written by A.B Guthrie. The movie itself begins with Shane riding his horse into a family homestead. Shane is the  only name he’s given, and as with almost all lone western heros, his past is mostly mystery. The plot is set up immediately, when the young  boyJoey plays with and cocks a  gun, Shane reacts instantly by drawing his pistol. The alarmed father, Joe, played by Van Hefflin, sends Shane away. No sooner is he gone than riders come up, one of which is a cattle baron named Ryker who tells the family they are squatters and to get off the land that he uses for grazing his cattle.  Joe refuses and things get tense until Shane returns as back-up, and the cattlemen leave. Joe’s wife Marian  played by Jean Arthur, urged by Joey (Brandon de Wilde), invites Shane to stay for dinner,  and then Shane spends the night. He ends up staying a while and helping do some work. The homesteaders are being threatened all around the area and some are leaving. When Shane goes into town to get some work clothes, he is called a sodbuster, but resists getting in a fight. At a homesteader meeting the harrassment is talked about including Shane backing down, which Joey overhears. Then several homesteaders go to town for 4th of July provisions including Shane, and this time, he goes to the saloon and throws drinks into the cowboy that harassed him and gets in a fistfight and wins, and then takes on all the other cowboys and is joined by Joe as well. When Ryker offers him a job and he refuses, Ryker hires a notorious Cheyenne gunslinger, played by Jack Palance. But meanwhile not only does Joey admire Shane but so does his mother. Ryker visits them with his brother and gunslinger Wilson to  say they were there first to pacify the land that Joe is on, and it shouldn’t have fences. He then offered to buy them out. Joe says the government recognizes the homesteaders’ land. But the Ryker bunch start getting violent with the others and have orders to deal with Joe too. One of the homesteaders is killed going into town, another’s house is burned down. Some homesteaders want to leave. Joe is fixing to go into town to take on Ryker single-handedly, but Shane and joe get into a fight and Shane knocks him out, with the thanks of Marian, but Joey now resents him. Shane goes in Joe’s place, and confronts Ryker, starting with gunslinger Wilson, and brother Morgan, in the classic saloon gunfight. With sidelines help from Joey, Shane avoided a trap. With scored settled and the smoke cleared Shane gets set to leave. Joey then  says he was sorry for what he said and asks him to come back to the homestead. Shane says he doesn’t belong there. “A man’s gotta be what he’s gotta be.” “A brand sticks,” he adds, and “There’s no going back to the past.”   As he rides off Joey cries out, “Come back!” But Shane  is himself a gunslinger, and he has taken on himself the violence that was necessary for the settlers to lead a peaceful life.  Throughout Joey was the character that validated Shane, through initial curiosity and fascination, then disappointment and even resentment, to active partnership and to final jilted but glowing admirer. We see Shane through his eyes – the lone Western hero. “Come back.”


Shane 3


The lone western hero is a powerful myth reinforced by a long line of western movies including The Searchers, Pale Rider, and The Good the Bad and the Ugly. The model has also influenced police and detective films of modern times. But the actual episodes that inspired these films belies the theme of the lone hero. In them we find the legendary lone hero is more myth than fact in that iconic period of the American West.

One of the most notoriuous  episodes of the American West was the Johnson County war of Wyoming in 1892, also called the Wyoming Cattle War or simply “The Invasion.” It is infamous because the powerful interests of big ranchers and the state government they influenced suppressed the story for so long. Although it was the subject of the film Heaven’s Gate (excessively dramatized by Michael Cimino in a story that was dramatic enough), its story elements have been lifted and used, if not the full story itself, in many westerns. In the Johnson County war, homesteaders came and settled onto land that was also used by big ranchers to graze tens of thousands of cattle. This was the rich grasslands where buffalos, by then nearly extinct,  had roamed for centuries. The settlers took up land where there was water, such as valleys along streams and rivers. They put up fences and raised livestock of their own. The big ranchers let their large herds of cattle roam free through the fall and winter, grazing as they went. When winter blizzards came the cattle drifted south, sometimes for hundreds of miles. By spring they would drift back to their native lands, joined by thousands of calves. This is when the “round-up” would take place, and the cowboys would brand the calves. Friction would arise over unbranded, “maverick” cattle, ending up in different herds, often with charges of “cattle rustling” made against the small ranchers or certain cowboys. Since the big ranchers and their Wyoming Stock Growers’ Association had laws written in the State legislature to protect their own interests (has nothing changed in 125 years?), the farmers and small ranchers found themselves perennialy on the losing side of whose cattle was being rustled.

johnson-county-war_bar-fs-ranch invaders – Courtesy Wyoming State Archives

Johnson-County War invaders – photo courtesy Wyoming State Archives


Then as bad winters and more settlers came, and their fencing expanded,  the profits of the beef cattle business sunk.The big ranchers decided to get more aggressive with the settlers. Not wanting to get physical themselves, they hired gunslingers from Texas and Arizona and other states, and outfitted them with guns and supplies in three supply wagons including dynamite. This was still the wild west as far as some were concerned.

Twenty of the big ranchers and some 30 hired gunmen rode into Johnson County, having cut the telegraph lines so that no news could get out about what they were going to do. Two lynchings had already been committed, and a list was drawn of people to be killed. The armed group first surrounded the K.C. Ranch house where  alleged rustlers Nate Champion and Nick Rae were staying along with two traveling trappers. The trappers were allowed to go when they went outside but they shot and killed Rae as he came out in the morning and had an hours-long shoot out with Champion, who was writing in his diary the whole time. As the day was ending they set fire to the house.  Nate Champion was shot and killed as he fled. Jack Flagg and stepson were riding by and witnessed the events until they too were shot at. They high-tailed it to the nearest town of Buffalo to alert the settlers that the invaders had arrived. Meanwhile the self-satisfied invaders took their time, having a hearty meal before their own planned ride to Buffalo, where they intended to kill sheriff W.G. “Red” Angus. But Angus was no lone hero – some 200 settlers has signed up as his posse to fight off the gunslingers. As the invaders were on their way to Buffalo, they got word of the riled-up citizens – farmers and town-folk alike – and decided to take up a defensive position at the T.A. Ranch at Crazy Woman Creek. The ranch buildings were made of hewn logs and now to which the invaders added breast works and gun-slits, all under orders of the group’s leader Major Wolcott. Except that their four wagons of supplies had been captured by the settlers – including their dynamite.  Within hours the settler posse and Sherriff Angus arrived and took up positions around the T.A Ranch, only to be fired at, and they returned fire. The settler bullets doing nothing against log walls, they started working on an idea conceived by Arapahoe Brown – build a moving fort – the “Go-Devil.” This device was built of two of the big supply wagons from the invaders, rigged together with lumber and built with a protective lumber wall in front. The whole could be rolled up close to the ranch fence and dynamite tossed at the ranch house until the invaders came out where they could be shot. This attack vehicle was within distance of being implemented when the U.S. Cavalry from Fort McKinney rode in.

Johnson County Go_Devil

The “Go-Devil” used by the farmers and town folk against the invaders


The invaders surrendered to them, with the understanding of the sheriff and the settlers that the invaders be held at Fort McKinney for trial. The quick arrival of the U.S. troops was the work of acting Governor Barber, who had,  with help of the two Senators from  Wyoming, woke President Harrison to say that an “insurrection” was taking place in Johnson County and beseeching him for the order to dispatch  federal troops to stop the fighting (and protect the big ranchers and invaders). As it turned out the invaders were transferred to Douglas and then transported to Cheyenne where they could get an “impartial” trial. The judge meanwhile charged Johnson County $100 per man/per day for upkeep, nearly bankrupting the County. The two trappers, witnesses to the murder of Champion and Rae, had been kidnapped and then bribed to tell a false story at trial. At the trial, the judge acquitted all the big ranchers and their hired gunmen. They were left to their own fates and ignominy. That the story is not better known is testament to the ability of the powerful linked to government and their ability to suppress not only justice but history.

Johnson County kaycee-champion


This was not the only case of the people rising up against gunmen riding into town. When the Jesse James/Frank James and Younger Brothers gang and their associates rode into Northfield Minnesota to rob the bank in 1876, several of the townsmen got rifles and guns from the hardware store and started firing on the gang members waiting outside the bank, killing two of them. Meanwhile inside the bank the assistant cashier refused to open the vault and was murdered. During the gunfire outside, other staff ran out the back door. All the robbers stole was a bag of nickels, all the rest getting shot and wounded and killing a couple more town people. After their escape the Youngers and James split apart. But the locals formed posses and within a couple of weeks the Younger brothers were captured and imprisoned. The James brothers managed to escape.

These real-life episodes did not lead to the lone-hero myth that was developed in the classic movies of the early 1950s. This post-war period had already seen the rise and wain  of film-noir, and the expansion of the American suburbs. There were other needs at work in this myth-building phenomenon. Certainly the old tales of gothic knights and leather-stocking frontiersmen had an effect, and the basic call of the wild and the free. But Americans needed to cope with the disappearance of the old west itself. Not only was the physical west rapidly changing, but the promise that it held was evaporating too.  Had we paved and polluted paradise? The Western Hero myth was the savior myth. But with the 1954 western film Johnny Guitar directed by Nicholas Ray, the western hero had been completely suppressed. Here is the first ripple of the tidal wave of anti-hero films of our current era, western and otherwise. Our current ever-present dystopian movie plots are beyond the abilities of any hero to save, merely surviving is the goal. Now no ordinary hero can cope with the mayhem of modern times, exaggerated ten-fold in movie-madness. Now its up to super-heroes to save us, as they fight super anti-heroes, or is it the other way around?  Regardless, the actual facts of the Johnson County war may not be well known, but its implications have become all too clear.






Joan Crawford was already working at MGM when costume designer Gilbert Adrian arrived with Cecil B. De Mille in 1928. MGM had gone through a succession of designers, including Erte, but it quickly contracted Adrian as the head designer.  Greta Garbo, already a major star, was thereafter dressed by Adrian and became an international fashion influence. Joan Crawford had been at MGM since 1926 and would also  become a major star. Dressed by Adrian, she would become as big a fashion influence as Garbo.

Joan Crawford’s first big starring role came with Our Dancing Daughters in 1928,  the movie that made her a hit with young women.  This film’s costumes had been designed by David Cox. Adrian designed her costumes for the sequel films, Our Modern Maidens,  and  Our Blushing Brides. He designed her next 28 films at MGM, creating her look both on  and off screen. About Adrian Joan Crawford later said, “Dear Adrian, he was the greatest costume designer of them all. There will never be a greater one.”

This post is part of the Joan Crawford Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood


Joan Crawford Our Blushing Brides


Joan realized early the importance of the star-making machinery with costume design as a foundation. Adrian’s talents extended beyond the art of fashion. He understood the needs of the role, and importantly, the psychology of the actress and what it takes to create that extra spark of creativity on the screen. In Joan’s flapper days, such as in Our Dancing Daughters and in Our Blushing Brides, shown above, Joan embodied the notion and look of the flapper. Later, when she played the sophisticated “kept woman” in Mannequin, Adrian dressed her in a completely different style for that role. Joan absorbed these lessons in style and stardom eagerly. She wanted to pattern her stardom after Gloria Swanson, the greatest star from early Hollywood. Gloria Swanson was a fashion icon – always well dressed – always the star – a role played on and off  the lot.


Joan Crawford Mannequin

Joan Crawford in Mannequin


Adrian found Joan Crawford fascinating. Like Greta Garbo, the MGM star he most loved to dress, Joan presented him with the androgynous beauty that sparked his creativity. She had a beautiful figure with broad shoulders that Adrian admired, a “regular Johnny Weismuller” he said. She had normal hips, not wide as has often been reported, so there was no need to widen her shoulders in order to balance them. Greta Garbo had wide shoulders too and Adrian used wide-shoulder costumes for both of them from 1929 on.  He did this just because he liked a wide-shouldered look on these two powerful women. Indeed, Adrian was always fascinated by polarities, and the contrast between the beautiful yet strong, forceful face of Joan Crawford  illustrates that characteristic.

