Thursday, August 25, 2016

My Reflections on Grace Kelly: Forever the Actress.

Grace Kelly c. 1956
Promotional still for High Society [MGM]
Last night I was watching To Catch a Thief for what may be the hundredth time, and I suppose that's how this piece began.

Grace Kelly always escaped my radar as a favorite Golden Hollywood actress--to me, she was always too well-bred and calculated in the approach to her craft to really strike a nerve with me.

In comparison to the audacity of Katharine Hepburn, the frank emotion of Greta Garbo, or the unapologetic sexuality of Jayne Mansfield, Grace always stood apart as a prim little square on the Hollywood playground and not much else. It always seemed that no matter how much reading on her I've done, or how many times I re-watched her films, she always swayed under a thin veil of illusion that I couldn't quite put a pin on.

Yet, last night, I found myself viewing her banter with Cary Grant with slightly altered eyes...which leads me to the thoughts I've decided to put here.

I feel that a great deal of people recognize Grace Kelly as a princess first, and as an actress (if at all) second. Therein lies the rub, and the nucleus of this piece.

Grace was an impeccable actress. There is no masking that. I am compelled to believe that, despite the 'fairytale princess' image people always bestow on her, she was effectively robbed of the life she truly wanted and had worked very hard for.

But, let's start at the beginning...

In 1956, Grace Kelly was at the top of her career. Only having begun starring in films six years before, she had become the muse of Alfred Hitchcock, won an Academy Award, and garnered unconditional praise of all of her elite co-stars. 1956 was also the year her career ended, with a very high-profile marriage to the monarch of a small European principality.

If there was anything Grace Kelly was before she was 'Grace Kelly', it was well-bred. Her mother was a German-born professor of physical education at the University of Pennsylvania, and her father was an Olympian, and in later years, a politician. She had two older siblings, and one younger.

Grace was not the favorite child. Her parents were stern, and structured. Her older siblings were competitive, and ambitious, and her younger sister was by all accounts severely coddled. She did average in school, and to some degree became interested in acting as early as twelve years old.

Grace's parents were, at best, begrudgingly complacent about her decision to become an actress. What is known is after she was rejected from Bennington College due to low math scores, they agreed to fund her move to New York to study her craft. Her father, though particularly disgruntled with her choice of profession, used his influence to get her into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Upon arriving in New York, Grace threw herself headfirst into her study. She was told her accent wasn't quite seemly, so she tutored it in the transatlantic accent of Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis. She studied scripts, and modeled in between classes and auditions.

Grace's first screen test in 1950 was well-received. Director John Ford, in particular, took note of her quality of presence. Still, it wasn't until 1952 that she was given her first starring role alongside Clark Gable and Ava Gardner in Mogambo--and it was Ford who directed her into greatness.

Grace Kelly c. 1955
At the 75th Academy Awards
After Mogambo, which garnered Grace her first Academy Award nomination, she was suddenly a household name. Alfred Hitchcock, and his preference for blondes with pretty faces, came calling. Dial M for Murder was the first of three films she would make with Hitchcock, and he would prove to be one of her mentors in the industry. Their relationship, though good-natured and seemingly professional, was often framed with crassness on on the part of Hitchcock, who would in later years remark on her brisk departure from her career in saying, "Grace has found herself such a good part".

In April of 1955, Grace had only one month before beat out Judy Garland's comeback performance as the winner of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. It was a surprising victory for Grace, her winning role as the emotionally-torn, long-suffering Georgie Elgin was slated as an Academy favorite, but Garland had fought and campaigned hard for the win. The young blood had won in the end, and Garland was devastated.

Grace's triumphant celebration was heralded by her invitation to head the U.S. delegation at the Cannes Film Festival. Grace, by way of her thorough education, was fluent in French and already dating the French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont. During her time at Cannes, she was invited to take part in a photo session at the Palace of Monaco.

This, readers, is where the tale takes a somewhat unnerving turn...

