“Treasures from the Dream Factory“ is the third collaboration of Turner Classic Movies and Bonhams auction house in presenting Hollywood memorabilia at auction. The past two auctions have sold at record prices the Maltese Falcon from the eponymous movie for $4.2 million, and the piano from Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca for $3.2 million. This year’s golden lair will be auctioned in New York on November 23, 2015, and many treasures are offered as the title implies.
Along with the five extremely lucky children that got a Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory in that famous movie, you could be a proud owner of a ticket too. The Golden Ticket at auction is from the 1971 Paramount classic starring Gene Wilder and Peter Ostrum. The ticket was owned by film set Construction Manager Hendrik Wynands. Estimate of $10,000 -15,000.
The Golden Ticket sold for $28,000
From the movie considered by many to be the best movie ever made – Citizen Kane, is the childhood “Rosebud” sled of Charles Foster Kane. It was given to the film’s screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz. Estimate of $100,000 -200,000.
The Rosebud sled sold for $149,000
From the classic The Wizard of Oz comes the costume worn by Judy Garland throughout the entire movie. The blue and white checked pinafore and off-white blouse with rick-rack trim was designed by Adrian. Several “test” versions were designed before this final dress was used throughout the film. A solid blue “test” version was sold at the Debbie Reynolds auction in 2011 for $1.1 million, although the heavy promotion for the auction had much to do with that price. The pinafore being auctioned here is one previously owned by Kent Warner, the costumer who had “liberated” many costumes from MGM including several pairs of the Ruby Slippers. He always picked the most important items, with his rationale being to either preserve them, or in the case of the 1970 MGM auction, as payment for organizing costumes for the auction. Kent Warner first had this costume up for auction at Christies in 1981. Labels in this costume have Judy Garland’s name and the number 4461, a sure way to trace its provenance. Estimate $800,000 – 1.2 million
The Judy Garland Dorothy pinafore sold for $1,625,000 including commission
Several great posters are featured in the auction. This one caught my eye and is significant as a symbol of early Hollywood – and also a symbol of silent films as the film it advertises is considered a “lost” film. This is a French version of the poster, besides the list of actors that featured in the vignettes were Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford, and many others. Estimate $30,000 -40,000.
The poster sold for $37,500
Screen favorite Natalie Wood’s Estate is being auctioned, with many significant items from her career going on the block. A few highlights include these:
A Golden Globe for “International Stardom” awarded in 1957, her first major acting award. Estimate $10,000 – 15,000
The International Stardom Golden Globe sold for $17,500
A Golden Globe for “World Favorite Actress” in 1965. Estimate $7,000 -9,000.
The “World Favorite Actress” Golden Globe sold for $12,500
Natalie Wood’s “Director’s Chair” stamped “From the MGM Crew 1959” She used this on several film sets, including This Property is Condemned and Love with a Proper Stranger. Estimate $500 -700.
The Director’s Chair sold for $1250
This costume was worn by Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 20th Century-Fox, 1953. Dark gray wool jacket and skirt, jacket has cream-colored patterned-linen collar and lining., designed to show decollete. Designed by her regular designer at 20th Century-Fox, William Travilla. Estimate $350,000 – 500,000.
The Marilyn Suit sold for $425,000
A Judy Garland costume worn in Easter Parade, MGM, 1948. Designed by Irene. The gown was worn in the scene with Fred Astaire where they sing the number “It Only Happens When I Dance with You.” Estimate $8000 -10,000.
The Judy Garland Easter Parade costume sold for $10,625
Steve McQueen’s racing suit from the movie Le Mans, National General, 1971. This is one of three suits worn by McQueen during the car racing scenes in the movie. Estimate $200,000 – 300,000
The Le Mans suit sold for $425,000
Stephen Boyd as Massala’s costume from Ben Hur, MGM 1959.Worn in the famous chariot race scene. With gold embroidery and gold leather applique on the black belt. Estimate $8000 – 12,000.
The Stephen Boyd Ben Hur costume sold for $20,000
Am original Mickey Mouse animation cel, circa 1940. Shows signs of wear. In the recent past a flood of reproductions and limited editions have been on the market. It’s nice to see a vintage cel from the golden age of Disney animation. Estimate $800 – 1200.
The Mickey Mouse cel sold for $10000
A World War I photo of Walt Disney in Red Cross uniform, inscribed and signed to a friend. Estimate $25,000 – 35,000. A scrapbook that includes drawings from Disney during that period is also on the block for $150,000 -200,000.
This item was withdrawn along with several other Disney photos
Sam Spade’s chair used in The Maltese Falcon, Warner Brothers, 1941.The chair was in the apartment used by Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. This same chair was previously sold at auction by Christie’s in 1997 for $32,200. Estimate $75,000 -100,000.
The Sam Spade chair sold for $87,500
Here is an interesting document, a contract signed by Barbara Stanwyck to borrow a 16mm film copy of Double Indemnity in 1945, the year after she made the film. In the days long before videocassettes, movies could only be screened in 16mm formats for home use. Ms. Stanwyck wanted to show the film to friends, a film she was particularly proud of, and had to sign a contract with her own studio Paramount to borrow it.
The contract sold for $812.
Frank Capra’s Golden Globe Award for It’s a Wonderful Life,Columbia, 1946. Awarded at the 4th Golden Globes held in 1947 for Frank Capra as Outstanding Director. This was for Frank Capra’s favorite film and a seasonal favorite. $40,000 – 60,000.
Frank Capra’s Golden Globe sold for $60,000
There are many other gems in this auction, a treasure chest of Golden Age Hollywood memorabilia. What is your favorite? I collect costume sketches, of which there are a few in the auction. But my favorite item has to be Judy Garland’ s dress from the Wizard of Oz. Of all the items in this auction, this is the item that, for me, is the one most sprinkled with stardust.
I’ll update this post with some of the prices realized after the auction.
A car careens through the dark streets of downtown L.A., avoiding an accident and blowing through a red signal. A man gets out of a car and enters an office building, getting curious looks and questions from the night attendant. He goes to his office, shaky and weak. He lights a cigarette in his trademark manner, striking the match with his thumbnail, then readies his Dictaphone. He speaks out a memo for his boss at the Pacific All Risk Insurance Co. “I suppose you’ll call this a confession,” he states. “Well I don’t like the word confession. I just want to set you right about something you couldn’t see because it was smack up against your nose.”
Set to the unforgettably dramatic and alternately mysterious musical score of Miklos Rozsa, thus opens Billy Wilder’s classic film noir – Double Indemnity. Like Wilder’s later Sunset Blvd. and typical of the film noir genre, the film starts at the end of the story, a device emphasizing the fatality of the characters’ lives. Also paired with the end-of-story beginning is a voice-over from the character explaining how things went wrong in their lives. With Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff, this comes early in his opening “confessional” scene regarding the Dietrichson case, the case that Edward G. Robinson as Barton Keyes finally suspects was murder. “Yes I killed him.” says Neff referring to Dietrichson. “I killed for money. And for a woman. I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman.”
The woman was Barbara Stanwyck playing femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson. Walter Neff was a sucker as soon as he saw her at the top of the stairs wearing a bath robe, and sealed when she sat down across him wearing an ankle bracelet. Their sharp repartee moves quickly from her anklet to auto insurance to accident insurance to a come-on that is deftly repelled, with a succession of double-entendres leading to a time for him to return when her husband will be there. And of course her husband wasn’t there when Neff returns, with Neff now ready to settle in. But her plan of taking out accident insurance on her husband without him knowing about it has Neff beating a quick retreat. But Neff can’t get her out of his mind, and all it takes is a visit from Phyllis to his apartment late at night to set things in motion.
This entry in the Classic Movie Blog Association’s Planes, Trains, and Automobiles Blogathon, features a central plot element aboard a train.
The story itself was ripped from the headlines, a case from 1927 when a wife and her boyfriend knocked off the husband for insurance money. The noted noir writer James M. Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice) serialized his novella of “Double Indemnity” in Liberty Magazine before it was published as a book. A script outline had been sent to the Production Code Administration (the censors) by Louis B. Mayer as early as 1935, with the response that the story was “in violation of the Production Code,” with the same information given to Warner Brothers some years later. When Billy Wilder got interested in the story he asked Cain to write the script but he was too busy, so Wilder turned to Raymond Chandler who accepted. Wilder and Chandler did not get along. They were very much opposite personalities, and Chandler’s heavy drinking didn’t help. Chandler had written books but no scripts, so they stayed in the same room working on the script until the script was finished – and they couldn’t stand each other.They shared script-writing credits although Chandler’s characteristic clipped, hard-boiled dialogue is a hallmark of the film, along with his facility with the thinly veiled dialogue of sexual come-ons. A rare glimpse of Raymond Chandler seated on a bench reading a book can be seen as Fred MacMurray exits Edward G. Robinson’s office for the first time.
This was an early film noir and a trend-setter. It was Billy Wilder’s first great film, but at the time everybody turned down the roles of the criminal leads. Billy Wilder had to convince Barbara Stanwyck to take the part of the femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson, her first unsympathetic role. Fred MacMurray, a former saxophone player, had previously only played in nice romantic comedy roles. Here he plays a devious insurance agent suckered into a murder scheme for money and for a woman. Edward G. Robinson was uninterested in playing a supporting role, having been a lead since the 1930s. As it turned out, these were all memorable career roles for the three actors. The scenes between Stanwyck and MacMurray were masterfully shot by cinematographer John Seitz, pushing the envelope of darkness in interior and exterior lighting, and using the coming noir trademark of Venetian blind shadowing to foreshadow the prison bars in Neff’s future.
And of course this is a story of pre-meditated murder. One of those where the premeditated part is supposed to be a plan where all the details are worked out so that the insurance money is collected and the murderers get away with the crime. The fatality of film noir is emphasized early in the plot, however, “The machinery had started and nothing could stop it,” said Neff. It’s Walter Neff’s voice-over we hear, his point of view, his slip from ordinary insurance salesman to punch-drunk lover to murderer. And yet his good-looks and soft-spot for the daughter Lola Dietrichson and her rough-edged boyfriend leads us to sympathize with his plight. As for Phyllis, she’s “rotten to the heart” as she admits, but achieves a sort of redemption by not following through with killing Neff, and gets killed instead. A repeated line in the script emphasized their partnership “straight down the line.” Neff’s boss Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) said it more explicitly about the pair in the crime, “They’re stuck with each other. They have to ride all the way to the end of the line, it’s one-way and the last stop is the cemetery.”
The crime itself was a simple strangulation in an automobile, with the plan to dump the body next to the rail-road tracks and make it look like the body had fallen off the train. This would be made verifiable by Neff getting on the train earlier and mpersonating Mr. Dietrichson, complete with fake broken leg and crutches. Only there was another rider on the observation deck, who saw him, but he was sent of to fetch “Dietrichson’s” forgotten cigarettes. He could now jump off near where the body was, and be picked up by Phyllis and be dropped off near his apartment. It all seemed to work, except that when Neff was walking home, Neff reflected on his situation, “I felt that everything would go wrong. I couldn’t hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.”
Those were haunting words and thoughts for the man who had planned it all to go perfectly. But was he really in control? Or was he a patsy in Phyllis’ scheme. Keyes is suspicious, and won’t pay on the claim; Lola visits Neff and they spend time together, where she says Phyllis was her mother’s nurse but believes she murdered her to marry her father; and then Neff hears Keyes’ Dictaphone recording of his suspicions, including private eye evidence that Phyllis and Lola’s ex-boyfriend Zachette were spending a lot of time together. Neff no longer trusts Phyllis, and believes he has to get off of that one-way train.
Neff calls Phyllis and sets up a meeting at her house. They had been holding secretive meetings at “Jerry’s Market” up until then. Phyllis is prepared, with a handgun tucked away under the cushion of her stuffed chair. Neff tells her he knows she’s been playing him for a sucker, that she was going to run off with the money, but now Keyes isn’t paying off on the insurance, and has Zachette down as the murderer, with her as the accomplice, and he was getting off this train. Then Phyllis shoots Neff, wounding him in the shoulder. “You can do better than that baby,” he says. As he walks toward her she holds the gun but doesn’t shoot. “Don’t tell me you loved me all this time.” “No, I never loved you, Walter, not you or anybody else. I’m rotten to the heart. I used you just as you said. That’s all you ever meant to me. Until a minute ago, when I couldn’t fire that second shot. I never thought that could happen to me.” “Sorry, baby I’m not buying.”
Phyllis has a look of surprise and horror when Neff shoots her, twice. Walter lay her down on the couch, dead. Once outside, Neff runs into Zachette, and tells him to call Lola, who really loves him, and to beat it. Neff then goes on a speed run to where we first saw him, making his confession. Only now, barely holding on as he speaks, Barton Keyes overhears him. Neff asks for time to get to the border, Keyes tells him he won’t make it to the elevator. Indeed, he collapses at the office doorway. Neff props himself up, as Keyes bends down beside him. “You know why you couldn’t figure this one Keyes? I’ll tell you. Cause the guy you were looking for was too close, right across the desk from you.” “Closer than that, Walter.” “I love you too.” Neff says.
