7 KEYS TO MAD MEN

 

Now that Mad Men has concluded and left us bereft, what did it all mean? What was it about this series that went deep to the bone, and the brain? Several TV series have storylines that got us hooked, but Mad Men entered our psyche. The reason may be a simple one – it was a story whose characters we could relate to, or even see ourselves in.

Matt Weiner may have indeed begun the story of Mad Men as a sort of Great American novel, a story of how a man of humble origins makes it in the material world, a Jay Gatsby of the mid-century, yet despite all his success he is unsatisfied with his life. And like Jay Gatsby, he has to pass as someone who “belongs” among the class of people he frequents and does business with. Mad Men is the journey of this outsider into the heart of American capitalism, where women too, outsiders or not, find obstacles and worse at every turn. Along the way the gloss, spectacle, and magnetism of American life as portrayed in advertising attracts all. Here are the keys to understanding the show, as one writer sees them (there are spolers):

 

1) DON DRAPER  – Don Draper was born Dick Whitman and took Don Draper’s name and identity, so he’s always aware that he is posing as someone that he is not. On top of that he was born in deep poverty, born to a prostitute mother who died giving him birth, and  to a father that died when Don was young, then he was raised in a whorehouse. He was neither loved nor wanted and this lack in his developmental stage was always a hole that could never be filled as he moved from one woman in his life to another, never believing he’s really loved. His outsider status has made him an obserer of human nature. In business his intelligence, creativity, understanding of others, and his forceful personality have made him a winner at sales and on Madison Avenue, but he’s in a world of rich men, old WASP families, and corporate connections that he’s a stranger to. He’s always on a tightrope, where a false move of letting his rural-poor background or false identity show could take down his house of cards. Pete Campbell comes from an old money New York family – he always had it easy, and thus tends to be “entitled,” in his attitude. His confrontations with Don are perfect symbols of talent vs. title. Yet with all that Don’s skills and talents bring him, the hole remains. As he jettisons one relationship after another, the hole only swallows more of him. As he writes in his own diary, “We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things, and wish for what we had.” Naturally, his marriages are rocky, and he has never learned to trust love, and he doesn’t know which is the real person to present himself as. For all of his strength as personifying the modern ad man, he is haunted by his past. Flashbacks occur throughout the series, as a device to explain his character, but to leave mysterious gaps. Who was that woman in “The Crash” episode, a typist/assistant to Ted Chough, that Don saw after his “pick me up” shot, then walking down the stairs. “Do I know you?” “I mean have we met before now?” he says to her. She looks much like Diane of the Diner from a much later episode, but here she serves to bring a flashback to an earlier ad for soup with a similar looking woman in illustration, “You know what he wants,” the ad says, as a mother overlooks a boy. This ad and the image no doubt designed to come from Don’s head. It sends him on a mad rush to find the old ad.  And since a flashback occurs of his first sexual experience in the whorehouse where he grew up, following the only female tenderness he’d ever had, Don conflates imaginary motherly love , tenderness, and sex, followed by some traumatic event.

mad men don draper

 

 

2) PEGGY OLSON – Matt Weiner has said that of all the characters, Peggy is his favorite. Don is her mentor, but she has the earnest and steady perseverance to learn from each mistake, disappointment, and negative encounter, and to grow stronger. She shares with Don a family life where love was lacking, and her relationships with men have been rough. She is always undervalued and has to work harder to compensate – this the very story of women in the white collar workplace. Like Don she too must know and do all that is required of her, while “passing” as one of the boys. She must do all that Don has done but with the disadvantage of being a woman, and for part of the show, she still dresses like a girl, making it even harder to be taken seriously.  In the still-sexist 60s office-place, this is constantly degrading. Like Don, she is intelligent and understands people and their motivation and can put together the best ads. Her ad campaign for Burger Chef was brilliant. Her success takes longer to achieve, and she doesn’t have Don’s confidence, despite his background, but when she arrives she will never doubt herself again.

