The Academy Awards nominees for Costume Design for the movies of 2015 make for a very competitive if diverse field. Mountain men and polecats, princess and trans woman, lesbians and Vuvalini. For costume designer Sandy Powell – she will even be competing against herself, as she has two nominated contenders: Carol and Cinderella. The five nominees are:
1) Carol 2) Cinderella 3) The Danish Girl 4) Mad Max: Fury Road 5) The Revenant
CAROL was designed by Sandy Powell. It stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in a 1950s era lesbian relationship between a well-off housewife and a young department store sales clerk. The director Todd Haynes and Sandy Powell wanted to stay true to the 1952 New York setting of the Patricia Highsmith novel. So they looked at the photos of Vivian Maier, Ruth Orkin, and Saul Leiter. Sandy remarked that 1952 fashion was much like late 1940s fashion.
Sandy also went through old Vogue magazines from 1952. Most all of the photography was in black and white, but the designer injected some color into the otherwise monotone yet elegant fashion of the time.
Although the large mink coat looks vintage, it was made custom from recycled fur for the shape and color that Sandy Powell desired.
Sandy Powell has been nominated eleven times for a best costume design Oscar, for which she won three awards: Shakespeare in Love (1998); The Aviator (2004); and for The Young Victoria (2009).
CINDERELLA was also designed by Sandy Powell. The classic fairy tale was brought to the screen by Disney as a live action movie starring Lily James as Cinderella, Cate Blanchett as the evil step-mother Lady Tremaine, Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy-Godmother and Richard Madden as the Prince. The gowns for the movie reportedly used some 1.7 million Swarovsky crystals. Costume designer Sandy Powell was inspired by the 19th century for the look and silhouette of the costumes. “It felt most like a fairy tale world.” she said.
For Cate Blanchett’s costumes as the evil-stepmother/Lady Tremaine, Sandy Powell used cool colors, colors like green or jewel colors but that were not “friendly,”
Cate Blanchett’s wardrobe was based on the more powerful 1940s silhouette and the idea of Marlene Dietrich or Joan Crawford doing a 19th-century movie, according to Powell, but getting it all a bit wrong.
For the Fairy Godmother costume, led lights were sprinkled across the dress and especially at the bodice. It was Helena Bonham Carter’s idea to have wings. Doesn’t every fairy godmother have wings?
Cinderella’s ball gown is made of several layers of yumissima fabric, an extremely light but expensive fabric, each a different color to produce blue. There are blues-greens, lilacs, and lavenders. There are over 200 yards of fabric in all. Underneath is a crinoline made of steel.It is dotted with about 10,000 tiny Swarovski crystals The bodice is made of crepeline over a corset. The gown is almost as wide as the huge stairs she dramatically descends to the ball.
The glass slipper was designed based on an actual 1890 shoe, and fabricated by Swarovsky from crystal. It was made smaller than actual size for the model Cinderella holds. For the pair she slips on, these were actually of leather but replaced through CGI to appear as crystal.
It takes a group of seamstresses to make an eleborate gown such as the Cinderella Ball Gown.
THE DANISH GIRL, designed by Paco Delgado is based on the groundbreaking case of the transgender surgery of Einar Wegener, a married man. His transformation into Lily Elbe is shown with the effects it had on him and his wife Gerda, a painter. It stars Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander.
While posing as a model that didn’t show up for the job, Einar awakens a sense of his true womanly self. The couple stayed together and moved from Denmark to Paris where Gerda became a fashion illustrator.
The silhouette of the 1920s was very flat-chested and narrow-hipped, which basically suited the dressing of star Eddie Redmayne, although he would have preferred more padding to accentuate curves. Designer Paco Delgado stated that all the curves were achieved through the cut of the costumes or through more volume at the chest or pleating. The fabrics were often taken from vintage dresses but had to be re-made for Eddie’s size. Paco Delgado used French fashion designers Jeanne Lanvin and Coco Chanel for period inspiration. This is Paco Delgado’s second Oscar Best Costume nomination, the previous time was for Les Miserables in 2012.
