Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Billie Burke movie worn costume hat

She wore this hat in the 1938 comedy "The Young In Heart". It co-starred Janet Gaynor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Roland Young, Paulette Goddard and was produced by David O. Selznick.

A hat worn by Billie Burke in the 1938 comedy "The Young In Heart"

Billie Burke will forever be remembered as Glinda the Good Witch in what is arguably the most famous movie of all time "The Wizard of Oz." But she had a lengthy career in motion pictures, playing character parts in dozens of movies throughout. She was also married to the great Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld of "Ziegfeld Follies" and "Show Boat" fame, who is still renowned as one of the greatest producers in the history of the theater.

She began her career on Broadway during the early 1900's, and segued into motion pictures during the earliest days of the silent era. She was very successful, and continued to work steadily in the industry until 1960. Her heyday was the 1930's and 40's where she played in such memorable classics as "Dinner at Eight" as Lionel Barrymore's wealthy, flighty wife, in "The Man Who Came To Dinner" as a long suffering host to Monty Wooley, and in the series of popular "Topper" movies, the best being 1941's "Topper Returns." In 1938 she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for "Merrily We Live" her only nomination.

She had a unique career in that she worked freelance in the movies during a time when most actors were under contract to one particular studio. It was probably due to the fact that she was already well established as a personality in the business when she started making movie after movie during the 30's and 40's. She had perfected the role of the elegant, flighty, comedic wife or mother and was sought out for those types of roles. And although excellent in them, she could handle drama as well. She's revelatory as Bette Davis' depressed mother in "In This Our Life" or as Katharine Hepburn's mother in "A Bill of Divorcement," dealing with the strain of estranged husband John Barrymore's return.

In "The Young In Heart" she plays the matriarch of a family of con-artists, with frequent co-star Roland Young as her husband and Janet Gaynor and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as their children. The story revolves around them trying to swindle a wealthy old woman (played by Minnie Dupree) out of her fortune, but as good things start happening in their lives and as kind as the old woman is to them, they begin to think of her as family. When she becomes ill they are genuinely concerned and help her get back on her feet. It has a happy ending with both children marrying their significant others - Fairbanks to Paulette Goddard and Gaynor to Richard Carlson.

She wears the hat when they first arrive at the wealthy old woman's house in London ...

The hat is labeled with a Selznick Studios label with her name and production/inventory number. It's kind of remarkable that the hat survives, since very few Selznick labeled pieces have ever surfaced. Most of the ones that have are ladies costumes from "Gone With the Wind" that still exist, and they too are predominantly hats and bonnets. (And a handful of Vivien Leigh's gowns are in various archives).

The hat also bears a Nicole de Paris label, the French milliner who originally made it, and labels from 20th Century Fox and Western Costume. It seems to have been re-used a lot over the years from the other labels being in it, which is probably why it's survived. Costume design for the movie was by Omar Kiam, but obviously the hat was bought for the production.

I hope you've enjoyed this tribute to Billie Burke, one of my favorite character actresses, and please stay tuned for more...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Frank Sinatra MGM costume from "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" from 1949


This classic MGM musical co-starred Gene Kelly, Esther Williams, and Betty Garrett.

Vintage blazer worn by Frank Sinatra in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame from MGM in 1949

What can be said about Frank Sinatra that hasn't been said already... Ol' Blue Eyes, The Chairman of the Board. He's arguably the greatest entertainer of the 20th Century. And I know, I know, there's Michael, and Elvis, and Marilyn, and Lucy, etc. etc. But, in terms of the impact that he had on show business and our culture for so many decades, I think he can easily be regarded as the greatest.