Rainier III of Monaco was under extreme pressure to find a bride, both from his advisers and his own family. European royals barred their daughters from being associated with the somewhat homely, quiet-natured prince. Scandal riddled his family, he himself had been involved with a French actress for ten years, and his country had been effectively bankrupt after World War II.

Rainier III needed funds, and he needed an heir to brush off the ambitious desires his sister, Princess Antoinette, had of putting her own son on the throne.

It would appear that Rainier's focus on Grace was almost immediate, and Grace--for her part--was an incredibly easy target.

A wealthy American with a recognizable face, and a good reputation, seemed to be the answer to his prayers. Not only was she one of the most beautiful women in the world, she carried herself more as an aristocrat than an actress, with half of the pretense.

It was almost impossible to stop the snowball effect of the affections of a prince once his attentions became somewhat public knowledge, and his attentions were almost immediate.

In December of 1955, a mere nine months after making his acquaintance at Cannes, Rainier flew to the United States on an 'official tour'. He moseyed around for little while, met with the president and attended events, before he simply happened to be designated to stay with Grace and her parents at their family home. Three days after staying with the Kellys, Rainier officially proposed to Grace.

It is no coincidence that, in order for the wedding to go forward, the Kellys had to provide a dowry of two million dollars. Two million dollars in 1955 translates to over sixteen million dollars today. Upon signing the papers, Rainier effectively gained Grace Kelly as his bride, and a purse of sixteen million dollars with her.

Prince Rainier III and Grace Kelly c. 1956
I will end the historical context here, and spare the maddening details of the wedding--because truly, they were maddening. I would like to focus now on the very un-romantic details of this transaction, and it certainly was just that, a transaction.

I obviously never knew Grace as a person, so I cannot know what she herself thought about this time in her life and the phenomenal changes that came with it. What I do know of the circumstances is she, in her own right, was a woman of great skill and acumen. She had earned a living for herself, and a reputation in Hollywood for being a great and talent actress. I do not know if she would agree with me, but again I must reiterate: I am compelled to believe that, despite the 'fairytale princess' image people always bestow on her, she was effectively robbed of the life she truly wanted and had worked very hard for.

Her meeting with Rainier predates the feminist movement. He would have been a very impressive person to her family, and friends. The United States has always had a fascination with European Royalty (albeit, even when the said royal is poor). Rainier would have left an impression with his visit. His proposal would have come as a great honor to her, and to everyone associated with her. It was an opportunity to win her parent's approval--after all, she hadn't gained that in her career.

How much higher could she possibly go in the eyes of everyone around her in that time period?

Yet, even as I try to convince myself that there is a great possibility she was satisfied with the order of things...there is a part of me that feels strongly about the swift dismissal of her career at its peak, and the subsequent life that followed.

One of the main points of my study is her continued friendship with Alfred Hitchcock, and his desire for her to play the lead role in Marnie.

Hitchcock contacted Grace around 1962, and told her he wanted her specifically for the part. It was six or so years after her marriage, and she was now a mother and settled into her role as Princess of Monaco--but it would seem she was flattered and receptive of the offer. Hitchcock went so far as to send her the script, and she went so far as to read it and begin preparations to accept the role.

Marnie and Grace, however, were not to be. Tippi Hedren, Grace's replacement in Hitchcock's affections, was given the part. Speculation surrounding the reason why Grace dismissed the role, after showing such an initial interest, pointed blame at Rainier and the rest of the royal family. Whatever the case, Grace would not appear onscreen again--save a brief thirty-three minute independent film she appeared in with Rainier in 1979.

Who would she have become were she not detoured away from the path she wanted in life?

How many more Academy Awards would Grace Kelly have won in her life, were she not replaced by Grace, Princess of Monaco?

Grace Kelly c. 1960
The Palace of Monaco
Was this the path she truly wanted, or was she simply fulfilling the wishes of everyone surrounding her at the time?

It's strange how my thoughts about Grace and her life all stemmed from re-watching a movie I have seen so many times before, and recognizing the glorious and unusual talent behind her eyes. It awoke a sadness for her inside of me, a sadness of years of that continued talent unrecognized and replaced by a different life altogether.