THE REVENANT was designed by Jacqueline West and starred Leonardo di Caprio and Thomas Hardy. Its the story of the frontiersman Hugo Glass that is left for dead by fellow trappers after being mauled by a bear. Still alive he vows revenge and seeks those who abandoned him. The movie was filmed in the frigid areas of Canada as directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu.
“Alejandro wanted everything to look very real,” stated Jacqueline West. “Most of the hides came from first nations traders in Canada and we tried to age them by using animal fats and grease and that turned them rancid.” That was bad for the actors. It was West’s dyer/ager that came up with a home-made solution she called “black wax” that ended up being very successful. Soon the director had her stay on the sets all the time with her “black wax” at the ready.
Tom Hardy had the heaviest costume in the movie. His coat consisted of double elk-skin, double-lined with beaver.
Jacqueline West has been nominated three times for a Best Costume Oscar. Her two previous nominations were for Quills (2000), and for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).
MAD MAX; FURY ROAD was designed by Jenny Beavan for stars Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, and a cast of hundreds based on the graphic novel directed by George Miller. Beavan started out with an obvious challenge, the mechanical arm for Theron’s Imperator Furiosa character. Several leather shapes were cut-out and draped for what needed to be a key practical yet visually interesting piece. The harness and body suit was finally devised for her iconic look. Charlize Theron was very happy with her costume for the role. As to Theron’s shaved head, that was her idea, although the black grease on the forehead was a trait of the Imperators.
The Wives have always been protected and lived in a climate-controlled environment, and thus dressed unsuitably for the outside elements. Their costumes are made of white cotton and muslin body wraps and shorts.
The Warboys and Polecats also had their distinctive costumes, denoting their function and fearsome looks. Max also has shoulder-pads, a throw-back to the original Mad Max movie.
The Best Costume nominations are made by the Costume Designers Branch of the Academy. The Oscar is determined by vote of the entire Academy membership. Traditionally the memberships selects the big historical movies, or fantasies, and their costumes as favorites. Sandy Powell seems to be a favorite with two nominations. While Cinderella has a disadvantage of having been released earlier in the year, its lavish period costumes makes it a natural for the Academy voters. They receive a screening copy of the movie anyway to view for voting purposes. So I would predict Cinderella to be the Oscar winner for 2015 for designer Sandy Powell.
There are times in history when creative geniuses cause shifts in the arts. It is very rare when such a person can cause explosive aesthetic changes in several artistic media such as set design, ballet, costume, fashion, and ultimately, the styles of Hollywood film sirens.This person was Leon Bakst, born Lev Rosenberg, a Russian painter turned set and costume designer for Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes, where his sensual and sensational designs shocked the audiences. In working with Diaghilev, who assembled a “dream team” of artistic talent,” these arts themselves were changed.
In the classical world of ballet, allied with symphony orchestras in entertaining high society audiences, the modernism and naturalism of Diaghilev’s ballets must have seemed revolutionary. The look was created by Bakst, the artistic director. His costume designs on canvas and backdrops combine Art Nouveau and Fauve styles, blended with Orientalism. The finished costumes presented a rush of colors, with incredible pattern and detail, the whole complementing the scenery and the new dance styles, music and choreography.
In Russia Diaghilev and Bakst had known each other before they were involved in ballet, having been part of the same art circle in college called the Nevsky Pickwickians. But it was in Paris that the Ballets Russes was formed, with Russian dancing luminaries Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Tamara Karsavina, and Ida Rubinstein, and choreography by Michel Fokine. With classically trained Russian dancers, Diaghilev and Bakst would integrate the arts into the total ballet experience – music, dance, sets and costume – and with male as well as female dancers in prominence. The Ballets Russes began with some Russian tales and music , but with Cleopatre in 1909, Bakst’s second ballet, the full panoply of his artistic talents blossomed in conveying the story. Ida Rubinstein played the role of Cleopatra, and her provocative costumes shocked the audience. They would set the standard for all future Cleopatras of the silver screen.