With Ava Gardner in the 50's

I'll never forget the first time I heard "Luck Be a Lady". I was about 12, and it was the first song of his I had ever been exposed to, outside of hearing "Come Fly With Me" on an airline commercial. Anyhow it was in a box set of cassette tapes (and yes, I'm dating myself) of "big hits of the 50's and 60's" that I got at a vendor booth at a car show. This was the only song of his in the whole set, since it had one hit from each big name of the time. I was so blown away by his performance, not only of the song itself and how he sang it, phrased the words, paced it, swung it, but the orchestra, just blasting away behind him. To this day I don't think there's a song I've heard that has such a big screaming horn section like "Luck Be a Lady". I played it over and over again, and then bought an album of his best hits - "20 Golden Greats" or something like that, and I've been listening to him ever since. From the Big Band era and the songs he did with Tommy Dorsey and Harry James right up to his last album with Quincy Jones, as well as the brilliant "Duets" albums. Then there's his heyday of the 50's and 60's and those great albums he did with Nelson Riddle, Count Basie, and Antonio Carlos Jobim. He sang so many types of songs, did so many types of albums, and there isn't one I can think of that I don't like. He and Ella Fitzgerald are really the best singers of all time in my opinion.

The thing about Sinatra is not only was he a great singer, but such a great actor as well. And most other singers of his era didn't make that transition. Some people, like my Dad for instance, consider him a better actor then a singer. Watch him in "From Here To Eternity" which he deservedly won the Oscar for, or "Suddenly" where he plays a crazed assassin, or "The Manchurian Candidate" where he gives a subtle performance. And then of course the musicals. He was so good at playing the shy nerdy type in the 40's MGM musicals like "Anchors Aweigh", "Ball Game", and my favorite, "On the Town". And it's great to see him playing that kind of character since he was nothing like that in real life. And he took these musicals seriously. Gene Kelly himself said that Sinatra was dedicated to learning how to dance well and really gave it his all. And it shows when he's holding his own alongside Gene Kelly who was one of the greatest movie dancers of all time. During the "Ultimate Event" concert that Sinatra did with Sammy Davis Jr. and Liza Minnelli which was filmed for TV, at one point he's sauntering across the stage and says "I taught Gene Kelly everything the bum knows" to laughter of course... A funny tribute to his old dancing partner.

Sinatra went through many highs and lows throughout his life, both career wise and privately, and he emerged as a legend and an icon of our culture, representing the best in popular music, and left a lasting legacy on film as well. I'm glad I have this relic from his movie career. It's a special piece in the collection. 

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" takes place during the early 1900's, and Sinatra and Kelly are players for a team called "The Wolves". It winds up under the ownership of Esther Williams, much to the chagrin of Kelly especially, and this causes friction with her. Sinatra is initially smitten with Williams, but then Kelly falls for her, as their animosity toward each other soon blossoms into romance. All the while Betty Garrett has her sights on Sinatra, who she winds up with by the end. It's a fun movie, directed by Busby Berkeley who was so versed in doing movie musicals. He helmed the now iconic ones done at Warner Brothers during the early-mid 30's, like "42nd Street" and the "Gold Diggers" series.  

Sinatra wears the jacket for a long segment of the movie, during the number "Yes Indeedy" with Kelly, and then "It's Fate Baby, It's Fate" with Garrett. 

You can really see the detail of the herringbone weave in this close up screen grab... 

And here's a view of the back...

The jacket originally came from the 1970 MGM sale, and I bought it from a guy who bought it there. It was one of the many costumes sold after the main auction during the retail sale that was held of costumes and props when the studio was being liquidated. So much history was lost, but luckily things like this survive because of the many people who went and bought things and held onto them.

Costume design was by Valles, who worked on a number of MGM movies designing mens costumes during the mid to late 1940's. Women's costumes were by Helen Rose, who was the main designer at MGM from the late 40's throughout the 1950's.  Here is the MGM label with his name and production numbers. His name and the size notation of 38 is also written in the lining. It's a real reminder of how skinny he was early in his career. 

I was lucky enough to meet Betty Garrett at one of the Hollywood Collector Shows about ten years ago. She was one of the nicest celebrities I've ever met, very sweet, very talkative, and very down to earth. She signed a photo to me of Sinatra wearing the jacket during their number together and wrote a fun inscription... 