We'll never know what Grace herself truly wanted, she never publicly spoke on the matter. Her impression upon Hollywood, and those of her peers, remained timeless. Cary Grant, in later years, when asked to name his favorite actress said, "Well, with all due respect to dear Ingrid Bergman, I much preferred Grace. She had serenity."  And upon her sudden and tragic death in 1982, her once-costar James Stewart spoke fondly at her memorial service in Beverly Hills, "You know, I just love Grace Kelly...Grace brought into my life, as she brought into yours, a soft, warm light every time I saw her, and every time I saw her was a holiday of its own".

And so, what remains is what we know and only what we can suppose to be. And as for me:

I will remember her forever the actress, Grace Kelly.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Racial Ambiguity and the Golden Age of Hollywood: Dorothy Lamour

Road to Bali c.1952
Dorothy Lamour was born to be a star.
She was born Mary Leta Slaton December 10, 1914 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her parents' marriage, like many marriages in those days, was one made in haste. They were divorced in only a few years, with Dorothy having little contact with her father for the rest of her life. Ms. Slaton later had her daughter take on the name of her step-father, Lambour. Once entering Hollywood, Dorothy would change this name from 'Lambour' to 'Lamour'.
A great beauty, Dorothy won the Miss New Orleans pageant at the age of eighteen, and used her earnings to take professional photographs and try her hand at acting in Hollywood. It was a rough road. When she first came to Hollywood in the early 1930s, the epitome of beauty was paved by platinum blondes. She was turned away many times, as 'most studios thought she was too unusual-looking'.
New Orleans was a safe-haven for racially ambiguous persons, and had been since before the Civil War. Within the city, there was an entire social class recognized as gens de couleur, which made it possible for non-white people of color to make a respectable living, learn a trade, and marry well in a time when slavery was still widely accepted. Lamour's mixed heritage, completely commonplace in her home city, was not entirely well-received outside of it.
Paramount Pictures Promotional Photograph
Her lineage, according to Wikipedia, was Louisiana French, with some Irish, and Spanish decent--this was, and still is today, a very basic way of explaining that she was a Creole. Referencing Lamour in an excerpt from The Man Who Seduced Hollywood: The Life and Loves of Greg Bautzer, it was said, "Her dark, exotic looks came from a background that included Creole, Spanish, and Irish ancestry." 
While the ethnic diversity of 'Creole' is not necessarily inclusive of African-Islander, there was an underlining question about her heritage that would ultimately define her time on the silver screen.
Was she or wasn't she? 
Lamour, for her part, never spoke of her ancestry openly. 
Hollywood long had a history of 'white washing' racially ambiguous women who were considered star-material. From women who simply appeared, like Myrna Loy, to women who were actually of exotic lineage, like Merle Oberon, Hollywood went to great lengths to manipulate (or even exploit) the exteriors of these women in order to sell their image. It was no different for Dorothy. And so, Dorothy Lamour found her biggest, and brightest opportunities in Hollywood were to be playing natives, exotic women, and 'the girl in the sarong'. 
c. 1937
Despite the automatic type-casting and the limited variation of scripts coming her way, Dorothy found herself a charming and popular asset to Paramount Pictures for a number of years. During WWII, she held her own amongst popular pinup girls of the era, standing beside the likes of Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, and Lana Turner. She continued to be in films at Paramount until Road to Bali, in which she was thirty-eight--considered one of the older women still contracted as a leading lady at the time.
After Paramount, Dorothy found a very welcoming audience in the nightclub and dinner theatre circuit. Gifted with a beautiful voice, she sang with an orchestra and did a few dance acts well into her sixties.
In her private life, Dorothy had married twice, and had given birth to two sons with her second husband.  

In one of her last on-screen appearances at seventy-two, when asked if she were going to wear a sarong in her scenes, she quipped "Do you expect me to stand against a palm tree, and sing in the moonlight?"
Lamour passed away September 22, 1996, at her home in Los Angeles, California. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

eeBee Vintage

Arc de Triomphe c. 1949
This is a story about eeBee Vintage, and how a little Etsy store can pick me up out of an epic rut...