A future patroness of Bakst, the American Warder Garrett wrote to her sister in 1915, “I go almost every day to pose for Bakst . . . he is one of the most strange human beings I have ever known.” Years later she would be his art representative in the United States. His vivid imagination was clearly translated onto the the page and the stage, but, under the costumes, he was fully aware that it was the body that animated the design.
The Bakst- designed costumes featured gold, lapis blue, malachite green, pink, orange and violet colors for the ballerinas and were very revealing through sheer fabric.
Scheherazade was produced by Diaghilev in 1910, with music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov with set and costume design by Bakst. The setting was ancient Persia, with a story of Harem women, eunuchs and palace slave lovers. The ballerinas were costumed in sheer silk harem pants, the men in embroidered velvet in jeweled colors. Nijinsky appeared in gold body paint, dancing sensually with Ida Rubinstein as the corps de ballet moved in a controlled frenzy, their bold colored costumes contrasting with the red carpet and green walls.
Harem pants became a style sensation for women, especially after fashion designer Paul Poiret added them into his line the following year. They were considered very bold dress as both a form of trouser and with a foreign origin. The style worn in public was not however the diaphanous ones seen at the Ballets Russes.
The ballet Dieu Bleu (Blue God) was produced in May 1912, with a libretto by Jean Cocteau and Federico de Madrazo and music by Reynaldo Hahn. The story is set in mythical India, where a couple visiting a shrine stirs local monsters, but supplicates the Blue God, or Krishna, to save them. Nijinsky plays the Blue God, wearing blue makeup. Bakst designed the costume below, thankfully saved and preserved at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, along with many other costumes and artifacts from the Ballets Russes. Its skirt represents a lotus flower, with gold thread and embroidered with arabesques. The bodice was in pink and blue colors, with gold thread forming rays.
In 1912 one of the most innovative, but also disruptive ballets was produced by the Ballets Russes: L’apres-Midi d’un Faune (Afternoon of a Faun.based on a poem by Stephane Mallarme, with music by Claude Debussy, and choreographed by Nijinsky himself. This was not done by the usual choreographer Fokine, which he was unaware of. Nijinsky and Diagilev used as a theme the stylized art viewed on ancient Greek vases in the Louvre. Nijinsky’s dancing itself would be stylized and very pofile-based, and most-shockingly, would use an erotic theme of a faun among a group of nymphs, this symbolized by the faun’s fitishistic attachment to a nymph’s veil, which he lies on dramatically to conclude the ballet. The ballet itself received mixed reviews and was controversial, but can be considered the first true modern ballet. Fokine resigned after his exclusion from doing the choreography.
In the ballet Nijinsky did not dance, he moved accross the stage in stylized body configurations.
The Ballet Russe’s Daphnis et Chloe opened two weeks after L’Apres Midi d’un Faune, but with Fokine’s resignation, closed after two performances.
The costume design by Bakst for Daphnis et Chloe was made for a ballet based on a classical Greek mythological story. The costume design above influenced the silhouette of contemporary female fashion itself.
Paul Poiret was a leading French couturier in the first two decades of the 20th century, His move away from the corseted figure, his hobbled skirts, and his strong orientalism were influences from the Bakst costume designs. From Poiret and the Ballets Russes themselves, the fashion influence radiated from the upper-class spectators and the “beau monde.” Even Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey wore harem pants during the show’s first season in the period of 1912.
And it was not long before the exotic look of Scheherazade, Cleopatra, and other characters of the Ballets Russes were considered the models for dress and comportment for Hollywood vamps and movie stars.
Even though Travis Banton did not design this bat-winged hostess gown for Evelyn Brent until 1930 for Slightly Scarlet, it reflects the influence of the Bakst style from the Chloe design above.
