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.
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.
Hollywood movies have a rich history of wild and outrageous costumes. My list of the “Ten Wildest” must be prefaced. I did not include show girl, chorine, or musical number costumes. If I had, Adrian would likely have taken all ten slots in his costumes from The Great Ziegfeld, and Ziegfeld Girl. I also did not include fantasy, fairy tales, superhero, and science fiction movies, which precluded the great costumes from movies such as The Hobbit series, Snow White and the Huntsman, the Star Wars series, and the fabulous Edward Scissorhands costume.
I did include the costumes from historical characters on film, and from masked balls, which often depict historical characters, although with a bit of fantasy. Quite a bit as we’ll see later. The costumes skew to the 1930s. As has been written about elsewhere, so much energy was channeled into the movies as a release from the Depression and other societal pressures. This was especially true for film costume design. Well represented below are the great designers of that field: Adrian; Travis Banton; Walter Plunkett; Edith Head, and Irene Sharaff.
Your own list may be very different than mine. There are many costumes out there to discover. But to start out 2015, here’s my ten wildest costumes of the last century on film. They are arranged in chronological order.
1) Alla Nazimova in SALOME. Costume design by Natasha Rambova, 1923
The Biblical story of Salome, the daughter of Herod II and the original femme fatal, is told in this film, based on the Oscar Wilde story. The sets and costumes were designed by Natasha Rambova, the wife and manager of Rudolph Valentino. Even Erte was an admirer of Rambova’s style. She was born in Salt Lake City, and was not Russian. She did dance in the ballet and was very talented. She hired Adrian in New York to design costumes for Valentino, and was responsible for bringing him out to Hollywood with them. This costume was inspired by the book illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley.
2) Evelyn Brent in SLIGHTLY SCARLETCostume design by Travis Banton, 1930
Evelyn Brent plays the unwilling accomplice of a jewel thief in Paris and the French Riviera in this caper. She looks like a jewel herself in this Travis Banton “hostess gown.” The fabric was a sapphire blue chiffon, encrusted with crystal bugle beads. She wears no brassiere, definitely pre-code.
3) Kay Johnson in MADAM SATAN Costume design by Adrian, 1930
This is a C.B. DeMille directed movie, which has to be seen if only for its Zeppelin Ball and “Ballet Mecanique” sequence. Kay Johnson plays a staid housewife that is losing the attention of her husband and so takes on the persona of “Madame Satan” at a party on a dirigible. The costume designed by Adrian had red sequins on the interior of the cape, flame-cut fabric that went up the bodice, flame shaped gauntlet gloves, and the horned mask. The velvet was not black but a dark purple that registered better on the black and white film. See below.
4) Greta Garbo in Mata Hari. Costume design by Adrian, 1931
Certainly one of the most amazing costumes in movie history is this outfit made for Garbo in Mata Hari, its pants were made of gold mesh, the bodice of spruce green colored glass beads, and crystals, with a metallic scull-cap, jeweled-belt, and a bugle-beaded, long-trained skirt. Yet the costume was backless, a typical asymmetrical flourish of Adrian’s, but one showing Garbo’s vulnerability as Mata Hari the spy. Fifteen women worked three weeks to make the costume.
5) Marlene Dietrich inSHANGHAI EXPRESS. Costume design by Travis Banton, 1932
Marlene Dietrich plays “Shaghai Lilly” in Von Sternberg’s film, playing a regular rider on the Shanghai Express, living by any means possible in China for a woman of her beauty and wits. Travis Banton dresses her to perfection for the role, the picture of allure that only the silver screen and the glamour photography of the era can capture. The black coq feathures, skull cap, and veil, concentrates attention on her face, yet surrounds it in mystery. Still the confidence and the power of glamour radiates from within. The long string of pearls add sparkle over the black dress. The gloves and bag are Hermes.
6) Katharine Hepburn in CHRISTOPHER STRONG Designed by Walter Plunkett, 1933.
Katharine Hepburn played an aviator in this story of complicated love affairs within the Brittish upper classes. This was her first starring role. Here she wears this stunning Walter Plunkett designed costume to a party, The costume’s theme is “the silver moth” taken from “The White Moth,” an early working title for the film. The costume was made from small silver-metallic squares like an airplane would be, and she had a skull cap/helmet with the antennae of a moth. Indeed, she flies too close to the sun.
7) Claudette Colbert in CLEOPATRA, Designed by Travis Banton, 1934.