"You never know where an email will lead..."

I came across this little store randomly one afternoon when surfing Etsy, as I usually do. Yet, in the massive influx of professional photographs--both vintage and modern--that I come across when searching through the wonderful world of Etsy...something about this very special little store stood out to me. 

Eebee Vintage is certainly one of a kind.

Parisian Women Shopping c. 1951
I have to admit that I looked at the photographs before I read the About Me of the shop owner, because it was the photographs that intrigued me in the beginning. Admittedly, the photographs hooked me completely, and I haven't found myself turning away since. 

You may ask why I find these images so profoundly fascinating. You may wonder what is so special about this particular little store, both unassuming and unpresumptuous. The answer is in the pictures themselves. 

These pictures are entirely amateur in their vintage glory, taken by the mysterious hands of unknown photographers. They depict a sincere glimpse into the lives of those who have lived before us--their honest, unposed times. 

Lady in the Rain c. 1959
Perhaps more interesting--these pictures come from a little bit of everywhere! 
They are primarily, however, American and European--an eclectic hodgepodge of city streets, market places, family vacations, and quirky moments. 

The owner of this shop depicts himself as "an 8th grade English teacher, father of four, and loved by God". This is a very humble description for someone who is breathing new life into images that would have otherwise been forgotten! 

In the process of writing this entry, I took the liberty of addressing the man behind the magic himself, Mr. Eric Bjerke. I reached out to him over Etsy, and after introductions, I delved into his interest. I inquired about his process of obtaining and repurposing these photographs, and what the most enjoyable part of having this store is. 

Boat Passengers, Italy c. 1952

When and how did you come up with the idea for your store? 

One day I got an email from a local woman whose 95-year-old grandfather had passed away. She wanted to donate his old darkroom equipment to the club, and if we couldn't use it, she wanted advice on who might want it. 
Even though our club had no need for any of the items--or any place to store them even if we did--out of curiosity I agreed to come by and check out what he had accumulated over the years...

Swiss School Children c. 1952
Before long I was back to take the rest of the slides from the man's estate just before they were dumped in the trash. I estimate that it was 30,000 slides that I brought home that day. 
I have since accumulated more slides and negatives from other sources (don't throw them away! Call me!) and now most of my current Etsy inventory is a mix of slides I found that day and new ones I have obtained. 
I am having a great time!

Where do you find most of your photographs? 

I get some of my images off of places like Craigslist or Ebay. I got some from a local antique store, and I get still more from people who are just getting rid of them. 
I have a man who has thousands and thousands waiting for me as soon as his brother gives him the okay.

Trafalgar Square Stroll c. 1949

What is your favorite photograph you've found so far? Why? And, is it for sale in your store? 

This was so very hard. It's like asking me which one of my children are my favorite! Since I have to choose, it would be the picture of the Arc de Triomphe c. 1949. 
I just love how the little guy directing traffic is right in the middle of the arch, and there are vintage cars coming in both directions. I have edited this in multiple ways and I am sure I am hnot done with it yet. Also, it is my first photograph as well. It was in the original carousel of slides I got on that first day. 
Balcony Breakfast c. 1952
There are so many others that I love too, though, so it was close.

Do you edit these photographs, or do you leave them with blemishes before selling them? 

I do varying degrees of editing on all of the pictures. I use Photoshop, and various Topaz plug-ins. I do a lot of cropping and I even clone out items that are a bit distracting to the image too. If there are flaws, I mostly keep them in. Sometimes I take pictures with no flaws and make them look even older than they are. 
The Littlest Fireman c. 1968
I can't tell you how exciting it is when   I have a batch of freshley scanned photographs from the company, and I send them out to digitize them. I totally lose track of time!

What is the most enjoyable part of having your store?

The most enjoyable part of having my own Etsy store is finding out that there are so many people out there who validate my love for these images. I just love when I post something new and people express how much they love it or when they have some personal connection to the time or placed depicted. The other thing I love is when my ipad goes "chaching!" when I get a sale! I don't sell a lot, but it is so fun [when I do]. I love collecting these old nostalgic and/or quirky images, and it is neat to sell one every so often. 