Neff tries to light a cigarette. Keyes does it for him, striking the match with his thumbnail. With Rosza’s now indelible pounding theme music closing out the scene, Double Indemnity comes to its end. It was dialogue like that quoted above and the closing scene that distinguishes Double Indemnity and makes it sublime among Noir films. An alternate ending had Neff going to the gas chamber (in the book the lovers commit suicide). It tested unpopular and in reality would have compromised the greatness of the ending above.
The look of Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson is very characteristic in the strict definition of the word. Her blond wig and dark glasses as worn in the last Jerry’s Market scene is often viewed as a clip from the movie. Billy Wilder himself selected the wig from a wig store, rather than to have the more professional studio hair stylist dye and prepare her hair. Some say it was to make Phyllis seem “cheap.” I think it was to emphasize the “costumed” character, playing one of her many roles: wife; seductress; nurse; step-mother; murderess; widow; spy. Edith Head designed her costumes. Barbara and Edith had developed a close relationship since working together on The Lady Eve, Ball of Fire and several other movies. In this period of the early and mid-1940s, Edith had developed a very flattering silhouette for Barbara, whose slight, long waisted figure was improved with Edith’s designs. Characteristic of the film and also of several films noir are the location shots. Here we see Jerry’s Market at 5330 Melrose Avenue, the “Dietrichson” house at 6301 Quebec Drive in the Hollywood Hills, 5th and Olive for the beginning car scene, 1825 N. Kingsley Drive for Walter Neff’s apartment, and the intersection of Hollywood and Western, among others.
Double Indemnity received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Actress, Writing, Music, Cinematography and Sound. It won in none of those categories. It received no Best Supporting Actor nomination, which continued Edward G. Robinson’s streak of never having won an Academy Award. The winner of Best Picture that year was Going My Way.
The American Film Institute ranks it #27 in the 10th edition of 100 Years 100 Movies.
The 1950s are presented in various and changing images as the years go by, bolstered by films and TV shows: suburban growth; stereotypical families; mass consumerism; the cold war and the threat of the atomic bomb; rebelious rockers; and a seemingly simpler even idyllic time. In Hollywood the Production Code was still in force, and therefore the censor still prevailed in what was shown on the screen and how far a screenplay could go in subject matter and treatment.
In the post-war 1950s, the combined restrictions from film censorship and the lagging societal constraint on sex in general had the effect of unleashing an ever-present focus on the image of female sexual attraction on film. While beautiful movie stars with sex appeal had been around since the silent screen, the overt sexual magnetism of the 1950s stars is contrasted and often made contradictory by the wholesome image of the star. This role was played by several stars including the beautiful Esther Williams, and was perfected by Doris Day.
The European movie-stars on the other hand provided the desired amount of foreign, and a perceived lack of restraint to play daring roles in film, while wearing provocative costumes and fashions. American G.I.s during World War II already had a taste of their appeal. Sofia Loren, beginning her film career in Italy in 1950, virtually defined the post-war look of continental sexual allure. Such a look is not based on showing a lot of skin, nor is it entirely based on the French New Look in fashion. But in the dress above worn by Sofia Loren, the style shows off the contours of her body perfectly, and it does share with the New Look a reliance on corsetry to pinch the waist in order to accent the hips and bust, the latter the particular sexual fetish of the 1950s.
Another European bombshell exploded on the scene in the 1950s: Brigitte Bardot. She began making movies in 1952, but her beauty and looks typecast her in lightweight eye-candy roles. Her then-husband Roger Vadim, part of the French New Wave, cast her along with Jean-Louis Tintignant in And God Created Woman (Et Dieu Crea la Femme) in 1956, and an iconic star was born. Bardot was very much a portent for the look of the coming 1960s (and later decades). She is pictured below in a costume from And God Created Woman. The outfit was designed by French couturier Pierre Balmain. It is a simple black shirt with a long center-buttoned skirt. Later in the film she dances in the outfit with the buttons undone to her waist. Brigitte Bardot had previously popularized the bikini bathing suit on the French Riviera.
America’s swimsuit goddess was Esther Wiliams, a previous National champion swimmer who became a movie star at MGM. The studio created the wildly popular genre of “acqua-musicals” based on her skills and personality. Following years of the Great Depression and WWII, the smiling face and healthy physique of Esther Williams combined with the sunny skies of California made for a popular series of films. The costume and fashion designer Irene dressed Esther Williams in her early MGM movies, although Helen Rose designed for her 1950s films, including the classic Million Dollar Mermaid, 1952; Easy to Love, 1953; and Dangerous When Wet, 1953. Both designers designed Esther’s unique swimsuits for the films.
The fashion trend that defined the basic look of the 1950s started in Paris with the couture creations of Christian Dior. Following years of deprivation during World War II, French couture went on a splurge in the use of fabric, which had previously been rationed. The
“New Look” as it was dubbed by Life Magazine in late 1947, was based on a pinched waist, a full skirt with layers of petitcoats, and a full breasted-bodice, the whole based on foundation undergarments. The style was a return to the hourglass silhouette popular during the 1860s and earlier.
The model below shows a Christian Dior fashion. During the 1949-1950 period, both the New Look and the broad-shouldered, pencil-skirted look of the 1940s could be seen side-by-side. There were some groups of women that demonstrated against the New Look, asking why was Dior trying to hide women’s legs.
As would increasingly be the case, youth, led the way in starting the trend in the U.S. The movies continued to have a major impact through the combination of costume designer and star they dressed. One such combo was Elizabeth Taylor and Helen Rose. Helen Rose had been dressing Elizabeth since she was 15 and starring in A Date with Judy. Her violet eyes, dark hair and prominent eyebrows made for a beautiful impression on screen – and a star was born. Rose designed the Father of the Bride movie in 1950, and subsequently Elizabeth’s real wedding gown, and then the movie sequel. This was followed by Love is Better Than Ever, made in 1951 but released in 1952. In this film Rose dresses Elizabeth Taylor in New Look dresses. Elizabeth had become themodel for teenage girls, and both the New Look and Helen Rose became hot.
The New Look with its petticoats and prim attention to proper dress seems foreign to the last 30 years of teenage styles, but it was the trend of the day. As ever, teenage girls wanted to look different than their mothers. Shown below is a costume sketch designed by Mary Wills for the movie Teenage Rebel, from 1956. This design was for the teenager played by Betty Lou Keim, the “rebellious” daughter of the character played by Ginger Rogers. A teenage girl yearning for womanhood and showing decollete was the height of fashionable statements of the day.
Elizabeth Taylor matured quickly. The red dress that Helen Rose designed for her in The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), caused problems with the on-set fiilm censor because of the amount of cleavage that was displayed. This caused a work stoppage and loud arguments by the director Richard Brooks. Brooks ultimately won.
Elizabeth Taylor and Helen Rose teamed up on the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1958. Helen Rose created a dress that would become the fashion rage. The “Cat” dress it would be called, and garment manufacturers were knocking it off all over the world. The chiffon cocktail dress with full skirt and Grecian bodice became so popular that Helen Rose decided to start her own fashion line, and continued selling it in various colors for years. When dressing Elizabeth Taylor, her shoulders and chest were always emphasized to good effect.
Another screen goddess from the 1950s was Grace Kelly. Her smashing entrance into Jimmy Stewart’s apartment in Rear Window (1956) dressed in Edith Head’s stunning black and white evening outfit is unforgettable. The costume is a simple black decollete top and a full white chiffon skirt decorated with beaded twig decorations in black. It was one of Edith Head’s best designs. Grace wears black strappy heels with the outfit.
Edith Head also designed Grace Kelly’s costumes for To Catch a Thief (1955). Grace Kelly was the perfect embodiment of the 1950s sexual image: the wholesome and proper young woman with a lurking sexual appetite, waiting for the right occasion. “Do you want a leg or a breast” she asks Cary Grant as they go out on a picnic. Her rose-colored skirt and white-embroidered sleeveless top shown below is a beautifully-designed outfit for the occasion.
Grace Kelly had worked as a model in her acting student years, and her poise shows in the photo below, wearing an Edith Head gown for the 1955 Academy Awards, where she won Best Actress for Country Girl.
Doris Day seemed to represent the ethos of the 1950s in America. She had started as a singer with big bands and became a hit with the movie Romance on the High Seas, in 1948. U.S. G.I.s in Korea voted her their favorite movie star in 1950. Her movies in the 1950s often had songs that became hit singles, and her teamwork with co-stars Rock Hudson and Tony Randall started in 1959 with Pillow Talk and continued into the 1960s. Doris Day was always a great dresser in her roles, and she worked with the best: Jean Louis; Edith Head; Helen Rose, and she was especially close to Irene, with whom she worked on Midnight Lace, and Lover Come Back, two of the last three movies Irene designed before her death.
In the photo below Doris Day wears a popular leisure outfit of the 1950s, capri pants, called pedal pushers in the day, along with a long-sleeved, collared blouse.
Some actresses were more daring in their looks on screen, and film directors and producers pushed to accent their beauty and sexual appeal. Martha Hyer is shown below in 1957, showing the silhouette that emphasized the then-popular missile-cone bustline.
The movie star looks of Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, and Kim Novak in the1950s created a huge demand for a moulded silhouette emphasizing curves and a prominent bust line. What was achieved through foundation undergarments on film was now becoming increasingly available to the average woman consumer. Nylon was making bras lighter and cheaper, and conical stitching was providing that perfect “missile bra” look so desired in the mid 1950s.
The “Sweater Girl” look had also became popular, starting with the films of Lana Turner. In the 1950s there was a competition for the title of “National Sweater Queen.” In the early 50s the tight sweater was worn with the very full circle skirts made popular by the New Look. Later in the decade and into the early 1960s, tight pants were joined with tight sweaters to make the very hot look as shown below by Kim Novak.
And of course what would the 1950s be without Marilyn Monroe, star then and everlasting star. She had so many looks, but costume and fashion designer William “Billy” Travilla dressed her best in her films for 20th Century-Fox. Below she wears a gold lame gown from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Travilla knew how to accentuate Marilyn’s curves while providing her glamorous and beautiful costumes. He was also daring with such outfits as the one below.
As the 1950s rolled into the early 1960s, fashions made no particularly big swings. The “revolutionary” styles were around the corner in 1963 and beyond. The sexual revolution of the 1960s was concentrated on the young. By then the sexual tidal wave in film fashion had already been crashing on the censor’s gates for years.
Skin and beads, the name I gave this post, is based on what Marilyn Monroe called her Jean Louis-designed gown from 1962, the one where she sang Happy Birthday Mr. Presidentto John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden. Indeed, the main advantage of a dress made of glass bugle beads is that their weight presses against the skin. You either see the skin left exposed, or you clearly see the contours of the wearer since the beads hug the figure with from the gravity of their weight. And the beads not only reflect light, but are themselves translucent, and sewn onto the sheerest of silk chiffons. They are made of cut glass, an can be colored or lined in silver or gold. Marlene Dietrich belowknew how to pose in a gown made of bugle beads. This one was designed for her by the costume and fashion designer Irene. Little skin actually shows, yet you feel that all of her is showing.
The tubular bugle beads can be sewn solidly on a dress, or they can be used sparingly for decoration. Bugle beads shared the same limelight as sequins in the 1920s, when glitter was in favor (did it ever go away?). Sequins don’t let the light through, and they are much lighter in weight, an advantage in cost of production and wearability. But sequins don’t flatter the screen figure like beads do. Below a young Joan Crawford wears a fur wrap and nude souffle (not pronounced soufflay) dress bodice, both decorated in bugle beads and sequins, here in a photo by Ruth Harriet Louise from 1926.
With Jean Harlow, Adrian had the perfect figure on which to mold a nightgown made of bugle beads, accented with ostrich plume sleeves. The contrast of the shiny, reptilian skin of the beads, along with the fuzzy-nest sleeves of the nightgown, provided the perfect symbolic duality of the good-bad girl that was Jean Harlow. The photographer Harvey White captured this essence perfectly in the photo below from Dinner at Eight.
While rarely paired on film, Jean Harlow and Clark Gable made a compelling couple in films like Red Dust. The chiaroscuro of black and white photography byHurrell captures their radiance. The Adrian-designed gown of bugle beads reflects the light as it reflects her figure.The two stars are perfectly comfortable with each other. This type of dual portrait photography is a lost art. The photo below is from Saratoga, her last film.
Adrian designed another knock-out gown of solid bugle beads for Joan Crawford in The Bride Wore Red, 1937, It was made of red bugle beads, and provided a key role in the plot of the film. Vintage beaded movie gowns rarely survived. Due to their weight, they would rip apart if left on hangers for long. This one miraculously survived at MGM because a wardrobe lady had placed it in a drawer where it was forgotten for decades. It is now in the collection of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
The Bride Wore Red gown in all its red glory is shown below in London at the V&A Museum’s Hollywood Costume Exhibition from 2013. The exhibition went on the road and finished its tour in 2015 at the future site of the Museum of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The photo below shows Carole Lombard in a beaded gown designed by Robert Kalloch for Brief Moment,1933, from Columbia Pictures. Travis Banton had designed her Paramount movies and then Irene took over her wardrobe designing until Lombard’s untimely death in 1942. She was always photogenic and looked great whether in glamour or everyday clothes.
