Thursday, July 31, 2014

Vivien Leigh costume from "A Streetcar Named Desire"

Vivien Leigh wore this dressing gown in her Oscar winning role as Blanche Dubois in the 1951 Warner Bros. classic "A Streetcar Named Desire" which was based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Tennessee Williams. 



A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the all time classics of the silver screen, and one of the major films of the 1950's.  It virtually began the film career of Marlon Brando, and ushered in a new kind of acting in Hollywood, what would become known as "method acting." It was destined for success simply because it was the film version of the great Tennessee Williams play, and all of his stories have been successfully brought to film, but it's the great performances that really drive the movie, especially those of Leigh and Brando. Kim Hunter and Karl Malden are also excellent in supporting roles for which they won Oscars, and the screenplay which Williams co-wrote is full of the kind of sharp dialogue and deep characters that he was known for. Elia Kazan directed the movie as well as the Broadway production, and he did a brilliant job since the movie doesn't have the feel of a stage play at all. Jessica Tandy played the role of Blanche on Broadway, while Leigh played the role in the West End, London production. Both were successful in the part, but when it came time to cast the movie, the producers wanted a "box office" name for the star role and chose Leigh. Her performance is amazing, proving once again how great an actress she was, a decade after she had turned in the performance of a lifetime in "Gone With the Wind".

Read more about the movie on wikipedia where it gives more details... If you haven't seen it yet please do, as they say on TCM, it's one of "The Essentials!"



A little about the legendary Vivien Leigh... 


Vivien Leigh was born Vivian Mary Hartley in 1913 in India to British parents, and was raised there as well as in London, and also traveled with her father throughout Europe. She showed an interest in acting early on after attending a boarding school for a time with future actress Maureen O'Sullivan. Her father enrolled her in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1931, and in 1935 she made her first movie, "Look Up and Laugh". She also started acting in plays and made other minor films. She also married for a short time which produced a daughter, Suzanne, as well as Leigh's stage name, which was her husband Herbert Leigh Holman's middle name. In 1937 she made "Fire Over England" where she first worked with future husband and love of her life Laurence Olivier. Then in 1938 she made "A Yank at Oxford" which was shot in England for MGM, and co-starring her friend Maureen O'Sullivan. 

Around this time casting was beginning for the role of Scarlet O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind" and Leigh and Olivier traveled to the U.S. for her to audition for the part. Selznick was impressed with her film work up to this time but was reluctant to cast her as a girl from the South since she was British. However, the rest as they say is history, as Leigh got the part and turned in one of the great performances in film history. Her portrayal of spoiled Southern belle Scarlet O'Hara is the driving force of the movie, and, like the character of Blanche Dubois has an intensity and resilience that glues you to the screen. It's hard to imagine any other actress having played the role of Scarlet, even though just about every actress in Hollywood at the time was considered.

As Scarlet O'Hara

In 1940 Leigh made "Waterloo Bridge" for MGM, co-starring Robert Taylor which was a great success. Then in 1941 she and Olivier finally teamed up again in the romantic drama "That Hamilton Woman" which was made in England by the brilliant Alexander Korda. It's a great production and she and Olivier are magnetic on screen. After beginning their affair in 1937, they had married by 1940 after each of them got divorced from their respective spouses. Theirs was one of the great romances of classic Hollywood. Being a famous and glamorous acting couple they were always in the fan magazines and papers, and hung out with the A list in Hollywood and Europe. They also continued to do movies and theater together and apart throughout their marriage which lasted until 1960.

Olivier and Leigh at the premiere of  her film "Anna Karenina" in London


Getting back to her movie roles, in 1945 she made "Caesar and Cleopatra" with Claude Rains, and in 1948 came the classic "Anna Karenina" with Ralph Richardson. Then in 1951 came "Streetcar", and in 1954 she was all set to do "Elephant Walk", when due to ill health she had to drop out and was replaced by Elizabeth Taylor. Her last few films were unimportant, ending with "Ship of Fools" in 1965.

Leigh was known as one of the great theatrical stars of London's West End as much as she was known for her movies. She also worked on Broadway, winning the Tony Award for "Tovarich" in 1963. Her extensive theatrical work is one of the reasons that she made so few movies, only 19 in her career. It's because of her timeless roles in GWTW and Streetcar among her other great but lesser known movies that she's considered such a legend of the silver screen today. 