Cleopatra was one of the Cecil B. DeMille spectacles, and despite its age, holds up well in its visual and storytelling qualities. The sets are amazing, though very much influenced by the styles of the 1930s, but the same holds true with the later Cleopatra and the influence of the 1960s. Travis Banton’s costumes are magnets for the eye, with essentially simple form-fitting, 1930s silhouettes adorned with Egyptian-chic accesories. Banton had a series of arguments with Claudette Colbert over the designs for her costumes. She found them too revealing, with disapproving comments written all over his beautiful costume sketches. He left a second set of costume sketches for her approval, with instructions that she had better either like these or slit her wrists. The next day Banton waited and waited, only to have them returned streaked with dried blood. Furious, Banton left the studio and went on a binge, not returning until several days later when studio head Adolph Zukor called him personally and mediated the situation.
8) Vivien Leigh in GONE WITH THE WIND, Designed by Walter Plunkett, 1939.
This is one of the most iconic costumes in movie history. Although the curtain dress was part of the original novel, Plunkett designed it with much panache, adding its one sided capelet and huge tassled belt. Plunkett picked a green velvet to match Vivien Leigh’s eyes, although he had parts of it faded to look like authentic curtains. Vivien’s hat of velvet and black coq feathers was made by Mr. John. Scarlett wears the costume in crucial scenes as she goes asking for money from Rhett and then runs into Frank Kennedy.
9) Grace Kelly in TO CATCH A THIEF, Designed by Edith Head, 1955
The exquisite Grace Kelly does not play hard to get opposite Cary Grant in this movie where we are kept wondering, is he or is he not a jewel thief, operating on the French Riviera (jewel thieves and the Riviera have a long history in film). This movie has some of Edith Head’s best costumes, and the one above is a knockout. It is worn at a costume party and the plot’s climax, and Grace is wears the mock Marie Antoinette 18th century gown of gold lame, complete with golden birds and a golden wig.
10) Elizabeth Taylor in CLEOPATRA, Designed by Irene Sharaff, 1963.
The last “wild costume” comes from another Cleopatra, and probably the most lavish costume film in history. In fact the production and marketing costs of $44 million (in 1963 dollars) for the movie nearly bankrupted 20th Century-Fox, and halted production on several of the studio’s movies. The number of costume changes for Elizabeth Taylor still holds a record at 65 costumes. The gold costume above and below was made of seed pearls, gold bugle beads, and sequins, including a cape made of 24-carat gold -covered leather strips, made to look like the wings of a Phoenix.
Gail Patrick was the perfect contrast for such sweet and adorable blond stars as Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey and Irene Dunne in My Favorite Wife. She could also play the perfect bitch, roles that didn’t seem to phase her. She knew that with her tall, lithe figure, she was also the perfect model, and she need never be intimidated in any room, especially with a Baccalaureate degree tucked away in her purse pocket.
Gail Patrick was born Margaret LaVelle Fitzpatrick in Birmingham, Alabama, on June 20, 1911, She had an older and a younger brother, and thus grew up competing for attention. Her family was very social, and in the Southern manner, talk and storytelling were part of the environment. Gail received a B.A. from Howard College where she also served as dean of women for a period. She pursued a law degree at the University of Alabama, but after entering a publicized nation-wide contest by Paramount Pictures to play the “Panther Woman” in Island of the Lost Souls in 1932, she gave up her academic life and went Hollywood. She lost the role to Kathleen Burke, who she nonetheless befriended. It turned out to be a good thing for Gail, her friend Kathleen later related to her that she could never get another good role after being identified as “the Panther Woman.”
Gail was nevertheless placed on contract at Paramount Pictures for $50 a week. Not a large sum by movie star standards but a lot of money compared to what many people were earning during the Depression. She was given several uncredited roles in 1932-1933, and with her legal education she quickly negotiated her salary to $75 a week, and added a clause in her contract that she would not pose for cheesecake photos. In 1934 she played a minor role in a more important film, Death Takes a Holiday,shown above. It was directed by Mitchel Leisen and starred Frederick March and Evelyn Venable. In what would later be remade as Meet Joe Black. This was Gail’s first film to be dressed by the talented Travis Banton. From here on, with the exception of a few westerns, Gail Patrick would be a fashion plate on film.
