Monday, March 25, 2013

Giving Them The Slip: When Passion Meets Fashion

This is my contribution to The Hollywood Revue's Fashion in Film Blogathon. Click HERE for more fashion, more fun and more fabulosity!

Joyce Compton approves of Barbara Kent's slip
 According to Wikipedia, the slip is:

"a woman's undergarment worn beneath a dress or skirt to help it hang smoothly and to prevent chafing of the skin from coarse fabrics such as wool. Slips are also worn for warmth, and to protect fine fabrics from perspiration. A full slip hangs from the shoulders, usually by means of narrow straps, and extends from the breast to the fashionable skirt length. A half slip hangs from the waist. It may also be called a waist slip or more rarely a petticoat.
Slips are often worn to prevent the show through of intimate undergarments such as panties or a brassiere. A slip may also be used to prevent a silhouette of the legs showing through clothing when standing in front of a bright light source. Other uses for slips are to make a dress or skirt hang properly, the prevention of chafing to the skin, to protect the outer garment from damage due to perspiration, or for warmth, especially if the dress or skirt is lightweight and thin."

Really? We all know that, at least in the world of film, the slip was a way to show a woman in her undies while getting past the censors. It wasn't quite a nightie, and it wasn't quite panties and a bra. It hinted and titillated and gave us all a voyeur's glimpse into a woman's boudoir. A feminine lure, it reeled the  hunter in until the last moment when - alas- the prey retreated behind closed doors (or a dress).

In the 1920s and early 1930s (up until that fateful day the hays Code was enforced), the slip was a staple in stories of modern girls on the make. Now, you would never see Mary Pickford in a slip, but Clara Bow? You bet!
Clara Bow displays the goods

For Clara, the slip was her work uniform

Clara in her element
In the 1930s, Clara's free spirit with a slip became a staple of the pre-code sweeties. The Teddy - a shortened version of the slip - became the staple of provocation. Add a pair of high heels to the look and it was the cat's pajamas, hubba hubba, ooh la la and all that!

Jazz Up Your Lingerie!

In 1931's "The Smiling Lieutenant," Claudette Colbert gives some musical advice to Miriam Hopkins that became the theme song for  all pre-code gals on the make:

Miriam Hopkins after her lingerie has been jazzed

Bebe Daniels pretends she is not trying to seduce

Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell are
better covered than their friend (but not by much!)

Leave it to Joan Crawford to look find the most glamorous lingerie

Joan Blondell spent most of her pre-code days in her lingerie

Ann Dvorak's slip seems to have slipped!

Carole Lombard and friends check out the goods

Jeanette MacDonald was never shy about
stepping out in her unmentionables
In the 1940s, the slip became more ornate and took on a more nightie type of look. Sometimes it was hard to tell if the lady was getting ready to retire or step out. One clue is that the slip seemed easier to wade through than the voluminous negligee.
Gene Tierney has the classy but provocative look down pat

Ann Sheridan adds a garter to up the ante in allure
Rita Hayworth's famous pose
The 1950s were the last hurrah of the seductive slip, but it went out with a bang with Taylor and Monroe.
Elizabeth Taylor breathes new life into the slip in both
"Butterfield Eight" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"

Marilyn use the slip for both retiring and nighttime departures: very efficient

Once we get to see Doris Day in her slip getting dressed with her kids in the room we knew it was all over and the slip will eventually be relegated to the dustbin with stays and pantalettes.
Doris Day in the sanitized slip in "Please Don't Eat the Daisies"
Natalie Wood gave it a go in the 1976 TV version of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," and although she is beautiful, it all looked rather quaint by then.

Oh well, it was sure fun while it lasted!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Rita Hayworth: American Exotic

Film historian David Shipman had this to say about Rita Hayworth in his masterful "The Great Movies Stars: The Golden Years":
"The appellation 'The Love Goddess' has been used about a dozen stars, but mostly about Rita Hayworth. Whatever other girls had - and sexy, desirable girls were never in short supply in films - Rita had more of. She was ravishing in black and white, and breathtaking when (very sensibly) they put her into Technicolor: auburn-haired, brown-eyed, and with the proverbial peaches-and-cream complexion. It wasn't just physical allure. Naturally it's preferable when a woman on the seducing end attractive - provocation was an early Hayworth specialty - but she did have that special star luster. One fan-mag-writer in 1963 considered her 'an interesting interval - if not an especially dynamic one - between Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe,' but her appeal was really somewhat more subtle than either. She was once described as 'the intellectual's glamour girl,' presumably implying that a lot of people liked her who weren't expected to."
Lately, I've just been thinking that she is one of the most beautiful women ever to to grace the screen.