The costume designed for Joan Crawford that made Adrian famous was the “Letty Lynton” dress, named for the 1932 film of the same title. It has not been publicly screened in decades due to a copyright dispute. The puffed-sleeve (or shoulders) white organdy dress was worn by Joan on a ship’s deck when Robert Montgomery compares her to an angel and asks her to marry him. The dress was knocked-off by many  American designers and sold at every price-point. Parisian couturiers copied it too, as did other costume dessigners. Edith Head stated it was the single most important fashion influence in film history. The Cinema Shop at Macy’s has often been cited as selling 50,000, or even 500,000 copies of the dress, although both figures are gross exaggerations stated at the time for marketing purposes. Versions of the dress can be seen as wedding gowns in every decade since.


Letty Lynton 2

The photo below is another gown from Letty Lynton, although it was shot on the set of Grand Hotel.  The gown is made of white crepe and black bugle beads, with one section forming a wrap tied at her hips. The other, forming a true assymetry on her left side. The image itself is a master-work of Hollywood set photography, with Joan forming a crucifix at the swinging art-deco doors of the Grand Hotel.


Joan Letty Lynton 2


In Grand Hotel, 1932, Joan played a secretary. Adrian dressed her  simply in black dresses. Her predominant costume was the one shown below. Its large white collar emphasized her face, always desirable in film, and its open structure symbolized her vulnerability to the advances of Preysing.




Greta Garbo also starred in Grand Hotel, although they did not share a scene. Garbo was notoriously reclusive and Joan had never talked with her on the MGM lot, and was rather intimidated by her. One day during the filming of Grand Hotel, Joan ran into Garbo on the stairs of the old MGM dressing rooms. Joan, locked in place and spellbound by Garbo, just said hello. Garbo put her hand to  Joan’s face and said, “What a pity, our first picture together and we don’t work together.  I am so sorry. You have a marvelous face.” Years later in retelling this story Joan said, “If there was ever a time in my life when I might have become a lesbian, that was it.”


Greta Garbo in Mata Hari, portrait by Clarence Sinclair Bull

Greta Garbo in Mata Hari, portrait by Clarence Sinclair Bull


Adrian used the symbolic power of the modified trench-coat on Joan Crawford, just as he had with Greta Garbo ever since 1928  in A Woman of Affairs. Below Joan is shown in Possessed, 1931. The Coat is only slightly feminized with the bow at the collar and at the belt, which is neutralized by a floppy cloche hat serving as a sort of fedora. She wears this outfit as she stands up to hecklers admitting that she’s the mistress of Clark Gable as the character Mark Whitney. He’s running for governor, she says, but he is an honorable man that once belonged to her but now belongs to the people.




Joan Crawford, like many young actresses at MGM, had gone through voice class to lose her native twang and regional accent. While Joan had developed a beautiful speaking voice, there was no mistaking that she was a working class girl, and always seemed natural in the many rags to riches roles she played. This was also a factor in her popularity with the many young women moving into the cities and who were entering the workforce in the late 1920s and 30s. Many movie and fan magazines and newspaper articles marketed the fashions she wore in the movies to this demographic. This was a lure to the movies themselves, and  with the implied message that if you wear the right clothes you get the right breaks.

Sadie McKee, has the plot  where Joan starts out as a household maid, then becomes a dancer, and finally the wife of a rich man. This is  not the man she loves, however, played in the film by Gene Raymond.  This was another film where Joan co- starred with a future husband, in this case Franchot Tone. She had previously co-starred with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in Our Modern Maidens (1929), whom she first married. And then there was Clark Gable, with whom she co-starred in eight films. They never married, although they carried on an affair that lasted many years. They always seemed well paired in their roles together, and their chemistry was always hot. Sadie Mckee features a rare Adrian-designed gown that bares Joan’s shoulders. The sequined halter adds a  lot of dazzle to the long black gown.


Sadie McKee (1934) Directed by Clarence Brown Shown: Joan Crawford


For I Live My Life (1935) Adrian designed a gown for Joan that let his wide-shouldered look run wild. It is shown below, but at three-quarter view the full effect is not grasped. It was referred to at the time as the “Mutiny on the Bounty” dress because of the sail-like appearance of the bodice – and that the “Mutiny” film had just been released.


Joan Crawford #2


The film where costume plays its most important role ever, in my opinion, is The Bride Wore Red (1937)directed by Dorothy Arzner and starring Joan Crawford with Franchot Tone and Robert Young. Simply, an aristocrat bets that he can take a tavern singer played by Joan and through a good wardrobe can pass her off as a high-society heiress at an exclusive mountain resort. His theory is that only luck separates the characteristics of the rich from the poor, so change the appearance and you change the person. and thereby ensnare the affections of the Robert Young character who disbelieves this theory. So he gives “Anni” enough money to buy an expensive wardrobe, and she chooses the most eye-popping brilliant-red bugle-beaded gown with matching cape in the store. So in this fractured-Cinderella-fairy-tale she goes off on the train to the Alps, where the postman played by Franchot Tone picks her up in a donkey-cart, her taxi to the resort. The costumes continue to play their significant part in this movie,  not to make the actress feel comfortable in her role, but in this Dorothy Arzner film, to always make her feel like she has chosen the wrong wardrobe for the occasion.


Joan Bride Wore Red


It’s a bit of an irony that The Bride Wore Red was a black and white film, so who would have known what color the bride was wearing, even though she was not to be the princess bride? The gown was  miraculously preserved and is now in the collection of the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology,

The Women was released in 1939, with its complete wardrobe for Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard, Hedda Hopper, and of course Joan Crawford, including all the other all-female cast including the fashion show models, all designed by Adrian. The years-long rivalry between Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford was paralleled in the plot, and Adrian had to impose a rule that none of the actresses would get to see what the other was wearing before scene-shooting began.  Although the outfit below covers Joan’s navel (necessitated by the censor) its partially exposed mid-riff was still considered risqué at the time.


The Women (1939) Directed by George Cukor Shown: Joan Crawford (as Crystal Allen)

Photo courtesy Photofest


The roles Joan played after World War II satisfied her less and less. Change was taking place at MGM. Garbo had left, and after that  Adrian. Even her long-time rival Norma Shearer has retired. New stars were getting the choice roles: Katharine Hepburn; Greer Garson; Hedy Lamar; and Lana Turner. After a  long review of her options, Joan had a meeting with Louis B. Mayer and asked to buy out the rest of the time on her contract. So on June 29, 1943, Joan left MGM, her home for eighteen years. Her last task was to clean up her dressing room, not just to pack up her personal belongings, but to physically clean it as well. No farewell party was held to see her off.

Her agent Lew Wasserman got her a contract at Warner Brothers., where a new phase of her career began.  She was once again given more serious roles in this new age of film noir. There was Mildred Pierce in 1945 for which she won a Best Actress Oscar. With new clout, she returned to Adrian for her wardrobe, selecting costumes from among his designs at his new  fashion salon in Beverly Hills. Thus did her next two films, Humoresque, and Possessed, get costumed by Adrian. Joan is magnificently  dressed in Humoresque, showing a mature beauty in an elegant and classic wardrobe.  Possessed calls for a simple wardrobe. In the film Adrian used a technique of reversing a white collar on a black dress, having the points of  the collar turned to the back of the dress. The look has been copied many times since.

Joan Crawford went on to a long career, embodying what it was like to be a star in Hollywood’s Golden Age, and beyond. Adrian’s star burned bright while it lasted, but his health failed him. A heart attack forced him to give up his own influential fashion line in 1952, and a planned comeback was stopped by a terminal stroke in 1959. Fortunately we have those many films to see for ourselves on TCM and elsewhere the art that was created in this collaboration and under the talented umbrella of many at the Hollywood dream factories.

This post is part of the Joan Crawford Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood





Edith head is known internationally as the epitome of the classic Hollywood costume designer. Her costume design sketches, however, were done in a  variety of styles depending upon who her sketch artist was at the time. That she had her own flair and could produce beautiful costume renderings is little known, mostly because these sketches are very rare, and the ones that are often seen are largely based on black and white photographs.

The story of how Edith Head got her job as a sketch artist at Paramount is famous. She interviewed with Howard Greer, then Head Designer, and wanting to make a good impression, she borrowed art pieces from several fellow art students at the Chouinard Art School for her portfolio. The portfolio really impressed Greer by its variety, so he hired her, even when she admitted that not all the pieces were hers. Designer Travis Banton soon after replaced Howard Greer and it was by him that Edith learned costume design. She also learned to replicate his costume sketches. especially the facial features and body postures of the  models. Not having had the anatomy and life-drawing classes in art, however, Edith never did learn to properly draw hands and feet, the most difficult feature to draw or paint. It is with these features that one can recognize the difference between a Travis Banton and an Edith Head sketch. Theses costume sketches are very lovely nonetheless.

Shown below are several costume sketches that she illustrated herself.


Mary Martin The Great Victor Herbert copy

The sketch above by Edith was done for Mary Martin in the film The Great Victor Herbert, 1939, a musical based on the songs and operettas of Victor Herbert (Babes in Toyland, Naughty Marietta, Little Nemo). Mary Martin played the lead role opposite Allan Jones and Walter Connolly. The hands are awkwardly drawn, but Edith kept the Howard Greer/Travis Banton tradition of drawing three fingers (the middle fingers were actually joined) and the use of bright red finger nails.


Edith Head sketch 7

The sketch above is from an unknown film and actress, beautifully rendered. A period costume, likely from the Civil War era.


Barbara Jo Allen Kiss the Boys Goodbye 1941 2 copy

The costume design above was done for Barbara Allen in Kiss the Boys Goodbye (1941), a movie about musical theater and rivalry between actresses based on the play by Clare Booth. The approval initials of the director and producer are on the sketch.

Edith unknown 1942

The costume design sketch above is also unidentified, although it has the approval initials of a director or producer. The style is clearly from 1942 – 1943 The smaller drawing at the top shows an alternate look with a vest. Women’s suits were popular in the 1940s and the broad shoulders were not just a military influence but had started earlier as a technique of giving women an air of power, athleticism and independence.


Dorothy Lamour Aloma of the South Seas 2 copy

Edith Head became famous for her sarong designs for Dorothy Lamour in several films starting with Jungle Princess in 1936. The design above is for Miss Lamour in Aloma of the South Seas (1941). Producer Monta Bell’s signature is at left bottom.


Barbara Stanwyck You Belong to Me.2 COPY JPG

Barbara Stanwyck was a favorite star for Edith Head to dress. Here is one  of Edith’s design sketches  for a ski outfit for the film You Belong to Me (1941).


Margery Reynolds in Holiday Inn 2 copy

The glamorous gown design above, in another sketch by Edith Head, was done for Margery Reynolds in the classic Holiday Inn (1942), co-starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby. Although the film is black and white the gown was made of gold bugle beads.


Virginia Field Crystal Ball 1943 copy

The costume sketch by Edith above was a design for Virginia Field in Crystal Ball (1943). The film also starred Paulette Goddard as a rival in a fortune-teller scheme co-starring Ray Milland. The sleek but broad-shouldered silhouette of the gown with its décolleté illusion top is very chic.


Edith Betty Hutton

The costume sketch above by Edith Head was done for Betty Hutton in the Preston Sturges film The Miracle of Mogan’s Creek (1944) This is one of Sturges’ best screw-ball comedies co-starring Eddie Bracken. The coated outfit is very smart as worn by Betty Hutton in the film.


Marjorie Renolds in Holiday Inn copy

The sketch above is another design for Betty Hutton in the same film. She wears it in the famous all-night party scene.

The costume sketch below was not done by Edith Head, but rather was illustrated by Grace Sprague for Edith’s design forNatalie Wood in Sex and the Single Girl (1964). Ms. Sprague was the sketch artist that was most identified with Edith Head. She illustrated Edith’s book The Dress Doctor, as well as many of her newspaper and magazine articles in the late 1950s and early 1960s. She was a prolific sketcher and would turn out dozens of sketches for each film, many of them unused for any costumes.