In the photo above Gail Patrick does her best dark Marlene Dietrich imitation in a publicity shot for Mississippi,1935. The movie has apparently never made it to video or DVD, but was a classic pairing of W,C Fields and Bing Crosby. Crosby played Gail’s beau, until he didn’t meet up to her Southern ideals, whereupon he was relegated to her sister Joan Bennett’s attentions. This was one of eight movies Gail Patrick made in 1935.
Gail’s tough sister act in Mississippi must have made an impression on director Gregory LaCava, who cast her as Cornelia Bullock, the tough and jealous socialite sister of Carole Lombard in the wonderful My Man Godfrey.As Cornelia she tries her best to get William Powell as Godfrey fired since she couldn’t win his attention. As devious as Cornelia is in the movie, and in the best use of characterization, one can be redeemed, and here we see Gail/Cornelia transformed by the nobleness of Godfrey.
Gail married Robert Howard Cobb in 1936, the first of her four husbands. He was the owner of the famed Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood. The second was the derby-hat shaped restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard accross from the Ambassador Hotel, and its famed Coconut Grove lounge. All were famous as hang-outs for the stars. Alas , all are now gone. One lasting tradition, the Cobb salad, invented at the Brown Derby and named after its owner.
Gail played a leading role in a little known film titled Her Husband Lies (originally The Love Trap), from 1937. The story is based on the character of the notorious gambler and gangster Arnold Rothstein (characterized in Boardwalk Empire). Gail plays a nightclub singer married to Spade Martin played by Ricardo Cortez as the Rothstein character. He swore to his wife he was going straight but due to a variety of circumstances involving his younger brother, he gets sucked back into the underworld of gambling. Gail goes back to singing torch songs at the nightclub, and film noir starts early in this movie from the late 1930s.
Gail was dressed by Edith Head in this film as Travis Banton was having his problems with alcohol. Edith would soon be made head designer at Paramount. She followed his advice though, “When in doubt, trim in fur.”
Gail’s next big role was as a society beauty in Artists and Models,in 1937, co-starring Jack Benny, Ida Lupino, and Richard Arlen. The movie was a Paramount take-off from the Shubert’s Broadway Revues of the same title, the musical and chorus-girl themed shows popular in the 1920s. The central plot involved the production of the Artists and Models Ball. Jack Benny as the Ball Chairman had offered the “Queen of the Ball” role to his girlfriend Ida Lupino, a working class girl. But then he meets society girl Gail Patrick playing the part of Cynthia Wentworth, selling tickets for a charity benefit, and he offers her the “Queen of the Ball” role. The plot hinges somewhat on who will win out, but the real action is in the models and the musical numbers, including numbers by Louis Armstrong and Andre Kostelanetz. A real controversy ensued from the film’s showing in the South due to the musical number with Martha Raye, this due to her apparent interacting with the black musicians and dancing and gyrating in a style of the “negroes.”*
With all the emphasis on fashion and the musical stage costumes, Travis Banton got serious and produced some beautiful costumes for the film
Her next film was another classic and one of my favorite movies, Stage Door (below),directed by Gregory LaCava, whom she had worked with in My Man Godfrey, but this time at RKO. Before The Women, this was the women’s film par excellance. Its cast is a good indication of that: Katharine Hepburn; Ginger Rogers; Eve Arden; Lucille Ball; Ann Miller; Constance Collier; Andrea Leeds and of course Gail Patrick. Moreover, they are all roomates at the Footlighters Club, a boardinghouse for aspiring actresses in New York, supporting (or competing with) each other for roles on the stage. Constance Collier serves as a reminder of how it can all go bad, a sort of Norma Desmond without the mansion. This is also the model movie for delicious wisecracking and the women’s dialogue talking all over each other. The instant antagonism between roomates and polar opposites played by Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers reflected their own rivalry at RKO, and the boarding house rivalry between the Ginger Rogers and Gail Patrick characters is feisty to say the least, spiced up with the wisecracks of Eve Arden and Lucille Ball, some of it apparently improvised. Only the Andrea Leeds character is innocent, a victim of the system. Competing for roles and sometimes competing for the same men, Stage Door shows the highs and lows of the stage life.
The women’s wardrobe for Stage Door was designed by Muriel King, a freelance costume designer and fashion designer.
Several B movies and smaller roles followed: Mad About Music; Dangerous to Know; Wives Under Suspicion; King of Alcatraz; Disbarred; Man of Conquest; Grand Jury Secrets; Reno; and The Doctor Takes a Wife, where she plays the “other woman” to Loretta Young.
