Saturday, February 25, 2017

11 Things About Vivien Leigh & the Oscars

Vivien Leigh took home two Best Actress Oscars; one in 1940 and one in 1952. Here's a list of 11 things about Vivien Leigh and the Oscars.

1. Vivien Leigh, a British actress, won both Oscars for her portrayal of Southern women. She earned her first Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind. She earned her second Oscar as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Vivien as Scarlett in Gone With the Wind
2. Vivien won both of her Oscars during leap years, 1940 and 1952.

3. She was the first British actress to win an Academy Award for Best Actress.

Vivien and Oscar, 1940
4. Vivien knew in advance that she had won for her portrayal of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind. The names of the winners were released the day before the ceremony to the newspapers. The LA Times ran the winners' names the day of the ceremony, instead of the day after.

5. According to Laurence Olivier's son, Tarquin, Olivier experienced a little bit of jealousy over her win and his loss (for Best Actor for Wuthering Heights):  On their way home, he grabbed her Oscar and 'It was all I could do to restrain myself from hitting her with it. I was insane with jealousy.' (1)

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier
 6. Vivien wasn't able to attend the 1952 Academy Awards. She was appearing onstage in New York, as Cleopatra, in dual plays. She heard her name announced as the winner, via the radio, in her dressing room at the Ziegfield Theater.

Vivien dressed as Cleopatra, March 1952
7. Greer Garson accepted the Best Actress Award, for A Streetcar Named Desire, on Vivien's behalf, at the 1952 award ceremony. Greer: It's an honor and a thrill to accept this for you, Vivien. I hope you're listening in New York We're all very excited about it. God bless you and congratulations. I know she'd want to thank you if she were here herself. (2)


Bette Davis, George Sanders, Karl Malden (Best Supporting Actor), Greer Garson and Humphrey Bogart (Best Actor)
Vivien's co-star in A Streetcar Named Desire, Kim Hunter, also didn't attend the ceremony. Bette Davis accepted on her behalf.

8. Harry Cohn presented Vivien's Oscar to her later that year in London.

Vivien Leigh and Harry Cohn
9. In March 1953, Vivien arrived in Hollywood, from Sri Lanka, to continue filming Elephant Walk. While there, she planned on attending the 1953 Oscars and was scheduled to present the Best Actor Oscar. Her chosen dress for the evening was a stunning, ivory satin gown. Unfortunately, she wasn't able to attend due to a mental illness breakdown and had to return to London for treatment.

10. While Vivien was recovering from her breakdown and Olivier was in Italy, making a movie, thieves broke into their London home, Durham Cottage. They stole her Oscar for A Streetcar Named Desire, along with silverware and clothing.

Vivien as Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire
11. In 1993, Vivien's daughter, Suzanne Farrington, sold some of her mother's things at a Sotheby's auction. One of the items placed on the block, was the Oscar Vivien had won for Gone With the Wind. The high bidder paid $510,000 for the statuette, which was the highest amount paid for an Oscar, at that time.


1. My Father Laurence Olivier by Tarquin Olivier, page 86
2. 1952 Oscars' video of Greer Garson accepting award

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Fashion Friday: The Costumes of Anna Karenina

For this week’s Fashion Friday post, I'll be taking a look at several of the costumes that Vivien Leigh wore in Anna Karenina. Based on Leo Tolstoy's classic novel, Vivien filmed Anna Karenina at Shepperton Studios in 1947; the film premiered in London, in January 1948.

Anna Karenina was directed by Julien Duvivier, whom Vivien had nothing but kind words to say about his directorial style: Instead of shouting his instructions, which is sometimes embarrassing if one has made a mistake, he will always walk up and whisper them- not only to the leading actor or actress, but to individual members of the crowd.

Vivien Leigh as Anna Karenina
While filming Anna Karenina, it was Vivien's tendency to arrive at Shepperton Studios at around 7am, each morning. During downtime and on her lunch break, Vivien would do the Times crossword puzzle. She also enjoyed playing gin rummy on the set, usually beating her opponents!

The costumes for the movie were designed by Cecil Beaton and created by Karenska. Vivien wore approximately fifteen different costumes as Anna. One newspaper article noted that some costumes had to be duplicated, due to the fake rain and snow used in the movie. In a letter Cecil Beaton wrote to Greta Garbo, he said: By the end of one day's shooting Anna's sable cape looks like an old drowned rat, and the ostrich feathers in her hat look like the flu brush. Time and again Anna has to get out of the train, while the wind machines blow a mixture of perspex and salt and cement onto her.  Personally, I think it a lot of fun- and that is the part of the films I like the best- the imitation icicles and snow- the imitation train- but by now Vivien doesn't share my views and she is thoroughly disgusted by the smell of the steam. (as shared by Hugo Vickers in Vivien Leigh).