Complex, Talented and Tragic
Rita's story is well known. Born Margarita Carmen Cansino, she followed in her dancing father's footsteps and was eventually noticed by the head of Fox studios, who put her under contract. Cast mostly as a foreign exotic, she was eventually dropped by Fox. Her first husband wrangled a deal with Columbia and there Harry Cohn saw a diamond in the rough in this B-film actress. Her name was changed, her hair-color changed from dark to red. A painful process of electrolysis to raise her low hairline completed the picture and a unique love goddess was made. The American beauties could never match the sex, mystery and allure of the European goddesses such as Garbo and Dietrich. While Hayworth projected all-American health, she also had that air of European sophistication. Film historian John Kobal called her an American Exotic.
Margarita and Rita
It seems Rita Hayworth knew very little happiness. Her second marriage to Orson Welles ended sadly. Her next romance, a scandalous one with Prince Aly Khan, for whom she left Hollywood. After than marriage ended, she returned to Hollywood, but her heart was no longer in it. 2 other disastrous and abusive marriages followed (to singer Dick Haymes and director James Hill). Harry Cohn continually made her life miserable at Columbia and, unbelievable though it seems, this great beauty was shy and insecure and relied heavily on alcohol to get her through the day. In her 50s she fell victim to Alzheimer's Disease. Because it was so misunderstood in those days, she was often accused of being drunk and/or crazy (her daughter, Yasmin Khan, cared for her mother with great compassion and is the president of Alzheimer's International).

Her Legacy
While she might have been sad behind the camera, Rita Hayworth left us with unforgettable images and breathtaking performances. Some on my favorites:

Beautiful beyond belief, Rita famously said of the men in her life "every man I knew went to bed with Gilda and woke up with me."

Cover Girl

As Rusty Parker, she was the girl next door who just looked better than any girl who ever lived next door.

Pin Up Girl Extraordinaire

This photo of Rita on the cover of Life Magazine elevated her to the top of the heap (with Betty Grable) as WWII G.I.'s favorite pin-up girl.

Rita's great friend, choreographer Jack Cole, said that Rita was only confident when she was dancing. Here are a few of her best moments.

Rita, you kicked ass.

To view more gorgeous photos of Rita, check out My Movie Dream Book right HERE.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Scandal! Charlie Chaplin - Part 1

Welcome to 2013 - a year of scandals at A Person in the Dark. Yes, I love movies, but I confess I am a sucker for those juicy Hollywood scandals of old.
March's scandal: Charlie Chaplin & Lita Grey
Charlie and Lillita Louise MacMurray
In 1924 Charlie Chaplin was one of the world's most beloved stars. Having transformed his Little Tramp from a crude Keystone prankster into a lovable character of pathos and universal appeal, his artistry was admired, his celebrity almost without equal.

Besides being well-known as the Tramp, Charlie was also known as a ladies man. His many romances included Edna Purviance, Pola Negri and Marion Davies, as well as his recently divorced child-bride, Mildred Harris. His attraction to teen-age girls was known, but, as of yet, he had managed to skirt disaster.

After the triumph of his first feature, "The Kid," he began work on his next feature, "The Gold Rush." His former leading lady, Edna Purviance, was deemed too old at 29, and Charlie was on the look-out for a new leading lady. But, it turned out he had already met her.

The Flirting Angel
The angel tempts charlie with sin
in 1921, a 12-year old Lillita MacMurray accompanied her friend, Myrna Kennedy, to the Chaplin lot looking for work. The dark-eyed almost-teen caught Charlie's eye and he cast her as his flirting angel in "The Kid."

Charlie and his angel
Charlie was taken with his little angel, but he was in the midst of a contentious divorce from Mildred Harris. And so, she finished her part (as well as another part in the Chaplin short "The Idle class") and went back to school.

The Gold Rush
Chaplin directs Lita Grey in "The Gold Rush"
When Chaplin began work on "The Gold Rush," his mind turned again to his flirting angel, who was now 15 years old. He tested her, renamed her Lita Grey, and signed her to a contract (against the advice and opinions of wiser and cooler heads). Chaplin told the press she was 19 years old. The stage was set for disaster.

Chaplin was serious about his film by day, but was equally in serious pursuit of Lita by night. All those concerned had their own side of the story to tell, but the fact remains that, shortly after filming began, the now 16-year old Lita was pregnant and her 35-year old seducer and director was the father. Chaplin reportedly wanted Lita to terminate the pregnancy, but she refused. Her family smelled a payday and Lita was counselled by them to hang tough.

Facing a charge of statutory rape and unthinkably bad publicity, Chaplin agreed to marry Lita. In an almost surreal series of events, the couple slipped into Mexico and were married in November 1924. When their son, Charles, Jr., was born in May 1925, the news was withheld from the press. Mother and child emerged a month later and little Charlie's birth date was changed to June.

Charlie, Lita & Charlie, Jr.
Despite the birth of a second son, Sydney, in 1926, the marriage was never a happy one. Lita was miserable and Charlie was unfaithful.