A Boy and His Dog c. 1940s

This interview with Mr. Bjerke has only proved to strengthen the special bond that I have with these pictures. It was an absolute joy to discover this new friendship, and to also discover the amazing subtle magic in these photographs. The smile they bring to my face, imagining the stories they hold and bring forth to so many countless viewers, is so precious and so priceless. 

I know the rebirth of these little snapshots in time will make many more people, stop, smile, and ponder...

How valiant are you, mighty hunter and your noble steed! 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Many Hats of Anita Loos.

Actress, Playwright, Author, and Face of Fashion
All hats featured in this article are from the estate of Anita Loos, as previously owned and sold by Lester Glassner. 

The name Anita Loos may perhaps be utterly lost to this generation, but I am going to do my best to single-handedly revive it!

She was born Corrine Anita Loos in 1889 in California to financially comfortable, but unhappy parents. Her father, "Beer" Loos, was a tabloid editor, reveler, and alcoholic. Her mother, Minerva, was a proud and resilient woman who ran a series of papers for Beer, who was often too drunk to do so. 

Anita was raised in a household of interesting standards. Since her parents were opposites, she had the unique experience of spending separate time with both. She began with learning professionalism from her mother, and the paradox from her father.
c. 1940s Jersey Turban Hat

Regardless of Beer's habits, Anita followed him everywhere. In order to get colorful stories to keep the paper afloat, Beer would explore the San Francisco underbelly. He often took his daughter along on his missions to brothels, bordellos, and drug dens--which she, ironically, came to enjoy. These trips would usually end with Beer partaking in what these locations had to offer, and not so much retrieving a story. 

It was around this time that Anita began acting in stock productions of vaudeville performances. She was further urged in her fledgling acting career when her father became the manager of a theater company in San Diego. Although Anita was what many considered a very good actress, she found her true passion to be writing. 

c. 1950s Pheasant Feather Hat
In 1911, Anita wrote three plays in quick succession. She sent her piece The New York Hat to the Biograph Company, not expecting much to come of it. Much to her surprise, The New York Hat was picked up--and by none other than the era's most prolific director D.W. Griffith. 

The film starred silver screen heavyweights Lionel Barrymore and Mary Pickford. 

Loos was a sensation overnight. Practically obsessed with her new-found niche, she pulled most of the topics of her writing from actual instances. Her father's habits, cronies, and the lifestyles she witnessed as a child from the lowlifes she encountered on excursions with Beer painted the backdrops for some of her best work. Between 1912 and 1915, Anita would turn out 105 scripts to two different studios. 
c. 1950s Robert Dudley Hat
Of those 105, only 4 went unproduced. 

Despite her growing fame, Loos was still experiencing pressure from the unpleasant side of her past--that which had once given her so much inspiration. Her father, often broke, was always begging her for more money. Her mother, practically overbearing, was trying to keep her from following her work to Hollywood. 

In order to escape their influence, Anita made the unwise decision to marry Frank Pallma Jr. in 1915. He was the son of a band conductor, and despite being upstanding and nice, Loos grew bored of him after only six months. 

c. 1960 Sable Fur Hat
The break with Pallma gave Loos the freedom she had been looking for. She was swiftly snatched up by Triangle Film Corporation, for $75 a week, and a bonus for every script she produced. D. W. Griffith became one of her biggest supporters, although he was picky to turn most of her pieces into films because "the laughs are all in the lines, there's no way to get them onto screen". 

He did, however, often ask her to write the subtitling for his films (as talkies were not yet invented). She traveled to New York for the first time to attend the premier of his film Intolerance, and falling in love with the atmosphere, she decided to stay. 