Karenska, Vivien Leigh and Cecil Beaton in Paris, 1947
While Cecil Beaton was designing the clothing for Anna Karenina, he was also designing the costumes for An Ideal Husband (starring Paulette Goddard). The two movies were both produced by Alexander Korda, at the same time and at the same studio. Here's Beaton's take on creating the costumes for these two movies:

I think color makes a great deal of difference to the mood of an actress; that the color she wears colors her performance. If, therefore, an actress dislikes a particular color, I believe she should have the right of refusal and in a picture of where I am Designing Director, she has that right. The grays, the dark greens, the burgundy are the sombre colors. White and the pale blues, such as you see in religious paintings, the colors of virginity, of purity and of peace. Pink, more than any other, is the color of frivolity.

The different moods you can create in costuming-- what I enjoyed so much about costuming Anna Karenina and An Ideal Husband, one after the other, was that they were so different; give such a range of mood, manner and character. One, An Ideal Husband, a light, delightful trifle; the other, Anna Karenina, with the taste of doom, of fate, hanging over the different characters. Wonderful to go from the silly to the sombre, from Vivien Leigh's grand passion to Paulette [Goddard], naughty Paulette, under the stigma of being rather fast...


[The clothes in Anna Karenina should have] quite an effect. The very long waistline, the tight, thin pointed waistline. The very 18th century shoulders. No shoulder seams. All cut on the cross as they were in the 18th century- and in these costumes Vivien looks charming, very charming, so neat and strong. 

Designing is not, you see, a mere matter of a bow here, a bow there. Much more serious than that, much more serious. A very good designer should know, not only the measurements and the physical type of the woman for whom he is designing, but her character as well. 

The first costume from Anna Karenina is this lovely outfit, which Vivien is wearing in this publicity photo. The silk dress and its cape are both black and green. A matching green and black hat sits on the back of her head and ties beneath her chin.


Her green and black shawl-like wrap is trimmed with a wide band of velvet, which is attached to a hand-made fringe. The wrap is decorated with stars and a geometric pattern. 


The bottom of the skirt features wide bands of black velvet, which contrasts against the silk pattern of the dress. The dress Vivien's wearing, beneath her shawl, is pictured below. In this picture, we get a better view of the gown's design, along with its wide, lace cuffs. The frilly lace collar is set off by a brooch pinned bow.


This next costume is a gorgeous, form-fitting day dress which holds a classic, timeless appeal. The structured, burgundy gown is made from wool and velvet. 


The gown features a sable trimmed capelet, which covers the shoulders. In his biography, Vivien Leigh, Hugo Vickers relays the following snippet from a letter Vivien sent to Bernard Berenson in June, 1947: There has been a heat wave during which I have had to pretend I was living in Moscow in deepest winter! --covered in velvets and sables and corseted down to 19 inches. I thought this last would gain me some sympathy when I told Larry. But not a bit of it. He too is corseted and pretending it's winter in Elsinore! It really does seem a strange way of earning a living sometimes. 


The overskirt, with its asymmetrical pleated hem, is folded into bands and gathered toward the back, creating a fabulous silhouette for Vivien. The excess material creates a small, bustle like effect in the back of the dress. The underskirt falls to the floor and features a small train.


Vivien poses in this next publicity photo while wearing a stunning lilac gown, which would be amazing to see in color. The satin bodice features a large peek-a-boo cutout, while the bottom part of the basque angles away from the front of the dress.


The silk dress features multiple rows of narrow, plaited ruffles from the neck to the bottom, where the gown ends in pleated ruffles. Vivien wears fingerless gloves and carries a matching umbrella trimmed in fringe.


Vivien's curls are topped with a lovely hat ornamented with lilacs, to match the color of the dress. Black lace falls from the cap to tie beneath the chin. 

Lilacs are also used as decoration on the gown. A small bouquet of lilacs are pinned to the front of the bodice, while a long garland of lilacs drapes itself across the lower part of the body. The garland loops from one side of the gown to the other, dipping down to the knees before rising back to the other side. 

