Tag Archives: Carole Lombard


Have you seen this boat bed? It appeared prominently in five movies, and was originally owned by a French entertainer.  Its status is now unknown.

Although it won’t come to mind as a famous movie prop,  it resonates in culture, entertainment, and film history like no other object. This boat bed was made for Gaby Deslys, the turn-of-the-last century dancer, singer, and star. The native of Marseille France was a star of the Folies Bergère  in Paris, where the King of Portugal and Sir James Barrie both fell for her.  She also introduced the first striptease in a Broadway musical. She was also  played by Tamara Toumanova in M-G-M’s Deep in My Heart in 1954.  While still in her prime she was infected by the influenza, and died in 1920. She left her Villa off La Corniche in Marseille, a few hundred yards from where my grandparents lived, to help the poor. The City owns it now for civic purposes.


Deslys  had the boat bed made in Marseille. It is carved and gilt, with Cupid as a figurehead on its bow. The whole is based on the  “Grotto of Venus” scene from Wagner’s opera Tannhauser.  And Cupid is based on painter Francois Boucher’s model.  Wagner’s opera had elements of medieval stories of Lohengrin and the Swan Knight, and images of a swan-bowed boat are also mixed in with the one above. Tannhauser and the Grotto of Venus were such powerful images that King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886) the “Mad King,” built an extravagant copy of the grotto in his castle’s grounds. It was so extravagant that any Hollywood movie or amusement park would envy it today. Ludwig had been fascinated by Wagner’s opera Lohengrin ever since he saw it as a prince. Not long after he inherited the throne he became Wagner’s patron. Ludwig built at his sumptuous Linderhof castle a reproduction of the Venus Grotto  –  with a 33 foot high ceiling, complete with a cascade, false stalactites, garnished grout, a pond, a faux moon, and arc-lighting. The Grotto itself was made to resemble the Blue Grotto of Capri. Ludwig had one of his servants row him on a boat around the pond – the boat that served as the model for the bed, with Cupid as its figurehead.

The Venus Grotto at Linderhof Castle with Cupid’s boat

At the death of Gaby Deslys, her furnishings were auctioned. Director Rex Ingram was about to make Trifling Women starring Barbara La Marr as a vamp and had Metro Pictures buy her boat bed as a prop for the movie. Thus Cupid’s boat bed made its cinematic debut  in 1922.

Ingram considered the film, now believed lost, to be his best. It made a big star out of both the beautiful La Marr and her lover Ramon Novarro. La Marr had a short life as a brilliant star as she died of tuberculosis in 1926 at age 29. Louis B. Mayer, the head of the combined Metro, Goldwyn, and Mayer companies considered Barbara La Marr so beautiful that he gave the last name to Hedy Lamarr, when he signed her to M-G-M in 1938 as “the most beautiful woman in the world.”

Barbara La Marr in Trifling Women

Soon after,  producer B.P. “Bud” Schulberg and director Louis Gasnier made Daughters of the Rich in 1923, which featured the Boat Bed.  The film starred Miriam Cooper, Ethel Shannon, and Ruth Clifford.  Famed cinematographer Karl Struss did the photography. Below is Ethel Shannon as Mademoiselle Giselle posing in the Boat Bed.

It wasn’t long before the boat bed was being slept in by Mary Philbin as Christine Daae – with Lon Chaney as the Phantom of the Opera pursuing her. Universal’s 1925 classic set the model for both “horror” movies, following the studio’s Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1922, and its emphasis on droll characters.

