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.