Mad Men Burger Chef

3) JOAN HOLLOWAY HARRIS – Joan is the opposite of Peggy in the Sterling Cooper & Partners enterprise. She is tough and has been around the block. But in contrast to Peggy, Joan is sassy and sexy -obviously so. She is thus the butt of every look and sexist joke and overture that today fills up sexual harassment training manuals. But her years of experience and level of skill only makes her fit to boss the other “girls” in the office.  In Series 3 The English assistant John Hooker calls the office a “Joanocracy.” But when she later makes partner at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, it is only because she  agreed to go to bed with the owner of the Jaguar dealers, this to win the account for the partners (which Don objected to). Joan does not get along with her mother, a characteristic shared by Pete Campbell and  Roger Sterling. She has had a close relationship with Roger Sterling, and has had his child. She never lacked confidence or doubt, and knew what she wanted to do when faced with decisions about maternity with another man’s child, had compromised sex in exchange for comfort for life, rejected a binding relationship, and finally started her own business. As an influence, Joan as played by Christina Hendricks brought back the sexy hourglass figure of the 1950s as a  popular image and style.

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4) ADVERTISING – This was the period in American history where the circular symbol: Mass Advertising – Mass Consumption – Mass Production  was itself a bus ad. New products came to consciousness through glossy ads that were hypnotic in their appeal. The ads symbolized the good life – the American life that was the envy of the world. The center of the advertising business was on Madison Avenue in New York, hence the term Mad Men. The advertising agencies worked for the corporations that fed a steady stream of products into the American home. In the show, these corporations and their products are named: Kodak; Lucky Strike; Hershey Chocolate; Heinz; Dow Chemical; Chevrolet; and Coca-Cola, among others. Everyday household feminine products from Topaz hosiery to Playtex brassieres are subject to ad campaigns, and the cause for sniggering from some of the male ad men. The advertising agencies themselves form their own phalanx into the business world: McCann-Erickson;  Putnam, Powell & Lowe, Ogilvy & Mather, and Sterling , Cooper, Draper, Pryce. The David Ogilvy  of the above firm wrote, Confessions of an Advertising Man, a manual for the type.

5) 1960s – 1960 is where Matt Weiner wanted to begin his saga of  Don Draper and the Mad Men. It was a decade  that started with social stability but ended with social upheaval. The beginning of the decade looked much like the 1950s, a period still trying to forget World War II and trying to ignore the Korean “conflict” from which Don Draper sprang. The sanitized versions of home life and sex as seen on the censored TV-shows and movies, especially the popular Lucille Ball shows and Doris Day films of the period gave misleading views about sex, (or the lack thereof). The late 1960s didn’t invent screwing, or screwing around.The tug of war of the social forces is evident in the deep white male dominance of the work place, unabashedly enforced over  women, regardless of their title.  As these forces are more fought over as the decade progresses in the show, the women become more assertive, yet there are still miles to go for anything resembling equality of the sexes (still elusive today). If anything the 1960s was grabbed by youth for changing their own paths to freedom. And the 1960s provided a lot more color in the advertising graphics to come, led by the revival of poster art for concerts and hippie be-ins. Much later still, that most subversive 60s convulsion , rock-and-roll music, would be a constant sound track feeding television commercials. As the 1960s progress in the show, the major events are reflected in the plots and reactions of the characters: the assasinations; the civil rights movement; Viet-Nam; the moon-landing; the youth-movement. The dynamics of office politics and agency take-overs continues, along with drinking, smoking, and sex.

mad men Milton Glaser

Poster by Milton Glaser

6) FASHION & DECOR – The look of Mad Men made waves from its very beginning. The early 60s women’s fashions resembled the late 50s women’s fashions, with the New Look silhouette still in vogue. The silhouette was enhanced by girdles and cone-shaped bras, and nylons and garters were de rigeur. Although vintage garments are available and used as costumes, vintage undergarments are not so available, so the silhouette is not strictly correct, but nonetheless costume designer Janie Bryant made a a big hit with her retro fashions for the show.The total look included accessories, which were almost mandatory in the early 60s, with hats, gloves, shoes matching handbags. necklaces, and earings.