Head sketch Sex&Single Girl

Sketch artist Richard Hopper illustrated the sketch below for Edith’s design for Elke Sommer in The Oscar (1966). He took over most of the sketch artist duties after Grace Sprague died, and remained with Edith for many years until he too became a costume designer.

The notes on the sketch are in Edith’s own hand. Costume sketches were working tools and part of the production process, handled by producers, directors, actors/actresses, and wardrobe workers.

Edith Head Elke Sommer in The Oscar

Many of the iconic Edith Head designs for such stars as Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, and Audrey Hepburn that are seen today were done years after the movies were produced. Edith Head did not keep these sketches after she left Paramount but had them reproduced (several times)  later for her fashion shows. As such they are not really costume design sketches and not a part of the production of a movie, but rather are movie art pieces or costume illustrations. We can see in the examples above that with either the production of the illustration, or with the notes on her designs, that Edith Head was very involved in all stages of the process.




MY COUSIN RACHEL, Olivia de Havilland, Richard Burton, Audrey Dalton, 1952, TM and copyright ©20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved

My Cousin Rachel is a dark, brooding, and twisted gothic story – the kind Daphne du Maurier was famous for. In the movie,  Olivia de Havilland gave an outstanding performance as Rachel. and Richard Burton made his bravura American film debut as the emotionally high strung Philip Ashley.

This blog post is part of the Olivia de Havilland Centenary Blogathon sponsored by Crystal at The Good old Days of Classic Hollywood and Phyllis of Phyllis Loves Classic Hollywood

The best-selling author Daphne du Maurier was so confident in the sale of the story to Hollywood that it was placed on the market in 1951 for $100,000 plus 5% of the world gross. This was considered an outrageous cost at the time, even if Rebecca had been a hit movie in 1940 and an Oscar-winner. It was 20th Century-Fox that bought the option for My Cousin Rachel, although for a flat $80,000. George Cukor was involved early-on as the potential director, with Vivien Leigh, Jennifer Jones, and even Greta Garbo considered in the role of Rachel. All of these possibilities folded as Nunally Johnson became both the producer and screenwriter, with Henry Koster as director along with the final cast. .

The movie begins during the 1830s. “My entire life had been spent on the Cornish coast of England,” Richard Burton narrates and provides the voce over through many parts of the film. We see him first as the young boy Philip, orphaned, in the care of his much-loved cousin Ambrose. They are at a cross-roads, where Phillip stares up at a hanged man. “Death is the price for a murder,” Ambrose explains to him. Waves crash on the rocky coast, a metaphor for the rough seas of life and a favorite gothic meme

My Cousin Rachel

Philip grows up to be a young man in Ambrose’s mansion, until one day Ambrose decides to travel to Italy, “to improve his health” he says, but he will return in the spring. Philip and his friend Louise (Audrey Dalton) are alarmed when he doesn’t return, but soon a letter arrives saying he met a cousin, a half-Italian , half-English widow named Countess Rachel Sangalletti. This is followed by a letter stating they have married – but that Ambrose does not trust her – and subsequent letters stating that she is tormenting him and causing him maladies, and that he is to come quickly. Louise’s father tells Philip that Ambrose’s father had died from a brain tumor and had similar delusions, but Philip departs immediately nonetheless, only to arrive at the Italian residence to learn that Ambrose had died – and cousin Rachel had disappeared. He learns from a sevant the whereabouts of Ambrose’s lawyer, a Rainaldi who insists that Ambrose died of a brain tumor and not from poisoning. Rainaldi further states that Philip will inherit everything, including the estate, from Ambrose, and Rachel will get nothing. Philip is distrustful nonetheless, and on visiting the headstone of Ambroses’s grave site, he vows “to repay Rachel in pain and suffering.”

After returning to Cornwall, one day cousin Rachel comes to visit. Louise and her father Nicholas, the executor of Ambrose’s estate, says she is penniless and should- out of common courtesy – be put up at the estate. Philip does not greet her, but allows her to stay. When they finally meet he is beguiled by her beauty and charm, and mesmerized, confesses he had vowed to torment her as she had Ambrose.

My Cousin Rachel (1952) directed by Henry Koster shown: Richard Burton, Olivia de Havilland

Photo courtesy Photofest

Soon, the passion of his hatred turned to a passionate and mad love.

My Cousin Rachel 6

He is not yet 25 years old, at which point the terms of the Ambrose Ashley trust state he inherits the estate and all its possessions. Rachel must have known this. Did she come calling to catch Philip in her web? Was she guilty of poisoning Ambrose? We ride the roller-coaster  of Philip’s emotions through his point of view, and try to read the Mona Lisa face of Olivia de Havilland as to Rachel’s intentions.

My Cousin Rachel 2

Philip has been ensnared. First he asks Nicholas to award her 5000 pounds a year, nice sum or revenue from the estate. Next Philip demonstrates his mad love by giving to Rachel the family jewels as a Christmas present, a lavish necklace, which she wears at a dinner party. This gesture shocks Nicholas, who argues with Phiilp so that even Rachel hears, whereby she returns the necklace to him. Embarrassed, Philip only hardens his determination to pursue his love, convinced that her first acceptance of the jewels signified her love in return. Even when he is told that her bank account is overdrawn and she is sending money to Italy, he defends her.



And he will go even further, after turning 25, he legally conveys all the estate to her, jewels, property and all. But he finds that for Rachel, that does not mean that she intends to marry him. At a dinner, he cheerfully announces their engagement, but she denies to all.


MY COUSIN RACHEL, Richard Burton, (right), 1952, TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved,

Then, as Rainaldi visits Rachel, Philip becomes jealous, and mistrustful, and finally, his hate returns.



When his  rage becomes a physical outburst, Rachel shuns him thereafter, and he enters  into a delirious sickness lasting several days. He awakens with Rachel by his side, and it all seems like a bad dream, and in his mind he believes that she had married him.

My Cousin Rachel (1952) directed by Henry Koster shown: Olivia de Havilland, Richard Burton

Photo courtesy Photofest


As Philip recovers he learns from his gardener that Rachel is planning a trip to Italy. He confronts her about why she was leaving, and learns from her that they were not married. He notices that she has a letter from Rainaldi, postmarked from Plymouth, where she had in fact just met him.  Later, with Louise, he breaks into her chest of drawers to find the letter, which only contains poisonous seeds. He now suspects once more that she killed Ambrose and that she had caused his own illness.

Was Rachel guilty of murder? Is Philip himself paranoid and delusional, or just mad with jealousy? I will not give away the ending, ambiguous as it is, not just because it spoils the ending of the story, but because this would also taint the viewers image of Philip or Rachel throughout the film. Both Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton give masterful performances. Ms. Havilland gives the perfect inscrutable  performance, not overly manipulative, or stoic, but honestly conveying the appropriate emotion for the moment. As such she can be tender, caring, and sympathetic, or determined, selfish and cold.

The frequently dark, gothic setting of the film, amplified by the cinematography of Joseph La Shelle, with art direction by Lyle Wheeler and John De Cuir, gives a Film Noir feel to the work, which a change of costumes and décor could have thoroughly accomplished. Screenwriter Nunnally Johnson had previously written Woman in the Window and The Dark Mirror, the later another Olivia de Havilland vehicle. The dramatic film score by Franz Waxman (The Bride of Frankenstein, Sunset Blvd) provides plenty of mood and all the appropriate clues as to what type of drama is about to unfold. The costume design by Dorothy Jeakins, under house designer Charles Le Maire at Fox, did an excellent job of designing the women’s costumes within an 1830s silhouette.  Richard Burton was nominated for Best Supporting Actor – and odd nomination – but Olivia de Havilland was considered the lead actor. The film was also considered, in the then Black & White category, for Best Cinematography, Best Costume, and Best Art Direction. Its only award was a Golden Globe for Best Newcomer for Richard Burton.

Happy 100th birthday Olivia de Havilland,  a National Treasure, nay an International Treasure.






Jean-Pierre battlestar



Jean Pierre Dorleac Book 2


Famed costume designer Jean-Pierre Dorléac has had a dynamic and fascinating career designing costumes for film, stage, and television. He recounts many of his experiences in his book: The Naked Truth: An Irreverent Chronicle of Delirious Escapades, published last year by Monad Books.  In his many years in Hollywood he met and worked with some of the legends of show business. His talent and skills in designing, sketching, and even producing costumes at the highest levels took him to Universal Studios during Edith Head’s final years. She befriended him and mentored him in the nuances of working with difficult stars. And of course they shared many stories, one in particular which had always grieved Edith, was the story of the creation of the Sabrina dresses.

Mr. Dorléac granted me an interview to cover some of the highlights of his career and the friendships and working relationships he formed in the industry (both good and bad). There are of course many trials and tribulations he went through, as well as experiences with some famous movie stars that do not flatter their reputations. All of that is in the book. As a basic introduction, it covers the period starting with his winning of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for the play Marat/Sade in 1973. It took hard work to capitalize on the win before he worked regularly in film or television.  He was befriended by June Lockhart, and the two were often out on the town. Connections he made would later prove helpful. Through her he met Ann Miller, who gifted him a good part of her personal wardrobe, forming the core of an eventual fabulous 25,000 piece vintage garment collection. Next came a promising film assignment starring Henry Fonda, with the then young stars Eileen Brennan and Susan Sarandon: The Last of the Cowboys. The film turned into a disappointment and even given a new title, but working with Henry Fonda was a great experience. In 1977 Jean-Pierre Dorléac was hired at Universal Studios to design period costumes for a TV movie called The Bastard. The risque title it seemed came from a popular novel by John Jakes, a story leading up to the American Revolution.


Jean-Pierre Dorleac Eleanor Parker - Black 2

Mourning gown sketch of Eleanor Parker from “The Bastard.”


Eighteenth century costume was a specialty of Dorléac’s, costumes he had studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in France. But as it turned out, that helped him little for his next work, designing the space-age costumes for the cult-favorite Battlestar Galactica, also done for Universal Television. His next film may not have won great praise, but Good Guys Wear Black (Black Tigers), with Chuck Norris, introduced the use of spandex in action-costumes. Battlestar Galactica was  such a hit that a  TV series was produced, and Jean-Pierre Dorléac’s innovative costumes for the series have become legendary. In addition to his film and television costume designing, he has been very active designing for the private wardrobes of many stars.

I asked Jean-Pierre if there  was still so much fan interest in his Battlestar Galactica costumes. “Oh yes”, he said,  “all the time”. “And I have donated  20 Galactica  costumes to museums,” he added. He said his success with science fiction costumes was a surprise since he never liked uniforms and doesn’t read science fiction.  In 1979-1980 his costume design work alternated between the 18th century and the space-age as he designed for another John Jakes saga: The Rebels, and then Galactica 1980 and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.  The Battlestar Galactica costumes used a variety of innovative materials: Whiting & Davis ( famous for its antique purses) chainmail; chromed plastic; spandex jumpsuits; and specially made macramé.

Jean-Pierre Dorleac CU Fashion Show Models

Jean-Pierre Dorléac and models from the TV 6-hour movie “Valley of the Dolls.” He played himself in the film, narrating a fashion show of evening wear during a prominent scene.

The year 1980 became very significant for Jean-Pierre, he designed for both The Blue Lagoon starring then young It Girl Brooke Shield, and the fan-favorite Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. He said Christopher Reeve was then at the height of his egotism and very demanding about his wardrobe. Edith Head’s advice for how to handle fussy stars worked just as well for men, he discovered.