After her divorce from Olivier she never remarried, although she had a relationship with actor John Merivale which lasted until her death. Throughout her life Leigh had suffered from terrible bouts of depression and was later diagnosed as being bi-polar. This is what ultimately ended her marriage to Olivier who went on to marry actress Joan Plowright. Leigh also suffered from tuberculosis over the course of 20 years, and while rehearsing Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance" she had a relapse. She was put on bed rest and passed away on July 7, 1967 at the age of 53. 

Her natural acting ability, star quality, and stunning beauty will live on in the movies she made. So few actresses have made so few movies yet left such an indelible impression on the world... 


Read more about Vivien online... 



Her wikipedia link...




And now back to Streetcar... 
 


















 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Linda Darnell period gown from "Centennial Summer"

Linda Darnell wore this period gown in the 1946 Fox musical "Centennial Summer" in which she starred with Jeanne Crain, Cornel Wilde, Constance Bennett, Dorothy Gish, and Walter Brennan. It was directed by Otto Preminger and featured Jerome Kern's music. The movie was a big Technicolor musical about a Philadelphia family during the late 1870's and the Philadelphia Exposition that was taking place at the time. It's been said that the movie was Fox's answer to MGM's "Meet Me in St. Louis" which was such a big hit two years earlier and had the same type of theme. But regardless of the comparisons, "Centennial" really shines on its own as a great family musical of the era...




                                                 Darnell with Walter Brennan who plays her father in the movie




                                            A little about the beautiful and talented Linda Darnell...


Linda Darnell was one of Fox's top female stars in the 1940's and is considered one of the great "dark beauties" of Hollywood's Golden Age, alongside such stars as Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh, Gene Tierney, and Hedy Lamarr. (Stay tuned for costumes from all of these actresses which I'll be posting over time). 

Darnell was born in Dallas, Texas and began modeling at a young age. She had a classic "stage" mother who wanted her to become a star, and it soon became a reality when Fox signed her to a contract when she was only 15.  She made her first movie there in 1939, Elsa Maxwell's "Hotel for Women". She then went on to appear in one hit after another at the studio as they groomed her for stardom. She was featured most notably in "The Mark of Zorro," and "Blood and Sand," alongside Tyrone Power,  followed by the noir classics "Hangover Square" with Laird Cregar, and "Fallen Angel" with Dana Andrews and Alice Faye. In 1946 she made "Centennial", and the following year she made one of her best loved movies, "Forever Amber" playing the heroine of the title, Amber St. Claire, alongside Cornel Wilde who was a frequent co-star of hers throughout the years, including in "Centennial." In 1948 she made "Unfaithfully Yours" with Rex Harrison, one of Preston Sturges' best and what is today a cult classic. She and Harrison make a great screen pair and play off each other beautifully with Sturges' great writing and direction. And then in 1949 Darnell made what is arguably her best movie, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's "A Letter To Three Wives" in which she starred again with Jeanne Crain, along with Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas, and Paul Douglas. Mankiewicz's brilliant writing and directing really shine in this movie, and he really brought out the best in Darnell. It's widely regarded as her best acting performance. I'll be posting the one sheet movie poster and talking more about it in a future post.

During the 1950's Darnell's career started to wane a bit as she made less important movies, which often happens as an actress starts to age and after her career has reached a peak. 1949 was definitely her peak, when after a decade of making movies at Fox she turned in her finest work in "Wives," and then wasn't given parts that were equally as good after that. However she continued to work steadily in movies and also did TV and stage work. 

In 1965 at the age of 41, Darnell tragically died in a house fire in the suburbs of Chicago where she was staying with her former secretary and friend. The details of how the fire started have never officially been known, but it's been speculated that it started from a cigarette that she accidentally left burning after watching "Star Dust", one of her early movies on TV late one night. It was also said that she was trying to save her friend's daughter who she didn't know had already escaped the house, and this is how she got burned so badly. She actually died from the burns sustained in the fire a few days after it happened. It was a tragic ending for such a vibrant and beautiful star who was once one of the most beautiful women on screen. Thankfully her beauty and talent live on in her work...

