Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Style Essentials--Rosalind Russell Reports in Style in 1940's HIS GIRL FRIDAY


girl Friday noun 
     A female assistant (as in an office) entrusted with a wide variety of tasks.

Though the dictionary may define a "girl Friday" in this way, it hardly describes Hildegard "Hildy" Johnson in the 1940 film His Girl Friday. Played by Rosalind Russell, the character is exceptional in that she is a female reporter at a time when this is very rare, and proves herself to be the most talented of her colleagues. She's also ambitious--in fact, her ex-husband/editor (Cary Grant) uses her drive 1) to get a great story for his paper, and 2) keep the great love of his life. His Girl Friday is very modern, a "curious and complex romantic comedy in which love is expressed through work and work is expressed as love." It may be considered a screwball comedy, but it is groundbreaking in many ways including a career woman's wardrobe that has been influential since the time the film premiered.

To give some context to how bold the role of Hildy Johnson was, consider these facts. In 1940, the population of the United States was 132.2 million. Of this, 13 million women - only a quarter of women over the age of 14 - worked outside the home. Out of every 10 of these women, 3 were in clerical or sales work, 2 worked in factories, 2 were in domestic service, and 1 was a service worker. Only 1 of the 10 was considered a professional, and this usually meant being a teacher or nurse. Hildy is a reporter, and we see all too clearly that she is a woman working in a man's world.

Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, former Chicago reporters who became brilliant playwrights and screenwriters, adapted their hit 1928 Broadway play The Front Page for His Girl Friday. Originally written for two male leads, it was director Howard Hawks who could hear something in the dialogue that made him think it would be great coming from a woman. This is not a surprise. Hawks is famous for featuring strong women in his work, so much so that these characters are now known as "Hawksian women." Lauren Bacall is perhaps the best known for her roles in To Have and Have Not (1942) and The Big Sleep (1944), but Rosalind Russell really helped set the standard with His Girl Friday.

Though Russell would spend much of her career playing professional women, she was not Hawks' first choice to play Hildy. In fact, she wasn't his second, third, fourth, or even fifth. She later joked she was "everyone's fifteenth choice" for the role. Irene Dunne had been the front-runner considering her successful pairing with both Cary Grant and Ralph Bellamy in The Awful Truth (1937). Jean Arthur, who starred with Grant in the Hawks movie Only Angels Have Wings (1939), passed on the part so strongly she was suspended by the studio. Others who were considered included Ginger Rogers, Claudette Colbert, Katharine Hepburn, and Margaret Sullavan. Each one refused. Unfortunately, Russell discovered all of this in a New York Times article that reported how Hawks had approached "every important actress in Hollywood" before being "stuck" with her. She confronted the director with the story and he ended the meeting by "instructing her to go to wardrobe and order a sharp-looking striped suit." That suit, and the rest of her wardrobe in His Girl Friday, became iconic courtesy of Robert ("Bobby") Kalloch.


Known to the world simply as Kalloch, he was head of Columbia's costume design department as of 1932. He was one of many costume designers who had an extensive background in the fashion industry before coming to Hollywood. He started as a student at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts (now known as Parsons). His connection to the school remained strong--even after entering the world of couture, he returned as a lecturer and became a mentor to future MGM head costume designer Adrian. After school, Kalloch worked as a sketch artist and then graduated to dress designer at the prestigious Lucile couturier.  Lucile ended up being a valuable training ground for costume designers. Many studio department heads started there--Howard Greer (Paramount), Travis Banton (Paramount), Vera West (Universal), and of course Kalloch himself. He also worked at Madame Frances and Hattie Carnegie in New York, two more couturiers that were filled with future Hollywood costume designers. Kalloch built a name for himself and became internationally known as the designer for royalty, the social elite, and revue stars.

At the peak of Kalloch's fame, studio head Harry Cohn brought him to Columbia to improve upon the studio's reputation, which was then nicknamed "Poverty Row." While at Columbia, Kalloch made his mark in several films, including The Awful Truth (1937) and Holiday (1938). He also worked on the first film to sweep every major Oscar--It Happened One Night (1934). It is among The Style Essentials here on GlamAmor for the impact of its costume design on fashion in the 1930s as well as today. Kalloch is on this elite list again for his work in His Girl Friday. Though the movie may not have the largest wardrobe in film history, it certainly has one of the most influential.

Costumes were only the start of creating the role of Hildy Johnson. Reflecting the ingenuity and determination of her character, Rosalind never let any of the drama of her hiring distract her from the job at hand. And what a job it was. His Girl Friday is now famous for its rapid-fire dialogue and actors who often overlap as they speak. This had been tried before, including by Hawks in other films, but they set a speed record this time. Actors spoke up to 240 words per minute (our average speaking rate is 100-150). In addition, much of the dialogue was ad-libbed, encouraged by Hawks himself. In a move that sounds like something Hildy might do, Russell went to her brother-in-law--then head of a top advertising agency--and paid $200/week for one of his best copywriters to "sharpen her lines." This went on under the radar for weeks until Grant finally demanded to know her secret. By then the two were good friends, and he was so impressed that he asked for some well-crafted lines of his own.