The bugle beads these fabulous gowns were made from were usually silver-lined, which gave them their highly reflective quality. But the beads could be made of colored glass. Jeanette MacDonald below wears an Adrian designed gown of blue bugle beads in the film Sweetheartsin 1938. The back of the gown shows just enough skin to be tantalizing, and with Jeanette’s back framed with a yoke and swags of beading, it emphasizes Adrian’s favored V-line silhouette. The front was very close-fitting like Joan Crawford’s red-beaded gown in The Bride Wore Red.
Lana Turner, another platinum blonde, always looked smashing in black. Irene designed her wardrobe after Adrian left MGM, including this black bugle-beaded gown for Slightly Dangerous in in 1942.
Things became more colorful in the 1950s, especially when Marilyn Monroe was on the scene. Blonds were still popular, which Marilyn cast in cement for several more decades, especially in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953. Jane Russel was the brunette serving as contrast. The gowns were designed by Travilla. Marilyn’s gown sold at the Debbie Reynolds auction in 2011 for $1.44 million.
Marilyn Monroe had some fabulous designers working with her: Charles LeMaire,Travilla, Orry-Kelly, and Jean Louis. The black souffle dress below is decorated with strands of bugle beads. It was designed by Orry-Kelly for her in Some Like it Hot, 1958.
Pictured below is the famous 1962 Happy Birthday Mr. Presidentdress designed by Jean Louis, otherwise known by her as the “skin and beads” dress. Actually it was made of a flesh-colored souffle, and decorated with rhinestones, not beads. But Marilyn’s point was that it was tight enough to be her skin. It sold at auction at Christie’s New York for $1.2 million in 1999.
Glass beads are expensive but ever in style. The famous model Verushka of the 1960s wears this outfit in the legendary film Blow Up, in 1966. In this outfit, which is actually a short nightgown with open sides, Verushka poses for the photographer played by David Hemmings.
The glamour of beaded gowns has moved from the screen to the red carpet in recent years. Two striking examples are shown below.
Selena Gomez wears a gold beaded Pucci at a 2014 Oscars after-party. The Pucci runway gown was modified to add the cutaway at the bust and to reveal more skin along with the beads.
Blake Lively wears a figure-hugging Zuhar Murad Couture nude- colored gown with black bead stripes at the movie premiere of Savages. The stripes are wild and not many could pull off this look but Blake Lively is one of them.
Glamour never dies, nor does the influence of classic Hollywood costume and fashion design.
This post was modified from the 100th post of my former Silver Screen Modiste blog. It’s now my 48th of Silver Screen Modes.
The Museum of Brisbane in Australia recently completed a hugely popular exhibition based on the Nicholas Inglis collection, Costumes from the Golden Age of Hollywood. As its title denotes, it was devoted to the costumes designed and worn on the screen during Hollywood’s Golden Age of film, from the 1920s through the 1960s. The exhibition ran from November 2014 through May 2015. Over 200,000 people visited the exhibition, one of the most ambitious the Museum of Brisbane ever held. To say the least, Nicholas Inglis is a passionate classic film fan and serious, even fanatic, classic film costume collector. The fortuitous story of how the Museum and the Collector collaborated (although they were in the same city these things do not just happen in museums), is told in this interview. The exhibition was initiated by Museum Deputy Director Christopher Salter when he approached Nicholas Inglis about a possible exhibition, which started a three year project, which also involved co-curator Dr. Nadia Buick. I recently spoke with Nicholas about the exhibition and asked him for an interview for the Silver Screen Modes. Nick and I have been communicating long distance for many years over the subject of classic Hollywood costume design and designers, and have both been collecting in that field. I also had the privilege of writing an essay for the catalogue of the exhibition, which completely sold out. Here is Nick’s interview, along with a sampling of his own photos. Many more can be found at Nick’s own blog The Vintage Film Costume Collector
What is it about the Golden Age of Hollywood that appeals to you so much?
I have always had a love for the film classics of the 30’s and 40’s and 50’s. As a teenager I used to write to the performers for autographs. I also grew up watching the film classics. My Aunt owned the Dawn theatre at Chermside (Brisbane) so I got to watch some amazing films there as well. For me the Golden Age of Hollywood represents a time in movie making that no longer exists, a time when movies were special, they were an event for those going to the movies and were made with performers who were stars in every sense of the word. It was also a time in movie making when the quality of the talent both on screen and behind were at the best and when the studios had the resources to make films that were the best of their kind and indeed that today continue to be seen and enjoyed.
There were 69 pieces are on exhibit as part of the exhibition at the Museum of Brisbane. How many pieces do you actually own?
There were 300 costume pieces in the collection. I have never really stopped to count them and it was only during this process of bringing the collection out to display that the whole collection was catalogued in such a way that it was counted and documented. The collection also includes stage worn pieces, posters, autographs and other film related memorabilia.
Is it difficult to maintain a collection of that size?
The costumes are stored in a facility, in acid free boxes and tissue paper. They are reclined to give them the best chance of survival. Being fabrics they do have a shelf life so it is important to ensure you are doing everything you can for them in terms of their ongoing survival. Luckily you can also fit a number of costumes in a storage box thanks to their being fabrics and can be layered. They are not stored on mannequins.
Do you intend to extend your collection beyond the Golden Age of Hollywood?
I have collected and purchased from what could be described as more modern day films. I really only venture into that side of things if it is a film I have loved or have enjoyed a great deal. I have costumes worn by Bernadette Peters and Aileen Quinn from the film “Annie” and I have pieces worn by Robin Williams and Nathan Lane from “The Birdcage”. I also have a Nicole Kidman period costume from ‘Portrait of A Lady”. I am happy to say that I also have costumes from an modern day Australian classic with a trio of costumes worn by the main stars in the film ‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”. So really for me sometimes it is a matter of I don’t know what I may want to add to the collection until I have seen it!
How much involvement did you have in selecting the pieces shown for the exhibition?
When the museum approached me, they asked to see all the pieces that made up the collection. From there they then went away and put together a proposal of pieces that represented the story of not only my collection and how it came to be here in Brisbane but also in relation to the history of film in the Golden Age as well as the costumes which made this era so fascinating. I did hint a number of times in relation to the pieces which were perhaps favourites and they were included in the exhibit. It was a wonderful selection of pieces from my collection and the museum and the curators Christopher Salter and Nadia Buick have done an amazing job in putting together this feast for the senses.
What did you want people to get out of seeing the exhibition?
I wanted people to see not only the great craftsmanship and talent that went into the making of the costumes that were used during this era, but also to give people an understanding of what it was to be a star in the Golden Age of Hollywood and how the studios spared no expense in terms of creating these treasures for the screen. Coming up close to the pieces you also get an idea of the detail and time that it would have taken to put these pieces together and only to be seen on screen sometimes for just a few minutes. I am also happy to say that visitors to the exhibition have also gone away wanting to connect with some of the films that are represented so hopefully I am sparking a whole new generation of people wanting to see and enjoy some of these great films.
Was it difficult to choose which ones you would include and which ones you wouldn’t?
It was at first difficult knowing that only a limited number of pieces would be in the exhibition but it was really never the case that they could all be. There was just too much to show. The museum did have trouble in choosing what would go in for that very same reason, that there was so much too choose from. Some amazing pieces didn’t make the cut but hopefully that will be for another exhibition. What was used for the exhibit was a wonderful selection and representation of my collection.
You’ve been collecting since 1995. Have you ever missed out on a piece you particularly wanted?
Yes and it happens quite a lot. There are dedicated auction and houses around the world that specialize in entertainment memorabilia and when the auctions or sales come along, pieces are highly sought after and in demand. I have missed out on a many a piece over the years. There is one piece in the exhibition for example, a Carmen Miranda costume from the film ‘Nancy Goes to Rio’ and made at MGM studios in 1950. I had to bid on the piece three times over a number of years and at three different auctions until I was able to acquire it. So third time lucky!
You have various pieces from particular actresses such as Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor. Is there a particular actor or designer you are drawn to when hunting new pieces?
When you are collecting for a number of years, you do eventually start to step back and ask what is it that you are missing or what is it that would you like. There are a number of performers that I am still searching for, a Marlene Dietrich costume piece for example. I seem to be drawn to some performers more than others and do have multiple costumes from stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, Susan Hayward and Maureen O’Hara. I expect there is something about them as performers that drives me to add pieces from their films.
If I was to mention a designer, Walter Plunkett is a favourite. He designed for some film classics including ‘Gone with the Wind’ and ‘Singin in the Rain’. He was the best of the best when it came to period design in film which is an area of film making that I love. There are a number of pieces in the exhibit designed by Plunkett including an amazing period gown worn by Lana Turner in the MGM film ‘Diane’ and a Katharine Hepburn costume from the original film version of ‘Little Women’ made in 1933 at RKO studios.
What’s the most expensive piece you’ve ever bought?
I have been a very lucky collector when it comes to being in the right place at the right time. I have bought from private collectors and have found items on auction sites such as eBay. A pair of boots for example worn by Judy Garland and made for her role as Annie Oakely in ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ 1950 were on display and were an eBay purchase. I picked them up for $200. I also have a photo of Judy Garland wearing the boots which were also on display. So it is really a matter of looking for those hidden treasures!
Have you ever bought something sight unseen and it’s turned out to be a complete disappointment?
Quite often the pieces you are buying have had a number of lives, some can be as old at 80! And where the have been or where they have been stored since leaving the studios is seen in terms of their state today. They do come torn, altered, dirty, discoloured, or even as has happened on some occasions, literally falling apart in your hands. The thing about costumes is that they were made for a limited purpose, to be seen on screen for a short period of time and for the actor to perform their role. After that the costumes went back into storage to be used again on another actor, or redesigned or resized for alternate use. Costumes have been stored in attics, been hanging on hangers for 50 or more years, and have time has taken its toll. It is only in the past 40 years really that collectors have seen the need to preserve as much as is possible of what has remained of this film history.
What are some of your favorite pieces from your collection?
I have always had difficulties answering that one. It is hard to pick a favorite. I do have favorite genres such as the movie musicals or the period films so I drawn to those and you can see that from the exhibit. I do have a Barbra Streisand piece as worn in the film ‘Funny Girl’ which I love for a number of reasons including that it is a film favourite, that it just looks amazing, and that it came from Ms Streisand herself. There are occasions when performers are able to retain pieces from their films and Barbra did just that. It is great to have that history trail to go wit the piece. The piece is also in the exhibition.
How do you acquire pieces for your collection?
See above re: the auction houses, internet auction sites, from other collectors and people who were at the original film studio auctions.
What happens to the collection when it’s not on exhibit?
When not on show, the items are in storage, preserved and protected from the elements, and until they can come out again and to be enjoyed.
Since the Exhibition has finished at the Museum of Brisbane. Do you intend to show it elsewhere?
I would dearly love to continue this journey of displaying pieces for the public to enjoy so I am hoping that museums across the country not only get to see the exhibition but also hopefully take an interest in displaying these amazing pieces of Hollywood history. The exhibit has been very successful with over 200,000 visitors to the exhibit since it opened in late November 2014. It is wonderful to see so much interest in the collection!
What are some of the pieces you own that people didn’t get to see in the exhibition?
Some other pieces that are not in the exhibition include a Mae West period gown designed by Travis Banton and worn in her 1934 film ‘Belle of the Nineties’. Another rare piece is a costume worn by Theda Bara in the 1917 silent version of the film ‘Cleopatra’. The film itself is now considered lost however it is amazing for me that the piece survives and that I have been able to find so many photos of the costume being worn by Theda Bara. There is certainly enough pieces for further exhibitions and a few times over! There is also so much in terms of the collection that displays can be put together based on so many different subjects.
Do you collect anything else or are Hollywood costumes your only specialty?
Joan Crawford started almost at the birth of MGM, in the silent, show-girl and flapper days of 1925. She even started before she was Joan Crawford. Her film career began under the name of Lucille Le Sueur, but when Louis B. Mayer noticed the vivacious and pretty Charleston dancer, he thought the name Le Sueur sounded too much like sewer, and so had it changed to Joan Crawford.
Joan had her first starring role in Sally, Irene and Mary in 1925, playing fast-living chorus girl Irene along with Sally (Constance Bennett) and Mary (Sally O’Neill). They each have their personalities, loves, and adventures, but it’s Irene that has the tragic end. Her next starring role was as the circus gypsy girl Nanon in The Unknown in 1927. Due to Lon Chaney’s acting it is as intense a silent film as you’re ever likely to see. Joan said she learned how to act from working with Lon Chaney in this film.
And then came Our Dancing Daughters in 1928, Joan’s first big starring role and the movie that made her a hit with young women across the country. Adrian had just been made Head Costume Designer at MGM, having come to the studio with producer Cecil B. DeMille that year. Adrian designed her costumes for the sequel film, Our Modern Maidens, and her next 28 films at MGM, creating her look on screen and off. About Adrian Joan Crawford later said, “Dear Adrian, he was the greatest costume designer of them all. There will never be a greater one.”