The image below shows Alla Nazimova in SALOME, with costume design by Natasha Rambova, 1923. Nazimova was a Russian actress, The multi-talented Rambova was an American that assumed a Russian name. The vivid costume and setting shows the influence of the Bakst designs.
Pola Negri starred in her first American film in 1923: Bella Donna. She would become a leading vamp and rival to Gloria Swanson at Paramount Pictures. Her costumes were designed by Howard Greer, who was very fashion forward.
Another Russian had made waves in early 20th-century fashion design, Erte, (French for R and T) the name used by Romain de Tirtoff. Erte moved to Paris in 1910 and worked as a designer for Paul Poiret, and used a Bakst-influenced Orientalism in his fashion designs. He was also a fabulous illustrator, and regularly illustrated the covers of Harper’s Bazaar with his fashion illustrations. In 1925 he was hired by Louis B. Mayer to become a costume designer at M-G-M, where Erte’s studio was replicated on the studio lot. Erte designed for films such as Ben Hur, Paris, Dance Madness and The Restless Sex. He never fit in to the studio system of hurried costume designing, and when Lillian Gish complained about the unrealistically lavish designs she was getting as a street girl in La Boheme, he quit. His influence on Hollywood’s young costume designers had already been long established.
Bakst had made inroads into Hollywood in other ways. Director and producer Walter Wanger had met Bakst and Nijinsky when he was a college student at Dartmouth. He had been very impressed by them and was influenced by Cleopatreand the Ballets Russes. “I am very fussy about clothes and sets,” he wrote in 1949. In 1939 he told a reporter that the Ballets Russes “…. were the greatest influence on drama, direction, lighting, costume designing, and interior decoration in the last fifty years.” Walter Wanger produced the 1963 Cleopatra and cited Bakst as an influence on its design.
Diaghilev continued to produce the Ballets Russes until his death in 1929. He involved many leading figures of modern art in their productions. Picasso and Miro designed sets or costumes, along with Coco Channel. Satie, Ravel and Stravinsky composed or conducted music. But like Julian Craster in The Red Shoes,or like Paul Grayson in Flesh and Bone, Diaghilev was jealous and controlling, Years earlier When Nijinsky married Romola de Pulszky, Diaghilev dismissed him in 1913 (Diaghilev and Nijinsky had been lovers). The year before, Bakst had begun designing costumes for Ida Rubinstein, who had started her own ballet company. Diaghilev dismissed his old friend too.
It is hard to imagine the impact that the Ballets Russes had on its era. Probably the closest equivalent would be that of the Beatles, although the ballet had a more narrow yet very deep audience. It is regrettable that its time came before film and sound recording could adequately capture its art forms.
The 1974 film That’s Entertainment, was a surprise hit for MGM, placing in the top 20 movies of the year and resulting in a sequel in 1976. The movie showed clips of the studio’s library of great musicals, narrated by its former stars.: Fred Astaire; Gene Kelly; Elizabeth Taylor; and Frank Sinatra, among others, and were filmed as they walked through the old standing sets of the back lots 3 through 6. In 1974 these back lot standing sets looked forlorn and worn down. Fred Astaire began the documentary at the train station on lot 2, where years earlier he had sung the first song in Band Wagon. He walked in front of atrain wagon that was falling apart. Bing Crosby narrates a visit to the English lake and its Waterloo bridge that he describes as looking “scruffy.” Donald O’Connor introduces the Esther Williams movies by visiting the outdoor pool that had been built just for her films. The whole area looked looked like some of our Southern California foreclosed properties of late.
The 1970s were not good years for MGM. Losses from declining revenues led to a corporate take-over by Kirk Kerkorian in 1969. He had little interest in movie-making, Kirkorian was mostly interested in using the MGM name for his hotel development in Las Vegas and other locations. Kirkorian installed James Aubrey as his hatchet man. A large staff-cut was Aubrey’s first move, with several film projects cancelled. Next was the famous (or infamous) 1970 MGM auction held over eighteen days of the studio’s collection of 12,000 props and rolling stock, even including its paddle steamboat, as well as some 350,000 costumes and “star wardrobe.” The year after That’s Entertainment was made, all of the lots with the standing sets were sold for residential development, thus all traces of them are gone today.