For all that's wonderful about Cary Grant in this movie, it's really Rosalind Russell who makes His Girl Friday so great. Though she was popular in the 1930s and had success with her supporting role in MGM's The Women a year earlier, it was the role of Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday that was her breakthrough performance. She (and Hawks) gave us a woman who was not only equal to the men around her, but one who was able to excel. She is admired by her colleagues, which is shown particularly well in the scene where they read her article aloud at the jail. Not only are they impressed by her scoop, but also how well written it is. Russell matched her own character's determination, doing what it took behind the scenes to show her skill and work ethic. She was a role model for women everywhere, including when it came to fashion. The pinstriped skirt suit from His Girl Friday became an instant classic, with versions coming out every decade since 1940. It continues to be an essential today.

His Girl Friday was revolutionary to women when it premiered 76 years ago. What's a bit crazy is how revolutionary it continues to be. Despite the fact that we may soon have the first female president, women still find themselves fighting for equal rights, including equal pay and equal opportunities in the workplace. Thankfully, we have Rosalind Russell and her performance in His Girl Friday as an ongoing source of inspiration. 


The wardrobe starts with Hildy at her most feminine--
wearing what is reported to be a black and pink striped coat and matching hat


Rosalind was apparently hard to photograph because she had something of a weak jaw line. Makeup artist Fred Phillips "[painted] a sharp, very dark line along the edge of her jaw, blending it toward her neck. Then, hitting her with a high key light, that dark line became a strong shadow below her cheek, giving it a firm, youthful appearance."

The gloves come off (and coat) when Walter makes a deal to keep Hildy on the job--
Kalloch was great at being able to change up a look with his use of layers



As Hildy returns to reporting, so does her work uniform--
this is the iconic suit that still inspires many versions today


Fabric was rationed in the 1940s--
note how Kalloch makes the most of the fabric and
turns the pinstripe pattern on its side for the suit lapels



Hildy is always at the center of the action,
and the other reporters just try to keep up




A couple that works together
stays together



Some of Kalloch's legacy from His Girl Friday--
a 1980s pinstripe skirt suit from Thierry Mugler (above)
and a pinstripe skirt suit from Brooks Brothers last year



Sources

"Girl Friday." Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Online. October 2016.

Jorgensen, Jay and Donald L. Scoggins. Creating the Illusion: A Fashionable History of Hollywood Costume Designers. Running Press: 2015.

Leese, Elizabeth. Costume Design in the Movies. Dover Publications, Inc., 1991.

McCarthy, Todd. Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood. Grove Press, 1997.

"Working Women in the 1930s." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 4: 1930-1939. Detroit: Gale, 2001. U.S. History in Context. Web. 23 October 2016. URL http://ic.galegroup.com/ic/uhic/ReferenceDetailsPage/ReferenceDetailsWindow?query=&prodId=UHIC&displayGroupName=Reference&limiter=&disableHighlighting=true&displayGroups=&sortBy=&zid=&search_within_results=&action=2&catId=&activityType=&documentId=GALE%7CCX3468301237&source=Bookmark&u=sand55832&jsid=ff1c546a17b62d2d1ce4007351b97724

United States. Census Bureau. 1940 and 2010 Censuses. Washington: US Census Bureau. Web. 24 October 2016. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/cspan/1940census/CSPAN_1940slides.pdf 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

You're invited! Presenting HISTORY OF FASHION IN FILM 1950s at Annenberg Beach House 11/8


Tuesday, November 8th
THE STYLE ESSENTIALS: HISTORY OF FASHION IN FILM 1950s

6:30 pm - 8:00 pm

Guest speaker
Annenberg Beach House 
Santa Monica, CA

If you love style in the movies, you are invited to learn all about THE STYLE ESSENTIALS: HISTORY OF FASHION IN FILM in an extensive 6-part series. THE STYLE ESSENTIALS represent iconic costume design from the 1920s to the 1980s that immediately impacted fashion at the time the films premiered and continues to influence design today. There is one presentation per decade from the 1920s to the 1970s and 1980s. 

Our fourth talk of the series focuses on the style icons of the Golden Age of Hollywood during the 1950s--including Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe.  Each presentation will include stills from the movies along with images from today's fashion accompanied by a conversation about film history, costume and fashion designers, and fascinating backstories of the stars. 


Event is free to the public, but you must RSVP in order to reserve your seat.


Marion Davies' original Guest House today (above)
and that Guest House (below, left) as part of Marion Davies' grand beachfront estate



Marion Davies greeting her guests at the original Beach House



Our event space at the new Beach House


Looking forward to seeing you soon!


To see dates and details of the rest of the series,
visit the GlamAmor Events page

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Cinema Style File - 1946: the Greatest Year in Film Noir Style


I recently gave another presentation on iconic 1940s fashion in film, and every time I do this talk I declare 1946 to be the second greatest year in film history. Of course 1939 has long been regarded the best - completely justified with movie premieres that included Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Women, Ninotchka, Stagecoach, and many many more. But 1946 is a year that's close to my heart and could be in contention for second place, particularly when you consider its style.  