Mary Philbin in “Phantom of the Opera,” Universal 1925

Cupid’s boat bed made it out of silent cinema. It’s magnetic powers drew one of the greatest and most admired stars of the 1930s: Carole Lombard. Twentieth Century was a movie about an impresario that helps make a lingerie model into a Broadway star. The title refers not to the time period but to the train line from Chicago to New York where some of the drama takes place. The bed featured prominently in her bedroom.
The boat bed appeared to be refinished in white to give it a more “Deco” friendly look


A better ( if nor more clear) view of Cupid)

Movie studios would rent props and costumes to other studios, and it appears  the Cupid boat bed went to M-G-M where it appeared briefly in the 1949 version of Madame Bovary with Jennifer Jones. It can be seen in the Hotel de Boulogne room where Madame to Bovary has a meeting with Leon just as she enters the room. The Boat Bed then went to Paramount.  It stayed at Paramount however, where it next appeared in the most retro of movie set designs for Sunset Blvd. Norma Desmond, star of the 1920s should have no other bed than Cupid’s boat bed, even though another vamp  had already slept in it, not to mention a dance hall striptease artist.


Gloria Swanson and William Holden in Sunset Blvd. , 1950

Cupid’s boat bed next went to Columbia Pictures to appear in a lightweight comedy titled Good Neighbor Sam in 1964. The movie starred Jack Lemmon, Romy Schneider and Dorothy Provine. It is shown below in a partial view in a dream scene with Romy Schneider and Jack Lemmon.

By the 1960s the Hollywood studio system was starting to fall apart, and with it, the warehouses full of props and costumes that each studio  had amassed over the decades. M-G-M auctioned all of their props and costumes in 1970, with their back lots of standing sets following. 20th Century-Fox  sold off their props and costumes in 1971.

Under unknown circumstances, Cupid’s boat bed was auctioned or sold to James (Jim) Buckley. Buckley had an interesting background as a window display artist for Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman in New York and later at Saks in Beverly Hills. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London after World War II and by that time had married Olga. He was also a set decorator for M-G-M.  The couple founded the  Pewter Plough Playhouse in Cambria California. Jim also wrote the book, The “Drama of Display: Visual Merchandising and Its Techniques.”  Olga ran an antique store there as well and Jim planned to open a museum for his collection of movie props and memorabilia, including Cupid’s boat bed.  Jim continued to run the theater with his second wife and artistic director Rebecca Buckley until his death in 2015. The Boat Bed had been sold, however, and according to one of our readers,  made its way to an Antique dealer in New Jersey. From there  it was sold and was in a house that in turn was also sold.

The location of Cupid’s boat bed is not publicly known at this time. While it may not feature in another movie, its centennial in movies would be wonderful to celebrate, or in a film-oriented museum.


Acknowledgments to the following for their informative resources:



Michelle Facey for research on Daughters of the Rich.

Joseph Nevchatal on King Ludwig and Linderfof Castle

Sherri Snyder, “Barbara La Marr: Life on Her Own Terms.” Guest Post in Classic Movie Hub. December 11, 2017

Sarah Linn. Passion in the Pines: Jim Buckley Brings Theater to Cambria. White Hot Magazine, November 18, 2012



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. President to 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 below knew 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.


Beads Marlene_Dietrich_Irene


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.

Beads Joan-Ruth Louise 1926 classicfilmheroines


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


Harlow Dinner at 8


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 by Hurrell 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.


Beads Harlow_Gable
Photo by Photofest


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.


Joan Red Bride

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.


Hollywood costume V&A Bride Wore Red


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.


Beads Lombard - Brief Moment


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 Sweethearts in 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.


Jeanette MacDonald 5 JPG


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.


Slightly Dangerous (1943) Directed by Wesley Ruggles Shown: Lana Turner
Photo by Photofest


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.


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) Directed by Howard Hawks Shown: Marilyn Monroe (as Lorelei Lee), Jane Russell (as Dorothy Shaw) Song: A Little Girl from Little Rock
Photo by Photofest


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.


Beads Marilyn Orry-Kelly


Pictured below is the famous 1962 Happy Birthday Mr. President dress 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.


Beads Marilyn birthday dress


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.

Beads Blowup Verushka

The glamour of beaded gowns has moved from the screen to the red carpet in recent years. Two striking examples are shown below.


Beads Selena Gomez 2014
Photo courtesy WENN

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.


Beads Blake-Lively-Beaded-Zuhair-Murad-Couture-Gown
Photo by Tinseltown/Shutterstock

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.