Joan realized early the importance of the star-making machinery, of which costume design was a foundation. Adrian’s talents extended beyond his fashion art, but embedded in his work was his understanding of the needs of the role, and significantly, the psychology of the actress and what it would take her to create that extra spark of creativity on the screen. In Joan’s flapper days, such as in Our Dancing Daughters (designed by David Cox)and in Our Modern Maidens, shown below, Joan embodied the notion of the flapper and was dressed perfectly as one. Later, when she played the sophisticated “kept woman” in Mannequin, Adrian dressed her in a completely different style for that role. And Joan absorbed these lessons in style and stardom eagerly. She wanted to pattern her stardom after Gloria Swanson, the greatest star from years before. Gloria Swanson was a fashion icon, always well dressed – always the star – a role played on and off the lot.
Adrian found Joan Crawford fascinating. Like the MGM star he loved most to dress, Greta Garbo, 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 reportedly 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 out. Greta Garbo had wide shoulders too and Adrian used wide-shoulder costumes for both of them from 1929 on, 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, almost dominant face of Joan Crawford below 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 seen in decades due to a copyright dispute, but 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 American designers and sold at every price-point. Parisian designed 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 has often been cited as selling 50,000, or even 500,000 copies of the dress, although both figures are gross exaggerations done for marketing reasons. Versions of the dress can still be seen as wedding gowns.
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.
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, and its open structure showed 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.”
Adrian used the symbolic power of the modified trench-coat on Joan Crawford, just as he had with Greta Garbo since 1928. 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/ the character Mark Whitney, running for governor, but that he is an honorable man that once belonged to her but that 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. It 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.
TCM’s Summer Under the Stars is also playing Sadie McKee, a story where Joan starts out as a household maid, then becomes a dancer, and finally the wife of a rich man, though not the man she loves, 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 of course 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.
Probably the film where costume plays its most important role ever is The Bride Wore Red (1937), directed by Dorothy Arzner and starring Joan Crawford with Franchot Tone and Robert Young. Simply, an aristocrat character 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 there 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 feel like she has chosen the wrong wardrobe for the occasion.
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 photo below shows the gown as it looks today, miraculously preserved and in the collection of the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, although here shown at the Hollywood Costume exhibition at the V&A Museum in London.
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 in the Hollywood dream factories.
The year 1947 was a notable year for that developing genre of film, later to be dubbed Film Noir. Black Film – a style of bleak film-making fostered by the horrors of the recent end of World War II. Soldiers and sailors had just returned home after seeing all types of misery and death. Women had been on their own, working, if they hadn’t also served overseas. They were now tough and independent, and in Film Noir they gave as good as they got. They may have been the femme fatale, but their fate was no better than that of their marks. A new realism was expected in the movies, reflecting the tough adjustment being made by tens of thousands of servicemen suffering from the yet to be diagnosed ailments of post traumatic stress disorder.
The film-making techniques of Film Noir themselves were also well-suited to the new realities of lower budgets at the movie studios. The foreign markets had disappeared altogether during the war, and were still soft in the post WWII war-torn economy. These techniques are classic in Noir: black & white film, B-film actors and directors, light and shadow to emphasize drama, humble interior sets and street location filming, flashbacks and voice-overs to tell part of the story, and single camera filming. Dialogue was key and always used a snappy back and forth style borrowed from pulp fiction, Raymond Chandler, and street slang. Let’s take a look at some of the best of a large crop of films noir produced in 1947.
BRUTE FORCE: Directed by Jules Dassin starring Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, Yvonne de Carlo and Ann Blyth. Using a flashback technique, several prison inmates including Burt Lancaster as Joe Collins live out their days in a cell. Their sole diversion is a picture of a beautiful young woman, upon which they play out their nostalgic recollections of past sweethearts. Their flashbacks also revisit the circumstances that led each to prison, often involving betrayals. The ambitious prison captain played by Hume Cronyn is cruel and sadomasochistic, tempered only slightly by the prison doctor and warden. “Brute force” is what the doctor, played by Art Smith, calls prison Captain Munsey.The cell-mates’ miserable lives are made worse by the threat of stool pigeons in their midst. Hard labor assignments are given them in the prison drain pipes where they plan a prison breakout. Only a stoolie passes on the info, and a shootout results, and then a bigger prison breakout attempt.The doctor’s parting words say it all, “Nobody escapes. Nobody ever really escapes.” In this case that goes for the prison captain too.
The flashback trope of film noir works effectively here and serves as the light in contrast to the dark shadows of betrayal, fate. and prison life. The very early films of Burt Lancaster showed him as a perfect film noir actor. There was no ham or bravado, just the stoicism needed for the role. Director Jules Dassin was blacklisted in Hollywood so Daryl Zanuck at Fox sent him to London to make that masterpiece of Noir, Night and the City ((1950). He then moved to France where he made another Noir masterpiece, Rififi (1954).
KISS OF DEATH: Directed by Henry Hathaway, starring Victor Mature, Coleen Gray, Richard Widmark, Brian Donlevy and Karl Malden. This Fox film was based on a story by Eleazar Lipsky, with screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer. It was filmed on location in New York in several places including The Tombs, the Bronx County jail, the downtown Criminal Courts Building, the Louisa M. Alcott house on Sullivan Street, the Chrysler Building and the Hotel Marguery. Other locations included Sing Sing Prison and Astoria, NY, and Fort Lee, NJ, all sites original to the story. The story itself centers on the character played by Victor Mature, a jewel thief and his gang who get nabbed. He is pressed to turn evidence on the others but refuses, under the mistaken assumption that his lawyer will take care of his wife and young daughters. With a long prison term and a tragic fate for his family, he later agrees to work with the D.A. and is released on parole. His former baby-sitter played by Coleen Gray tells him what has happened and they begin a relationship. Her character uses voice-over to tell parts of the story. His goal is to get a sadistic drug user named Udo, played by Richard Widmark.
One scene in the movie made Richard Widmark famous, where he confronts Ma Rizzo, a gangster’s mother who is in a wheel chair, and pushes her down the stairs. The rest of the film was who was going to kill or capture whom. The Joseph Breen controlled Production Code Administration had problems with a lot of the script: drug-use and the Law’s reliance on stoolies to get their job done. The wheelchair-down-the-stairs scene was not well liked either. Richard Widmark in his first film had made his name. He was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actor.
NIGHTMARE ALLEY: Directed by Edmund Goulding, starring Tyrone Power, Coleen Gray, Joan Blondell, Helen Walker, and Mike Mazurki. This Fox film was an unusual Noir, mainly due to its carnival setting and its fake spiritualist con game. It was also an unusual role for Tyrone Power, one he wanted desperately to play in order do get away from the handsome cavalier roles he was always portraying. Daryl Zanuck did not like the idea, however, of him playing the role of Stan Carlisle in the movie,. Carlisle was a smart and ambitious carnival worker, looking for an angle. So he angled himself into the carnival tricks of Zeena (Joan Blundell) and Pete the alcoholic. Only he draws a bad Tarot card and Carlisle’s manipulative spiritualist con spirals up and then down, as he becomes an alcoholic and eventually a carnival geek, the lowest of the low among the travelling folk. All of this after he himself was manipulated out of all the money he cleverly swindled from other people in his spiritualist con game. His degradation is superbly acted by Tyrone Power, who was so cocky at the beginning of the film.
The script was based on William Lindsay Gresham’s pessimistic novel. The Production Code was not a fan of the resulting script, and the sexual relationships had to be eliminated. An even worse end for Power’s character was changed by Zanuck. Nonetheless, Tyrone Power’s fans did not like this role for their idol, and the film flopped. Today it is considered a cult classic and a Noir favorite.
POSSESSED: Directed by Curtis Bernhardt, starring Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, and Geraldine Brooks, Warner Brothers. This disorienting Noir classic begins with Joan Crawford as the deeply disturbed Louise Howell as she is found wandering the nighttime streets of L.A. and is taken to a psychiatric hospital (back in the day when people cared and there were facilities to treat such people). Joan/Louise tells the doctor her story, a complex tale of reality and psychological fantasy caused by the death of her nursing charge, the wife of David Graham. Mrs. Graham’s daughter’s voice spooks her into thinking she is still alive, with jealous undertones implying a possible affair. The man Louise really loves, David Sutton, played by Van Heflin, always seems to be detached. Louise decides to quit but Dean asks her to marry him. They wed, but her past always interferes with her happiness. She imagines the ghost of David’s wife and believes that she was the one that killed her. She and Dean run into David, who is dating Dean’s daughter. They become engaged. David was the one she always loved and she becomes more and more unbalanced. She tells Carol that David really loved her. Dean tells her she needs to see a psychiatrist. She goes to David who tells her he will tell Dean all about their former affair. That’s when the pistol blazes.
Possessed is one of the few Noirs told from the woman’s point of view. It also won Joan Crawford an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
BORN TO KILL: Directed by Robert Wise starring Lawrence Tierney, Clare Trevor, Audrey Long, Walter Slezak, Elisha Cook Jr. and Esther Howard. Produced at RKO. Eddie Muller called this film noir, “The most perverse film of 1947.” Joseph Breen of the PCA described this film as “the kind of story which ought not to be made because it is a story of gross lust and shocking brutality and ruthlessness.” The film was based on the book, Deadlier Than the Male, by James Gunn. RKO had to tone down some of the violence to get PCA approval. Still, the movie opens up with two cold-blooded murders committed by Sam Wilde (Lawrence Tierney), and when Helen Brent (Clare Trevor) returns to the boarding house of Mrs Kraft, and sees the bodies, she cooly flees, taking a train to San Francisco from Reno where she was there to get a divorce. Taking the same trip is Sam, who strikes up a flirtation. They had met briefly in Reno’s casino before she returned to see the murder victims. She is uninterested, but is equal parts attracted and repelled by him. In San Francisco, he comes to visit her at her rich half-sister’s house, where Helen’s fiance is present. To Helen’s distress, Sam courts Georgia, her rich half-sister, whom she is jealous of. Soon the two marry, but Sam shows he’s really interested in Helen, seeing in her a kindred spirit. Meanwhile Mrs. Kraft hires a private detective to investigate the murders, and he finds his way into the mansion during the wedding, and finds evidence that Sam committed the murders. He relays this to Mrs Kraft, who Helen then visits and threatens her by saying Sam would kill her if she conveyed that information to the police. Mrs Kraft sees the cool manipulation behind the threat, and says, “You’re the coldest iceberg of a woman I ever saw. I wouldn’t trade places with you if they sliced me into little pieces.” And soon enough Sam’s friend does try to slice her up. And most everyone gets it one way or the other in this movie. Eddie Muller’s description pretty much summed it up. It’s a pretty black film noir.
HIGH WALL: Directed by Curtis Bernhardt, starring Robert Taylor, Audrey Totter, Herbert Marshall, Dorothy Patrick, and H.B. Warner. MGM. This little known Noir is another directed by the German Curtis Bernhardt, who directed Possessed, above. This has a somewhat similar plot as The Blue Dahlia, where U.S serviceman, Steven Kenet played by Robert Taylor, also a pilot, returns to a wife who is having an affair with her boss. Soon after his return he is arrested after an accident where he tries to kill himself – with her dead body in the trunk of his car. Only now he remembers nothing. He is placed in a psychiatric hospital where a blood clot is found in his brain. Surgery is called for to remove it but he refuses the surgery. The Assistant D..A. suspects that Kenet is angling for an innocent plea based on a mental defect. Dr. Ann Larison played by Audrey Totter convinces him that he should have the surgery in order to keep his son from going to an orphanage. The surgery cures him but his memory of the event does not come back. Only after she gives him sodium pentothal does he recall what happened, and who the real guilty party was. By then he and Ann were falling for each other. And when someone stepped forward with some evidence but was then murdered, they hatched a plan. Only he is still confined to the psychiatric hospital, or can he get out to prove himself?
This is a stylish Noir with deep black and white cinematography and fine acting. It deserves better recognition.
T MEN: Directed by Anthony Mann, starring Dennis O’Keefe, June Lockhart, Mary Meade, Wally Ford and Alfred Ryder. The movie was shot in a documentary style about the Treasury Men and the crooks they were after. Location shooting took place in several places in Los Angeles and Detroit, Washington, New York, and San Pedro, including the L.A. locales of the Farmer’s Market, and the former Pacific Ocean Park. The story is about a couple of Treasury officers infiltrating a counterfeiting gang in L.A. Their cover is that of bank robbers – but their mission is dangerous, and one of them will not come out alive. The cinema verite style is perfect for the story that was ripped right out of the files of the Treasury Department.