With its patriarch Louis B. Mayer long gone, apparently the only persons that thought the back lots should be preserved for posterity, as a museum or attraction park, was Debbie Reynolds, and Robert Nudelman of the Hollywood Heritage organization. Debbie had tried to buy them for that purpose (no doubt at an affordable rate) but was unsuccessful. A virtual tour of some of the standing sets through M-G-M’s Golden Age follows.
The classic era M-G-M studio had several lots. Lot number 1 where all the offices and major buildings were located was bordered by Washington Street, Culver Blvd. Overland Avenue, and Madison Blvd. While most of the lot had been taken over by sound stages and various buildings by the 1930s, part of the lot still had exterior standing sets through the 1950s. That lot is now occupied by the Sony Studios.
Lot 1 also had standing sets, these changed over time, some having been there since the days when it was the Thomas Ince studio and then the Goldwyn Studio. The M-G-M standing sets were on the Overland Avenue side of the lot. This area even included a concrete lined “lake” and the waterfront town as can be seen below.
The European town waterfront above could be changed with its storefronts reconfigured and re-painted as-needed for each movie. It extended its length and was known as “Waterfront Street.”
The more wild appearance of the lake or lagoon above was used for jungle-like settings, including for filming parts of Tarzan the Ape Man. Lot 1 also had standing sets replicating haciendas, medieval France, and New York City.
Moving over to Lot 2 across Overland Avenue, the lot was mostly used for standing sets, although various storage facilities were scattered throughout the lot. The New England town of the Andy Hardy movies was there, and the “Small Town Square” used in movies as diverse as Raintree County and The Philadelphia Story, not to mention The Twilight Zone, and there was also the “Grand Central Station.” used in various films. The “Waterloo Bridge” seen in That’s Entertainment, was also in lot 2, used in its prime for movies like The Divorcee in 1930, The Three Musketeers in 1948, Little Women in 1949, and Royal Wedding in 1951.
Nearby is “Quality Street,” which was used for a variety of medieval and 18th century European towns.
Quality Street was one of the old standing sets, originally built for Marion Davies’ starring vehicle Quality Street, from 1927, which William Randolph Hearst and his production company Cosmopolitan Pictures produced for her at M-G-M. It was also used for filming the 1948 production of The Three Musketeers.
Quality Street was also redecorated as an English Street for the Jeanette MacDonald film, Smiling Through from 1941, as seen above.
A continent away in architecture and theme but adjacent on the lot was a Chinese set used for The Good Earth in 1937. The castle wall and entry was used and re-used for a variety of films set in different countries and eras. It may have been originally built for the first Ben Hur in 1925.
The mansion-looking set above was used for several movies but looked different for each. In two it was an academic building, having been built, apparently, as a “girl’s school” for Forty Little Mothers in 1940, where the structure had a bell tower. It featured notably in Tea and Sympathy with Deborah Kerr and John Kerr in 1956. The structure as it looks above was used for The Cobweb, where it was a psychiatric clinic. This 1955 movie starred Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Charles Boyer, and John Kerr.
The New York Street on Lot 2 was a larger set than a similar set on Lot 1. It had nearly ten acres of sets and could serve for a variety of urban settings. Many movies were filmed there, starting with Wife vs Secretary in 1936, others including Words and Music, Band Wagon, Singing in the Rain, and many more were also filmed on these sets.
The photo above shows the suspended electrical power lines feeding into the various sets. The framing supports behind the façades can also be seen.
We take the tram down Overland to Lot 3 at Overland and Jefferson. This more remote lot (or so it was in the 1930s and 40s), allowed for some expansive outdoor sets.