                                                      Read more about her life in detail on wikipedia... 
                                                         http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Darnell





"Centennial Summer" takes place in 1876 during America's first "centennial" anniversary. It centers around the Rogers family as they go about their lives during the Philadelphia Exposition which is about to begin. Darnell plays Edith Rogers, one of the daughters of Jesse and Harriet Rogers played by Walter Brennan and Dorothy Gish. Brennan was one of Hollywood's great character actors and appeared in over 200 movies, and Gish was mostly known as a star of the silent screen along with her sister Lillian, but she made a few select sound movies later in her career including this one. Jeanne Crain plays Darnell's sister Julia and it was great to see them working together since they were both two of the most beautiful and popular stars at Fox during the 40's. Constance Bennett plays wealthy aunt Zenia, and like Gish was known for her earlier work in movies, most notably the great pre-code ones she did in the early 30's, but by this time she was doing select character parts. Buddy Swan who most famously played Charles Foster Kane's son in "Citizen Kane" plays Dudley, the younger brother, and Barbara Whiting, of the "Whiting Sisters" fame plays younger sister Susanna. William Eythe plays Ben who is trying to court Darnell's character. He was a contract player at Fox and his career never really took off, even though he was in some great movies there at the time. And Cornel Wilde plays Philippe, a temperamental French artist who is at the exposition preparing an exhibit. It's a very odd role for him and kind of silly in a way to see him playing this type of character with a heavy accent, but, great actor as Wilde was he did pull it off beautifully. It's just a very different role for him to say the least! 

Darnell wears the gown as the family is having breakfast and preparing to go to the exposition, as they all sing "Up With the Lark" and then as they take a carriage ride to and through the exposition, and meet up with Cornel Wilde... 












Darnell with Dorothy Gish, Walter Brennan, and Jeanne Crain







During the scene as they leave to go to the exposition she has on a period jacket that covers some of the gown. She stops to talk with William Eythe and then they all hop in a buggy to head off...












Here is some detail of the back with the bows and ruffles. It needs a small bustle and some steaming but thankfully it's survived just as she wore it on screen with no alterations. Only a small amount of chiffon and lace trim at the bottom was removed at one point... not bad for a gown that is mostly eyelet lace and is over 60 years old! 









 


Rene Hubert designed the costumes for the movie, and he was very adept at creating beautiful period styles. Each one in this movie is like a work of art, with great attention to detail. Even the men's costumes really stand out, and there is a costume ball scene where he makes great use of color. Hubert also worked extensively at Fox on other big period movies like Darnell's "Forever Amber", as well as "Dragonwyck," "Moss Rose," "That Lady in Ermine," "Desiree," "Anastasia," etc. etc. Hubert came to Hollywood through his friend Gloria Swanson. Please check out the post I did for the gown he created for Swanson to wear in "What a Widow!" in 1930. 

The gown is mostly eyelet lace with lace and chiffon trim and blue velvet bows, and has a great hourglass kind of shape to it. The entire gown has an under-dress (or under-gown) that is sleeveless and made of a cream silk. It serves as a base for the rest of the gown which would've been see-through otherwise. 




                             Buddy Swan, Barbara Whiting, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain, and Darnell...








Darnell, Brennan, Gish, Bennett, Whiting, Crain, and Swan all at the exposition...


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 Here is the original Fox label with her name and the production number...

A costume from 20th Century Fox was typically labeled this way during this time, with what they called a "bias" label, because it would be sewn on the bias, usually along the inner back of the garment where it fastens or zippers. This was typical of a dress or gown. For a ladies suit or jacket it would usually be sewn into one of the sleeves. The label would have the actresses name along with the production number for the movie, which for Fox studios was always three digits. In this case the "479" on this label is the production number. It's not known what the numbers that follow represent, but I'm guessing it was the scene number as it was shot for the movie, or perhaps the number that was assigned to it by wardrobe as the costumes were being made. The stamped numbers have always been a complete mystery, yet most ladies costumes from Fox have a stamped number like this on the label. Western Costume Company made most of their costumes, especially during the 40's and 50's and this one was probably made there. Many remain in Western's inventory, some are in the archives of 20th Century Fox, and some have entered the collecting market over the years like this gown.