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Left to right January Jones, as Betty Draper, Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris, and Elizabeth Moss as Peggy Olson

 

Mad Men fashion

At left is Maggie Siff as Rachel Mencken

Rachel Mencken as a Department store owner knows how to dress with taste. She’s also beautiful and attracts Don’s attention immediately, beyond being a client. Don’s wardrobe is straightforward but he wears clothes well. He adds class by wearing French cuffs on crisp white shirts and his ties are always impecable. His pocket square adds a nice note. He and the other Mad Men in suits strictly follow the code of unbuttoning their jacket when they sit and buttoning it when they stand – always.

 

mad-men Betty & Don

A form-fitting floral print dress worn by January Jones looks smashing – its colors especially flattering to her.

Mad Men fashion group

The late 1960s bring the Mod years and contrasting looks to the office. Jessica Pare as Megan Draper, who plays an aspiring actress is alwayss the most fashion forward. Her mini-dresses and bright-colored paisley-print outfits are very hip and sexy. The men are dressed either in suits or sport jackets, and the “creatives” take on the look of college students and bohemians.

 

The set designs for Mad Men were as influential as the costume design. The sleek mid-century look in offices and homes, influenced by modern architecture and Danish-design inspired furniture, became a popular trend in decorating and interior design. The original offices of Sterling- Cooper are also noteworthy for the framed art, so typical of the late 1950s and very early 1960s – all very linear and abstract

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Don and Megan’s new condo is also very modern and attractice, with a sunken living room and large terrace.

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7) MUSIC – Soundtracks are ever-present in TV shows and movies, where they set the mood and help pace the story or even foretell the action to come. An extra dynamic plays out in Mad Men’s music however, more exactly in its songs. Its in the lyrics and especially  the titles and refrains that reinforces the point of the story.  In Season 1 Episode 2 Peggy is the new girl, typing while  looking around at the men’s offices while the Andrew Sisters’ song I Can Dream Can’t I, plays. In Season 6 Megan and Don watch TV as the news covers the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, the song Reach Out of the Darkness , by Friend and Lover blares out. Season 7 started out with Don put on leave, but a classic shot opens of him arriving to the still small LA airport, dapper in hat and suit, shot in slow motion as Megan meets hint in a wind-blown mini-skirt, with I’m a Man by the Spencer Davis Group pumps the California sunshine through the scene. This music is contrasted with a later scene of Don breaking down, alone in his condo to You Keep Me Hanging On by Vanilla Fudge. Or can one ever forget the number and the sentiment of Bert Cooper’s farewell, ghostly, song and soft shoe message to Don with The Best Things In Life Are Free, in Season 7 Episode 7?

mad-men bert cooper

The songs of sadness and looking back are present as well. When Don sells his condo, the soulful and heart-wrenching, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack plays as he stands alone. Other songs showing direction are used are used. When Peggy and Don are in the office late at night in Season 7 Episode 6, with Peggy doubting her steps in an ad campaign, Don points out the song that keeps playing on the radio, an omen he thinks, its Frank Sinatra’s I Did It My Way, and he invites her to dance. Later in the series Don fixates on a restaurant waitress named Diana. When he goes to see her there alone, the song Louie, Louie by the Kingsmen plays. The almost undecipherable lyrics are about a man saying he has to sail back to see his girl, seen in a dream.  And of course there’s the greatest “directional” song of the whole show, the Mad Men finale where Don dreams up the Coca-Cola ad while meditating cliff-side at Big-Sur, the I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing, song adapted into the I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke ad.

Mad Men screen-shot

Don Draper’s final On the Road trip took him from New York through the Mid-West, at first searching for the elusive Diana of the Diner, the mystical mistress of his subconscious. And from there he ended up in California in a sort of self-realization center at Big Sur, in as low a mood as we’eve ever seen him. But out of the depths there is only one direction left to go, just as he started his career, and as an Ad Man, Don has found here the perfect pitch and commercial song in his mind.