In New York, she hobnobbed with Frank Crowninshield, who was so impressed with her that he asked her to become a regular contributor to his journal, Vanity Fair. She would remain so for several decades. 
c. 1940s Lavender Felt Hat
When Loos returned to California, she came under the interest of John Emerson, who asked her to assist him in writing a few pieces for the very popular actor, Douglas Fairbanks. The five films that followed made Fairbanks' star utterly explode. When Fairbanks was offered bigger money at another studio, he brought the Loos-Emerson team along with him, to the tune of $500 a week. 

Anita Loos' name was now as well-known as those of Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish

During this time, Emerson and Loos were working close together all the time. Anita was convinced that she was in love, and though Emerson was known notoriously for uttering "never been, nor could be, faithful to any one female", she pursued him. Emerson would catch on to her affections, and use them to take credit for most of Loos' work during this period. 

c. 1940s Balenciaga
They were married, in 1919, against the disapproval of most of her friends. 

Yet, in order to prove her identity was not to be changed by her new marital status, Loos kept her maiden name. 

Emerson insisted on riding Anita's coattails through much of her success. Studios would hire her out to write for their movies, and as a courtesy she would often bring along Emerson--though his presence was often as unneeded as it was unwanted. Emerson was considered so much of a burden, that the Talmadge-Schecnks (a powerful Hollywood family) convinced Anita to holiday with them in Paris without her husband. 

When Anita returned, Emerson devastated her by insisting he needed a "break from marriage" once a week. He chose to date younger women on those days, and Loos resorted to holding parties in her house with her friends to find comfort. 
c. 1950s Velvet Pumpkin Hat

However, things were changing. Loos, throwing herself into her work, managed to complete a series of sketches that were in turn published in Harper's Bazaar. These pieces were collectively known by the title Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The stories revolved around the antics of Lorelei Lee, a bold, ambitious flapper, who shamelessly used men for their monetary means. 

The print was such a success, Loos found herself being pushed to write an entire book. 

It was 1925, and Blondes was modestly published in November of that year. It sold out overnight, and Anita received thousands of fan letters, and even a few from fellow authors--Aldous Huxley, William Faulkner, and Edith Wharton among them.  
c.1940s Mad Crystal Hat

Emerson, perhaps foreseeing the success of his wife's new novel, did whatever he could to block it's publication. Taking it a step further, he developed a severe hypochondria, in an attempt to keep some of Loos' attentions to himself. Emerson often told her that the only way he could "get better" is if she gave up her career. 

Loos, whose heart was now hardened, refused. 

The crash of the stock market resulted in a limited income for both individuals, at which time Loos wrote But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes. Loos and Emerson moved into a modest hotel apartment in 1931, and in the transit of this move, Loos discovered letters between Emerson and one of his lovers. In these letters, Emerson had described his marriage as "unfulfilled". 

Loos offered Emerson a divorce, he rebuffed. Anita moved out on her own accord, and took up a small apartment. Irving Thalberg (genius young director and husband of rising star Norma Shearer) called upon the Loos-Emerson team to write pictures at MGM. Emerson refused. Loos agreed, and took the $1,000 a week salary for herself. 
c. 1950s Bergdorf Goodman Hat
A few years later, after enjoying relative freedom in her career and personal life, Emerson unceremoniously moved into Anita's private residence. He insisted on taking control of their finances, and began rambling about how he had wrote the rough drafts for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Loos had Emerson committed for schizophrenia. 

It was only after having him committed that Loos discovered that most of her money had been moved from she and Emerson's joint account, into his private account. 

Though Loos would push for divorce for years to come, she and Emerson remained legally married until his death in 1956. 

With the onslaught of WWII, Loos continued to write, and focused her energies on gardening and the war effort. She continued to make her appearance at various venues, always appearing fashionable yet modest. She continued to write fervently for Harper's Bazaar, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair

In her later years, Loos enjoyed her freedom. She was regularly spotted at dinners out with friends, at parties, galas, and award ceremonies well into her 80s. 

Loos passed away after suffering a lung infection in 1981, at the age of 92. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ruth Donnelly and the Fantastic Dress.

Ruth, serving early 1920s realness.