OUT OF THE PAST: Directed by Jacques Tourneur, starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming and Virginia Huston. RKO. This classic Noir is also my favorite, an outstanding mixture of talent, story, cinematography, and film noir filmmaking. The story opens with Robert Mitchum as Jeff Bailey enjoying a peaceful life in California’s Sierra Mountains, working at a gas station when two former shady acquaintances from out of his past drive up. In a film noir movie that’s never a good sign. They want him to see a former client from his P.I. days, and he agrees to go. This prompts him to tell his girlfriend Ann about his past before he goes. Kirk Douglas as Whit Sterling has a new P.I. job for him for good money: find the girlfriend that shot Whit and then ran off with $40,000 of his money. Jeff finds her after several days of loitering in the cantinas of Acapulco. And after several rounds of sharp cat-and-mouse dialogue and some flirting, Jeff falls in love and into the clutches of the doe-eyed beauty and femme fatale Jane Greer/Kathie Moffat. This was made easier by her protests of innocence. But Whit trusts no one and shows up in Acapulco.. Luckily they were not spied together, and Jeff and Kathie manage their escape. They live together for a while, but fate always lingers in film noir, and a blackmailer spots them and trails them to a cabin in the woods.. As the men fight it out in the chiaroscuro lighting, Kathie looks on with delight, waiting for the right moment to shoot and kill the blackmailer, then take off with the $40,000 she had all along. From there she ends up back in the arms of Whit Sterling, and now Jeff Bailey is the sucker, having to pay off debts to Whit by doing lousy jobs that lead into a downward spiral of bad fortune for all.
The year of 1947 had many more Noir films of merit. The entire year had many excellent films , blogged about in the 1947 Blogathon, hosted by ShadowsandSatin and Speakeasy
In the beginning of Hollywood’s Golden Age in the 1930s, movie marketing was already an old trade, but one of its newest tools was selling the movies based on the fashions that would be worn by the stars that appeared in them. Unlike recent times, it was the women that decided what movies a couple would see, and women stars dominated the screen. In the late 1920s, exotic costumes or bold flapper looks were already drawing attention. But with the arrival of the 1930s, the studios planned methodical campaigns to attract women to the new releases by placing fashion images of the stars from the upcoming movies in magazines and newspapers. For this marketing to work, the stars’ costumes would have to be the best and most appealing fashions, and so the studios hired the best designers they could find.
And the studios publicized their designers almost as much as their movie stars, and they became household names during the heyday of the 1930s. Newspapers regularly covered film fashion as part of the publicity for a film: what the stars wore; and which costume designer was responsible, all as part of a film’s publicity. Fan magazines like Photoplay, Screenland, Movie Mirror, and others regularly carried articles and photographs about what film fashions and costumes the stars would be wearing and what tips on dressing the costume designers had for the average woman. In the 1930s through the 1950s, print media was the dominant form of advertizing and promotion, and the combination of print and still photography was used to sell movies by promoting the look of the movie stars. This meant an emphasis on fashion and costumes, and since the female audience had been found to make most of the decisions on which movie showings to attend, this well into the 1940s, women were specifically targeted by emphasizing the importance of costuming in film. This was at the very peak of film attendance in U.S. history. This period was also one where women entered the workforce in large quantities. There was a shift from rural to urban living, and one where young women were influenced by the dress of the young female stars on the screen, often playing roles that echoed their own lives. Realistic or not, the message often was, “with the right clothes you get the right breaks.”
The contemporary movies, those depicting the times when the movie was released, were those where the studios could produce the most publicity about the fashions worn by the stars on-screen. Accordingly, male and female actors wore the fashions of the day, at least of the day when the movie was made. Since fashion trends change so quickly, classic Hollywood always had a potential problem with its contemporary movies. Even in the heyday of the studio factory system, it took a number of months between the time costumes were designed and when the film was released. During those months a new style could be launched, or a current style could become passé. This happened in 1929 when the popular irregular-length, handkerchief-hemmed dress was suddenly demode when Jean Patou introduced the long skirt. Movies featuring the former looked out of fashion, and some had to be re-edited with actresses filmed from the waist up. This happened relatively early in Hollywood’s history, but from then on the studio moguls decided they would employ the best costume designers they could find, and would emphasize a classic Hollywood style of fashion, and one that took full advantage of the sex appeal of their roster of stars and starlets.
Thus in the 1930s, MGM had Adrian, who created the looks for Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Jeanette MacDonald, and many others. At Paramount there was Howard Greer followed by Travis Banton and then Edith Head. Warner Brothers had Orry-Kelly and Milo Anderson. RKO had Walter Plunkett, Bernard Newman and Edward Stevenson. Fox, later the merged 20th Century-Fox had several designers come and go until Charles LeMaire became the Head Designer. Irene, working out of Bullock’s Wilshire, designed the wardrobe for major stars at several studios.
Samuel Goldwyn wanted to capitalize on fashion for his movies, going to France and the Haute Couture for a designer, where he found Chanel. He thought he could get both publicity and the avoidance of the problems of changing hemlines and styles by going direct to Paris. He hired her in 1931 to design the costumes for his film The Greeks Had a Word for It. Chanel also designed the costumes for Gloria Swanson in Tonight or Never in 1931. But Chanel and Swanson never got along , or were able able to establish a working relationship. Chanel was in Hollywood to take her measurements but then went back to Paris. By the time the costumes were made Gloria was pregnant and they no longer fit. And while the costumes were chic, they seemed to fall flat on the screen. In any event the film never did well and Chanel never came back to work as a costume designer.
It was in the 1930s that the iconic look of Hollywood glamour was developed by costume designers Adrian, Travis Banton, Irene, and others. This was done out of a need for that timeless style, but using a combination of new couture techniques of bias-cut dressmaking with luxurious fabrics like silk satin for form-fitting gowns worn by stars like Jean Harlow ,Joan Crawford, Claudette Colbert, and Carole Lombard. And the costume designers not only designed the look of glamour, but the simple-but-elegant styles that women aspired to, as well as the casual outdoor styles and bathing suits popular in California. During Hollywood’s Golden Age, American woman looked to movies for their fashion cues, and women across the world did too.
The imagery and glamour of Golden Age Hollywood was developed in synchronicity with the tools to sell the movies through fashion. The Studio Portrait Gallery and its skilled photographers were put to use in taking glamour photos of the stars in their stunning gowns and beautiful dresses, all costumes they would be wearing in their upcoming movies. These ravishing images would be placed in fan magazine glossies and would still look good in newspapers. The most expensive of the movie magazines, Photoplay, cost 25 cents in the 1930s. Vogue cost 35 cents while Harpers Bazaar cost 50 cents. The cost of a movie ticket was 25 cents in 1936.
In the January 1932 issue, Photoplay had the article, “Let Screen Clothes be Your Guide to Wearable Fashions,” with a photo-spread of stars in current movies including Joan Crawford in Possessed. and Norma Shearer in Private Lives, both designed by Adrian. Photoplay magazine also had the leading studio costume designers give the “Fashion Forecast” for the seasons. Kalloch wrote his forecast article for early Fall, 1935, outlining fabrics, furs, skirt lengths and other design elements, all accompanied with photos of the stars he designed for in their coming films. Travis Banton did the same for Photoplay for Autumn 1935, the article including some of his costume sketches. Banton stated there would be return to the era of elegance, with rich fabrics, furs, gold and silver brocades. And with the current emphasis on the draped silhouette, chiffon would still be useful even in winter. The studios had been successful beyond their dreams in selling movies through fashion. The very image of the stars had usually been created by the studio’s costume designer, often paired with the star over many years. Sometimes the studios would also license a designer’s name to a fashion line, or otherwise publicize their creations as part of the film. This marketing arrangement worked very well through the 1930s up until the beginning of World War II. A variety of things happened to place this system in limbo. With the late 1950s it made a brief comeback but then disappeared with the demise of the studio system. Only its relics and memorabilia remain today, although the films made during the period show – not the marketing – but that the emperor really did have clothes, and beautiful ones at that. The photo above shows Joan Crawford wearing the famous “Letty Lynton” dress from the movie of the same title, 1932, designed by Adrian. It was knocked off by designers everywhere including by Parisian couturiers. The Macy’s Cinema Shop reportedly (but with much exaggeration) sold 50,000 copies of it.
When I asked some classic movie fans for what their favorite movie costumes were I got some surprise answers. These were heartening in this age of narrowing focus on “the best”or more often “the most mentioned in the media” answer to such a question. But then again I was dealing with a group of discriminating and knowledgeable film fans and fellow bloggers. Their answers also run the spectrum of older classic and more recent movie costumes and film fashion, some are well known and some not at all. Here are their responses:
Patricia Gallagher’s favorite gown was worn by Grace Kelly inRear Window, this was the dramatic black and white coctail dress she is first seen in at Jimmy Stewart’s apartment. Edith Head designed it with a simple black decollete top and a full white chiffon skirt decorated with beaded twig decorations in black. It was quite smashing, one of Edith Head’s best designs. Grace wears black strappy heels with the outfit.
Deborah Thomas said her favorite was worn by Deanna Durbin in It Started with Eve, 1941.This outfit was designed by Vera West in a scene where Deanna Durbin is chased around a piano by her beau Robert Cummings. Deanna Durbin was a huge star in the late 1930s and early 1940s. She single-handedly kept Universal solvent with her popular films. Vera West designed costumes at Universal from 1928 until 1947.
Marsha Collock said her favorite was the “love bird dress” from Gone with the Wind, 1939, designed by Walter Plunkett. The gown was made of blue silk and has “love-birds” sewn diagonally onto the front and right shoulder of the gown. It is seen briefly during a honeymoon scene in New Orleans. The gown is rarely seen in photographs. It was reportedly owned by the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts as late as the 1970s, but was in poor condition then.
Jacqueline T. Lynch said her favorite costume was Audrey Hepburn’s garden party gown from Sabrina designed by Hubert de Givenchy. It is embroidered with black floral decorations on white silk organza. The gown has a detachable train that flows from the hips.
Dan DeSantis said he had many favorites, but especially the men’s fashions worn in The Red Shoes. Indeed, these are striking to me as well. The chic but casual style of the clothing of the International set at the Riviera, 1925-1965, is a lost art. This was a time when men believed in dressing up to look their best in their leisure, though here they are so dressed in producing art. The stills don’t do it justice, so the film has to be seen to appreciate the men’s wardrobe (and this wondrous film as a whole).
Danny Reid’s favorite was the classic 1930s look of Kay Francis in Mandalay, designed by Orry-Kelly, 1934. The puffed tulle shoulders became popular after the “Letty Lynton” dress that Adrian designed in 1932. Kay Francis was a style-setting clothes-horse of the 1930s.
Aurora Bugallo’s favorite was worn by Eve Marie Saint in North by Northwest, 1959. It’s a black silk dress with red embroidered roses, with a deep v-cut back. The dress was selected by Eve Marie at Bergdorf-Goodman in New York, where Alfred Hitchcock was filming. The costumes were designed at MGM but the head- designer Helen Rose was unavailable at the time and Hithcock didn’t like what had been provided. This one provided plenty of drama.
James Kelly said his favorite costume was worn by Elizabeth Taylor inRaintree County, 1957, it was a cream colored tulle and lace ball gown designed by Walter Plunkett. This movie was one of Walter Plunkett’s best costume productions.
Billy Alvarez said his favorite costume is Deborah Kerr’s ball gown from The King and I, 1956, designed by Irene Sharaff. The copper-colored satin gown with train and puffed lace sleeves was worn by Deborah Kerr as she danced with Yul Brynner. Irene Sharaff won a Best Costume Oscar for the film.
Darian Dare’s favorite costume was Barbara Streisand’s “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” white satin decollete gown worn with a collar and headpiece in Funny Girl, 1968, designed by Irene Sharaff.
Patricia Nolan Clark said her favorite costume was worn by Jane Wyman in Just for You, 1952. Jane’s costumes were designed by Edith Head.
Becky Barnes said her favorite costume was worn by Nicole Kidman in The Others, 2001.This mauve-colored outfit was designed by Sonia Grande. Its simplicity and somber tones fit the character and the plot. and This costume designer is not well known, although she has designed Midnight in Paris and Vicky Cristina Barcelona for Woody Allen.
Michael Munnelly’s favorite costume was worn by Kate Winslet in Titanic, 1997, designed by Deborah L, Scott. This was Rose’s peach-colored and sequined black lace gown worn early in the film when she wants to jump overboard before Leonardo Di Caprio prevents her from jumping. This costume sold at auction in 2012 for $330,00.
Barbara Allen’s favorites werethe sarongs that Dorothy Lamour wore in several movies starting with The Jungle Princess, 1936, The Hurricane, 1938, and several subsequent movies. With the start of World War II, silks and other fabrics became restricted or hard to find. Silk was used for parachutes, and European fabrics had been cut-off by the war. Barbara Allen’s mother was a specialist working at the Paramount Pictures’ Wardrobe Department, where she hand-painted the floral prints on sarongs and other costume’s fabric due to its otherwise unavailability in sufficient variety.
Inge Gregusch said her favorite costume was worn by Greta Garbo in Inspiration, 1931. This is a stunning Adrian-designed black velvet gown and train with cut-crystals at the neckline and shoulders, with long gauntlet gloves. The gown has survived, and was recently exhibited at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts Hollywood Glamour Exhibition.