Jean-Pierre started talking about his book by saying that, “I wanted to stay under the radar” after The Blue Lagoon came out. Brooke Shield was immensely popular at the time and there was intense interest in gossip about her and her mother, all of which he wanted to avoid because of his devotion to them. He was very gratified with his costumes for Somewhere in Time, designed for the period of 1912 and nominated for an Academy Award in Best Costume Design. Jean-Pierre said he immersed himself in the Belle-Epoque, “Looking for the character of Elise McKenna, an actress with advanced  haute-couture taste.”  He spent hours looking  for antique laces and accessories. He was finally able to buy $5000 worth of the important silk and cotton laces through a dealer at an antique bazaar.  He was frustrated in his search for period jewelry, however. But at a lunch Edith Head made him a significant present, a magnificent Rhinestone necklace from 1900 that had once belonged to Broadway actress Ethel Jackson. It was the perfect piece for the gown he had in mind and he couldn’t thank Edith enough for this gift, a very valuable piece.


Jean-Pierre Dorleac Crystal necklace and Earrings from SIT

The hand-polished rhinestone necklace, originally worn by Ether Jackson in the1907 Broadway production of “THE MERRY WIDOW,” given to Jean-Pierre Dorleac by Edith Head. It was used in the film “SOMEWHERE IN TIME” that was nominated for Best Costume Design


Jean-Pierre Dorléac  had not started out wanting to be a costume designer. He was interested as a young adult in the history of fashion and worked briefly at Balmain and Dior learning the basics of couture. He has admired many American costume designers. “Orry-Kelly was my favorite designer,” he says. He likes the classic look of the glamour gowns he designed. He knew and admired Walter Plunkett. “He gave me a book with plates of costumes that were inspirations for him in designing ‘Gone with the Wind.'”

Jean-Pierre Dorleac Plunkett Title Page












Jean-Pierre Dorleac Inside Page 2


Jean-Pierre Dorleac GWTW Sketch

“Modes and Manners of the XIX Century” inspired costume designer Walter Plunkett to design Vivien Leigh’s picnic dress for GONE WITH THE WIND from one of the many hand-colored engravings.


He was friends with Theadora Van Runkle, whose personal style of dress  he greatly admired. “She turned everyone’s head when she entered a room,” he said of her. “She had henna red hair and a constant display of vintage jewelry, outrageous beads around her neck and fascinating bracelets.” Jean-Pierre, who renders amazing costume sketches, greatly admired Theadora’s costume sketches as well. He also knew and admired Yvonne Wood and Noel Taylor. And of course there was Edith Head.

“Edith was always very kind and generous,” said Jean-Pierre. “She was never vicious.” This in Hollywood when the changed order of things had made climbing the ladder more like a game of thrones.  She gave him presents, “that were always extra special,” and these always had a particular reflection on her career. Alfred Hitchcock had copies of the scissors made that Grace Kelly used as a murder weapon in Dial M for Murder. He gave a set to Edith Head, even though she was not the costume designer for the movie.  The scissors and their red leather case with her name on it she gave to Jean-Pierre.

Jean-Pierre Dorleac Edith Head scissors

The desk scissors gifted to Edith Head from Alfred Hitchcock that were copies of the murder weapon from DIAL M FOR MURDER. She gave them to Jean-Pierre, who in turn, was inspired by them to create the logo for THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO.

Jean-Pierre Dorleac Original LogoJean-Pierre Dorleac TV Guide Cover Logo-Edith Head scissors


Regarding the notorious case of the design credit for Audrey Hepburn’s Sabrina dresses, Jean-Pierre had much to say.  Part of the problem started early. “Audrey Young was a bit player at Paramount who did not like Edith.” he said. “She married Billy Wilder in 1949 and wanted to become a costume consultant.” He said that Edith told him that Audrey Hepburn wanted to get couture items from Givenchy but showed up with sketches she had made herself based on what she had seen at his runway show. And Audrey Hepburn had already gone to director Billy Wilder and he consented to giving her what she wanted. Edith said she then modified the sketches “to give them her touch.” Jean-Pierre said that the cutter-fitter (pattern-maker) at the time stated that all the costumes for Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina were made at Paramount. And also that Marjorie Bennett who played the cook said she saw Audrey Hepburn wearing the “bateau-neckline” Sabrina dress coming out of Wardrobe. Edith said that Audrey ‘s characteristic style was her angular features. So she designed her necklines with a pronounced horizontal line. Jean-Pierre emphasized the importance of the continuity of that neckline in the various costumes Audrey Hepburn wears in the film, from basic house-dress, to a sharp black apron,  to the famed bateau neckline “Sabrina” dress, to the charcoal-grey embroidered ball-gown. All these indicate the obvious intention of the designer – the costume designer – who is developing the character in the story, not designing couture.

With all the kindness that Edith Head showed him at the start and throughout his career, Jean-Pierre was saddened at the tarnished reputation she experienced during her final years at Universal. The film-credit embroglio, along with her advanced years and worsening health allowed some people to disrespect her at the studio. He has done his bit to champion her rightful place in Hollywood movie history.

Jean-Pierre Dorléac has earned his own place in movie and television history. He has been nominated 11 times for the Prime-time Emmy Awards for Outstanding Costume Design, winning for Battlestar Galactica and The LotHe has won two Best Costumes Awards from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films for Battlestar Galactica and Somewhere in Time. And he was nominated for a Best Costume Oscar for Somewhere in Time. Today he works mainly in South America and Europe. He raises orchids and epiphyllum cactus plants as a hobby. His book The Naked Truth was well-written, highly informative and entertaining, an inside look at Hollywood from the production end – or how much of a game of thrones (unsavory characters and all) it really is. As a fan of film costume this was a great book to read and a wonderful opportunity to talk to this notable costume designer and author. You will no doubt be able to enjoy it on several levels.





five movies the_shawshank_redemption_tree



What five classic movies would you want with you if you were stranded on a desert island? That’s the question Rick of the Classic Film and TV Café posed to several of us participating in his Blogathon in commemoration of a National Classic Movie Day. That’s a pretty short number, especially for being stranded for who knows how long, We could probably come up with our “100 Favorite Movies to Be Stranded on a Desert Island,” while exercising a little fantasy and throwing in some guilty pleasures. But Rick is holding the line.

So my rationale is that I had to fall back on my all-time favorites, movies I’ve seen over and over with continued pleasure, or maybe because of some inner need these films seemed to fill. They also fell into a sort of chronology of my life, as to when I first saw them, and perhaps representing that era. Regardless, there were many that vied for 4th and 5th place and could easily have been swapped as I held them in high esteem and they fit my criteria well. Is there an island-hopping option Rick, with various movies at each?

Resigned to 5, they are:

CASABLANCA  –  A  movie on many classic film top ten lists, it’s also my favorite, a fast-paced thriller with characters galore and dialogue that has provided more apt quotes than any other movie. I never tire of seeing it. From the first few frames of its opening scenes I’m projected into a foreign place and time, where intrigues and passions are always on the simmer. No need for special effects here, your senses are grabbed by the base emotions of the people made large on the screen, with plot twists and small climaxes happening at regular intervals throughout the film. Two scenes in Rick’s Cafe American involving music are unforgettable: the endearing but melencholy singing of “As Time Goes By” by Dooley Wilson (“Play it Sam”), and the rousing and for me, choked-up playing and singing of the “Marseillaise,” the French national anthem – in opposition to the Nazis in the bar. The end of the movie itself is a surprise, bittersweet, but with doors left wide open for other adventures.

casablanca Rick & Ilsa

But I’ll always think, would my sweetie have come with me to this desert island? Or did she plan all along to go with away with Victor Laszlo?


Five movies wuthering-heights-cathy-heathcliff-on-the-crag


WUTHERING HEIGHTS  I have several reasons for choosing this dark gothic, tragic  romance. Perhaps the easiest one is the appeal of its diametrically opposite nature, the dark and stormy Moors as relief from a sun-drenched desert island. But I always harbored an inner Heathcliff, a subconscious element from my childhood perhaps. Its actors are outstanding, the top-rung of the British of that period (1939) – Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, David Niven, and  Flora Robson. The story conveys the conflict between convention and passion that was at the heart of Romanticism, and Olivier burns the screen with his jealosy, love, hate, vengeance, and regret. The conflicted love story of Heathcliff and Cathy is as powerful as has ever been put on the screen. It was one of the great movies of 1939 and was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Olivier and Best Director for William Wyler.

The base theme of vengeance that lurks in the movie is one that, sad to say, appeals to me, as does Heathcliff’s madness and singlemindidness. Romantic period tropes that drew me to Edgar Allen Poe and Baudelaire. An alternative movie I had in mind, one that has some of the same appeal, but in a completely different setting, and which I never tire of seeing, is The Outlaw Josey Wales.


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SINGING IN THE RAIN   And now for something completely different, as the’d say on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Another “usual suspect” on the top ten list of best movies, and often picked as the “best musical.” Who doesn’t need a good laugh on a desert island? It’s hard to pick a movie with good belly-laughs these days. I was thinking of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World as a possiblity, but this is really one of my favorites. A re-cap of Hollywood movie-making itself with a bunch of whistle-while-you-work tunes. Not to mention the powereful Broadway Rhythm Ballet with Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, Donald O’Connor’s number to “Make ’em Laugh”, the wonderful duo to “Moses Supposes”,  the iconic Gene Kelly song and dance to the title number, “Singing in the Rain, ” the talented Debbie Reynolds and Jean Hagen, and those wonderful costumes by Walter Plunkett. Just think of yourself kicking up the sand as you’re “Singing in the Rain.”



BLOWUP   I’ve blogged often about Antonioni’s Blowup, an all-time favorite movie of mine that seems to perplex most people I mention it to. It grabbed me on a visceral level when I first saw it at age 18. I needed no explanation of its meaning. The murder mystery at its face was enough, and the unanswerable meaning of life it implied was already keenly felt. Francis Ford Coppola stated Blowup was a big influence on him, especially on his film The Conversation. Blowup is another film I never tire of watching, reveling in Antonioni’s silent and scoreless scenes of David Hemmings walking through London’s Maryon Park, with only the sound of rustling leaves to be heard, or of Hemmings fighting for a broken guitar neck at a Yardbirds concert, only to throw it away as soon as he’s free. If you are curious or perplexed, see my post on Blowup

five movies the-shawshank-redemption


THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION  This modern classic is based on a novella by Stephan King.  While I like stories of redemption: Crime and Punishment; American Gigolo, the redemption here has nothing to do with the protagonist’s (Andy Dufresne played by Tim Robbins) guilt but rather by his years-long effort to finally free himself from a corrupt prison system while making off with the warden’s crooked gains. His pairing with prison-mate Ellis “Red” Redding played by Morgon Freeman is inspirational (although the casting was accidental). The scene where Andy locks himself in the warden’s office and plays an aria from the Marriage of Figaro over the prison loudspeaker, for all the inmates to hear in the yard,  they dumbstruck as if hearing the voices of the angels from on-high, is one of the high-spots of filmmaking. Naturally, Andy paid dearly for this stunt, and you can see his moment of glory disappear from his face as the guards finally break in the door. This movie is not always fun to watch, but its end is very satisfying. I figure I need a good prison break-out movie on a desert island. There are plenty of those of course, not to mention desert island movies including several versions of The Swiss Family Robinson, and Cast Away, where I might actually learn something useful about desert island living.

These are my five choices for desert island classic film viewing. But how about some TV series Rick? That way we could stretch things out a bit. Maybe even have some binge-watching – what else are you going to do on a desert island” That way you could really have some relevant watching, shows like Black Sails. And there’s always the Twilight Zone marathon.






Postman poster


“They threw me off the hay truck about noon.” So opens James M. Cain’s 1934 noir novel of rough sex, murder, double-cross, and the hand of fate. Things were not so sunny in California in 1934. The Depression was in in full force, and grifting was a fallback trade. James M. Cain had already participated in the butchery of World War I and a life as a journalist. He was raised among the Eastern establishment but always had a contrary streak, especially in using the common vernacular of writers Mark Twain and Hemingway. After several failed novels he found his path with a ripped-from-the-headlines story of the husband-murder case of lovers Lee Snyder and Henry Gray. And like fellow crime writer Raymond Chandler, he found the deepest shadows in the bright lights of Southern California. First of his crime novels was The Postman Always Rings Twice, a best-seller. It was followed by Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce. Classic movies were made of all three books, though in reverse order of their publication. The Postman Always Rings Twice took the longest to get to the screen. It was the darkest of the three.