Cecil Beaton created a fairy tale look for Vivien in this lilac costume.
This next outfit is my favorite costume from Anna Karenina. Vivien is absolutely stunning in this outfit. The dress features a short waisted jacket, made from white silk and black velvet. The black velvet lapels perfectly sets off the lacy, white collar. The jacket's silk sleeves end in a swath of black velvet, with long, lacy cuffs spilling out from the sleeves.


The back of the jacket ends with a wide, black velvet train, that travels down to the floor. The white skirt features multiple layers of organdy draped across the body. Each layer ends in a band of pleated lace ruffles, which match the costume's cuffs and collar. 



Vivien's hat is constructed from white lace and black velvet. The hat is topped with black and white ostrich feathers, with a black velvet band of ribbon dangling down the back.

In the picture below, one gets a better view of the jacket's lacy collar, which is mostly hidden by the bouquet pinned to it in the above pictures. I think the dress looks better without the bouquet.


This sumptuous, black ball gown is made from velvet, satin and taffeta. Multiple shades of black, along with different materials, make for a glamorous night out in this gown.


The gown features a low cut bodice, with off the shoulder decolletage. Extreme decolletage as I designed...can be, according to the woman who wears it, and how she wears it, very naughty; or it can be as decorous as the sable capes and sombre shades I gave Vivien Leigh... -Cecil Beaton

The long-waisted bodice is called a cuirass basque. These were usually boned to mold a woman's body into a 'pleasing' feminine form. I only hope that if Vivien dropped anything on the floor, she had someone nearby to pick it up for her!


In the front, the ball gown ends in long rows of narrow, plaited ruffles.The striped material is draped across the front, then gathered upward toward the back, ending in a gloriously long train. Back in the 1870s, this was known as a peacock train.


Cecil Beaton created another wonderful evening gown for Vivien to wear as Anna, this time in white silk and gold lamé. Color wise, it's a complete one-eighty from the black ball gown.


This evening gown begins with a low-cut bodice, which is trimmed in a white silk fringe at the top and bottom of the basque. The overskirt is draped across the body in an apron effect and trimmed with a white silk fringe. The underskirt also features the same fringe, ending in a small train in the back. Diamantes add an extra touch of elegance to this gown.


This next outfit was sold at auction a few years ago by Bonhams. The high bidder paid $2,585 USD for this lovely costume. The website's description is simply Green velvet gown with chiffon bodice and bolero jacket.


From these color photographs of the gown, it's easy to see that the collar and cuffs were also made from white chiffon, and shaped into pleated ruffles. I'll have to rewatch Anna Karenina to figure out when Vivien wears this costume in the movie.


Years later, in looking back over her career, Vivien Leigh would cite Anna Karenina as a regret: My mistakes were doing the films of Anna Karenina and The Deep Blue Sea and appearing in the farce Look After Lulu, which was totally embarrassing. 

Vivien may have regretted doing Anna Karenina, but I don't regret how marvelous she looks in these costumes. Cecil Beaton did an outstanding job as designer.

Thanks for joining me for today's Fashion Friday post!




Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Knight Was Made For Love

Confidential
March, 1961
by John Blough

About the only thing missing in the recent divorce of Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh to make it the most adroit comedy of manners in many years was a credit line for Noel Coward.

For here, observers are generally agreed, is a matrimonial mix-up that screams for the classic Coward coolness, where everybody was very nice, old chaps, even if there was a deuced lot of cheating going on. The kind of stuff, in short, that has made deah Nuhl's plays tops in weird love situations.

Conditioned to seeing such things on the stage, the general public nevertheless sat bolt upright when the Olivier-Leigh design for living and loving was revealed recently.


Sir Larry, it seems, chaps, admitted adultery with a gal named Joan Plowright in a London hotel and Lady Olivier, so help us, said she had been a bit more than indiscreet. In fact a bit more than once; two times, to put it succinctly, once in Ceylon and again in London. Like a true blue British Lady, though, Vivien didn't name the gentlemen involved in these far off Broadway personal productions of Twice Upon a Mattress. 

Triangles, of course, are nothing new, offstage or on, and therefore you can't be blamed for asking: "So what's unusual about this situation? Here's Larry, a handsome gent, going for another girl? Blimey, it's done more times than you can shake a private eye at."

And of course it's done, chums! But what makes his case even curiouser is the fact that the lass Larry lolled about with happened to be married to a TV actor named Roger Gage. Yet Roger, to everyone's surprise, admitted he had committed adultery, too. In, of all places, Helsinki, which seems like a long way to go for a roll in the hay.