So long Mad Men and Women, its been a wonderful ride.

 

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THE SUN NEVER SETS ON SUNSET BLVD.

 

This is a Celebrate National Classic Movie Day Saturday May 16  My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon  post.

The classic movie about Hollywood, Sunset Blvd, is approaching its 65th anniversary. It premiered at the Radio City Music Hall on August 10, 1950, where it shattered non-holiday attendance records. For a film noir about 1950 Hollywood, reflecting on a fading 1920s era movie star, it’s amazing that it has remained so relevant. That it has is thanks to the acting and directing – which were outstanding. But it’s the writing that’s sublime. the writing in combination with that great character Norma Desmond.

 

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“Those idiot producers! Those imbeciles! Haven’t they got any eyes? Have they forgotten what a star looks like? I’ll show them. I’ll be up there again. So help me! says Norma Desmond. Photo courtesy Photofest

 

The story of faded glory, youthful ambition, and desperate attempts to hold on to to the Hollywood dream is forever being relived. The script by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder makes a great story of Hollywood’s long past and eternal present, but it’s the one-liners that pepper our vocabulary today. “All right Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my close-up,”  says Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond. Earlier in the movie, reflecting on her silent films, she said, “We didn’t need dialogue, we had faces,” and “I am big, it’s the pictures that got small.” And indeed, William Holden as Joe Gillis is more transfixed by Norma Desmond herself in the scene above, rather than in the movie she shows him.  Sunset Blvd.  continually reflects on itself and on Hollywood history, a hall of mirrors for old movie fans. In the photo above, Norma Desmond shows Joe Gillis a film in which she starred – when she was big. The movie shown is Queen Kelly. Wilder had a wicked sense of humor, Queen Kelly is the movie that made Swanson not so big. She lost a fortune on this self-produced film, never even released in the U.S. due to its outlandish content. She never fully recovered.

Below Erich von Stroheim  playing Max the butler is “directing” her final “scene”, since in the story he was once her director, and who in Hollywood  really was once her director. For the scene Gloria Swanson is dressed as Salome, whose part she once really played, descending the staircase to the theme music from The Dance of the Seven Veils. The director of that movie, Queen Kelly, had been Eric von Stroheim. who Gloria Swanson had fired.

 

Sunset_Blvd_6

 

The team of Billy Wilder and Charles Bracket both wrote the script and produced the film for Paramount Pictures. The idea of a Hollywood-themed movie had come to them, one primarily focused on a faded star with hopes of a comeback. The idea of a younger, hungry scriptwriter was a natural fit. The actress to play the role was crucial. Which one, they debated? Greta Garbo perhaps, although she would never consent. Then there was Mary Pickford – uninterested. Perhaps Pola Negri, who was big, but now living as a recluse. Mae West was considered, but didn’t quite fit the image they had in mind, and likely to want to re-write the script. Gloria Swanson was finally considered, the one star that really was considered royalty on the Paramount lot back in the 1920s. Indeed, she married into French aristocracy  in 1925  and became the  Marquise de la Falaise de la Coudraye. Gloria read the script, such as it was early in its draft form in 1949, and agreed to play the part. She was taken aback, however, when she got a call from the Paramount casting director wanting her to take a screen test. “Without me there would be no Paramount Studio!” one can imagine her shouting, as did Norma Desmond in the movie.* But Gloria was somewhat more complacent, saying she had made two dozen pictures for Paramount. Why the need for a screen test? Neither the casting director nor Billy Wilder told her that after all those years away from making movies, they wanted to see how old she would look on film, and what presence she had on screen.  But as it turned out, they would actually have to use makeup to make her look older, but she still had the old magnetism.

As for the role of Joe Gillis the young screenwriter, Montgomery Clift was offered the part, but backed out of the production at the last minute. It seems he didn’t want the role of making love to an older woman.