This post is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association Words! Words! Words! Blogathon


RKO was the first studio eager to make Postman. Knowing that the sex and the story would cause problems with the censors at the Production Code Administration, production head Merian C. Cooper submitted a synopsis to the PCA in 1934. Their answer was brief: the story was “…definitely unsuitable for motion picture production.” Warner Brothers and Columbia followed suit, but abandoned the idea after getting the same message from the PCA. But then on March 9, 1934 only hours after Columbia had abandoned their plans to move forward on an option; Eddie Mannix bought the rights to make the film at MGM. This despite the PCA’s pleas to MGM to drop any plans of making a movie of the book it considered, “unwholesome and thoroughly objectionable.” MGM shelved it, although it was then made in France in 1939 as, Le Dernier Tournant (The Last Turn). Then after a string of successes at different studios of the Cain stories; Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce, MGM revived plans and developed different treatments and scripts and submitted these to the PCA in the 1940s. It took the end of World War II and the rising genre of film noir for the PCA to approve a temporary script in May 1945. From there it would go on the fast track as a star vehicle. This would be no B-film noir.


Cain’s novel uses few descriptive passages. Cora is introduced with, “Except for the shape she really wasn’t any raving beauty, but she had a sulky look to her, and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her.” With book and film, there’s no chemistry in their narrator Frank and Cora’s  encounter at the Twin Oaks Tavern, “a sandwich joint like a million others in California…with a house part…and a filling station…and a half dozen shacks that they called an auto court.” The chemistry soon heated up. In the film this was helped by the near perfect casting of Lana Turner as Cora and John Garfield as the drifter Frank Chambers, the newly hired help. Cecil Kellaway played the witless husband and Twin Oaks owner Nick Smith (Nick Papadakis in the book). Tay Garnett directed.


Lana Turner makes her entrance in the movie bare legs first. She’s dressed in white shorts and a white halter top. Janine Basinger describes the scene as “…one of the iconic showstoppers in modern motion picture history.” Although in the first minutes of the scene Garfield as Frank and Turner as Cora play cat and mouse, there’s no doubt in the mind of the audience that sparks are going to fly, and soon.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) Directed by Tay Garnett Shown: Lana Turner (as Cora Smith)

Photo courtesy Photofest


Irene Lentz Gibbons designed the costumes for Lana Turner. Irene designed an almost all-white wardrobe for Lana, wanting to emphasize her sun-tanned California look in her crisp white Twin Oaks uniform. Irene also wanted to help create that heavenly vision of Lana first coming down the staircase. The contrast of her platinum blond hair and white outfits with John Garfield’s darker complexion makes for the perfect film noir atmosphere. As Lana was described in this film, “a black widow in white shorts.” Tay Garnett claimed credit for having Lana dressed in white, along with producer Carey Wilson, stating it helped make her look less sensuous in trying to get past the censors. But in the book Cora starts out from the beginning in a white Twin Oaks uniform. The only exception to her all white wardrobe is one black dress Irene designed.


Postman Lana-Garfield 1


A hot affair develops between Frank and Cora, and when the unsuspecting Nick drives to the City to get a new sign for Twin Oaks, Frank and Cora decide to skedaddle. But they are hitchhiking, walking really, and Cora gets cold feet after eating dust for several miles. But she’s had time to think, why leave with nothing? She berates Frank for his satisfaction at being a drifter, “I want to be somebody, “she says. So they go back to Twin Oaks, and after they get back, and she sees Nick driving home drunk, she knew she could be somebody, and have Frank, and Twin Oaks – and all it would take is for Nick to have a deadly accident. And maybe that could be helped along. But this is James M. Cain’s darkest novel. And this is classic film noir, where even the best made plans take ill-fated detours.

Postman Lana-Garfield 2

Cora: There’s one thing we could do to fix everything for us.

Frank: What? Pray for something to happen to Nick?

Cora: Something like that.

Frank: Cora!

Cora: Well you suggested it yourself once, didn’t you…

Frank: But they hang you for a thing like that.

And accidents did start happening to Nick. Until the last one killed him. Only the accidents happened to Frank and Cora too. Then there was a trial for murder. And then the circumstances had the lovers accusing each other. Courtroom shenanigans and a clever lawyer had Cora and Frank walking free. But the DA is not satisfied. And distrust has set in, and a blackmailer prowls, and another female lurks with her cats – big cats.


There is no happy ending in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Even this fact didn’t satisfy the censors in allowing the original story to be filmed until twelve years after it was published. Frank Chambers ended up paying twice for his crime. Although the lines were never meant for this book or this movie, Walter Neff’s statement from Double Indemnity, is apt, “I killed for money. And for a woman. I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman.” The title of The Postman Always Rings Twice the book and the film is allegorical – with the second ring of the postman (as messenger) delivering the fate to Cora and Frank they had escaped with the first ring.



Mary Wills sketch Carousel Sailors



The late Oscar-winning costume designer Mary Wills created  wonderful movie costumes as well as exuberant and beautiful costume sketches in the process. That her work is largely forgotten today is unfitting for such a great artist and costume designer. This especially and for someone who made so many  contributions to significant movies in Hollywood history. Posted here are some of the costume design sketches that show her amazing talent for the notable films that she designed.

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Mary Wills was the first  woman admitted to the Yale Art and Drama School, where she earned a Master’s Degree. She was born in Prescott Arizona, and moved to Los Angeles after receiving her Master’s degree. She started designing costumes in 1944 at RKO with Belle of the Yukon. She then designed Song of the South for  Walt Disney. She then began working for Samuel Goldwyn in 1948, where she designed costumes for Enchantment starring Teresa Wright and David Niven. Soon she was being referred to as The Fabulous Miss Wills at the Goldwyn Studio. The above sketch is for another film, and shows a smart linen travelling suit she designed. She was equally at ease designing contemporary or historical costumes, and for men as well as women.  The first big production that Ms. Wills worked on at Goldwyn, and a critical success, was Our Very Own, released in 1950. The film starred Ann Blyth, Jane Wyatt, Farley Granger,  Ann Dvorak, and a young Natalie Wood. A costume sketch for Jane Wyatt is shown below.


Mary Wills - Our Very Own, 1950

The costume sketch below is a design for a swim suit for Ann Blyth in the same movie.


Mary Wills - Our Very Own


One of Miss Will’s most memorable films was Hans Christian Andersen.  For this film she designed the costumes for Danny Kaye and the rest of the cast, excepting the ballet costumes. Shown below is a costume design sketch for Danny Kaye in the leading role. Using her artistic talent, Mary Wills was able to add subtle background scenery to many of her sketches, presenting a vignette for the context of the costume.

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Since filming took place on a Hollywood sound stage, her colorful and realistic costumes for the market scene in Copenhagen helps bring to life the sights and sounds of the old city. Shown below is a costume design sketch for a flower seller and her daughter. Miss Wills’ sketches give the appearance of living characters, as if she had actually painted them seated at an easel in the market square. The film was nominated for a Best Costume Oscar in 1953.


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And another pair of  characters bringing their milk and goat to market.

Mary Wills - Hans Christian Andersen

Mary Wills was also a skilled designer of historical costumes for film. After moving to 20th Century-Fox, she began working on a  major historical costume film.The sketch below is for a costume worn by Joan Collins in the role of Beth Throgmorton in the 1955 film The Virgin Queen, starring Bette Davis. The fabric swatches selected for the costume are still attached to the sketch. Mary Wills received a Best Costume design nomination for this film, as did Charles Le Maire who headed costume design at 20th Century-Fox.


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Below is a remarkable costume sketch for Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth in the same film.


Mary Wills - Bette Davis Virgin Queen 2


Mary Wills also designed the  Rogers and Hammerstein musical film Carousel, from 1956. The costume sketch below is the design that Shirley Jones wore in her first scene with  Gordon MacRae when they each sang “If I Loved You.”


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Below is the deign for Shirley Jones’ friend Carrie played by Barbara Ruick, also from the first scene where they go to the circus and meet Billy Bigelow ( Gordon MacRae ).


Costume sketch by Mary Wills of Barbara Ruick as Carrie

And a design for one of the many characters in the movie.


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Mary Wills won her costume design Oscar for the 1961 film The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. This was a Cinerama production starring Yvette Mimieux, Russ Tamblyn, Laurence Harvey, Claire Bloom and many others. The costume sketch shown below was created for Yvette Mimieux in the Dancing Princess sequence. Miss Wills had a flair for designing dance and folk costumes, a talent she used later in her career designing for the Shipstad & Johnston Ice Follies


Mary Wills for Yvette Mimieux in The Brothers Grimm


Also below is another sketch for Yvette Mimieux as the Gypsy.


Mary Wills Yvette Mimieux in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm


And Mary Wills could also design costumes for films that had a darker side, such as the first Cape Fear, and The Diary of Anne Frank. The costume sketch below is for Polly Bergin in Cape Fear, co-starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum.


Mary Wills Polly Bergen Cape Fear

Mary Wills worked on two major films that she didn’t get film credit for; Funny Girl and Camelot. In Funny Girl, she designed the spectacular Ziegfeld show-girl Brides costumes and the costumes for Omar Shariff . Her last film work was for The Passover Plot in 1976, for which she also received an Academy Award nomination.


Mary Wills Funny Girl Brides

Funny Girl Ziegfeld Follies February Brides


Before her final retirement to Sedona, Arizona in the mid-1980s, she designed costumes for special productions such as the The New Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and The Nutcracker on Ice. Mary Wills died on February 11,1997 in Sedona Arizona. Her work lives on in film, and her name should live on too. She brought a high level of artistic talent and integrity to her creations, breathing life into the costumes she designed.


Mary Wills at the Samuel Goldwyn Studio circa 1948

Thanks to Marri Champie for these sketches.




Dolores Del Rio, Ramon Navarro, and Conchita Montenegro

Long before there was Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek, or Eva Mendez, the 1930s Hollywood silver screen blazed with the talents and hot looks of Latina movie stars Dolores Del Rio, Lupe Velez, and Conchita Montenegro. Dolores Del Rio was in the first ranks of movie stardom in the early to mid 1930s. Her radiant beauty was a magnet for the camera, and she starred in several major movies for Warner Brothers and RKO. Also pictured above is Ramon Navarro, born in Mexico and a lead actor for MGM in the 1920s. He played as Judah Ben Hur in the first Ben Hur, as well as the hero pilot in The Flying Fleet and other films.

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Dolores Del Rio starred in the films The Bird of Paradise (1933), Flying Down to Rio (1933), Wonder Bar (1934), Madame du Barry (1934), and In Caliente (1935). She had started her Hollywood career in silent films such as Trail of ’98 and Ramona (both 1928).  In the photo above, Dolores Del Rio models a sequin gown designed by Orry-Kelly. Below is a photo showing the classic beauty of Dolores Del Rio. The “Del” in her name became capitalized in the U.S, although she was born in Durango, Mexico.

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Del Rio’s second husband was Cedric Gibbons, MGM’s Art Director. He made the art deco and moderne style of set designs popular in the MGM films of the late 1920s and 1930s. He also designed the famous Oscar statuette for the Academy Awards. After they married in 1930, they lived in this beautiful California moderne style house which he and architect Douglas Honnold designed in the Santa Monica mountains.  Del Rio and Gibbons are pictured below in their living room. The very large windows were innovative at the time. One can imagine the fabulous parties they held there, attended by all of the great Hollywood stars of the era.

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Dolores Del Rio and Cedric Gibbons in their living room.


