Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A costume worn by Veronica Lake from Paramount Studios

This Veronica Lake costume was designed by Edith Head for the movie "Saigon" made in 1948.

A Veronica Lake costume worn in the movie "Saigon" designed by Edith Head
"Saigon" is a tale of espionage and romance set in the Far East, and Lake co-stars with her frequent leading man, Alan Ladd. They became a popular on screen couple after their breakout roles in "This Gun For Hire" one of the more famous film noirs of the 40's. Their on screen chemistry was so intense that Paramount decided to team them up three more times, with "Saigon" being their last outing together. 

Veronica Lake found stardom practically overnight after playing a sexy nightclub singer in "I Wanted Wings," and her next film, Preston Sturges' "Sullivans Travels" co-starring Joel McCrea, made her an 'A' list leading lady at Paramount. During the 1940's she starred in many top movies at the studio before her career waned by the early 50's. She was also one of the pinup girls of WWII, and her famous "peek-a-boo" hairstyle of her bangs hanging down over one eye became a rage in 1941 and was widely copied by women who wanted the same sexy look. With that hairstyle and her smoldering beauty she became one of the sex symbols of the 1940's and was regarded as one of the most beautiful women in film.

For about 10 years she was a top star, but it all ended very suddenly and she practically fell into oblivion. There's the famous story of her living in a hotel in NYC and waiting tables there just to get by. However she did continue to act on stage and TV and also wrote an autobiography. Her life is one of those Hollywood stories that is almost folklore, of how it can give you fame and fortune and then it all disappears. Regardless of that, she does leave a lasting legacy of beauty on the screen, and is probably the most legendary actress of the 'film noir' genre. 

In "Saigon" she wears the costume for a long portion, as they are traveling to Saigon on a boat, and then arriving and checking into a hotel. It's a good 15 minutes of the movie and it's nice to see a costume on screen for that long. 

Designed by Edith Head, who ran the Paramount wardrobe department for decades, the costume is a cream silk crepe tunic with a brown paisley design, with side slits and raised buttons down one side, and matching cream silk wide leg pants. Both pieces have Paramount labels with "Lake" written on each, as well as Paramount Ladies Wardrobe stamps. 

A costume worn by Veronica Lake in the movie "Saigon" designed by Edith Head

 A view of the back...

I came to acquire the costume in a roundabout sort of way. It was originally sold in the 1990 Christies sale of selected costumes from the Paramount archives. It was bought by Debbie Reynolds in that sale, and then the tunic turned up at auction about 10 years ago when she sold a few things from her collection. At the time I didn't know about the pants, I assumed they were long gone. Then I stumbled upon the Christies catalog and saw the pants listed with the tunic, and thought that perhaps Debbie might still have them. As it turns out, the two pieces had gotten split up in her extensive collection over the years, and thankfully I was able to purchase the pants directly to put the costume back together. It's great that she bought it and preserved it in the incredible archive that she amassed, saving so many costumes and Hollywood artifacts, and I'm happy to now own it and hope to exhibit it someday.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Billie Burke movie costume from 1938

Legendary actress Billie Burke 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...