 

Sunset Blvd. (1950) aka Sunset BoulevardDirected by Billy Wilder

Photo courtesy of Photofest

 

The opening shot of the movie shows Joe Gillis, the lead character, dead and floating  up-side down in a swimming pool. He narrates his own story in the third person, Relating how the body of a young man was found in a movie star’s swimming pool early in the morning, He states that it was, “Nobody important really. Just a movie writer with a couple of ‘B’ pictures credit. The poor dope always wanted a pool. Well, in the end he got himself a pool —only the price was a little high.”

Filming the scene above was devised by art director John Meehan. Rather than using expensive underwater cameras, he placed a large mirror at the bottom of a process water tank. The film camera shot down  from the edge of the “pool”and caught Holden, the cops  and the others reflected in the mirror.

 

Joe Gillis switches to the first person narrative when earlier in his story he is still alive, typing out a screenplay in his crummy apartment on Ivar Street in Hollywood. He’s trying desperately to sell a screenplay to make some money to pay his next car loan payment, one step ahead of the car-repo men about to tail him. He goes to the Paramount studios to meet a producer. There he has no luck, especially when Betty Schaeffer, a script reader played by Nancy Olson, pans his script. He even asks the producer for a loan but gets nowhere. He goes to see his agent and asks for a loan from him and gets the brush-off. Soon he’s spotted by the repo-men and speeds down Sunset Blvd.

 

Sunset Blvd escape

It’s by trying to outrun the car-repo men that Gillis ends up turning into a driveway off Sunset Boulevard  and into an old garage, where the clues were mounting that he was entering  into the Twilight Zone.

sunset-boulevard Isod

Inside was an old Isotta-Fraschini,  the kind of car that one doesn’t drive, but is chauffeured in. “It must have burned up ten gallons to the mile,” narrates Gillis. Although this one needed some cleaning, the leopard-skin upholstery showed him that it was no ordinary car.

 

Sunset Blvd. Mansion

 

Joe Gillis thought he’d just leave his car there and skip town, giving up trying to make it as a script writer in Hollywood. But he thought he’d take a look at the mansion, figuring it had to be abandoned. “It was a a great big white elephant of a place. The kind crazy movie people built in the crazy Twenties,” he said. He compared it  to Miss Haversham’s in Great Expectations.

The Twilight Zone beckons, as a woman calls out to him, imperiously asking why he has kept her waiting so long. Max the Butler calls him in, expecting an undertaker come to take care of the necessities for Madame’s deceased “pet” chimpanzee. It’s after a few minutes of wordplay and shock that Gillis begins to recognize the woman, after she wants to throw him out for not being the undertaker, and he delivers the line about “…you’re Norma Desmond…you used to be big.” And since this is really a film noir about Hollywood, everyone has a racket. She shows him her piles of manuscripts for her Salome “comeback,” he tells her he’s really an expensive scriptwriter that could polish up her sludge pile for $500 a week, and she starts to see a handsome  live-in companion, and Max had it all figured out   at hello.

Things are all cosy for a while, and Gillis slips into becoming a kept man. Only he  starts sinking into the feeling of an age gone by. This is symbolized by Norma’s friends that come over for a bridge game, the “Wax works,” Gillis calls them. They are played by Buster Keaton, that genius of silent-film comedy, in 1950 not yet rediscovered, Then there’s H.B. Warner, who played Jesus Christ in the DeMille King of Kings in 1927but in 1950 was more recognized as the drunk druggist Mr. Gower in It’s a Wonderful Life.  And perhaps the most forgotten star of all, Anna Q. Nilsson, the first Swedish beauty of the silver screen, who started her motion picture career in 1911, and due to a severe accident had a long interruption, but resumed acting late culminating in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

 

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Norma realizes she needs to start putting some spark in Joe’s life. Maybe a big  New Year’s Eve party, with plenty of champagne and music, only with no guests so she can have Joe all for herself and tell him how much she needs him and loves him. Joe’s life flashes before his eyes and he tells Norma that he has a life of his own, and maybe even a girl he loves. Their disagreement ends in a slap, which convinces him to leave, and in rainy weather he goes to his friend Artie Green’s party, where he again  sees Betty Schaeffer. She’s Artie’s girlfriend, but they have a strong attraction for each other. Joe plans to move in with Artie, making a call to Max saying he’ll collect his things in the morning. That’s when he finds out that Norma has tried to kill herself, and so he returns to the Mansion.