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Another popular Mexican actress in the 1930s was Lupe Velez, shown above.  She had acted in Vaudeville, and started her Hollywood career in silent films. She starred with Douglas Fairbanks  in The Gaucho in 1927, and was in C.B. de Mille’s The Squaw Man in 1931.

Lupe 1

In the photo above Lupe Velez models a gown designed by Walter Plunkett for the RKO film, Strictly Dynamite in 1934. The gown is of white crepe with diagonal lines of crystal beads. Lupe Velez and Dolores Del Rio were both early customers of designer Irene Lentz at her first two shops. It was through them that Irene developed a following in the Los Angeles film communitity, a following that soon became a flood. Irene later married Cedric Gibbons’ brother Eliot and thus became the sister-in-law to Dolores Del Rio.

Lupe 2

In the photo above Lupe Velez wears an Adrian designed gown for an MGM film. The gown features open Dolman sleeves held with brilliant circle clips along the arms. Lupe Velez reached the height of her popularity in the film series, The Mexican Spitfire,filmed at RKO in the early 1940s.

Conchita 1

Conchita Montenegro shown above was a beauty from Spain, a dancer and model who came  to Hollywood with a contract at MGM in 1930. In those days MGM made Spanish language versions of their films and Conchita starred in several of these.  She played a Spanish dancer in Strangers May Kiss, at MGM along with Norma Shearer.  She also starred opposite Leslie Howard in MGM’s Never the Twain Shall Meet in 1931.

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Conchita Montenegro left MGM and went to the Fox studio to make movies there. She starred with Warner Baxter in The Cisco Kid in 1931.

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The beautiful costume sketch above for Conchita was designed by Dolly Tree. It was probably designed for The Cisco Kid, although Dolly Tree designed costumes both at Fox and at MGM during this period.

Raquel Torres Los Angeles 1929 Aug 15

The photo above shows Raquel Torres in 1929. Miss Torres had a German father and a Mexican mother. She starred in two films in 1929 including The Bridge of San Luis Rey. She continued to make movies in the early 1930s.

This early flowering of Latina actresses was short-lived. By the late 1930s the importance of the roles offered the stars became less rewarding. Lupe’s Mexican Spitfire movies were popular but stereotypes became common. Both Dolores del Rio and Lupe Velez returned to Mexico to make films, and del Rio became just as big a star in her home country. Lupe Velez died young in 1943. Conchita Montenegro too returned to her native Spain. The movie La Otra, made in Mexico and starring Dolores Del Rio and Victor Junco, was re-made in the U.S. in 1964 as Dead Ringer, starring Bette Davis.

La Otra (1946, Mexico) aka The Other One Directed by Roberto Gavaldón Shown from top: Víctor Junco, Dolores del Rio

La otra (1946, Mexico) aka The Other One. Directed by Roberto Gavaldón.
Starring Víctor Junco and Dolores del Rio. Photo courtesy Photofest.

Another generation of Latina actresses came along in the 1940s and 1950s, and then another after that. While roles in film are there, they are always too limited. We are fortunate however, to still have the chance to see the trail-blazing early stars of the silver screen.

An earlier version of this post appeared in my blog the Silver Screen Modiste in 2011

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Silver Screen Modes is again awarding the Most Glamorous Gown Award for the  stars and their most glamorous gowns worn at the Oscars red carpet in 2016. I started this award in 2010  for my previous blog The Silver Screen Modiste in 2010 and have been awarding it annually ever since.

The gowns this year have been a combination of classic glamour and creative flights of fashion fancy, with beautiful results but that sometimes  overpower the delicate beauties they dress.

The Most Glamorous Gown Award goes to Naomi Watts in an Armani Prive cobalt blue and red highlighted  columnar strapless  sequined gown. She looked so fabulous and so very glamorous.

Photo by Jason Merritt

Photo by Jason Merritt

Other three star (runner-up) gowns were very striking.  Saiorse Ronan wore a stunning Calvin Klein emerald green column gown of bugle beads. The star of  Brooklyn said she wore green to honor Ireland.

Oscar Most Glamorous red-carpet-saoirse-ronan

The young star Margot Robbie looked like old Hollywood glamour in gold Tom Ford snake-skin print gown with its plunging neckline. Classic

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Alicia Vikander is proving to be a fashion savvy young star. Her canary yellow Louis Vuitton had a unique silhouette with its gathered hemline and beaded embroideriess.

Oscar Most Glamorous-alicia-vikander

Best  Actress winner Brie Larson wore a stunning blue ruffled Gucci with an eye-catching silver belt.

Oscar Most Glamorous 3 Brie-Larson


Fashion trends have their place on the red carpet, although the bigger trend over the last several years has been the interplay between actor, stylist, and fashion designer. As stylists have taken on more influence, there have been fewer “what was she thinking” moments on the red carpet. The result has been an over-all improvement in the beauty (and glamour)of the gowns. But as some stars become more daring in their fashion choices in  a sort of revolt, we see gowns and outfits that don’t quite work.  Cate Blanchett, the perennial fashion plate, wore a light blue-green feathered Armani-Prive gown that, while it flattered her figure, the abundant feathers competed with her fine facial features.

The Golden Globes have also become more formal in recent years, increasingly competitive with the Academy Awards for the glamour of the red carpet gowns.  The January 10 event showed a couple of fashion trends, though there are perennial glamour favorites. One is the plunging bustline, exposing daring views of breast and ample skin. This can be worn on a gown of satin, chiffon, or most popular of all, sequins of various colors and in gold or silver. There’s nothing like sparkle. The other trend is the deep side slit with the posed jutting leg, made popular ever since  Angelina Jolie started it at the 2012 Academy Awards in a black Versace gown. These trends continued at the Academy Awards of 2016.


Actress Angelina Jolie arrives before the 84th Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Angelina Jolie at the 84th Academy Awards in 2012. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)


Last year’s MOST GLAMOROUS GOWN AWARD went to MARGOT ROBBIE in a black Yves Saint Laurent  gown with a very deep décolletage and with sheer long sleeves. The petite blonde Margot looked stunning in black.


Oscar Margot

Previous winners have been: Charlize Theron wearing a Dior Haute Couture black decollete  gown (2014); Jessica Chastain in a copper-colored Armani Prive (2013); Milla Jovovich in a white sequin Elie Saab gown (2012); Anne Hathaway in a red Valentino (2011); and Sandra Bullock in a gold-beaded Marchesa (2010).

Mad Max: Fury Road won for Best Costume design for Jenny Beavan. This was a a very creative and inventive costume fantasy, and a bold pick for the Academy voters.. Mad Max had won at the English BAFTA awards and in the Fantasy category at the Costume Designer’s Guild Awards.


Bonnie and Clyde was a groundbreaking film when it was released in 1967, and its costumes started fashion trends that reverberate to this day. For the Crafts portion of the 31 Days of Oscars Blogathon, I’ll cover the film and its influential  costumes designed by Theadora Van Runkle. Bonnie and Clyde airs on TCM, Wednesday February 24 at 2:30 a.m. Eastern


Bonnie and Clyde was one of those movies you liked or hated in 1967, usually depending on your age. For many young people the characters of Bonnie and Clyde, albeit the ruthless killers that they were, represented protesters of the government and the powerful.  symbols of their own times in the 1960s.To older citizens the protagonists were murderers and losers, and the film was an orgy of violence. Among the latter was Jack Warner, head of the studio that made the movie. After screening the completed film he asked how long the movie was. When told, his reply was, “Well, that’s the longest {expletive} two hours and 15 minutes I’ve ever spent.”   Warner subsequently refused to market the film, relegating its release to drive-ins and second-tier theaters. This from the studio that had made its mark in the 1930s with gangster films. But Bonnie and Clyde under Arthur Penn’s direction took movie violence to a new level. In the era of the Viet Nam war, the depiction of shootings by victims crumpling to the floor with no evidence of blood, was no longer going to cut it. In Bonnie and Clyde, explosive squibs of red color were amply used: men were shot in the face at point blank; and (spoiler) the multiple-shooter ambush of Bonnie and Clyde was filmed in slow-motion. The latter was inspired by Akira Kurasawa’s Seven Samurai. At one time, Francois Truffaut had been considered to direct the film. He was too busy but one of his ideas remained: some jump-cut editing popular with the French New Wave.  No, this was not Jack Warner’s gangster film.  But then shortly after, Jack Warner sold Warner Brothers to Seven Arts Productions. Warren Beatty was the producer, director and lead actor in Bonnie and Clyde, and he managed to convince the new owners to re-release the movie with wider distribution and marketing, with his agreement to a reduced profit participation.

The cast, a mix of new talent, character actors, and a veteran Broadway actress, was anchored by Warren Beatty. This was Faye Dunaway’s second movie and she almost stole the show, except for the goofy Michael J Pollard character of C.W. Moss, who made a big splash. It was also Gene Wilder’s first movie.  It was nominated for eight Oscars: Best Picture; Actor; Actress; two Supporting Actors for Gene Hackman and Michael J. Pollard; Director; Costume Design; and Screenplay. It won Oscars for Best Supporting Actress for Estelle Parsons and Best Cinematography for Burnett Guffey. It was also the second-highest grossing film of the year for Warner Bros-Seven Arts.

The positive side of the film’s influence was on fashion. With its mostly youthful audience, the beautiful Faye Dunaway struck a chic but devil-may-care attitude that fit the times just right. The costume designer was Theadora Van Runkle, a chic woman who could model  the very clothes that Faye Dunaway wore. Like Miss Dunaway, Theadora Van Runkle was new to the movie business. She had been a fashion illustrator for the I.Magnin stores in Los Angeles. This was when art illustrations of new fashions were advertised in the newspapers. She had also done some costume illustrations for the Designer Renie for the movie Sand Pebbles starring Steve McQueen.  She had gotten the Bonnie and Clyde  job as a referral from designer Dorothy Jeakins. The job for any costume designer is to help develop character and advance the plot. In doing so Theadora looked over old photos of Bonnie and Clyde, and read the script, and in talking to director Arthur Penn and producer Warren Beatty, she developed ideas on how to dress the actors for their roles. She was self taught as a designer, and looked over old photos of gangsters and period clothes. Theadora once related that she was shopping for fabrics for Faye’s role as Bonnie and ran into Edith Head. She explained to the doyenne of costume design that the story took place in the 1930s. “Just dress her in chiffon,” was Edith’s advice. Although Theadora did not dress Faye Dunaway in chiffon, she impressed Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn with her costume sketches.

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Costume sketch above for Faye Dunaway as Bonnie, signed at bottom, Theadora. The photo of Faye is shown below in the Norfolk jacket that was designed in the sketch.

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Theadora 1

Theadora Van Runkle

Warren and Arthur wanted to put Faye in dresses, just like she appeared in the original photos, but with more style.  Faye said that , “The look for Bonnie was smack out of the thirties, but glamorized and very beautiful….they were all cut on the bias and they swung.” The look of the smart skirts, paired with a form fitting sweater, Faye’s braless dressing, and a saucy beret cut an unforgettable image. This especially in Bonnie and Clyde’s line of work. As Bonnie stated, emphasizing each word, “We rob banks.” But it was Faye’s berets that launched a fashion trend. Theadora liked the look, taking off from a photo of Bonnie Parker wearing a beret-looking hat, and designed several of Faye’s outfits topped with a beret. When Faye Dunaway was in France after Bonnie and Clyde had premiered there, a box full of berets were delivered to her room at the ultra luxe George V hotel. They came from the village in the French Pyrenees where the traditional French berets were made. After the film came out demand in the U.S had caused production to jump from 5000 to 12,000 berets a week. American manufacturers were fabricating thousands of them as well.  Skirts lengthened also as the long skirts in the film led to the trend toward maxi-skirts.

bonnie-sketch sketch 2

Theadora’s description in her sketch above reads: “Yoke & revers of black worsted navy & black striped worsted   fagotted blouse of ivory silk”

The costume is shown in the photo below.