There you have it, a four way adultery tablet, which the Court seemed to swallow as easily as a cold tablet with the same quadruple benefits. Only in this case it would have been cheaper for Sir Larry to stick with the bottle instead of the babe, because the Court assessed him the cost of both cases; to wit, Olivier vs. Olivier; and Gage vs. Gage.

Joan Plowright, with her first husband, Roger Gage
Thus, as Time might put it, after 20 years of marriage, no children, came divorce to Sir Larry and Lady Olivier.

But if Time put it that way, friends, they would have missed a pip of a story, because the saga of Sir Larry and his Lady is a lulu. In the first place, the recent divorce action brought Larry's love life to full circle, a coincidence generally missed by the raised eyebrows set.

It started with a kiss and ended with a kiss. Only the women were different.

At the time he met Vivien, Larry, then without that impressive Sir subsequently appended to his name, was very much married to a good looking actress named Jill Esmond. They were rapidly gaining distinction as a husband and wife team; but at the time Vivien blew into Larry's life he was playing solo at a London theatre, the star of Fire Over England.

Well, sir, faster than you could say Hamlet's soliloquy, Larry was rhapsodizing over his new costar, who happened to be beautiful, charming and all those things a guy sees when he first gets that way over a dame. The girl, natch, was Vivien and the fact that, in addition to being desirable, she was also married seemed not to bother Larry. In no time at all, the Fire Over England being acted onstage, was a pitiful glow compared to the roaring blaze Larry and Vivien were generating backstage.

As the conflagration spread, fanned by the winds of gossip, Vivien's husband, a London lawyer named Herbert Leigh Holman, got downwind of it and what he smelled seemed more like something out of Denmark than out of a Chanel bottle. Mrs. Olivier, the charming Jill, also sensed that more was in the wind than dramatics, but before any action was taken, Jill found herself jilted and Holman found himself minus a wife.

Because when Fire Over England folded, Larry and his new-found love loaded their make-up kits on a Cunarder, crossed the Big Pond, and set up housekeeping in Hollywood. Behind them they left Larry's son, Tarquin, and Vivien's daughter, Suzanne.

To romantic souls, only great devotion could have caused two such notable public figures to commit desertion. Certainly the love they bore for one another served to prove it. They were so enslaved by Eros that three years passed before either of them appeared to notice they hadn't been married. In the meantime, Larry had introduced Vivien to David O. Selznick, who was then on a talent hunt for an actress to play Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind; she tested for the role and the rest is history. Both Vivien and Larry went onward and upward with the Arts, success dogging their every footstep.

To Hollywood they were a perfectly matched couple; they were both talented and easy to look at, even if they did seem, at the time, to have eyes only for each other.

I never saw a happier couple, Katharine Hepburn, echoing the sentiments of the Oliviers' circle, remarked when the couple were finally married. The wedding, which caught most of Hollywood by surprise, took place at Ronald Colman's ranch at Santa Barbara, long a favorite spot where the British elite wold meet to eat, munch crumpets and compare bankbooks.

The honeymoon was scarcely over when Vivien, a ball of fire on screen as well as off, was stricken with TB and sent to a sanitarium in Switzerland. During the years she remained there, Larry visited her regularly and, to all appearances, was a perfect model of an upright husband.

But he also had his career to consider. Triumph followed on triumph for him and, as always happens, beautiful women heaved themselves whole-heartedly at him. They got short shrift for all their short breaths. Larry seemed determined to surround himself with males for protection and for companionship. Thus, if Vivien did hear stories of the way sirens schemed to play offstage Juliet to her romantic Romeo, Larry's friends could assure her it was just so much nonsense.

Naturally, Vivien had her fears for Larry, a friend of the couple recalls. What woman wouldn't worry about another female taking her man away from her? But when she realized that Larry welcomed the company of men-- when he didn't have her around-- she was persuaded their marriage was still valid.

Once she was released from the sanitarium, Vivien again fitted perfectly into the pre-togetherness picture the loving couple had conjured up for themselves. When WWII broke out, they worked tirelessly in the war effort, entertaining British troops anywhere they were sent. These laudable patriotic efforts, however, taxed Vivien's strength and prevented her full recovery, something that was not immediately evident.

At cessation of hostilities, the Oliviers resumed their separate careers, Larry to make it big with his movie and stage version of Hamlet and Vivien to soar to triumph as a nymphomaniac in the film rendition of A Streetcar Named Desire. 