One of the most famous “neighborhoods” on Lot 2 was the “St Louis Street,” named for Meet Me in St. Louis starring Judy Garland and directed by Vincent Minnelli. It was built expressly for the latter film at Minnelli’s direction. Minnelli can be seen directing the scene on the boom above.
The outdoor set below is the New England street and set for the Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney. It became known as the “Andy Hardy Street.”
The first permanent Western Town set on Lot 2 was built for the 1939 film Stand Up and Fight, starring Robert Taylor, Wallace Beery, and Charles Bickford. The standing set is amazingly detailed, especially compared to the western sets of the films from the 1970s- on and the spaghetti westerns.
Above is the Adam & Thomas McGara Store set from Stand Up and Fight.
Above is the General Store in the center of the photo with the Drug Store to the left.
The “Bullet Stage Yard” is in the foreground above with a view to Dan Rock’s Restaurant and Saloon.
Dan Rock’s Restaurant & Saloon is seen above with its hitching posts for horses and teams.
The house above was the attorney’s home on the set – note the partial front on the neighboring house, but the carefully built picket fence and shutters.
Note all the paraphernalia at the Hardware Store.
A proper town needed its Sheriff, and the town of Cumberland had theirs as seen above.
Luggage is part of the set dressing at the “Bullet Stage Line.”
The teams and wagons are part of the set at the Bullet Yard
The Blacksmith’s shop looks like it’s ready to take on any work
A porch on Cumberland Street opposite the Restaurant & Saloon
The Church is our last stop as we leave the wild west for other locales.
Lot 3 also had another lake and waterfront, seen below in this Port scene from some unknown film.
More familiar is the “Cotton Blossom” from the movie Show Boat, which M-G-M publicist Lionel Ascher visits below.
The photo below shows the concrete storage sheds for storing MGM nitrate film cans, circa 1936. Later, M-G-M had an electrical fire in 1967, destroying most of the studio’s cartoons, silent films, and films from the earlier Metro, Goldwyn, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures.
A fly-over Lot 1 shows the classic era M-G-M and the standing sets that existed, with the Thalberg Building at the bottom left.
The corporate history of MGM post-1974 is its own story, but it separated the classic film library and the studio lot from the name. Similar fates had befallen RKO and Columbia. The three-week long auction of the props and costumes is its own fascinating, if sad story, a subject for another post. The destruction of the many standing sets and the sale of the lots was a tragedy to classic movie fans.
For a thorough history of the M-G-M back lots, please read Steven Bingen’s, Stephen Sylvester’s, and Michael Troyan’s M-G-M: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot published in 2011 by Santa Monica Press.
For all the times I’ve seen Casablanca – on big screens and small, I never fail to be hooked from the beginning, stirred by the story and its characters, emotionally charged by the singing of The Marseillaise in defiance of the Nazis in Rick’s Cafe Americain, and spellbound during the final scene – still wondering what Ilsa will do. The movie may be number two or number twenty in the all-time list, but it’s the movie I love the most.
This post first appeared in my Silver Screen Modiste blog in February 2013
As with many great films, its backstory is as fascinating as the movie itself, and with Casablanca, its bumpy production is notorious. It started as an un-produced play, Everybody Comes to Rick’swritten by Murray Burnett with the assistance of Joan Allison. The story was inspired by the combination of the haunting song As Time Goes By, and Burnett’s 1938 visit to the French Riviera, and a nightclub where an African-American was playing jazz numbers on a piano. This scene was paired with Burnett’s experience seeing the rise of Nazism in Austria and the treatment of its Jews. Indeed, by 1942 when Casablanca’s production started, the U.S. had entered the war and things were going badly in the Pacific. The Nazis had overrun Europe and had invaded North-Africa. Here’s a digest of the film’s story and production.