Warren Beatty’s costumes were common for men of the period. Most men in cities and towns, other than blue-collar workers, wore shirts and ties, often with vests.  The cap was more working class than a fedora. The costume sketch below shows alternate shirt colors, although Warren wore mostly white shirts under his vest.


Bonnie & Clyde sketch 3

Theadora’s pencil notations on the sketch top right state, “All dressed up to rob a bank.”

Both the outfits of Bonnie and Clyde, Bonnie in her beret, sweater and and skirt, and Clyde in his vest, are the defining look of the “bank-robbing” “gangster” couple for costume parties and Halloween sorties.


Bonnie & Clyde sketch 4

Faye Dunaway looked fetching in black, as seen below. At this point in the movie they are on the road dodging the “manhunt” that has intensified. They are living out of their car and it’s hard to be glamorous. Yet the real Bonnie continued to write poetry and ballads until the end.


bonnie & Clyde 4

Theadora Van Runkle was nominated for three Best Costume Oscars: Bonnie and Clyde; Peggy Sue Got Married; and The Godfather Part II. She never won. She also designed Bullitt, Mame, Myra Breckinridge, The Thomas Crowne Affair, New York, New York, and The Jerk, among others. She died November 4, 2011.

The 31 Days od Oscar Blogathon is sponsored for the fourth consecutive year by  Paula’s Cinema Club (Twitter handle @Paula_Guthat) along with Kellee (@IrishJayHawk66) of Outspoken & Freckled and Aurora (@CitizenScreen) of Once Upon A Screen, running February 6-27, 2016. This event coincides with Turner Classic Movie’s 31 Days of Oscar marathon.

portion of movie film reel


The end of celluloid film has been happening steadily over the last few years, with each new blow seemingly the knock-out punch. But its devotees refuse to give up the fight.  “If I can’t shoot on film I’ll stop making movies,” said Quentin Tarantino in 2014. He was talking on radio station KCRW’s “The Treatment”  in L.A, “The fight is lost if all we have is digital DCP presentations. To me, that’s just television in public.” he added. The DCP he refers to is Digital Cinema Package, the computer hard drive that contains a movie’s audio and video. It is sent to a movie theater where it is ingested into the projector for digital projection. Like reels of film before it, the DCP can be sent on to another theater, only its a lot cheaper for the studio to produce. This is not the latest technology, as many theaters can get their films directly by satellite transmission.

The use of 70 mm film stock in movie-making had already died by the end of the 1960s.That’s when studios used it to pry people away from their TV sets and TV dinners and into theaters to watch movies like South Pacific, Cleopatra, Lawrence of Arabia, and It’s a Mad Mad, Mad Mad World.  But like many old movies, 70 mm was ripe for a sequel. Tarantino’s last movie, The Hateful Eight, recently releasedwas shot on 70mm (actually 65mm) film stock. Director Christopher Nolan stated , “I don’t want anyone telling any filmmaker they can’t shoot on film any more than telling David Finch and Steven Soderbergh that they can’t shoot digital. It’s the director’s right. It’s their choice.” Christopher Nolan shot Intersteller in 2014 on 70mm film stock (65mm). Warner Brothers released the movie two days early to those theaters that still had film projectors. The iconic TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood acquired film projectors for the occasion. Several smaller theater chains that had already converted to digital projection squwaked. “I can’t afford to get the projectors out of the wharehouse,” said Joe Paletta of the Spotlight Theaters in Georgia, “and I don’t have anyone to operate them [the film projectors].” For Nolan, it was an opportunity to incentivize and reward the theaters that had kept projecting film.

A projectionist readies a 70mm IMAX print of "Interstellar," at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square Theatre in New York City. DAVID MORGAN/CBS NEWS

A projectionist readies a 70mm IMAX print of “Interstellar,” at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square Theatre in New York City. David Morgan/CBS News

In 2002 Star Wars Episode: II Attack of the Clones became the first movie to be shot entirely in digital. But now, the latest Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was shot on 65mm film stock by film proponent J.J. Abrams, with the encouragement of George Lucas. Part of the idea was to recapture the look of the original trilogy. This was important to Lucas because, as Abrams added “…  the movie, in a way, goes backwards to go forwards.” George Lucas wants the future episodes to be shot on film also.

Film 70mm

Yet the world of film still teeters on the abyss. The new Star Wars was only shown on 70mm film at IMAX theaters . Nearly everywhere else it was projected on a digital transfer. But film’s qualities come in different shapes. For the movie Carol, director Todd Haynes wanted a muted look in the cinematography. This was in keeping with the bleak times in Cold-War New York during 1952 when the story took place. The story was based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith. Haynes and his team including cinematographer Ed Lachman referenced the work of women photographers of the time: Ruth Orkin; Helen Leavitt; and Vivian Maier. They were especially intrigued by the photographers’ use of Kodak Ektachrome film and its muted colors, and  wanted to achieve that look. This meant shooting on film rather than digitally. And more unusually, Ed Lachman used Super 16mm. His reasoning was that if he used 35mm, by the time it was converted for digital projection there would be no difference in the finished look – the “grain” would have all disappeared. “The feeling and texture of the grain reinforced the emotionality of the story,” said Lachman.

But the world of film still teeters on the abyss. In New York, Technicolor and Deluxe, long-time processors of color film for the movie industry, had been amalgamated as the Film Lab New York. After processing Carol the Lab went belly-up. After Ed Lachman found out that the lab equipment was going to be tossed, he made arrangements to salvage it all. Technicolor had already closed a plant in Glendale California.

Yet digital cinema, the current master of moviedom, is showing signs of the panic that befell the Hollywood studios in the late 1950s and 1960s. Recently we were given 3-D movies, a trend already showing signs of fatigue. Then we were offered dining and wine with our cinema, and reserved seating. Reclining seats are the next trend, with news of the introduction of sensory enhancements like vibrating seats and the diffusion of smells (didn’t Smell-O-Vision come out in the 1950s too?). Perhaps the thinking is that  bombarding the senses with smells, booming sounds, vibrating seats, and explosions on the screen will get us all into the theaters.

It’s a rarely disseminated fact that movie attendance has been nose-diving steadily and surly since 1930. Back then, 80 million people, or 65% of the U.S. population, went to the movies a week. In 2015, that number has dropped to 25.7 million people a week, less than 10% of the U.S. population.  A  yearly chart, covering 1930-2000 can be found here. The attendance numbers have continued to drop since 2000. Back in the 1930s, to lure all those movie-goers, each of the seven big studios released 30 to 40 films a year. But we know that The U.S Courts broke up the studio-system in its Anti-Trust ruling in 1948, forcing them to sell of their movie theaters. How laughable  with the multi-media, multi-national, corporate conglomerates we now have running movie studios.

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M-G-M’s film processing lab circa 1936

In 2015, in a busy year for the busiest studio Warner Brothers, it released 21 movies. Movie revenues are freely quoted, which seem very impressive, and is helped by the always escalating prices for theater tickets. While this has nothing to do with whether or not a movie is film-based or digital, it is connected to movie industry economics – which  brought us digital based film projection. And of course, as Kenneth Turan the film critic of the LA Times said in writing about Hollywood, “The one big  thing it knows how to make is sequels and superhero movies and sequels to superhero movies.”

But which medium is best for the preservation of the content, one might wonder? It seems intuitive that digital is best as a preservation medium. And certainly that’s what we have been hearing for the last several years. But Martin Scorsese doesn’t think so. “Film is still the only preservation medium that we know to be durable.,” he said. “We just don’t know about digital storage systems. They haven’t been around long enough, and more importantly, they’re always changing. I think it’s important t to preserve our pictures on film, no matter how we shot them or finished them. That means negatives, and it means prints.” Mr. Scorsese is the founder of the Film Foundation, whose mission it is to preserve movies. Of course film has had a very rocky history. Approximately 90% of American silent films are considered lost, as well as 50% of sound films made before 1950. The combustible nitrate-based film of the silent era is partly responsible, leading to major fires at studio vaults. M-G-M had an electrical fire in 1967, destroying most of the studio’s cartoons, silent films, and films from the earlier Metro, Goldwyn, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures. Similarly, a fire at Fox Pictures destroyed its pre-1935 film negatives. Huge efforts have been made to preserve older films and newer ones since, but the job is colossal.


MGM film vaults

M-G-M film vaults circa 1936


Archival film storage at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences


This blog post is disseminated digitally. Part I appeared in February 2014.



Oscar The-Danish-Girl-2



The Academy Awards nominees for Costume Design for the movies of 2015 make for a very competitive if diverse field. Mountain men and polecats, princess and trans woman, lesbians and Vuvalini. For costume designer Sandy Powell –  she will even be competing against herself, as she has two nominated contenders: Carol and Cinderella. The five nominees are:

1)  Carol                                                                                                                                    2) Cinderella                                                                                                                        3) The Danish Girl                                                                                                            4) Mad Max: Fury Road                                                                                                5) The Revenant

CAROL  was designed by Sandy Powell. It stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in a 1950s era lesbian relationship between a well-off housewife and a young department store sales clerk. The director Todd Haynes and Sandy Powell wanted to stay true to the 1952 New York setting of the Patricia Highsmith novel. So they looked at the photos of Vivian Maier, Ruth Orkin, and Saul Leiter. Sandy remarked that 1952 fashion was much like late 1940s fashion.

Sandy also went through old Vogue magazines from 1952. Most all of the photography was in black and white, but the designer injected some color into the otherwise monotone yet elegant fashion of the time.

Oscar carol-fur-coat

Although the large mink coat looks vintage, it was made custom from recycled fur for the shape and color that Sandy Powell desired.

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Sandy Powell has been nominated eleven times for a best costume design Oscar, for which she won three awards: Shakespeare in Love (1998); The Aviator (2004); and for The Young Victoria (2009).


CINDERELLA was also designed by Sandy Powell. The classic fairy tale was brought to the screen by Disney as a live action movie starring Lily James as Cinderella, Cate Blanchett as the evil step-mother Lady Tremaine,  Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy-Godmother and Richard Madden as the Prince. The gowns for the movie reportedly used some 1.7 million Swarovsky crystals.  Costume designer Sandy Powell was inspired by the 19th century for the look and silhouette of the costumes. “It felt most like a fairy tale world.” she said.

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For Cate Blanchett’s costumes as the evil-stepmother/Lady Tremaine, Sandy Powell used cool colors, colors like green or jewel colors but  that were not “friendly,”

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Cate Blanchett’s wardrobe was based on the more powerful 1940s silhouette and the idea of Marlene Dietrich or Joan Crawford doing a 19th-century movie, according to Powell, but getting it all a bit wrong.

Oscar Fairy Godmother Helena Bonham Carter

For the Fairy Godmother costume, led lights were sprinkled across the dress and especially at the bodice. It was Helena Bonham Carter’s idea to have wings. Doesn’t every fairy godmother have wings?

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Cinderella’s ball gown is made of several layers of yumissima fabric, an extremely light but expensive fabric, each a different color to produce blue. There are blues-greens, lilacs, and lavenders. There are over 200 yards of fabric in all. Underneath is a crinoline made of steel.It is dotted with about 10,000 tiny Swarovski crystals   The bodice is made of crepeline over a corset. The gown is almost as wide as the huge stairs she dramatically descends to the ball.

Oscar cinderella ball

The glass slipper was designed based on an actual 1890 shoe, and fabricated by Swarovsky from crystal. It was made smaller than actual size for the model Cinderella holds. For the pair she slips on, these were actually of leather but replaced through CGI to appear as crystal.

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It takes a group of seamstresses to make an eleborate gown such as the Cinderella Ball Gown.

THE DANISH GIRL, designed by Paco Delgado  is based on the groundbreaking case of the transgender surgery of Einar Wegener, a married man. His transformation into Lily Elbe is shown with the effects it had on him and his wife  Gerda, a painter. It stars Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander.

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While posing as a model that didn’t show up for the job, Einar awakens a sense of his true womanly self. The couple stayed together and moved from Denmark to Paris where Gerda became a fashion illustrator.