And what’s my own favorite? There are so many. But to be fair to the those that responded, I too will pick just one. So here it is. Loretta Young inMidnight Mary, 1933, designed by Adrian. This silk satin gown with the caped shoulders, exposed back, fringe train, and accessorized with a medallion is too beautiful. And its the cover of my book on Adrian.
Thanks for sending in your favorites They are all wonderful!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A form-fitting floral print dress worn by January Jones looks smashing – its colors especially flattering to her.
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
Don and Megan’s new condo is also very modern and attractice, with a sunken living room and large terrace.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 1927, but 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.
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.
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,
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.”
And if you’ve seen it a million times like me you can hear Franz Waxman’s musical crescendo closing out the scene.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*Idea originated in Sam Stagg Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard. New York: St Martin’s Pess, 2002.
The Wizard of Ozmovie had its 75th anniversary in August 2014, and to commemorate the milestone, Warner Brothers re-released this classic in 3-D. For the occasion the movie was digitally re-mastered, and for the IMAX and 3-D release, each frame of the film print had to be depth-mapped and rotoscoped to maximize the viewer experience. In this post the movie’s production is summarized and the backstory on the costume designs is brought to life as part of the Classic Movie Blog Association’sFabulous Films of the 1930s Blogathon.This post will cover the Adrian-designed costumes for The Wizard of Oz, and the fabrication and wearing of the costumes and the related make-up of the actors. These relics from the movie have since reached celestial values. If you’re old enough, like me, you will probably wish you had attended that historic MGM auction in 1970 to buy them when they were relatively cheap. Although the Ruby Slippers at the auction, popularly thought at the time to be the only pair, did sell for $15,000. This was the highest price for any MGM auction item. Their story since the movie was made in 1938-39 is itself fascinating. But as Glinda the Good Witch says, “It’s always best to start at the beginning.”
The movie is based on the classic book published in 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum and beloved by children long before it became a movie. It had in fact already been made into two previous movies, one in 1910 and another in 1925 which starred Oliver Hardy as the Tin Woodsman. It had also been a popular Broadway musical in 1902 that toured the country. In all these versions, although the story might change, the look of the characters and the costumes were based on the original W.W. Denslow illustrations for the book.
In 1935 Samuel Goldwyn bought the movie and stage rights, but never produced anything. But after Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became a big hit in 1937-1938, the children’s fantasy became a hot property again. MGM bought the rights from Goldwyn and began producing the classic in 1938. Eyeing its potential, MGM would spare no expense in the production.
Mervyn LeRoy was assigned to produce the movie, with Richard Thorpe as the original director and Adrian creating the costume designs. Although Shirley Temple was considered ideal for the role of Dorothy, it was MGM’s own Judy Garland that got the job, and in the end it was a perfect choice. Some of the key characters began with different actors in the roles: The Tin Woodman started out with Buddy Ebsen playing the part, and indeed he was a unique dancer. The Wicked Witch was to be played by Gale Sondergaard. But early in the shooting with Buddy Ebsen, the aluminum powder on his face gave him a very serious lung problem from breathing the metallic makeup. He was hospitalized and subsequently replaced by the Vaudevillian and movie actor Jack Haley. Adrian dressed Gale Sondergaard in the iconic black gown and hat, although both pieces were adorned with sequins. Gale looked just too glamorous, and pretty, despite her make-up. A “hag” type look was deemed more suitable, and the strong-featured Elizabeth Hamilton was selected instead, her image exaggerated with facial prosthetics and green make-up. Although Ebsen was then considered to play the Scarecrow, it was Ray Bolger that got the part, a rubber-legged song and dance man ideal for the part.
Judy Garland as Dorothy wore only one dress for the entire movie. Still, it took several tries before that one dress was decided upon. One dress design was in a light blue color with no trim, another had gingham trim at the bodice and skirt, still another was a darker solid blue with tiny bows on the bodice. Judy’s hair color and style also varied in the early tests, from red to blond to her final auburn color. After a couple of weeks of filming, the results didn’t satisfy Le Roy, and so he replaced Richard Thorpe with George Cukor, who because of his prior commitment for directing Gone with the Wind, was only temporary. Victor Fleming would succeed him as director of The Wizard of Oz. As it turned out, Cukor would in turn be replaced by Victor Fleming as the director of GWTW. Thorpe’s chosen look for Dorothy was also changed, this in favor of the classic Adrian design of a blue and white checked pinafore with the off-white puffed-sleeve blouse. Judy’s long curled wig was also eliminated. It had been an attempt to hide her breasts (Dorothy was a young girl in the book, Judy was 17), which was accomplished by wearing a flattening bra, just one of the uncomfortable costumes worn by the cast.
The photo below shows Judy in the classic pinafore, with Toto. It was the first color scene in the movie, just as they enter Oz and she exclaims, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Oz was one of the big Technicolor movies. The use of this filming method created several difficulties. Technicolor cameras were owned by the Technicolor company, and their use was tightly controlled. Colors had to be approved by the Technicolor consultant, which drove Adrian mad due to the costume color modifications that had to be made. White did not work at all due to the strong glow it gave. Thus Dorothy’s white blouse had to be dyed to produce a sort of dirty white. Technicolor also required very bright lighting, so banks of overhead arc-lights were used, as many as 150 on the biggest sets. This created intense heat which exhausted the actors in their heavy costumes and make-up. Ironically, this same intensive lighting requirement for Technicolor has made it feasible to render the movie into 3-D.
Glinda (the Good Witch) is played by the wonderful Billie Burke. Adrian designed his favored shoulder-emphasis in her gown, with the pouffed shoulders actually resembling wings. In the book Glinda wore a white gown decorated with silver stars. Instead Adrian had to change the white to a dusty rose color in order to satisfy the demands of the Technicolor company.
And then there were the Ruby Slippers.They serve a key role in the plot and are one of the most iconic costume pieces in cinema history. In Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s shoes are silver. Adrian thought that red shoes would have more pizzazz in the Technicolor film, and would help to emphasize their importance to the story. Several types of red shoes were tested, including one pair with the curled-up toe that was called, the “Arabian slippers.” Adrian believed that only red sequins would give the right sparkle. So now finding the right method of attaching sequins to shoes was experimented with. The shoes were not built from scratch. The pumps with their French heels were purchased from the Innes Shoe Company of Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Pasadena, in several pairs, and reportedly dyed red.Several pairs were necessary in order to account for wear and tear and a pair for Judy’s stand-in. In the MGM Wardrobe Department, embroiderers sewed red sequins (nearly 5000 sequins) onto shoe-formed red sllk georgette, which was then sewed onto the red faille pumps. Somewhat later Adrian added the red bugle beaded and rhinestone jeweled bow which was also sewn onto each shoe of the regular pairs. Scarlet-colored felt was also glued onto the soles of some of the ruby slippers, most notably those seen on the dead Wicked Witch of the East, and the soles of others were painted red. The blue silk socks were also a great addition, especially as compared to the dark knee socks previously tested. The Ruby Slippers have their own crucial role as Dorothy is told by Glinda to tap her heels together three times and say, “There’s no place like home.” in order to return.
The Tin Man was costumed in close proximity to the book’s illustrations, as was the Scarecrow. Neither tin nor metal was actually used, but rather a starched and lined buckram, which was a common material used in making durable book covers. This in turn was painted silver. Jack Haley’s make-up was made up of a layer of cold-cream, white foundation, and then aluminum paint. This was modified from the disastrous first version used with Buddy Ebsen. Ray Bolger’s make-up for the Scarecrow was a partial rubber mask to simulate burlap. He went through dozens of these masks during the course of production. His costume was a green jacket and brown pants, stuffed at several places with raffia to resemble straw. Every couple of days these costumes had to be cleaned by a process of hand-sponging them during the evening, if not replacing them altogether.
The Cowardly Lion in the book was indeed a lion, so the costume was made of real lion skins and mane. Projecting ears were added, and Bert Lahr wore a prosthetic lip and jowls, and separate lion mittens. The costume also had interior padding, which made it weigh about 50 pounds. The tail was manipulated during the filming by a wire attached to a sort of fishing rod, handled by a crewman from above. All the heavily made up and costumed characters suffered because of the heat. Bert Lahr complained the most, saying he could only eat his lunch using a straw.
As a starting point, the Art Department envisioned the world of the tiny Munchkins as being close to the ground. Thus Adrian incorporated the theme of flowers for their costumes: appliqued and embroidered flowers; flower-pot hats; leaf decorations, and the like. And all the Munchkins’ costumes would be made of felt for softness. He emphasized their smallness by designing over-sized collars and large vests and hats. As in the book, various Munchkins had titles and defined jobs: the fiddlers, the heralds, the soldiers, the First Townsman, the Coroner, the Mayor, and others. For the Commander of the Army, Adrian used a rose for his spurs and a birdcage hat.
The characters were played by dwarfs (little people as they liked to be called), with some child actors used as well.
The costumes in the Emerald City of Oz were of course all green. Thus shoes, stockings, dresses, and coats were green. This gave much extra work for the Wardrobe Department since stockings, shoes, and coats were not available in green, and so these costume parts all had to be dyed, which took several days to accomplish. For the shoes, they were spray-painted, which meant the insides and the soles had to be taped off. One of the highlights of the movie was the Emerald City Beauty Shop, where Dorothy was beautified as well as the other lead characters. Here Adrian was finally able to add some fashion styling to the beauticians’ wardrobe.
The basic exterior look of the Emerald City of Oz was the result of a brainstorm of Cedric Gibbons, the Head of the Art Department, when he was discussing the problem of designing a unique look for Oz with production designer William Horning. Gibbons was looking at a German studio photo of a group of glass beakers when he had the idea to use these elements for the look of Oz. The idea was to make the beakers green and turn them upside down in a grouping. This ended up giving a unique look to Oz as seen from far away.
Frank Morgan played key roles throughout the movie. His job was very laborious as he had to be fitted for each costume and tested in a variety of make-ups, wigs and mustaches. In different make-up and costumes he played the roles of Professor Marvel, the Doorkeeper of Oz, the Guard at the gates of the Wizard’s palace, a horse-drawn wagon cabby, and of course the Wizard of Oz himself. An unbelievable yet true story surrounds the frock coat he wore as Professor Marvel. Not finding an appropriate tattered-looking coat in the Wardrobe Department, Wardrobe personnel were sent searching in a second-hand (not yet called vintage) clothes store. There they picked up a rack of appropriate-looking coats. Frank Morgan, Victor Fleming and the wardrobe man picked out one that had the right look of well-worn gentility. Later on Frank Morgan looked inside and discovered an interior label with the late L. Frank Baum’s name on it. The coat’s authenticity was later verified by Baum’s widow Maud as well as his taylor.
The heavily made-up face of Bert Lahr as the no-longer-cowardly Lion expresses the joy that this movie has given millions of people. The Wizard of Ozis a national treasure.
And TheWizard of Oz was also a musical, with music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E.Y (Skip) Harburg. For the first time ever, a non-animated feature film would have its music “pre-scored,” that is the songs were conceived as an integral part of the script. What would The Wizard of Oz be without Over the Rainbow? Yet this song was almost eliminated from the movie, when some MGM execs doubted that anyone would go for a girl singing in a barn yard. Arlen and Harburg pleaded for the song. After some initial negative previews it was almost cut again. Arthur Freed, then an assitant to producer Mervyn Le Roy, finally threatened to quit if the song was cut. The final decision was made by Leo B. Mayer, who said it would stay.
The Wizard of Oz Actually lost about a million dollars after its initial realease in 1939, after distribution and advertising costs were added to the $2,777,000 production costs. It was first shown on television on November 3, 1956. Since then its popularity has grown and it is now the most-watched movie in the history of film. The movie made life-long celebrities of all of its main cast members. Judy Garland won a miniature Oscar for Best Performance as a juvenile performer. Oscars were also won for Best Score and Best Song (for that barnyard classic, Over the Rainbow). There was no Oscar for Adrian, as no Oscars were awarded for costume at that time, when the classic costume designers were in their prime.
One pair of Ruby Slippers have been on exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum for many years, where lines are usually formed to see them. Another pair has recently been donated to the future Museum of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, where no doubt they will be the chief attraction. Their current value is now nearing $2,000,000.
Several excellent research resources exist on the Wizard of Oz production, including:
*Aljean Harmetz, The Making of the Wizard of Oz
*William Stillman and Jay Scarfone, The Wizard of Oz:The Official 75th Anniversary Companion
At the biggest and busiest movie studio of Hollywood’s Golden Age, hummed the most productive studio wardrobe department in movie history. At its most complete in the 1960s, it had some 300,000 costumes in its wardrobe storage – not counting those it had already dicarded in previous decades. MGM regularly produced over 40 moves every year, with its costume designers and wardrobe department producing the costumes for most of them. By comparison, today’s studios make 10-15 movies a year, and of course studios no longer have in-house costume design and fabrication capabilities.
The facade of the old MGM Studio and its original entry gate on Washington Blvd as it looked in 1936 is seen above. The Wardrobe Department was located near Washington Blvd and what the studio called 1st Street. Men’s Wardrobe was located elsewhere and costumes were also stored in various locations. The Wardrobe Department had a manager who ran its day-to-day operations, separate from the costume design staff. A view to the three-story department is seen in the photo below. In addition to the glamorous part of movie costumes, post-production they would have to be laundered or dry-cleaned, and then inventoried and hung up in the high racks. Bolts of fabrics of all kinds would have to be kept on hand or custom ordered.