The Production & Screenplay: Hal Wallis at Warner Brothers produced the film, making it into what it finally became.During the process several writers worked on the screenplay: Julius and Philip Epstein gave it wit and and its quick pace; Howard Koch gave it a political and moral heart, and Casey Robinson deepened it as a love story. Years later Howard Koch said of the film, ” I have almost a mystical feeling about Casablanca. That it made itself somehow.” Regardless, Hal Wallis kept all the screen writers working on it off and on, waiting for ultimate satisfaction. Casablanca is famous for the last minute resolution of how it would end. While the original story and screenplay definitely had Ilsa leaving with Lazlo, there was doubt about this unhappy ending for the film’s lead actor. It didn’t help that script changes kept coming just ahead of each day’s shooting, which was directed by Michael Curtiz. Ingrid Bergman herself wasn’t sure, adding depth to her performance as the uncertain Ilsa. It was Hal Wallis himself that came up with the final line, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
The Setting: Casablanca in western Morocco was not just an exotic location in which to set a movie. Its setting was strategic, and central to the plot. As the Nazi machine conquered more and more of Europe, various escape routes previously open for refugees and POWs were now being closed. Conquered France was split in two – the north was directly governed by the Nazis, and the south was ruled by the puppet government located in Vichy (hence the last drink and kicking of the bottle of Vichy spring water by Claude Rains at the end of the film). The old routes of travel were now blocked. The North Atlantic was heavily patrolled by German U-boats. The Mediterranean route from Marseille to Port Said in Egypt was blocked, Italy was an ally of Germany, while Spain was in the hands of a like-minded Fascist dictator. China had already fallen to the Japanese as had most of southeast Asia.
Casablanca and Morocco were part of a French colony now ruled by the Vichy government – essentially under the thumb of the Nazis. Refugees were forced to take the long way around, from Europe and Asia to North Africa. With luck, money, and the right papers, they could go from Morocco to Portugal, and from there set sail to North and South America.
The Actors: Casablancais blessed with an ensemble cast of iconic proportions. It could also be said that through them the film made itself when such talented actors with such diverse origins came together on the WB sound stage. In this it reflected the film plot itself, the coming together of political refugees, the oppressed, warring parties, itinerant professionals, and opportunists. The two main opponents, Victor Lazlo and Major Strasser, played by Paul Henreid the Austrian and Conrad Veidt the German, had both fled their native countries due to the rise of Nazism. Peter Lorre was also Austrian, born Laszlo Lowenstein and also an exile from the Nazis. His role as Ugarte is short but unforgettable. The masterful Sydney Greenstreet, an Englishman playing Ferrari the rival cafe owner of The Blue Parrot, is memorable in his fez, so much so that he served as the iconic image for Chris Van Allsburg’s first picture book, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi. Then there’s the Hungarian born S.Z. Sakall playing Carl the cafe manager, and the Russian Leonid Kinskey playing the bartender Sasha, and the French-Jewish Marcel Dalio playing the exuberant croupier. Actors from 34 different countries played in Casablanca. But one of them came from very close by: Jack Warner’s adopted step-daughter, the Los Angeles-born Joy Page, who played the Bulgarian newlywed that offered up herself for papers to ensure their escape to freedom.
Of course we have the principal actors – as unlikely to ever fall in love in real life as they were to play ideal paired opposites on screen – Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. She has notoriously been quoted as saying she didn’t think this was a great movie and that it wasn’t her best. He was previously noted for his gangster roles, a big stretch now to star as a lover, surprising even him. Neither particularly liked the other on the set. But magic happens on it’s own timetable, and as Bogart said, “Anytime that Ingrid Bergman looks at a man, he has sex appeal.” It was more than just “looking at a man” that Ingrid possessed. Any role she played as a lover showed that incandescent light of love.
And there is Claude Rains, he too an indispensable part of Casablanca, and an indispensable foil to Bogart’s Rick. They are the two halves that make up the whole hero in this film.
And there is also Dooley Wilson who played Sam, “Play it Sam, play ‘As Time Goes By,’ “said Ilsa. What would Casablanca be without his soulful singing of that haunting song.