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The silhouette of the 1920s was very flat-chested and narrow-hipped, which basically suited the dressing of star Eddie Redmayne, although he would have preferred more padding to accentuate curves. Designer Paco Delgado stated that all the curves were achieved through the cut of the costumes or through more volume at the chest or pleating. The fabrics were often taken from vintage dresses but had to be re-made for Eddie’s size.  Paco Delgado used French fashion designers Jeanne Lanvin and Coco Chanel for period inspiration. This is Paco Delgado’s second Oscar Best Costume nomination, the previous time was for Les Miserables in 2012.


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A costume for Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl” on exhibit at the Arclight Sherman Oaks. Photo by Jason in Hollywood


THE REVENANT  was designed by Jacqueline West and starred Leonardo di Caprio and Thomas Hardy. Its the story of the  frontiersman Hugo Glass that is left for dead by fellow trappers after being mauled by a bear.  Still alive he vows revenge and seeks those who abandoned him. The movie was filmed in the frigid areas of Canada as directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu.


Oscar the revenant

“Alejandro wanted everything to look very real,” stated Jacqueline West. “Most of the hides came from first nations traders in Canada and we tried to age them by using animal fats and grease and that turned them rancid.” That was bad for the actors. It was West’s dyer/ager that came up with a home-made solution she called “black wax” that ended up being very successful. Soon the director had her stay on the sets all the time with her “black wax” at the ready.


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Tom Hardy had the heaviest costume in the movie.  His coat consisted of double elk-skin, double-lined with beaver.

Jacqueline West has been nominated three times for a  Best Costume Oscar. Her two previous nominations were for Quills (2000), and for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).


MAD MAX; FURY ROAD was designed by Jenny Beavan for stars Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, and a cast of hundreds based on the graphic novel directed by George Miller. Beavan started out with an obvious challenge, the mechanical arm for Theron’s Imperator Furiosa character. Several leather shapes were cut-out and draped for what needed to be a key practical yet visually interesting piece. The harness and body suit was finally devised for her iconic look. Charlize Theron was very happy with her costume for the role. As to Theron’s shaved head, that was her idea, although the black grease on the forehead was a trait of the Imperators.

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Charlize Theron’s Imperator costume. Photo courtesy Jasin in Hollywood

The Wives have always been protected and  lived in a climate-controlled environment, and thus dressed unsuitably for the outside elements. Their costumes are made of white cotton and muslin body wraps and shorts.

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The Warboys and Polecats also had their distinctive costumes, denoting their function and fearsome looks. Max also has shoulder-pads, a throw-back to the original Mad Max movie.

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The Best Costume nominations are made by the Costume Designers Branch of the Academy. The Oscar is determined by vote of the entire Academy membership. Traditionally the memberships selects the big historical movies, or fantasies, and their costumes as favorites.  Sandy Powell seems to be a favorite with two nominations. While Cinderella has a disadvantage of having been released earlier in the year, its lavish period costumes makes it a natural for the Academy voters. They receive a screening copy of the movie anyway to view for voting purposes. So I would predict Cinderella to be the Oscar winner for 2015 for designer Sandy Powell.

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Many of the actual costumes from the nominated films are on exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising ( FIDM) Museum in Los Angeles, February 9 through April 30.


Bakst L'Apres-midi d'un Faun


There are times in history when creative geniuses cause shifts in the arts. It is very rare when such  a person can cause  explosive  aesthetic changes in several artistic media such as set design, ballet, costume, fashion, and ultimately, the styles of Hollywood film sirens.This person was Leon Bakst, born Lev Rosenberg, a Russian painter turned set  and costume designer for Sergei Diaghilev and  his Ballets Russes, where his sensual and  sensational designs shocked the audiences. In working with Diaghilev, who assembled a “dream team” of artistic talent,” these arts themselves were changed.

In the classical world of ballet, allied with symphony orchestras  in entertaining high society audiences, the modernism  and naturalism of Diaghilev’s ballets must have seemed revolutionary. The look was created by Bakst, the artistic director. His costume  designs on canvas and backdrops combine Art Nouveau and Fauve  styles, blended with Orientalism. The finished costumes presented a rush of colors, with incredible pattern and  detail, the whole complementing the scenery and the new dance styles, music and choreography.

In Russia Diaghilev and Bakst had known each other before they were involved in ballet, having been part of the same art circle in college called the Nevsky Pickwickians. But it was in Paris that the Ballets Russes was formed, with Russian dancing luminaries Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Tamara Karsavina, and Ida Rubinstein, and choreography by Michel Fokine. With classically trained Russian dancers, Diaghilev and Bakst would integrate the arts into the total ballet experience – music, dance, sets and costume – and with male as well as female dancers in prominence. The Ballets Russes began with some Russian tales and music , but with Cleopatre in 1909, Bakst’s second ballet, the full panoply of his artistic talents blossomed in conveying the story. Ida Rubinstein played the role of Cleopatra, and her provocative costumes shocked the audience. They would set the  standard for all future Cleopatras of the silver screen.


Bakst portrait

Leon Bakst portrait

A future patroness of Bakst, the American Warder Garrett wrote to her sister in 1915, “I go almost every day to pose for Bakst . . . he is one of the most strange human beings I have ever known.” Years later she would be his art representative in the United States. His vivid imagination was clearly translated onto the the page and the stage, but, under the costumes, he was fully aware that it was the body that animated the design.

The Bakst- designed costumes featured gold, lapis blue, malachite green, pink, orange and violet colors for the ballerinas  and were very revealing through sheer fabric.

Design of costume for Ida Rubinstein 1909 in Cleopatre

Design of costume for Ida Rubinstein 1909 in Cleopatre

Scheherazade was produced by Diaghilev in 1910, with music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov with set and costume design by Bakst. The setting was ancient Persia, with a story of Harem women, eunuchs and palace slave lovers. The ballerinas were costumed in sheer silk harem pants, the men in embroidered velvet in jeweled colors. Nijinsky appeared in gold body paint, dancing sensually with Ida Rubinstein as the corps de ballet moved in a controlled frenzy, their bold colored costumes  contrasting with the red carpet and green walls.

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Ida Rubinstein with Nijinsky in Scheherazade


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Bakst costume design for Scheherazade

Harem pants became a style sensation for women, especially after fashion designer Paul Poiret added them into his line the following year. They were considered very bold dress as both a form of trouser and  with a foreign origin. The style worn in public was not however the diaphanous ones seen at the Ballets Russes.

The ballet Dieu Bleu (Blue God)  was produced in May 1912, with a libretto by Jean Cocteau and Federico de Madrazo and music by Reynaldo Hahn. The story is set in mythical India, where a couple visiting a shrine stirs local monsters, but supplicates the Blue God, or Krishna, to save them. Nijinsky plays the Blue God, wearing blue makeup. Bakst designed the costume below, thankfully saved and preserved at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, along with many other costumes and artifacts from the Ballets Russes. Its skirt represents a lotus flower, with gold thread and embroidered with arabesques. The bodice was in pink and blue colors, with gold thread forming rays.

Bakst Dieu Bleu

In 1912 one of the most innovative, but also disruptive ballets was produced by the Ballets Russes: L’apres-Midi d’un Faune (Afternoon of a Faun. based on a poem by Stephane Mallarme, with music by Claude Debussy, and choreographed by Nijinsky himself. This was not done by the usual choreographer Fokine, which he was unaware of. Nijinsky and Diagilev used as a theme the stylized art viewed on ancient Greek vases in the Louvre. Nijinsky’s dancing itself would be stylized and very pofile-based, and most-shockingly, would use an erotic theme of a faun among a group of nymphs, this symbolized by the faun’s fitishistic attachment to a nymph’s veil, which he lies on dramatically to conclude the ballet. The ballet itself received mixed reviews and was controversial, but can be considered the first true modern ballet. Fokine resigned after his exclusion from doing the choreography.

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Bakst costume design for Nijinsky in “L’Apres-Midi d’un Faune.”

In the ballet Nijinsky did not dance, he moved accross the stage  in stylized body configurations.


Nijinsky carrying the veil. Photo by Baron de Meyer 1912

The Ballet Russe’s Daphnis et Chloe opened two weeks after L’Apres Midi d’un Faune, but with Fokine’s resignation, closed after two performances.


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The costume design by Bakst for Daphnis et Chloe  was made for a ballet based on a classical Greek mythological  story. The costume design above influenced the silhouette of contemporary female fashion itself.

Paul Poiret was a leading French couturier in the first two decades of the 20th century,  His move away from the corseted figure, his hobbled skirts, and his strong orientalism were influences from the Bakst costume designs. From Poiret and the Ballets Russes themselves, the fashion influence radiated from the upper-class spectators and the “beau monde.” Even Lady Sybil in Downton  Abbey wore harem pants during the show’s first season in the period of 1912.

And it was not long before the exotic look of Scheherazade, Cleopatra, and other characters of the Ballets Russes were considered the models for dress and comportment for Hollywood vamps and movie stars.


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Even though Travis Banton did not design this bat-winged hostess gown for Evelyn Brent until 1930 for Slightly Scarlet, it reflects the influence of the Bakst style from the Chloe design above.

The image below shows Alla Nazimova in SALOME, with costume design by Natasha Rambova, 1923. Nazimova was a Russian actress, The multi-talented Rambova was an American that assumed a Russian name. The vivid costume and setting shows  the influence of the Bakst designs.

Costume Wild Salome Nazimova

Pola Negri  starred in her first American film in 1923: Bella Donna. She would become a leading vamp and rival to Gloria Swanson at Paramount Pictures. Her costumes were designed by Howard Greer, who was very fashion forward.

Bakst Pola Negri in Bella Donna 1923

Another Russian had made waves in early 20th-century fashion design, Erte, (French for R and T)  the name used by Romain de Tirtoff. Erte moved to Paris in 1910 and worked as a designer for Paul Poiret, and used a Bakst-influenced Orientalism in his fashion designs. He was also a fabulous illustrator, and regularly illustrated the covers of Harper’s Bazaar with his fashion illustrations. In 1925 he was hired by Louis B. Mayer to become a costume designer at M-G-M, where Erte’s studio was replicated on the studio lot. Erte designed for films such as Ben Hur, Paris, Dance Madness and The Restless Sex. He never fit in to the studio system of hurried costume designing, and when Lillian Gish complained about the unrealistically  lavish designs she was getting as a street girl in La Boheme, he quit. His influence on Hollywood’s young costume designers had already been long established. 


Fashion illustration by Erte

Bakst had made inroads into Hollywood in other ways. Director and producer Walter Wanger had met Bakst and Nijinsky when he was a college student at Dartmouth. He had been very impressed by them and was influenced  by Cleopatre and the Ballets Russes. “I am very fussy about clothes and sets,” he wrote in 1949.  In 1939 he told a reporter that the Ballets Russes “…. were the greatest influence on drama, direction, lighting, costume designing, and interior decoration in the last fifty years.” Walter Wanger produced the 1963 Cleopatra and cited Bakst as an influence on its design.

Diaghilev continued to produce the Ballets Russes until his death in 1929. He involved many leading figures of modern art in their productions. Picasso and Miro designed sets or costumes, along with Coco Channel. Satie, Ravel and Stravinsky composed or conducted music. But like Julian Craster in The Red Shoes, or like Paul Grayson in  Flesh and Bone, Diaghilev was jealous and controlling, Years earlier When Nijinsky married Romola de Pulszky, Diaghilev dismissed him in 1913  (Diaghilev and Nijinsky had been lovers).  The year before, Bakst had begun designing costumes for Ida Rubinstein, who had started her own ballet company. Diaghilev dismissed his old friend too.

It is hard to imagine the impact that the Ballets  Russes had on its era. Probably the closest equivalent would be that of the Beatles, although the ballet had a more narrow yet very deep audience. It is regrettable that its time came before film and sound recording could adequately capture its art forms.




A blog about classic movie costume design and fashion


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