Norma perks up with his concern and return. Later with an unexpected but unanswered call from Paramount, she decides to visit the studio.The visit with Max driving them in the Isotta through the old main gates is classic. The worshipful reception of Norma/Gloria by the old-time studio hands and C.B. DeMille himself is a high-spot of the film. This element was added to the script after Billy Wilder witnessed for himself the reception Gloria Swanson received at the Paramount lot when filming of Sunset Blvd. began.

 

Paramount Studio Sunset_Blvd_1950_25

The visit to Paramount  also provides an opportunity for Joe to visit the writer’s room, and there to see Betty Schaeffer again. They agree to work on a story together, for which Joe must get out of the mansion at night for their rendez-vous

One night Joe and Betty stroll through the “New York” set on the Paramount lot. Here she tells him about the nose job she got in order to land film roles. After that they liked her nose but not her acting,

 

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Photo courtesy Photofest

 

And of course they fall for each other. There is a great kissing scene on the 2nd story balcony of the old writer’s building. It was shot from a crane, with Billy Wilder and the cameraman at their level. Down below were the other crew members, among which was William Holden’s wife Ardis. As Nancy Olson related at the TCM Classic Film Festival screening of Sunset Blvd. in 2010, Billy Wilder told her and Holden that they should keep kissing until he told them to stop. He said he didn’t know how the scene would need to be edited. So they kissed, and kissed, and kissed some more. And they kept on kissing, until finally  they heard a shout from Ardis down below , “cut goddammit!”

Things get serious between Joe and Betty, and they want to make plans, only this is a film noir, and we’ve already seen where it ends. Norma discovers their joint script one night and in jealousy phones Betty and spills about Joe’s situation. When Betty shows up at the mansion to see if it’s all true, there’s no hiding the rest of the story. That’s when Joe tells her he’s bound to Norma Desmond on a long term contract with no options. He escorts Betty out. Then tells Norma he’s leaving. As he gathers his things, leaving his eighteen suits and eighteen dozen shirts and platinum keychains she bought him, just packing his old things and typewriter, he tells her there will be no comeback movie for her at Paramount, that they only wanted her car, that Max was writing all her fan mail, and that no, he won’t stay. So she follows him, saying, “No one leaves a star,” and, “You’re not leaving me.” And as he makes his way towards the garage she shoots him – once – and twice more, as he falls into the pool.

Its early the next morning, and the film comes full circle, with police, photographers, the news, and all sorts of people hovering around. And there’s that pool again. The one Joe Gillis always wanted. He’s narrating his own story again, and now thy’re fishing him out of the pool. “Funny how gentle people get with you once you’re dead.”  But as a writer, even a dead one, he almost had the last word on Norma Desmond: “What would they do to her? Even if she got away with it in court – crime of passion – temporary insanity – those headlines would kill her: Forgotten Star a Slayer –Aging Actress –Yesterday’s Glamour Queen…”

Inside, Max tricks her out of her bedroom by telling her the cameras are ready.  Max at the bottom of the stairs, Are the lights ready?  Quiet everybody!  Are you ready Norma?

“What is the scene she asks?”  “This is the staircase of the Palace,” says Max. “Camera. Action!” he says. She descends the staircase in a trance, At the bottom of the staircase she stops, too happy to continue with acting the scene, then asking an imaginary Mr. DeMille if she can say a few words, then  saying,

“….You don’t know how much I’ve missed all of you. And I promise you I’ll never desert you again, because after ‘Salome’ we’ll make another picture and another. You see, this is my life. It always will be. There’s nothing else – just us and the cameras and those wonderful people out there in the the dark…All right Mr. DeMIlle, I’m ready for my closeup.”