Playing the role of a pathetic woman whose sexual desires eventually bring her to an insane asylum was no easy part for the actress. A thing like that called for consummate skill and Vivien, doubtless realizing this, threw herself feverishly into the role. The ways it absorbed her was the wonder of the Oliviers' circle, many of whose members commented on how Vivien lived with it. She often startled friends with the gestures, voice and lines of Blanche, the lady who couldn't leave sex alone, When the picture was released, Vivien was established as one of the finest actresses in Hollywood.

Instead of resting on her laurels, and unaware that she was not fully recovered from her TB bout, Vivien meekly consented to go on tour with Larry in two Caesar plays, Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra and Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra.


Vivien was always ready to do anything Larry wanted, a friend recalls. Although she knew she was an accomplished actress, she meekly accepted his direction. He picked her movie roles and in general told her what to do. Vivien always felt that the male partner should dominate.

Surprisingly, she did a complete about face. When the tour of the two Caesars ended, Paramount asked her to do a movie with Larry based on the book Elephant Walk, a story of a faded beauty who rules a Ceylon plantation.

Olivier turned thumbs down on the deal, and intimated that his refusal included Vivien also. For once, she defied him, but not completely. Although Olivier became reconciled to Vivien's rebellion, he insisted that an old friend of the couple, a young actor named Peter Finch, go along to keep her company. Olivier's attitude had one Hollywood wit wondering whether Larry thought that Dana Andrews, Vivien's co-star, and a herd of elephants featured in the picture, weren't enough to keep her from feeling lonesome. Less charitable people called it just plain jealousy on Olivier's part.

Whatever the actor's misgivings, trouble brewed, bubbled and boiled over.

Although Finch was on hand as family friend and protector in Ceylon, Vivien soon showed him he was only one of a number of handsome young men who could offer solace on their own. She began to be plagued with insomnia, and when her fears and tautness became evident to Andrews the star suggested that Vivien see a psychiatrist, I don't believe in them, she said curtly.

It soon became evident that what she preferred was Yoga, and we don't mean Berra.

It was Eastern philosophy. The guy who introduced it to her was an actor friend of Peter Finch named John Buckmaster.

Buckmaster taught Vivien the finer points of the Oriental cult and also spent many nights sitting outside her bedroom in a trance. Some unsung wit on location once had the presence of mind to snap a memorable picture of Vivien, legs crossed in traditional Yoga posture, with a snake curled around her shoulder.

Larry could have saved himself a lot of heartache if he'd seen this picture earlier, a press agent says, but he was sure that with Finch chaperoning her, Vivien was in good hands.

The only trouble was that Finch, Buckmaster and Vivien made it a very cozy threesome. And, meanwhile, Vivien's ordinarily sunny disposition turned to arrant rudeness and temper tantrums.

She cried on the set. Twice she forgot her lines. On several occasions she locked herself in her dressing room and refused to come out. Behind the closed door, she listened impassively to the importunities of the company manager, while outside, his face a placid mask of contentment, Buckmaster sat cross legged, lost in Nirvana. But then the day arrived that Vivien began answering conversations in Elizabethan English, the company knew the end was near. Before long Vivien collapsed, sobbing and screaming.

When Olivier flew over to take her home, he found that Finch had long since left town after refusing to talk to his friends of the press, and that Buckmaster had suffered a breakdown the day after Vivien's collapse.

Hollywood's great, shrivelled, golden heart went all out to Larry and Vivien in this moment of dire distress and every studio wondered anxiously whether Vivien would work again. After all, she was box-office. Their fears were groundless. Six months later Vivien was her happy self again and had returned to the London stage where she played opposite her husband, now Sir Larry, in The Sleeping Prince.

Then an unfortunate recurrence of her old malady sent her back to the Swiss sanitarium. When The Sleeping Prince became a movie, retitled The Prince and the Showgirl, Marilyn Monroe played the role created by Vivien. It was one of Larry's most disappointing productions and, definitely, the biggest turkey Monroe ever turned in in the name of Art. As if Larry didn't have enough woe trying to forget his mishaps with MM, Vivien was released from the sanitarium, but, instead of rushing to her husband, she headed for America where she made a sensational announcement.