Admittedly, you most likely do not know who Ruth Donnelly is, but chances are your great-grandmother would! 
She was a rather fantastic lady, to be frank.
She was an actress of the stage, and later of film. The beak of her career was certainly in the 1930s and 1940s--and that is where this fantastic little piece of history comes into play. 
The dress.

This particular dress was worn in the Paramount motion picture "Cross My Heart", a film from 1946 also starring fellow talented beauty, Betty Hutton. (Unfortunately the movie is credited as "Cross YOUR Heart" on this particular clothing website, but I have correctly identified this movie).

The dress itself is a lovely green crepe, and in excellent condition--visibly showing little to no wear.

What I absolutely love about this site is (albeit sometimes getting names of the movies wrong), each item comes with documented proof of where it has come from. It's a remarkable verification, especially if you are spending substantial money on an item worn by a bygone start such as this lovely lady.

Part of the proof is the identification tag on the inside of the dress. This is a dead giveaway that the dress is not a reproduction, as back in the day Paramount had special tags sewn into every costume worn on set. The names of these actors and actresses were always printed on the inside with ink.

I've watched "Cross My Heart" and it is absolutely hilarious! In the film, Ms. Donnelly plays Betty Hutton's character's mother--a role which Ms. Donnelly unfortunately repeated in many films in the 1940s. Yet, the dress is a size 6...what mother do YOU know wears a size 6?! Impressive.

Unfortunately, the movie has not been restored in technicolor, so it retains it's original black-and-white cinematography. You can actually see the dress being worn by Ms. Donnelly in this excerpt from "Cross My Heart" this I found on Youtube! It appears to be worn with two dress clips on either side of the breast where the fabric is pinched. These clips have been removed, and are not to be bought with the dress--but it certainly doesn't take anything away.

Cheers to Ruth Donnelly, and this amazing dress! 

A Look at the 1920s Wedding Dress

Dainty lace and a sweetheart neckline in 1929.
 It is now time to take a look at one of the decades of which I am most fond--the 1920s--and of a particular piece of this history that is growing in demand these days--the 1920s wedding dress. 

You can see the actual listing here.
Finding an authentic 1920s wedding dress that has not been tampered with or altered is as difficult as capturing the illusive Chupacabra.

These dresses are quite rare because the 1920s served as such a time of folly and decadence, that the following decade (the 1930s Depression Era) was a time of conservation and repurposing. Old dresses were torn up and used for pillows, blankets, and dish cloths--but the dresses that survived intact are truly a marvel to see!

Certainly, these items are now in high-demand. The gilded, whirlwind of an age, and the time F. Scott Fitzgerald once called "an intoxicating study of lunacy" is something that makes all of us 21st century children stand in awe and relative confusion.

The lost film Wedding Bills (1927). 
Fashion in the 1920s was fleeting, modern, and thoroughly comfortable. This was an era when the modern woman was breaking into her own, and the corsets were coming OFF, GIRLFRIEND. The sleek silhouettes promoted androgyny, thin, slick figures, and flattened breasts--a new spin on sex appeal. 

Fabulous, 1927.
Flapper styles heavily influenced the decade-long period in fashion. Skirts, whether above the knee or well-below it, fell away from the body in light fabrics. Particularly for the wedding attire, dresses were made of silks, satins, laces, and very airy gauzes.

Dresses were typically worn with a "French cap", with or without a veil, or decorative crystal brooches to reflect the Art Deco influence of the day. 

The boyish influence of the entirely straight shirt-dress created a casual elegance that was rather known to the world of wedding fashion--a novelty that was pioneered most tirelessly by our lady, Coco Chanel

The fad took the 1920s by storm. 

In order to correctly date a wedding piece from the 1920s, you must take a concentrated look at a few different factors. 

First, is fabric. Fabrics in the 1920s, particularly wedding fashions, were quite consistent. Weddings were usually held in the spring or summer, purposefully, to blend with the above-ankle trend of the times--and so the fabrics used were particularly light-weight and easy to wear. Popular fabrics included thin silks, satins, laces and even slinky rayons.
Some pannier action from the mid-1920s.