 

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And if you’ve seen it a million times like me you can hear Franz Waxman’s musical crescendo closing out the scene.

                                                                   THE END

 

This last scene is the reason why Sunset Blvd is a masterpiece. Norma Desmond may have been considered a  faded movie star, but she was a star and a performer to the end. She had lived the life of a movie queen and never gave up the role. She dressed up – never totally in style but always chic. Her fan mail may have been fake but that would not have changed her. She knew what she had accomplished, she was once and always a star.  If she were around today she would be flocked by old movie fans. In this role Gloria Swanson had transcended the role and infused it with her own persona and her own glorious stardom. At a wrap screening for Paramount’s stars, it was said that Barbara Stanwyck wept as she kissed in reverence the hem of Gloria Swanson’s silver lame gown.

William Holden also makes this movie work. As co-star Nancy Olson stated at the TCM Film Festival in 2010, Holden made the movie during a personal dry spell, drinking heavily himself and facing the taste of desperation that breathed down Joe Gillis’s neck. Years later he stated that this was his favorite role. After Sunset Blvd., just like the principal star, Holden himself made a comeback. The film was ranked the16th greatest of all-time by the American Film Institute, and the Library of Congress placed it in the National Film Registry as one of the 25 landmark films of all-time.

Edith Head designed the costumes for Sunset Blvd. When she had first started as a sketch artist at Paramount in 1923, Gloria Swanson was studio royalty. When Swanson returned from France after marrying the Marquis de la Falaise de la Coudraye, Edith Head was just one of the Paramount employees told to throw flowers as the couple drove onto the studio lot. Although Edith had now come a long way, she was still in awe of Gloria Swanson. This was especially the case as Swanson had always been a clothes-horse and very particular about her dress, and owning her own garment company. On her return from France in 1925, Swanson had also brought back fashion and costume designer Rene Hubert.

The look of Norma Desmond, and the role of the costumes in her characterization, was of someone that had only a hint of the old styles of Hollywood. She was certainly no Miss Haversham. She dressed smartly every day and wore clothes appropriate to the occasion and the time of day, even if she stayed mostly at home. When Joe Gillis first visits, she is wearing a hostess dress, a popular early 1950’s  combination skirt and pants outfit.

 

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Above is Miss Head’s costume sketch for Swanson’s opening scene as Norma Desmond. When you look closely you’ll notice in the movie, as in this design sketch, that the outfit has the pants worn under a hostess dress. The liner fabric was changed twice in the design phase,  from the plaid fabric to a floral print and finally to the leopard print in the final production.

Edith designed a stylish ensemble that Norma wears for her Queen Kelly screening with Joe, shown as the first photo in this post.  It is a brocaded top with a cut-away peplum, dropping lower at the back. it is worn over a simple black dress and top, accessorized with a beautiful over-sized necklace.

 

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Above  is Edith Head’s costume design sketch for Norma Desmond’s visit to the Paramount Studio and visit with Mr. De Mille. The final costume was modified. Gloria Swanson had always been fashion conscious. She suggested the feathered hat instead of the headpiece above as a way to emphasize her movie-role ties to an earlier Hollywood. Edith Head designed Swanson’s wardrobe for Norma Desmond as being someone still chic, but with a hint at her old glamour days. Below is the final costume used in the film’s Paramount studio visit.

 

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For her final scene, Edith Head designed  a simple costume for Norma’s Salome , a black gown with a sequined chiffon wrap, a hint of Gloria Swanson as the Salome of 1925 as seen below, back when they had faces.

 

 

Sunset Blvd Bohemia Gloria Swanson Salome

 

 

*Idea originated in Sam Stagg   Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard. New York: St Martin’s Pess, 2002.