I hope you enjoyed this post. In the next few weeks I plan to post an Ella Fitzgerald gown in tribute to her 100 year centenary.  


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Bonhams and TCM present - "Lights, Camera, Auction", their yearly sale of Hollywood treasures, as well as Maureen O'Hara's estate

Each year around Thanksgiving, Bonhams in New York has their yearly sale of great Hollywood memorabilia that they do in conjunction with Turner Classic Movies. This year they're also auctioning the estate of Maureen O'Hara, one of the great actresses and beauties of classic Hollywood. I went to the opening reception on Sunday night which was a lot of fun. Here I am with Judy Garland's "test" dress from "The Wizard of Oz" ... 

This dress was used during the early stages of filming, when they were trying different styles and shades of blue trying to find the right look of her character Dorothy Gale. To the left is the image of Judy wearing it, as well as a pinafore apron that was also an early test piece. These are the most important costumes in the sale... 

I also consigned a few pieces of my own, paring down the collection a bit. An Ava Gardner gown from "One Touch of Venus", Betty Hutton costume from "The Perils of Pauline" and Jill St. John dress from "Who's Been Sleeping In My Bed". I'll post pics of those later, but first let's look at some highlights from Maureen O'Hara's estate since her auction is being held first... 

Since I mainly collect vintage Hollywood costumes, it was fun to see O'Hara's estate, since she saved so much of her vintage wardrobe, going all the way back to the 1940's. She had great taste too, elegant with a flair for glamour...

This is the earliest piece in her auction, a dressing gown she wore in the movie "Sentimental Journey" in 1946. Typically the stars didn't keep costumes from their movies back then, since the costumes were owned by the studios and often re-used or re-purposed, or just kept in studio wardrobe. So it's really neat that she kept this...

In the image above there is also the accompanying portrait photo of her wearing the gown. It was also most likely used as inspiration for the gown she's wearing in the painting of her which is featured prominently in the movie. 

Next are two jackets from the 1940's, the second one was worn for publicity for the movie "The Homestretch" from 1947... 

Here is one of the more glamorous pieces, a green silk and beaded gown she wore in the movie "Malaga" in 1954 - 

There were green silk panels at the hips which were apparently removed over time. Most likely by O'Hara herself so that she could give the gown a more modern look to re-wear it. Still a great 50's glamour gown. 

There is also a dress from "Malaga" in the auction, a beautiful shade of yellow with a pleated skirt and a mini bolero. She also posed for some great publicity shots wearing it - 

She's wearing it in the image above without the jacket. If I were bidding on one this would be the one I'd go for. I was just so taken with it looking at them in person, and I love that it was movie worn and photographed so well. 

Here is a beautiful rhinestone encrusted cocktail dress she wore to the 1955 Golden Globes... and below that an image at the dinner with Marlon Brando...


Here is a classic 50's Don Loper dress... "Doesn't Mr. Loper know any other numbers but 5-0-0!" ... Fans of 'I Love Lucy' will know this quote :)

This is another favorite of mine, mostly because of the suit. It's a classic 40's style, and I love black and white check material. She took a great photo wearing it with Barbara Stanwyck and Lionel Barrymore. It's being sold with a cape and purse that she wore on a separate occasion - 

This one is unique, a Mexican style red dress with black rick-rack trim and tassels, worn for a portrait sitting she did in the 40's on the beach... 

Very sexy and sultry, even for her! But worn at the height of her beauty so she really pulls it off. I love how natural she looks here instead of all gussied up by the studio for a portrait sitting. 

Here's a green beaded dress she wore on "What's My Line" in 1959... 

My photo of the dress doesn't do it justice. It's such a rich green and the beading and trim is just beautiful. Another favorite in the sale, mostly because she wore it on this show, my favorite classic game show. That panel! I always enjoyed Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen, and Bennett Cerf all being moderated by John Daly. And the episodes with Fred Allen were the best.

Here's a dress she wore on the Dinah Shore - Chevy Show in 1957... 