Second, is the style of the particular dress. Dresses from the earlier 1920s would reflect more of an Edwardian era--using more and thicker choices in fabric. Dresses from the middle of the 1920s would have the highest hems, as this was the time when the Flapper styles were most popular. Hemlines would be seem to fall again to the ankles around the latter 1920s, as a more conservative outlook would once again influence the fashions of the 1930s.  

And thirdly, is the label--if there is one. Most dresses that are found from this era, particularly wedding dresses, curiously enough will have no label. Most wedding dresses of this time were made by a particularly appointed seamstress, and were not bought in a store. If there is a label on the inside of a dress, I would research it. The only labels inside of these dresses I have ever come across are always extremely rare and most certainly French--as French designers were always very stringent about labeling their works of art.

Vive le mariage!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Guest Article:

A month or so ago, I had asked my friend Arwen (a fellow enthusiast of all things old) to write a guest article on her favorite retro, vintage, or antique find. 

Alice Blue Gown 
Arwen Miller
February 20, 2013

In October of 2001, while living in Colorado, I was frantically trying to come up with a costume idea for a friend’s Halloween party. We were both costumers in theatre, and she was having a contest, so whatever I decided on, it had to be good. However, I was poor, and therefore hoping to incorporate some of the costume pieces I already owned. 

The problem was, how could I do this without repeating a costume from a previous year (being a costumer, I considered this cheating)? I already owned sparkly red horns, a trident, and a red feather boa, so I was hoping to do something with a devil theme…without going “sexy devil”, of course. “Sexy” Halloween costumes were for people who lacked creativity. And yet, if I was a costumer, and I was supposed to be so creative, where were the ideas? …the cheap ideas, that is.

I was wandering around the Pearl Street area of Boulder when I passed a Buffalo Exchange, a hit-or-miss consignment store whose typical stock consisted of late-90s clothing and shoes that were the sartorial equivalent of a Third Eye Blind or Matchbox 20 CD; i.e., nothing I wanted anything to do with. There, in the window, was my inspiration: a fluffy confection of a dress with a full tea-length skirt and ruched cummerbund of sky-blue chiffon, and a bodice covered in velvety sky-blue millinery flowers. It was in pristine condition and appeared to be a prom dress or debutante presentation dress from the 1950s. 

Three thoughts hit me at once: 
1) What is such a gorgeous piece doing in a Buffalo Exchange? 
2) They’ve gotta be charging at least $45 for that dress; there’s no way I’ll be able to afford it. 
3) It doesn’t matter what that dress costs; I’m going to own it, and I’m going as Devil In A Blue Dress for Halloween.

I went into Buffalo Exchange and looked at the tag on the dress; it said $15.00. 
$15.00?!? No way! 
Apparently the people who ran Buffalo Exchange had no idea what they had on their hands. I went up to the counter and asked the girl to take the dress off the mannequin and hold it for me until the next day (which was payday—yeah, I was that poor).

“We’ve had a lot of people looking at that dress,” she said. “I don’t want to hold it unless you’re serious about buying it.”

“I promise I’ll be back,” I said, “I don’t have the money right now, but I get paid tomorrow, and I need to have this dress.”

The next day I was back, $15.00 in hand, and told the employee at the counter about the dress I’d put on hold the day before.

“It’s a good thing you’re actually buying this,” she snapped. “I’ve had a ton of people come in to ask about that dress today.”

“I didn’t have the money yesterday; I had to come back,” I replied, and got my dress and got the hell out of there before she had the chance to give me any more attitude.

Other than a few yellowish spots hidden among the billowing folds of the skirt, the dress was in great condition, especially considering how old it was. The skirt took 15 whole minutes to iron. I wished I could wear it on a regular basis, but there weren’t many opportunities to pretend to be a debutante in Boulder. 

I carried my red trident, wore the dress to my friend’s Halloween party with a red bob wig, the sparkly red devil horns, a red feather boa, red 1950’s gloves (an earlier vintage find), and red velvet flip-flops to which I’d sewn red marabou feathers, and won first place in the costume contest—a mini bottle of Kahlua. 

Not too shabby for $15.00.