MGM went through several designers after its beginning in 1924-25. The studio hoped to capitalize on the name of Erte in 1925, but he didn’t last. Andre-Ani, Max Ree, and Rene Hubert all did fine work but none lasted long at the studio. Gilbert Clark managed to last longer, but was as temperamental as the divas he dressed. This didn’t work for Garbo. So when Cecil B. DeMille came to make movies for MGM and brought his costume designer Adrian, he soon found his designer under contract to MGM. Starting in 1928, every movie that Garbo starred in was designed by Adrian, as was every Joan Crawford movie until 1941 when Adrian left to start his own fashion line. He also designed the costumes for Jean Harlow, Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner, and Katharine Hepburn.
Seen below is a group of MGM wardrobe ladies at work. The Adrian sketch shown and the costume on the dress form are for Greta Garbo in Grand Hotel. As was the case for all leading ladies, Garbo had her own custom-sized dress form (padded to her dimensions).
Hannah Lindfors, a cutter-fitter, is shown below. She translates the designer’s costume sketch into muslin pattern pieces, which are then used to cut the chosen fabric. In this case its for a Dolly Tree design for Rita Johnson. When Adrian left to start his own fashion business, Hannah Lindfors left with him as his cutter-fitter.
Several lace-makers are at work below on the bridal veil for Helen Hayes for the movie White Sister, 1933. It took two weeks to make.
Two Wardrobe ladies are working on the embroidery for a costume for Romeo and Juliet, starring Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard and John Barrymore. Adrian and Oliver Messel designed, and Wardrobe fabricated , some1250 costumes for the film.
Cutter-fitter Inez Schrodt is seen below working on a gown for Marie Antoinette, 1938. The film starred Norma Shearer and Tyrone Power. Some 2500 costumes were used in the film, and Adrian designed 36 costumes for Norma, which was a long-standing record until Cleopatra of 1963.
Jane Halsey is seen below resting on a “leaning-board” during the filming of The Great Ziegfeld, 1936. The costume was made of bugle-beads and weighed 102 pounds. The leaning boards were heavily padded with cloth – less for comfort but as to prevent snags to the costumes.
Wardrobe ladies below are at work on Lana Turner’s costume in Ziegfeld Girl, 1941. The film had completely different but equally magnificent costumes as The Great Ziegfeld, which Adrian also designed.
Greer Garson has a stitch repair done to her costume by Vicky Nichols on the set of Mrs. Parkington, 1944. Her costumes were designed by Irene, who had taken over as head designer from Adrian. Irene was at MGM from 1942 until 1948. She was joined by Helen Rose and then Walter Plunkett. Irene Sharaff and Robert Kalloch also worked there for a period, and Gile Steele and J. Arlington Valles designed men’s costumes.
The Wardrobe Department kept most all of the costumes it made. These were re-used in other films, and often modified. Costumes are being pulled here and placed on a rack for some film. All of these costumes were sold in the MGM auction of 1970.
This section of shelving shows Roman style helmets, most likely with other armor pieces further inside the shelves. Similar but smaller shelves housed thousands of shoes.
Lana Turner is shown below with a costume sketch for one of her costumes and the actual costume fromThe Prodigal, 1955.Herschel McCoy designed the costumes for the film.
By 1955 when The Prodigal was produced by MGM, the heyday of the studio system was over. Leo B. Mayer had been replaced as head of the studio by Dore Schary. The Consent Decree forced by the US Court over an Anti-Trust suit had made studios divest their ownership of movie theaters, and television viewing had decimated movie audiences. Costume designers like Walter Plunkett, who had been working since the late 1920s, had gone from designing for over 20 movies a year back then to designing just two movies for MGM in 1957.
Fortunately, the legacy of MGM, its movies and the work of its costume designers and makers , and the other artists and artisans of the studio are preserved in the movies for all of us to see and enjoy. These behind the scenes photos show that the work of producing glamour was not glamorous. And in those days film credits did not acknowledge the work of any of them in wardrobe except for the costume designer. This is a small tribute to their work.
Turner Classic Movies held its 6th Annual Classic Film Festival in Hollywood over four days ending Sunday night March 19, 2015. The festivals keep getting bigger and better, which I can attest, having attended all previous festivals. The theme of this one was “History According to Hollywood,” with film screenings and programs fitting into this or several sub-themes. As in prior years, the TCM staff was everywhere present and graciously introducing movies or tending to logistics, the needs of talent, and those of the attendees. And this year talent was very prominent, with Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Dustin Hoffman, Sophia Loren, Shirley MacLaine, Alec Baldwin, Ann-Margret, Spike Lee, Peter Fonda, Keith Carradine, Robert Morse, William Daniels, Ken Howard, and others.
In keeping with prior years, and in order to keep some 20,000+ attendees busy, multiple movie showings and other events were taking place concurrently. This also made it possible to have a different personal experience of the TCMFF, as it is known in shorthand, than someone else. This is probably the case with me, as I sometimes pick the less popular movies to watch.
In the photo above, the TCMFF Red Carpet is being set up on Thursday, with its step and repeat backdrop. Years earlier the Red Carpet was fairly open to watch and photograph. Now you need credentials and you can’t get close to it.
Directly across the street, if you picked the right position, you could get some good photos of the limousines arriving with the stars attending the 50th anniversary screening of The Sound of Music. It helped to be standing next to autograph hunters with loud and adulatory voices.
Julie Andrews attended, as did Christopher Plummer, who would later set his hands and feet in cement at the TCL Chinese Theatre. The ever-lovely Shirley Jones also attended, as seen below.
Michael Tucci, who starred in Grease, and lately in The Heat, crossed Hollywood Blvd. with police escort to sign autographs, as did Barry Pearl also from Grease. That movie was playing poolside at the Roosevelt.
I attended the simultaneous screening of Queen Christina, the Greta Garbo classic with costumes designed by Adrian, which included both a phenomenal court gown but also her many masculine garments. This was also the film that brought back John Gilbert to the screen before his early death.
The next morning featured a special showing of Lenny, about the radical stand-up comic Lenny Bruce, starring Dustin Hoffman. Dustin Hoffman was interviewed, after the screening, by Alec Baldwin, but “interviewed” is really a misnomer as this was a wandering dialogue that was as fascinating as it was funny as each actor took turns mimicking comedian Buddy Hackett and trading show business lore.
In the same Egyptian Theater, and with seemingly the same line length, The Cincinnati Kid followed. The Steve McQueen/Edward G. Robinson movie also starred Ann-Margret, who was in attendance and interviewed by Ben Mankiewicz. She let out that what was special about McQueen was his “animalism.” She shared his love of fast motorcycles.
Another quick hop to the next screening back at the Chinese for Rififi, a French film noir classic directed by the American Jules Dassin. TCM’s film noir buff Shannon Clute introduced Eddie Muller who in turn introduced the film, starting by complementing the audience for attending what he thought was the best movie of the whole festival, and “as perfect a movie as you can get.” Indeed, it was a great film with a taut plot about a reunited gang out to do a big jewelry store heist. Its climax robbery scene , almost silent, lasted 28 minutes and had you on the edge of your chair the whole time.
For something completely different, there was the mostly forgotten movie musical 1776, itself based on the successful Broadway musical which Jack Warner produced as his swan song in 1972. Its book and plot centered on the Second Continental Congress – and its raucous debates on whether to declare independence which eventually led to the Declaration of Independence. It was surprisingly good history, fine music, and great acting. Its original stage and movie director Peter H. Hunt was there as were cast members Ken Howard (John Adams) and William Daniels (Thomas Jefferson). The three were interviewed by Ben Mankiewicz, and William Daniels got a surprise birthday cake. Director Peter H. Hunt said that Richard Nixon saw the movie and then personally asked Jack Warner to cut out the number “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” about Representative Dickinson and the Conservatives. The number was cut from the release but was added back in this director’s cut.
A traditional program at the TCMFF is the Hollywood Home Movies shown in the Club TCM at the Roosevelt Hotel. This program features a collection of home movies mostly shot by movie stars, their family members, or others, showing scenes of early Hollywood or the stars enjoying their leisure hours. Many of the films are in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences and the Academy Film Archive. On hand were Jane Withers, Bob Koster, and Neile Adams McQueen talking to Randy Hauberkamp and Lynne Kirste of the Academy about their home movies, featuring Steve McQueen, the indefatigable Jane Withers, and “home movies” from director Henry Koster of Gary Cooper in the early 1930s.
The Club TCM is also graced with displayed costumes and memorabilia on loan from Bonham’s auction house. Bonham’s also holds an appraisal session during the festival if you bring in your entertainment memorabilia. These items may also end up in the TCM/Bonham’s Auctions if you are inclined to consign.
Sunday morning started out with a long line for the screening of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, that 1939 classic among a packet of other remarkable films from that year. This was Maureen O’Hara’s first U.S film and starred Charles Laughton as Quasimodo. It also starred a young, good-looking and almost unrecognizable Edmond O’Brien as Gringoire. The movie was a big production for RKO at the time, and it has remained an excellent film.
Madeleine Stowe graced the stage to open The Philadelphia Story, the Katharine Hepburn/Cary Grant/Jimmy Stewart classic. I never get tired of seeing it, and here on the really big screen, I can appreciate even more Adrian’s remarkable costumes. They are not only eye-popping in their own right but they thoroughly do their job in defining her character from steely goddess to humbled bride-to-be.
In her interview with IIleanna Douglas, Madeleine Stowe let-on that her early ambition was to become a film critic – luckily for us she was “discovered” and became an actor.
The photo below shows the second part of three sections of the line for The Philadelphia Story at the TCL Chinese. The lines were well managed and things moved along.
I also attended the thoroughly charming The Smiling Lieutenant with Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins. Ernst Lubitsch directed this 1931 musical. Lubitsch fell for Hopkins, and starred her in several of his films.
The Reign of Terror, or The Black Book as it’s also know by was a film noir set in revolutionary France. It was a very good movie although it was not good history. Anthony Mann directed Bob Cummings and the beautiful Arlene Dahl.
The documentary program The Dawn of Technicolor was excellent. this presentation was based on the book by David Pierce and James Layton, and clips from the early musicals of 1929-1930 were shown. After the advent of sound, the studios spent money on adding color to attract larger audiences into their expanding markets. Rare clips were shown as many films thought lost are recent discoveries and in some cases only segments survive.
It was also a thrill to see 42nd Street on the big screen. The combination of wise-cracking chorus girls, great Busby Berkeley numbers, and the wonderful lead of Warner Baxter in a cast of Ruby Keeler, Bebe Daniels, Ginger Rogers, Dick Powell, George Brent and Una Merkel was real pleasure.
Many more movies were outstanding, including the Diary of Anne Frank, Breaker Morant, Roman Holiday, Rebecca, The Proud Rebel, My Man Godfrey, My Darling Clementine, Marriage Italian Style, and The Apartment among many others.
I was happy to have started out the 6th Annual TCMFF with friend and fellow bloggers Kimberly Truhler and Kellee Pratt. And here’s to TCM for bringing these great movies to us on the large screen and in great prints or fine digital copies. So here’s looking forward to the 7th annual TCMFF and a recovered Robert Osborne.
The history of epic film is rich with the story of Moses and his liberation of the Jewish people from Ramses and the Egyptians, along with the dramatic crossing of the Nile while being pursued. Cecil B. DeMille made two versions of the story in The Ten Commandments, including the famous 1956 version with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. Now the epic has been modernized with Ridley Scott’s sweeping direction in the 20th Century-Fox production of Exodus: Gods and Kings. The costumes, sets, and scenery of the production do justice to the biblical epics of DeMille’s day while adding special CGI effects not known in classic film days. With a cast of Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as Ramses, John Turturro as Seti and Sigourney Weaver as Queen Tuya, the actors bring this historic drama to life. If you missed it on the big screen, it is out now on Digital HD and Blu-Ray.
Ridley Scott is famous for his vision of what style and look the movies he directs will have. One can see that as far back as his first film The Duellists, starting in 1977 and going on to Alien, Blade Runner, 1492, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and American Gangster, to name a few. Having started out as a cameraman he has a keen eye for how visual details can help tell the story and set the mood. He has forged strong relationships with his creative team, including costume designer Janty Yates, who won an Oscar for Best Costume design for her work in Scott’s film Gladiator.
When Janty Yates got the call asking her to work on Exodus: Gods and Kings, she knew from experience that this would involve a cast of thousands, but her reaction was “I can do this.” But then she found out she had four months to make it happen. That’s when she started waking up every night at 3:15 a.m. concerned about getting it all done – and done to Ridley Scott’s exacting vision. “Research, research, research,” she said about how she started the job. The original Egyptian sources proved the best resources. “I spent a huge amount of time looking at wall paintings, ” added Yates. “You can get a huge amount of reference from tombs, temples … even color.”