A black sleeveless gown, no doubt worn to some event...


Here are two "Nudies" Rodeo Tailors vests that she had custom made. Nudies pieces are collectible in their own right, and these are even better having been made for a star like her.

Some more of her glamorous wardrobe... 

Many of the pieces above have photo matches and provenance. I just don't want to get into the details of every single dress. But for a celebrity auction it's actually pretty rare to see so many personal pieces having a photo match, and going back so early in their career. The last time I saw this was with Edie Adams. Both she and O'Hara saved so much of their wardrobe, as well as so many photos, so that matching up images of them wearing the pieces is inevitable. 

In this image below, the dress on the left was worn to the 1957 Oscars, where Ralph Edwards did a live episode with her for "This Is Your Life". The gown on the right was worn on "The Bell Telephone Hour" in 1964 when she was host...


This beautiful green chiffon gown was worn on "The Andy Williams Show" in 1963 - 

This Pucci gown was worn in the movie "The Battle of the Villa Fiorita" in 1965 and also to the premiere of 'Mary Poppins' the same year - 


These two cocktail dresses are really something, being sold together, they're two of the nicest in the sale. In the second image she's with her daughter Bronwyn...


Here's a gown she wore on the TV special "The Fabulous Fordies" when she sang "I Don't Care" 


And another gown she wore on the same special, as well as to the AFI Tribute to John Ford in 1973...

And last but not least, the highest valued piece of wardrobe in her estate, her signature jacket from "The Quiet Man" arguably the most important movie of her career - 

Here are some more images from the sale, including some of her accessories, furniture, etc., and the carriage from "The Quiet Man"

 And her portrait, painted by Montagu Marks...

Here's the costume I have from her, a navy blue silk cocktail dress from "The Parent Trap". I plan to do a separate post for it sometime in the future, but since we're talking about O'Hara I thought I'd share it...

Designed by Bill Thomas, it was made by the Western Costume Company, who made all of the costumes for the Disney live action films and TV shows. It's one of the better pieces in my collection, for O'Hara, the movie, and how elegant the dress is. I love the mid-century glamour pieces.

Now onto part 2, the main sale of Hollywood memorabilia...  

This painting is called "Farewell to Earth" by Pilides Tino Costa and is an image of Jean Harlow. It was commissioned by her mother after Harlow died tragically in 1937 at the age of 26 from kidney failure. It's exceptional, not only as a great piece of art but as a great piece of Hollywood history as well. Interestingly, and in true Hollywood fashion, the painting was lost for many years, decades actually and was feared gone forever, and then about a year ago it was found in an attic of a house in the mid-west. Apparently someone in Harlow's family had inherited it after Harlow's mother passed away, and it wound up languishing in an attic somewhere until recently being discovered. I really feel someone should do a documentary about the painting and how it was lost for so many years. It would make for a great hour long show on the History Channel or Nat Geo, a station like that

The painting was featured in the front window of Bonhams facing Madison Avenue. They had a few select important items there, including Yul Brynner's cape from "The Ten Commandments" and Harpo Marx's signature harp... 

Here is the Yul Brynner cape. These are the best photos I could get of it from the way it was positioned in the window. My friend Nick in Australia who is a longtime collector of vintage movie costumes bought it. I'm glad such a great costume wound up in a great collection... 

Here is Harpo's "harp" which was so neat to see. He played one in every movie the Marx Brothers made, and who could forget him on "I Love Lucy" playing it as well.

Here are my three pieces, first up the Ava Gardner gown from "One Touch of Venus" designed by Orry-Kelly. It failed to sell, mostly because of the very high price I put on it. To me it represents the best of classic Hollywood glamour, worn at the height of her beauty in 1948, and it's also in excellent condition. It's also never been available on the open market. I was lucky to be able to acquire it privately when it turned up in L.A. a few years ago. I might offer it for sale again in the future since I have other things from Ava.

Here are the photos I took of it on one of my forms. I think they came out great... 