The Music:The composer for the film’s score was the amazing Max Steiner, yet as wonderful a job as he did in setting the mood for this movie, the film still belongs to two incredible songs: As Time Goes By, music and lyrics by Herman Hupfeld, and La Marseillaise, the French national anthem with music and lyrics by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle. It got its name by the fighters from Marseille that sang the song as they marched to fight the opposing armies in the French Revolution. As Time Goes by, a song written for the 1931 Broadway play, Everybody’s Welcome, inspired Murray Burnett to write the play Everybody Comes to Rick’s, whichwas the basis for the movie.The song is the key to Rick and Ilsa’s past, and it re-introduces their relationship in the present. As for the stirring rendition of La Marseillaise, it serves as the the pivotal point where resistance to the Nazis becomes real for everyone in the movie, symbolized by Yvonne’s (Madeleine LeBeau) turnabout emotional singing of it in Rick’s Cafe.
The Costumes: Orry-Kelly designed the costumes for Casablanca. He was Warner Brothers’long-time designer, but this was the only time he designed the costumes for Ingrid Bergman. After the beginning of the war, Hollywood costumes became more sober and less glamorous. Orry-Kelly’s designs for Ingrid Bergman perfectly balance a simple but elegant wardrobe. She is dressed up just enough in each scene to draw attention, yet without seeming out of place. In the market scene below she wears a striking black & white striped blouse under a square shouldered white dress. Ingrid Bergman looked fetching in it, enough so that Edith Head used a similarly striped blouse for Ingrid Bergman in Notorious.
The Sets: One quickly forgets that Casablanca was filmed entirely on the back lot and sound stages of the Warner Brothers studio (and the Van Nuys Airport). The sets thoroughly transplant the story to its namesake Casablanca, Morocco. Some of the action takes place during daylight, but the moody and stark black and white photography enhances the moods of the story. The interior of Rick’s is where most of the action happens. Its decor looks realistic, but it is the multi-ethnic extras in the costumes and uniforms of their native lands that adds dimension to the scenes. These scenes actually influenced the bar scene in Star Wars with its various extraterrestrials.
Outside of Rick’s Cafe, searchlights constantly flash through the night, providing an atmosphere where nobody can hide.
The Themes: Casablanca is a love story buffeted by events and destiny. Its triangle of love makes for an unbalanced story, with one side always down. The story travels through time and space, and travel and exile form central themes of the movie. The map of Africa anchors the opening of the film, and travel is served in opposites: leisurely and fun, or panicked and desperate.
Casablanca has elements of Film Noir. Rick is an exile unable to return home or escape his past. He keeps burning his bridges and moving to an uncertain fate. He is both a cynic and a sentimentalist, dispensing judgments and determining others’ fates as his has been determined. His own fate is ambiguous to the end. Ilsa and love could settle on either man, yet she is unable to decide. She leaves it up to Rick, or to fate, to determine the outcome. Their final moments together are poignant. Did he really decide to let her go with the better man? Were his dreams and memories better than the reality they would have to face together? Rick has lost his fight for love, so now he must fight for glory.
Rick will “escape” with Louis, not to flee to the west and freedom, but to turn inward to Africa, to Brazzaville and to join the garrison of Free French fighters. The jaunty line “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” spoken by Louis, belies the hardship they would face in any such endeavor. But this is World War II, and the theme of fighting evil is the key to Casablanca.
Casablanca won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.
As Time Goes By
You must remember this A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
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.
Shelves and bins of shoes of all sizes and styles were also available for stock use. After years some of these were neglected and placed in more recessed areas, where no doubt the, several pairs of the Ruby Slippers from the Wizard of Oz were later found. Only one pair made its way to the MGM auction of 1970. It set the record for the highest priced item at the auction: $15,000. At recent auctions, pairs of the Ruby Slippers have fetched around $2 million.
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.
A blog about classic movie costume design and fashion