And then came My Favorite Wife, 1940, where the “other woman” role got really close to importance, as the groom was Cary Grant. As character Nick Arden he was finally free to marry Gail playing Bianca Bates after his wife was declared dead after seven years of being missing at sea. The couple drive off to a honeymoon at a Yosemite lodge, unfortunately the same spot of his first honeymoon, where the now just-returned first wife played by Irene Dunne goes looking for him. Plenty of surprise, embarrassment, and consternation is had by all. And then Cary has to make a decision between her and Irene Dunne. Maybe Randolph Scott that Dunne dragged home with her from the shipwreck island where they lived together will complicate things sufficiently, it certainly did with the movie’s censor. Now if only his wife will take him back, but which one?
This was another RKO film, directed first by the talented Leo McCarey, but following a serious car accident Garson Kanin finished directing the film. Costume designer Howard Greer, formerly at Paramount, who now had his own fashion business based in Los Angeles, designed the women’s wardrobe.
By 1941 Gail had perfected the “other woman” role, as she was once again cast the part, this time as William Powell’s old flame in Love Crazy. In this film he’s married to Myrna Loy, and they are about to enjoy their 4th wedding anniversary when the mother-in-law visits, slips on a carpet, sprains an ankle and prolongs her visit. It’s his job now to go mail an important letter since his wfe was out, whereupon, low-and-behold, he runs into his old flame Gail in the elevator, finding out that she has just moved into the building with her husband. Sure enough, the elevator breaks down and he ends up with a concussion, but with some special nursing by Gail as seen above, a spark is relit (enough for the plot amyway). There are complications galore, although everyone ends up with their respective spouses, Gail Patrick is all fun in this movie, and as usual beautifully dressed.
No costume credit is given in the film, a time of transition between several designers coming and going at MGM. But my eye says it was designed by Adrian.
Gail starred in the Tales of Manhattanin 1942 and Hit Paradeof 1943, as seen above. She appeared in several more films through the mid 1940s, but none with any major roles. She retired from acting in 1948, her last film being The Inside Story, produced at Republic Pictures, one of the “Poverty Row” studios.
In 1947 she married Thomas Cornwell Jackson, her third husband. He was the literary agent for Erle Stanley Gardner, who wrote the Parry Mason mysteries. Gail and her husband produced the TV show based on the book series, which ran from 1957 – 1966. For a few years previously she also designed a line of children’s garments.
Gail Patrick died in 1980 of leukemia at age 69. She bequeathed $1 million to her sorority Delta Zeta, the largest gift it has ever received.
*American Film Institute, Catalog of Feature Films. Artists and Models. http://www.afi.com/members/catalog/DetailView.aspx?s=&Movie=5196
Marlene Dietrich’s image jumps off the screen or the page with that look. Beginning with her first Paramount film in 1930, she was dressed by Travis Banton. He was the right designer to give her the “Marlene look” that she would carry throughout her career. What was it that made her image so unique? Whether dressed as a man or dressed as a woman, Marlene’s image remains iconic.
Marlene’s name is a combination of her first and middle name – Marie Magdelene Dietrich, born in Berlin on December 21, 1901. She was raised in an upper bourgeois family with a military heritage, where obedience, suppression of emotion, and discipline were ingrained in the two daughters. Her father died when she was six. After being raised in this proper bourgeois setting, she was released into the chaos and madness of post World War I Berlin, once described as the “Babylon of the World.” While then too plump to be considered attractive, she used her early musical training, her drive steeled by her discipline, her flair for getting noticed, and her already shapely legs, to get roles on stage and film, leading to the starring film role in UFA’s The Blue Angel, 1930, directed by Josef von Sternberg. Sternberg had seen Marlene on stage where she played the lead in Zwei Kravatten (The Two Neckties). Herdetached disdainful stage manner seemed to match his own, and he cast her in the film and got her a contract with Paramount in Hollywood.
Once in Hollywood, von Sternberg controlled her steps through the studio system. He is commonly considered to have both created and dominated Marlene and her image. Their story in this phase of her career seems to bear resemblance to the myth of Galatea and Pygmalion, and if anyone was under a spell it was von Sternberg. His particular manner of fixation to the star and her appearance would not be seen again in Hollywood until Hitchcock..