In an epic of this magnitude, costuming runs the spectrum from providing period dress for some 7000 people, including armor for warring armies, to detailed accessories for the Egyptian aristocracy. This also included jewelry like pendants, arm bracelets, multiple rings, collar pieces, headdresses, ornate belts and aprons. “Everyone wore about 15 pieces,” Yates said. “Was it blingy?” asked Ridley Scott about the movie. “Absolutely,” he said.
When it comes to costumes from the Egyptian period, the costume rental houses fell short of what was needed. “The last big Egyptian movie was Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor,” Yates said . That movie was released in 1963. But in the early 60s, the tastes ran to bright colors in women’s costumes, and foundation undergarments were used to nip in waists and emphasize breasts, looks no longer considered appropriate for period films. So Yates pretty much had to start from scratch. For the Egyptians that meant fabricating the costumes , from the palace guards to the principle cast members. For the Hebrews, their rustic linen costumes were historically more functional, made in a basic T-form by Italian costume houses. These very contrasts in the costumes tell part of the story.
Queen Nefertari is played by the Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani. As a queen, and as one of the Great Royal Wives of Ramses, she wears a royal headdress and all the trappings of her station. Much of the costume design elements came from Egyptian hieroglyphics and wall paintings.
Queen Tuya was another Royal Wife, played by Sigourney Weaver. Ridley Scott told Yates he wanted her “to be little more of a man-eater.”
One of Yates’ favorite costumes to design was for Ramses. His suit of armor was plated in gold.That was also discovered in the wall paintings. She designed one of his helmets in a rich blue, and shaped like a bees’ nest. But a gold helmet design was used instead. This alternate design was a better match for Joel Edgerton’s face. Janty Yates loved going over-the-top on his costumes, especially since Ramses II himself was just such a vain and out-sized character.
The court costume of Ramses as designed for Joel Edgerton is shown below. The costumes for Edgerton and Christian Bale as Moses were essentially “dresses” so they had to be “butched up” according to Yates. And the colors for Moses had to be made quite different than from Ramses in order to highlight their differences.
Costume sketches for Moses in Egyptian armor are shown above. The Egyptians used a type of armor called lamellar, which was made of rectangular shaped platelets or scales which were hole-punched and laced together. For the movie the platelets were made of urethane by the UK company FBFX, a supplier of specialized costumes and props to the industry. The material is very light but tough, and it can take a finish that resembles metal. The lightness of the urethane was very functional for all the stunt men in their fight scenes.
The Egyptian infantry fought mainly with a spear, or a bow, and protected by a shield as well as the loin shield shown in the sketch above and below.
The costumes in Exodus: Gods and Kings, like all the best costumes in movies, help define character and sets the story in time and place. Here is a visual treat that makes the scenes and the action all the more life-like as a movie experience. Yates thinks it compares very well to The Ten Commandments, with enhanced special effects and without dated costumes,saying , “… to make it glorious, that was my mission.” And in the process another great collaboration between Ridley Scott and Janty Yates was made.
Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment was also the title of the 1935 film. It opens with the prologue: “The time of our story is any time, the place is any place where human hearts respond to love and hate, pity and terror.” The novel is one of the great works of literature, and its plot has been adapted for many films from the silent era through modern times. Josef von Sternberg directed Crime and Punishment, but he did so for Columbia after having been fired at Paramount after directing The Devil is a Woman, his last film with Marlene Dietrich. His last two films there had not done well and had caused various problems for the studio. He was going through the motions at Columbia and later spoke unfavorably about the movie, and that Lorre was inappropriate for the role, which has caused it to have a poor reputation. It was not the sort of glamorous films he was used to making with Dietrich, but Crime and Punishmentdeserves to have more respect. For one, it was Peter Lorre’s second American film, and virtually his only lead role as a normal character in an American movie.
Peter Lorre had just come to the United States in 1935, and got a job at Columbia Pictures. He shared a room with Billy Wilder and they both had to learn English. He had already received strong reviews playing the child murderer in Fritz Lang’s M, and subsequently after fleeing Germany, in England for Alfred Hitchcock in The Man Who Knew Too Much. It was Lorrie who suggested to Harry Cohn that he star in Crime and Punishment, for which he would be willing to be traded to MGM to make Mad Love, which would become his first American film, while waiting.
Crime and Punishment is the great Russian story of crime and the power of redemption. It would be virtually impossible to capture the novel in a single movie. But this 1935 film has several qualities. Its acting for one is uniformly excellent for the principal cast of Lorre as Roderick Raskolnikov, Edward Arnold as Inspector Porfiry, Marian Marsh as Sonya, Tala Birrell as Antonia “Toni” Raskolnikov the sister, and Elizabeth Risden as Raskolnikov’s mother.
Marian Marsh is pictured above as Sonya. There is no doubt that she is meant to be enticing and alluring. A magnet for Raskolnikov in many ways. The story is about Raskolnikov, a university student that has distinguished himself by his theories and understanding about crime and criminals. He has been given an expensive pocket watch for his graduation. He believes his intelligence and moral values puts him above the law. Yet he lives in poverty, eking out a living from his writings. When he learns his family is coming to visit, he goes to pawn his watch. There he sees a young woman, Sonya, given only a ruble for her silver-covered bible and kicked out by the woman pawnbroker. She drops and loses her ruble, and Raskolnikov offers her his money when he learns she is supporting her family. The prologue was taken as a stylistic cue for the film and its art direction. It could take place at any time, and at any place. No cars are shown in the film to date whether it depicts Dostoesvsky’s time, or the film noir heights of the 1950s. No phones ring, or voice-over narrations explain the existential quagmire of Raskolnikov’s life, but the deep black shadows and contrasting lights, with the recurring bars of his staircases provide a favorite noir trope. And von Sternberg shows frequent shots of Lorre taken from behind, perhaps to make his character more obscure.
But Peter Lorre is one of those actors that would have been perfect for the silent screen. He conveys every emotion on his face without the need of words: fear; anxiety; disdain; haughtiness; sympathy; love. His sympathy for Sonya and sudden hatred for the pawnbroker, mixed with his belief in his own ability to flaunt the law, takes him back to the pawnbroker, as he needs money again as his family is coming to visit. Only this time he kills her and takes her money.
Crime and Punishment the novel is the most psychological and existential of 19th century works of literature. The film boils that heavy story down to a proto-film noir, a bleak work about a lonely man in the process of estranging his family – but too smart to care about the trap that is being set for him by a plodding police inspector.
The image above shows Lorre as Raskolnikov in his humble apartment. But his opinion of himself in not humble, symbolized by the portrait of Napoleon. He sees himself like Napoleon, brilliant and a maker of his own rules. He reads articles about the crime he has committed, but he knows the pawnbroker was cheating people out of money. He is not enough above the law however for being arrested for not paying rent. There he meets Inspector Porfiry. The Inspector has heard of him and asks his opinion about the likely criminal and so begins his cat and mouse with Inspector Porfiry.
Marian Marsh plays a beautiful a vision of innocence for Raskolnikov to be lured into wanting to protect and to give away all his money to. In the book she was a prostitute. She is doubly alluring to him for having had to pawn her expensive bible for which she received practically nothing. She is a mix of innocent and guilty.
Raskolnikov is also protective of his sister. He learns that her boss Grilov has forced himself upon her, and she then lost her job. When subsequently she agreed to marry a rich but older and more homely man, Lushin. Raskolnikov mocks Lushin , which breaks up their engagement.
An innocent man is brought in and accused of the crime of killing the pawnbroker, This event does not fit in to Raskolnikov’s philosophical scheme.
When the innocent man is arrested, Inspector Porfiry is just as happy to pin the crime on him – he has his reputation to maintain. Later, Raslknikov is appalled when the man even confesses to the crime. This shakes his psychological foundation, and his conscious at having a man punished for a crime that he committed.
The Inspector insinuates himself into Raskolnikov’s life. He invites himself to a family dinner, then questions the family members about the crime. Raskolnikov becomes furious and asks him to apologize.
The psychological foundation of Raskolnikov’s life is cracking. Guilt is the cause, hammered by Porfiry and steeping in his subconscious. His love of Sonya, his sister and mother makes his guilt feel even more acute, especially when he confesses to Sonya and sees her reaction.
The theme of Crime and Punishment the novel and the film, is the power of love and redemption to heal the soul – even the subconscious in the grip of past sins and misdeeds. Sonya offers to run away with him. But he decides he will turn himself in to Porfiry and save an innocent man. Sonya goes with him, and will follow him to Siberia. Only then does he feel true happiness.
Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment has often been the subject of films or film adaptations. It first appeared in a silent film version in 1917 produced by Arrow and directed by Lawrence McGill and starring Derwent Hall Caine. A German production followed in 1923 titled Raskolnikov, then a Monogram production came out in 1946 entitled Fear starring Warren William. In 1959 Allied Artists produced a version starring George Hamilton.
Perhaps the most unlikely of modern adaptations of Crime and Punishment happened when Paul Schrader directed and wrote the screenplay for American Gigolo. He was influenced by the French director Robert Bresson and especially Bresson’s film Pickpocket (1959),Bresson was also a big influence on the French New Wave. Jean-Luc Godard reportedly viewed Pickpocket ten times. Bresson in his making of Pickpocket was himself influenced by Crime and Punishment. The story elements of the novel used in both films center on a young man who believes that he alone can judge that he is above the law, and that for some people even murder is permissible if it is done for a higher purpose, which he soon commits. Ultimately, he is doggedly pursued by a detective and he is sent to a Siberian prison, followed there by a former prostitute who he has helped, and who in turn helps him to heal. Dostoesvky’s theme was the power of love and redemption. Thus did this theme find its way in the final scene of Pickpocket, when the imprisoned robber for the first time tenderly kisses Jeanne, a young woman he had previously scorned, from behind bars and says, “…to come to you, what strange journey have I had to take.” This scene was repeated in American Gigolo. And in this more chaste version of Crime and Punishment, 1935, Peter Lorre and Marian Marsh are seen together as Raskolnikov and Sonya, where he is turning himself in, eyes heavenward, yet still with their future together.
Silver Screen Modes isagain awarding the Most Glamorous Gown Awardfor the Oscars red carpet in 2015. This award was started for my previous blog The Silver Screen Modiste in 2010 and has been awarded annually ever since. Last year the winner was Charlize Theron wearing a Dior Haute Couture black decollete gown (see the photo at the bottom of the post). Previous winners have been 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).
Fashion trends have had their place on the red carpet, although the bigger trend over the last couple of 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 their homogeneity has taken away the surprise factor. This started changing somewhat a couple of years ago as fashion designers began working on custom designs for their favored clients. The more typical procedure in the past was one where several possible designs were submitted by a leading fashion house, or where the stars and their stylists selected a runway design that was fitted for the star. With an A-list star now essentialy getting a true couture gown – designed and made to her body measurements – this becomes a different ballgame. I must note that this was essentially what happened during Hollywood’s Golden Age, when the studio designers like, Adrian, Travis Banton, and Orry Kelly designed and had the studio wardrobe department custom make the gowns for the Studio’s own nominees. But today there are also those stars that have impeccable taste, like Julianne Moore, that always seem to look stunning and work directly with favored designers. Of course moody stars can always wear whoever or whatever they want, but nobody particularly likes being pictured on the Fashion Police as the “Worst Dressed.” But now as there are almost really no bad gowns, a “worst dressed” designation becomes a stretch, and often just unfair.
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. Sparkling silver seemed to be among the most glamorous gowns at that event. Yet as more media attention is paid to red carpet fashions, some women actors are giving interviewers the silent treatment on the question of “who are you wearing?’ and shunning some of the overt camera treatment or even being photographed altogether. The reason being that they would rather talk about some of their more “serious” endeavors, or just don’t want to talk about their looks. We understand the seriousness of their craft, but isn’t their looks and their glamour a big part of the occasion?
There were some stunning looks on the red carpet and on the Dolby Theatre stage. Out of them all the MOST GLAMOROUS GOWN AWARD goes to MARGOT ROBBIE in a black Yves Saint Laurent gown with a very deep décolletage and with sheer long sleeves. It was beautifully, I should say stunningly accessorized by a Van Cleef & Arpels necklace made for the Duchess of Windsor in the 1930s, “worth more than my life,” Ms. Robbie let out.
Special mention must be made of three other gowns. The first one was worn by Lupita Nyong’o – a beautiful custom Calvin Klein white gown made of some six thousand pearls. It hugged her figure and had a halter top and key-hole cut-out below her breasts. It was designed by Francisco Costa.
While there was less color than I would have thought, The red Givenchy Haute Couture worn by Rosamond Pike was a most beautiful and glamorous gown – strapless and embroidered with fleurettes over a satin base.
Model Behati Prinsloo also looked stunning in an Armani Prive textured two-piece ensemble. It was a great color for her and for the evening.
These were all beautiful and exquisite gowns, and there were more as well.
This year’s Best Costume Design went to Melina Canonero for The Grand Budapest Hotel, which was the favorite and that I had predicted as well. The film won four awards in the “technical” categories.
Below is the photo of Charlize Theron in last year’s Most Glamorous Gown. I seem to like black.