Next is Betty Hutton from "The Perils of Pauline" which was a movie about the life of silent movie star Pearl White, who starred in the series of "Pauline" adventures. I had this costume in the MFA Boston exhibit "Hollywood Glamour, Fashion and Jewelry from the Silver Screen" held about two years ago. It's a beautiful example of workmanship by the studio, made of silk with gold braiding and sequins. I was lucky to find this one, since it's not labeled for Hutton, only stamped as from the Paramount wardrobe department. Through my detective work I was able to find Hutton wearing it in "Pauline", one of her more memorable roles, and honestly one of the few movies she made that I can actually sit through! She was great but always very off the wall, a bit much for my taste. It really looked great at the preview - 

And the last of my pieces, a black cocktail dress and jacket worn by Jill St. John in "Who's Been Sleeping In My Bed", a 60's comedy she made with Dean Martin, Carol Burnett, Elizabeth Montgomery, etc. A great example of 60's glamour, worn by one of the more beautiful actresses of the era and designed by Edith Head. This one didn't sell, but another one I'm just as happy to hold onto...

Here are some more costumes that were featured in the sale. One of my favorites was this period dress worn by Una Merkel in the 1952 version of "The Merry Widow" and designed by Helen Rose. I love the rich purple color and the beading. In the second image you can see her standing behind Lana Turner wearing it. She wears it extensively in the movie but that was the best image I could find online of her in it.


This one is very cool, Ann-Margret's green leather motorcycle jacket from "The Swinger" from 1967. This jacket was originally sold in the famous auction of Paramount wardrobe that Christie's did with the studio in 1990. The studio sold off many important costumes from the 20's to the 80's worn by just about every great star that worked there. It's nice to see this one surface again after 25 years

The little tuxedo in the image above is Shirley Temple's from "Young People" from 1940. It originally came from her estate auction where literally every single costume from her career was sold. Her mother had saved them all. It was a wonderful archive of Shirley's career.

Here is James Earl Jones' suit from "The Great White Hope". It's one I found for the consignor, and is such a great looking 20's style

This gold lame' gown designed by Ceil Chapman was worn by Jayne Mansfield for a LIFE magazine story in the early 60's. She also wore it to the 1960 Golden Globe awards. It completely represents her style and blonde bombshell persona... 

This glamour gown was worn by Hedy Lamarr in "My Favorite Spy" from 1951 and designed by Edith Head. Like the Ann-Margret, it was also sold at the famous Paramount Christie's auction in 1990. Unfortunately it's not in great shape, and needs a lot of re-beading, but at least it survives. I have a black silk cocktail dress she wears in the same movie. Pics of it are posted here on the site.


This tu-tu was worn by Doris Day in the musical "Jumbo" from 1962 and designed by Morton Haack. She had a few of these made for the movie since she wears it extensively, and this one comes from Debbie Reynolds' famous collection of movie costumes. Thankfully Debbie preserved so much. 

Here is a jacket worn by Matthew Garber in "Mary Poppins", it's one of his signature costumes from the movie. It comes from the same collection as the James Earl Jones did, and the Bobby Driscoll below also comes from the same collection. It's quite an archive of vintage actor costumes saved from Western Costume Company. This and the Driscoll did very well in the sale, both being from important Disney movies. 

The Bobby Driscoll is from "Song of the South" and is a very rare piece. Any famous child actor/actress costumes are usually sought after since they're more rare to find, and are usually connected with a famous family movie or one people remember fondly from their childhood. "Song of the South" is legendary for being the one movie Disney has banned because of its depiction of African-Americans. Watching it today and taking it into context for the time, Uncle Remus (the former slave who is the wise sage to Driscoll) is the hero of the movie. But, it's extremely racist in the way it shows former slaves happily living on a plantation, and the cartoon characters of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox are also portrayed in a very racist way, a la "Amos and Andy." It's kind of shocking that even in the 1950's African Americans could be portrayed in a denigrating way, but it's just the way things were back then. Or maybe things were already starting to change, because the movie was a commercial failure for Disney. 