Their first American film would be Morocco in 1930. In addition to wardrobe, an important part of the studio system was the portrait and stills photography process, used heavily for film publicity. Here too von Sternberg directed the photo sittings. Paramount portrait and set photographers Eugene Richee, Don English, and William Walling shot dozens of stills, this at the time when single-negative cartridges were hand-loaded. The lighting used for Dietrich was a high spot, creating shadows under her cheekbones, with others to accentuate her forehead, this to create a shadow under her nostrils and thus emphasizing the triangle of eyes and nostrils, perched above her beautiful lips. With Marlene Dietrich more than with any other actress, she looks directly at the lens, and thus straight at the viewer. You are brought into her world – whether to join her in the role – or as viewed in today’s more cynical world – just to play along with her tease.
Travis Bantonwould find out immediately that Marlene Dietrich was no prima donna. Her ingrained discipline and suppression of emotion or of any complaint steeled her for every hardship. The production of Moroccowas rushed before some of her costumes could be completed. With Sternberg’s late filming habits, Banton was forced to take costume fittings late in the evenings. Nevertheless, Dietrich would come into wardrobe late after her shooting schedule, and she would stand stiffly upright while Banton, the seamstresses and fitters would work, exhausted, until the early hours of the morning. Dietrich’s costume fittings became legendary as to the lengths she would go to have everything perfect. Dietrich’s role in Morocco as a cabaret singer gave Banton liberty with a variety of provocative costumes. The top-hat of Blue Angel is changed to Dietrich dressed in white tie and tails basedonan idea of Dietrich’s. In this famous scene, shocking at the time (in the U.S.) for a woman dressed as a man, Dietrich sings and entertains while strolling into the audience up to the table of a pretty woman, takes a flower from her hair, hesitates, then kisses the woman on the mouth.
Marlene playing the role of Amy Jolly quickly falls for the Foreign Legionnaire Tom Brown, played by Gary Cooper. Travis Banton discovered that Marlene’s style of cool, almost disdainful style of acting, a product of her upbringing and suppression of emotions, was best served by costumes that were hot and punchy, even over the top and more than most actresses could wear. Feathers and fur, sequins and beads were immediately put into his inventory for her. The last scene in the movie is memorable, as Marlene walks into the desert sands in heels, which she quickly discards, as she trails the camp-followers that follow Tom Brown and the rest of the the legionnaires into the horizon.
Gary Cooper would become one of the leading men with whom Marlene had affairs. Others included John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Maurice Chevalier, John Wayne, Yul Brynner, Jean Gabin, as well as Joe Kennedy and General Gavin, and those were just the men.
Marlene’s next film was Dishonored, 1931, written and directed by von Sternberg. Here she plays a WWI era Viennese prostitute that is turned into a spy against the Russians. Only she falls in love with the Russian agent she is supposed to be working against and is tried for treason. The costumes designed by Banton go from the cheap and tawdry look of a poor prostitute to those sure to grab the attention of any man (see below). The studio and Banton had been working with Marlene to lose weight. In Dishonored, she appears as the slim sex goddess that she would forever be remembered as.
Blonde Venusfollowed in 1932, and is notable for several things. For one, Marlene co-starred with Cary Grant, the only film they made together. Another is the musical scene where Marlene comes out of a gorilla suit that she was dancing in with a revue – the whole number is amazing and is indelible as a film memory. The plot involves a wife and former night club singer played by Marlene that returns to the stage in order to pay for treatment for her sick husband. She later takes up with the rich Cary Grant character with whom she falls in love and that supports her. But she has a son and goes on the run when her husband wants to take him. Although this was a pre-code film, the censors still had the final say in the film’s ending.
Travis Banton again used beads and sequins to give Marlene plenty of flash in her night club act. The blonde afro wig is worn during her gorilla suit Hot Voodoo number.The extravagant feathered hat and trim shown below is pure Banton/Dietrich.
Then came Shanghai Express,and Marlene knocked our eyes out. Banton had already proved that he could go over the top with Marlene – and it worked. Here she plays another exotic role: Shanghai Lily. Banton dresses Marlene in a black dress exploding at the sleeves, shoulders, and collar in black coq feathers. Her scull cap is veiled to add to her aura of mystery. Her accessories of deco black and white gloves and purse are by Hermes. The long string of pearls provide another white accent on the black. Her look is devastating.
Much of the action in the movie takes place in the Shanghai Express train, or in train stations in China. The confined spaces of the train cabins magnify the appearance of Marlene and her co-stars. Von Sternberg uses many close-ups of Marlene with the same expressive chiaroscuro lighting he favored in their photo sessions. One can’t help but being mesmerized by her, and the camera as directed by von Sternberg clearly is. The film is also notable for the beautiful Anna May Wong as co-star.