Lita's Complaint: published for all the world to see
In 1927, Lita had had enough and filed for divorce. If Chaplin thought the marriage was a misery, he had no idea what was in store for him with the divorce. "Lita's Complaint," a blow by blow vivisection of Chaplin's reputation was published and the scandal made the headlines for months. Apparently, Lita's greatest complaints were that Chaplin demanded oral sex, was cheap, cheated on her and generally abandoned her and her sons. A restraining order was placed on Chaplin's considerable assets. For the first time, the public turned on Charlie who, claimed Lita, barely gave her enough money to by milk for the babies.

Lita testifies

The Chaplin divorce makes the headlines
All of this took a tremendous toll of Chaplin, who suffered a nervous breakdown. When Lita threatened to name the women with whom Charlie had slept with during their marriage (among them friend Myrna Kennedy, Georgia Hale, Edna Purviance and Marion Davies - which must have raised the wrath of W.R. Hearst), Chaplin caved. In August 1927 Lita received her divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty. Her $825,000 settlement was the largest to date.

Was Lita a gold-digger? While it seems her family clearly had their eye on the bank account, it is doubtful that a 15-year old star struck girl could have been so calculating. And, even if she was, Charlie should have known better. But,  it appears he could not help himself. Some say this story was Nabokov's inspiration for "Lolita."

After the divorce, Charlie Chaplin got his first taste of public disapproval. But, "The Gold Rush" was a roaring success and Chaplin quickly regained the affection of the public. For his part, Charlie pretty much went back to his old ways. But the love affair was tainted and couldn't stand much more scandal.

To Be Continued....

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Castle on the Hudson: I'll Do Anything To Get Outta Here!

This is my contribution to the John Garfield 100th Birthday Blogathon, hosted by They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To.  Please take the time to read all of the wonderful tributes to this very special actor.

Let's see.... tough but charming hoodlum lives the high life in the Big Apple. He is a swell dresser, has a load of untrustworthy "friends," and a swell dish for a girlfriend. A bit of bad weekend luck (Saturday is always his bad luck day) gets him sent up the river to that famous Castle on the Hudson known as Sing Sing. He thinks he can run the joint, but soon the reforming warden sets him straight. After some drama, a few laughs, and ultimate redemption, the mug goes to the chair a better man. Plus, everyone talks very fast and a 2-hour movie is condensed into 77 minutes. Must be a Warner Brothers production, right? Right.

1940's "Castle on the Hudson" is a remake of 1932's "20,000 Years in Sing Sing." I'm not really sure why Warner felt it necessary to recycle the story, but perhaps it seemed a good fit for its stars John Garfield and Ann Sheridan.

Garfield plays Tommy Gordon, an almost unlikable hood who went to the James Cagney school of cockiness (and graduated at the top of the class). There is no doubt that Garfield can handle the little tough but tender guy role with ease, but it has all been done before. He is wonderful but wasted. Wasted, too, is Ann Sheridan as Kay, at the peak of her celebrated "oomph" but required only to look beautiful and sincere while gazing through tear-glistened orbs.

But it's a good, professional Warner product with the usual wonderful group of supporting players, so let's focus on the fun things:

Tommy is a very natty dresser and prides himself on his good taste. In fact it is a lost shirt stud that is found at the scene of the crime that does him in. Tommy's vanity is rather adorable and Garfield puts it over with great charm.
Tommy after the heist - well dressed and ready for fun

Kay has a really neat wardrobe, too. The costumes by Howard Shoup are beautiful and I wish I could have found some better photos to illustrate how lovely Sheridan looked in them.
It always amazes me how these molls seem to
have evening gowns at the ready
An interesting cast member here is Burgess Meredith as an intellectual fellow inmate who organizes a break but ends up choosing a dramatic death over the chair. He is a bit out of  sync with the rest of the Warners rhythm section and shakes the film up a bit by his presence.
A publicity photo of the 3 stars
Following the story of Tommy's love of good clothes, there is a fun scene where he has to submit to the prison issued uniform. He goes from baggy, to union suit to rags before we finally see him in a better fit.
Tommy in rags: still cute
The ever-reliable Pat O'Brien as the warden who finds the good in Tommy. Sure, we've seen it before, but he always makes things better just by being there, doesn't he?
It is exhausting trying to reform all of these A-list stars!

Ann Sheridan, looking beyond beautiful after she leaps out of a speeding car to avoid Jerome Cowan's animal advances. She also lives in a beyond swank apartment that looks big enough to host the Superbowl. How does she afford it?
Right after the leap from the car and right
before she plugs Cowan. What a gal.

While the film is fun in an ordinary sort of way, the genre is tired. At one point Tommy Gordon cries "I'll do anything to get outta here!" and you get the feeling Garfield is saying the same thing. He can do this sort of role with his hands tied behind his back. He is ready for something better, something more challenging, something more modern. He belongs to the future, not to the past.

Happy birthday, Johnny Boy - you look great at 100.