In the movie I think the studio was trying to show what it was like after the Civil War, that some former slaves did stay on the plantations and work and get paid as free citizens. But regardless of that, it shows them on a lower level then the white people, which is unacceptable. Couple that with the cartoon characters and it's just wrong, even if Disney at the time was just trying to make those cartoon characters comical and lovable. Watching it with a historical perspective allows you to still enjoy the story and the beauty of the movie itself. It's well made since it's Disney of course. And just being able to see Hattie McDaniel makes it worth watching in my book. But anyhow, that's why the Driscoll is important. Something tangible from such a notoriously famous movie makes the costume more collectible, and a rare piece of Disney memorabilia. The movie itself although banned can be found online as a bootleg.


Here's another one that I identified, that came from the same aformentioned collection, a Richard Burton period jacket from "My Cousin Rachel". It's very distinctive and well seen in the movie, which is a great gothic, noirish classic starring him and Olivia deHavilland. 


This one is iconic, Stephen Boyd's charioteer outfit as "Messala" from "Ben Hur" 

He had more then one made for filming, but seeing one complete with the helmet no less is very cool. The chariot race scene in "Ben Hur" is one of the most famous scenes in movie history. 

Here is another iconic one that got a lot of attention, Kim Novak's suit from "Vertigo"


Iconic for sure, being from one of the great movies of all time and arguably Hitchcock's best. But, in the movie the suit is clearly grey, and this suit in person was clearly tan, so I don't know what to make of that. It does have a label from Paramount with her name, but I think perhaps it was an alternate that was not used for filming. It's possible that they intended to use it and went with grey instead, or just had a few different shades to choose from. It's not uncommon for the wardrobe department to make variations of a costume to see how it will look on screen, just like the Judy Garland "Dorothy" test dress from "Oz" which is a perfect example. I have a set of Betty Grable pajamas that were intended to be worn in "My Blue Heaven" and were labeled for her and all, but for filming the studio went with a short robe made of the same material instead. During filming changes were made, things looked one way or another in front of the camera, and costumes weren't used. I think this suit is authentic in that it was made for Novak and is from the studio and the production, but personally I don't think it's screen worn. The color is just too different. 

Here is the costume I wound up with, a coat-dress worn by Susan Hayward in the 1944 movie "And Now Tomorrow"

Hayward has always been one of my favorite actresses, and I've always wanted something from the 1940's era of her career, so I was thrilled to add this to the collection. I have a dress she wore in "Untamed" from 1955, and a dress and coat set she wore in "Where Love Has Gone" from 1964, both of which I plan to add to the blog at some point. 

Here are a few more costumes. John Wayne's pea coat from "Reap the Wild Wind" can be seen on the right - 

And here is a wedding gown Sophia Loren wore in "Grumpier Old Men" and a uniform worn by Buster Crabbe in the tv show "Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion" which comes directly from his estate. 

One of the highlights of the sale were items from the estate of Rudolph Valentino. After he died in 1926 an estate auction was held, and the catalog from the sale alone is very collectible. These items have all been in the same family since the estate sale, and here they are after 90 years still surviving. It's great to see that they were preserved. Usually stuff like this gets lost over the years. 

The best piece was this riding outfit of a jacket and jodhpurs. And he's seen here in a similar outfit with his brother Alberto and Natacha Rambova.

Other items included a leather box with his initials, shirts, a dagger from "The Sheik", a silver trophy, etc. 

Here are a few more images from the sale... 

A carriage used in "Gone With the Wind" 

The Academy Award nomination plaque for best picture for "Peyton Place" 

A crown worn by Esther Williams in "Jupiter's Darling" 

Clayton Moore's signature "Lone Ranger" mask 

And some of the many vintage movie posters that were sold, followed by another image of the "Oz" test dress, apron, and blouse... 

Looking forward to the 2017 sale. Bonhams always does a nice job assembling a wide variety of great Hollywood memorabilia.