Marlene’s next movie was The Scarlet Empress, whose original working title was Her Regiment of Lovers. Here she plays a German Princess selected by Queen Elizabeth of Russia to marry her son “the royal halfwit” Peter, become Catherine II, and to produce an heir. Things don’t go well between the married royals but rather better between Catherine and various regimental officers. For her first historical film, Travis Banton dresses her in 18th century court dress. To play on Marlene’s masculine/feminine polarity, he designed a particularly fetching Hussar’s uniform in white, with white fur trim on the pelisse and shako headpiece. Marlene’s daughter Maria played her as a child in the movie.
The last film that von Sternberg and Dietrich did together was The Devil is a Woman,a story of a femme fatale and her two lovers. The story’s early scene is of a baroque carnaval, a visually intoxicating street scene set in 1890s Spain. Marlene considered this her favorite film, and the “the most beautiful film ever made.” It is based on the book The Woman and the Puppet by Pierre Louys, the title an indication of its subject matter, and a title used in some if its later European film remakes. The costumes by Travis Banton were as over the top as the rest of the film, but here he used the Spanish costume accents and rich textures of lace, fringe, mantilla combs, and shawls, as well as embroidery, flowers, large sequins, and over-sized veiled hats.He used mostly black or white for her costumes.
A variety of factors led to the professional separation of von Sternberg and Dietrich. He faced problems at Paramount, but she certainly felt the separation difficult. In her memoirs she stated that she considered von Sternberg both a master and a genius.
Marlene’s first American movie without the direction of von Sternberg was Desire, where she was reunited with Gary Cooper, the film directed by Frank Borzage. In it she plays a jewel thief and Cooper plays an unsuspecting co-conspirator. It’s no surprise that they both fall in love.
Banton’s styling for Dietrich provided the usual glamour but also varied her look. Shown above is her typical bombshell look in a fur-trimmed negligee. She also wears a stunning decollete black gown with fanned out coq feathers at the shoulders, but Banton also dressed her in a very sporty but chic double-breasted black jacket over a white skirt with black & white pumps.
Travis Banton is shown above with Marlene, viewing costume sketches for Desire. Banton had been the brilliant costume designer at Paramount Pictures since 1925, and head designer since 1929. He also dressed Louise Brooks, Clara Bow, Mae West, Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, and many others, and where he also served as mentor to Edith Head.
Marlene’s next film was Angel, directed by Ernst Lubitsch and released in 1937. It would be her last film under contract for Paramount. This was a romantic comedy, co-starring Melvyn Douglas and Herbert Marshall. It received mixed reviews at its opening and remains a little seen classic considering the talent used in its production. One of the jewels of its production, and indeed of the entire Hollywood studio system, is the gown Marlene wore in the film and shown above. It was made from chiffon and laced with thousands of hand-sewn sequins and beads, and encrusted with semi-precious jewels. The stole is trimmed in Russian sable. Marlene wanted very badly to keep this gown as a souvenir as she left Paramount, but this was refused her by the studio. Amazingly, the gown survived the decades. It was restored by Larry McQueen and has been part of the Hollywood Costume Exhibitionoriginating at the V&A Museum in London. Travis Banton did not last much longer at Paramount either, and Angel would be the last film he designed for Marlene Dietrich. Alcohol had been the way that Banton tried to cope with the pressures of his job, and eventually this made things worse. His contract was not renewed in 1938, and he was gone shortly after Marlene, replaced by Edith Head. Marlene went on to star in many other movies. After Banton she chose her costume designers very carefully so as to preserve her “a la Dietrich” image. For several years this would by Irene (Lentz Gibbons), and later when Marlene went on stage, her wardrobe was designed by Jean Louis. So what was so unique about the look of Marlene Dietrich? Her upbringing had given that air of Nordic cool, yet her direct gaze invited you into her world. She displayed abundant sexuality yet could appeal to masculine or feminine tastes. She was bold in her dress, a model for later generations of film stars and stage performers, and she always owned her looks. She knew the best costume and fashion designers to use, and likewise, she used the best make-up artists, lighting technicians, and photographers there were. And she always worked as hard or harder than they did. During World War II, Marlene entertained the U.S troops on the European front. Marlene Dietrich died in Paris on May 6, 1992. Her films will live forever.
A blog about classic movie costume design and fashion