Years ago I decided to put together a list of 50 of the most influential costume design in the movies - I called it The Style Essentials. First I looked at iconic costume design in general. Then I narrowed the list to those films that impacted the way people dressed in the era they premiered - movies that have become historically and culturally relevant because they helped define what we now consider 1920s style, 1930s style, and so on. Finally, I narrowed the list even further and limited it to those costumes that continue to influence design today. When I analyzed the 1940s, I was amazed at the number that came from 1946 alone.  

1946 was a banner year for film in general. With all the returning servicemen from World War II, it meant big numbers at the box office and classics like The Best Years of Our Lives, It's a Wonderful Life, My Darling Clementine, The Razor's Edge, and Duel in the Sun all came out that year. But we now can see that this was a year when film noir reigned supreme. It's amazing to me the number of greats from the genre that made their debut in 1946. What's even more amazing is how much their style has become so well known and important. Most fashion designers know these costumes very well and refer to them again and again in their work. And anyone who simply loves the glamour of fashion runways and red carpets also knows these costumes - including the look of the hair and makeup - even if they've never seen the movies. 

The first three film noir below are included on my list of The Style Essentials. Interestingly, two of the three had costume designers who themselves had lives that sound straight out of film noir. More to the point, the ends of their lives sound straight out of film noir. Vera West, Univeral's head of costume design for two decades, died a suspicious death not long after she left the studio and started her own couturier. She tragically drowned in her pool and left notes behind that suggested she had been blackmailed for many years. Ruled a suicide, questions have entered the story since then such as her husband's behavior around the time of her death. On the other hand, there were no questions about the death of Irene, who was head of costume design at MGM. She checked into the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood and leapt to her death from her 11th floor window. This was an extremely gifted woman with multiple boutiques and a tenure at the famed Bullocks Wilshire salon before she took the helm at MGM. Like West, Irene's life was filled with great success, but also with challenges she clearly could not overcome.

Putting these tragedies aside, it's the talent of these women and the other costume designers I want us to celebrate. The examples below are only a fraction of the incredible film style from 1946. To show some of their impact, I've also included examples of modern fashion and contemporary costume design relating to the three from The Style Essentials. Several are linked so you may read more about the movies or the designers and their body of work. 

1946 is a year from the past that's very much a part of our present due to this costume design. If you admire the style, I strongly encourage you to watch these films and see all that they have to offer. 

(above) The Postman Always Rings Twice at Hollywood's Egyptian Theater in 1946


One of The Style Essentials -
Gilda with costume design by Jean Louis


Some of the influence of Gilda on the red carpet -
Sandra Bullock in Alexander McQueen at the 2015 Oscars (above)
and Olivia Munn in Marchesa at the 2013 Oscars



Another of The Style Essentials -
The Killers with costume design by Vera West


Some of the influence of The Killers on the red carpet -
Mila Kunis in Christian Dior at the 2012 Golden Globes (above) and
Sofia Vergara in Donna Karan Atelier at the 2013 SAG Awards



The third of The Style Essentials from 1946 -
The Postman Always Rings Twice with costume design by Irene


Femmes fatale in neo-noir channel Lana's (almost) all white wardrobe of Postman -
Michelle Pfeiffer in 1983's Scarface (above) 
and Kathleen Turner in 1980's Body Heat



Other influential film noir costume design from 1946 includes
The Big Sleep with costume design by Leah Rhodes


The Blue Dahlia with costume design by Edith Head


Notorious with costume design again by Edith Head


The Strange Love of Martha Ivers with costume design yet again by Edith Head


Humoresque with costume design by Adrian


The Stranger with costume design by Michael Woulfe (above)
and Deception with costume design by Orry-Kelly

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

You're invited! Presenting HISTORY OF FASHION IN FILM 1940s at Annenberg Beach House 8/2


Tuesday, August 2
THE STYLE ESSENTIALS: HISTORY OF FASHION IN FILM 1940s

6:30 pm - 8:00 pm

Guest speaker
Annenberg Beach House 
Santa Monica, CA

If you love style in the movies, you are invited to learn all about THE STYLE ESSENTIALS: HISTORY OF FASHION IN FILM in an extensive 6-part series. THE STYLE ESSENTIALS represent iconic costume design that immediately impacted fashion at the time the films premiered and continues to influence design today. There will be one presentation per decade from the 1920s to the 1970s and 1980s. 

The third talk in the series focuses on the style icons of Old Hollywood during the 1940s--including Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall, Veronica Lake, and Lana Turner. Each presentation includes stills from the movies along with images from today's fashion accompanied by a conversation about film history, costume and fashion designers, and fascinating backstories of the stars.  

Event is FREE to the public, but you must RSVP to reserve your seat in order to attend.  



Marion Davies' original Guest House today (above)
and that Guest House (below, left) as part of Marion Davies' grand beachfront estate



Marion Davies greeting her guests at the original Beach House



Our event space at the new Beach House


Looking forward to seeing you soon!


To see dates and details of the rest of the series,
visit the GlamAmor Events page

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