She was, she told the press, expecting a baby. Whether this news- which proved erroneous- had a jarring effect on Sir Larry, busy pitching cinematic woo with Monroe, has never been recorded. Later, after Vivien had discovered she wasn't pregnant, another slight touch of unusual domesticity brought the wrath of the British press down on her head.

To everyone's astonishment except Sir Larry's (who later claimed he sanctioned the arrangement), Vivien got in touch with her ex-husband, Barrister Holman, and went vacationing in Italy with him and their daughter Suzanne, then 23.

Proper Britishers fumed at the scandalous holiday and a lady member of Parliament huffed that it was a terrible example for people in high places to set before our children.

If anyone expected Vivien's informal vacation to break up the Oliviers, or introduce what the French call a ménage à trois to proper British households, they were disappointed. The Oliviers were in business as usual. This was obvious when Larry finished a walking tour of Scotland with his son and returned home.

He and Vivien embarked on a Shakespeare kick in the Bard's birthplace. Togetherness seemed in order again, even when Vivien returned to the States to star in the Broadway production of Duel of Angels. Prior to departure, however, she incurred Olivier's displeasure, and aroused the delight of the British press, when she slipped on a red satin bathing suit and black mesh stockings and made her TV debut as Sabina, the talkative, never-say-die seductress in Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth.

Chortled the London Daily Herald: Well, it if isn't granny in tights.

More circumspectly, the London Daily Mail gasped: Legs!

Olivier just subsided into moody silence, an obvious picture of a man conditioned to problems. Besides, he had another problem, no one seemed to know about, Vivien in particular. Larry, it seems, was in love again.

The object of his affection was a shy English actress with dark, close cropped hair and round, rag doll eyes. Her name was Joan Plowright and she came to Sir Larry's attention as the bright hope of the English Stage Company. He promptly signed her to play his daughter in The Entertainer. This was followed by a role opposite him in Rhinoceros. The daughter of a Lincolnshire newspaper editor, Joan broke into show business as an amateur, got into the Old Vic on a scholarship and then toured the countryi n repertory.

Vivien Leigh and Jack Merivale
Just as he had with Vivien, Sir Larry saw her on a stage and flipped. Vivien, meanwhile, appearing in New York, was keeping busy after hours with one of her co-players, a handsome young actor named John Merivale, son of the noted Gladys Cooper and the late Philip Merivale.

Then Vivien got the word that Sir Larry wanted to wed Joan Plowright. Keeping the traditional stiff upper lip, Vivien announced: Lady Olivier wished o say that Sir Laurence has asked for a divorce in order to marry Miss Joan Plowright. She will naturally do whatever he wished.

Said Sir Larry: It is too private an affair to discuss just now. I must think.

Still thinking, Olivier came to New York in Becket hard on the heels of his lady love who had arrived a week earlier to open in A Taste of Honey. Finally, what he had been thinking about came out in court: Vivien had cheated in Ceylon (with a person unnamed) and in London with another person also unnamed; Larry had cheated with Joan, who had cheated on her husband, who had cheated with another person, unnamed, in Helsinki.

Obviously, a four way confession of sin like this, if made earlier, would have prevented Olivier from obtaining a knighthood, whatever his merits as an actor. But since it happened after honors had been granted to him, there wasn't much anyone could do about it.

The recent turn of events may have left Sir Larry in a daze, but there'll always be the Knight.






Friday, January 27, 2017

Fashion Friday: Laurence Olivier's Knighthood

In 1947, while Laurence Olivier was filming Hamlet, he received a letter asking him if he’d be interested in a knighthood. Even though he wasn’t suppose to mention the letter to anyone, he couldn’t resist and called his wife, Vivien.

Vivien was in Paris, being fitted for her costumes for Anna Karenina. Felix Barker, in his book The Oliviers, summed up their exchange:  "You won’t take it, of course?" she asked with mock innocence. "Of  course not!" he answered, and promptly sat down and wrote to say that he would be honored to accept.

Olivier’s impending knighthood was officially announced on June 11, in the King’s Birthday Honors List, for his stage and screen contributions. In his appointment book for July 8, he marked the upcoming investiture as the following: Buckingham Palace, 10:15. He drew a sword on the page beneath the date.

The Oliviers, photographed at Durham Cottage
The ceremony took place on Tuesday, July 8, at Buckingham Palace. Afterward, Olivier shared with the reporters, covering the event, that being knighted had unnerved him more than a first night.  I was nervous. I like to have a 'dummy run' before I do anything. There wasn’t any rehearsal [for being knighted]. Olivier's nervousness did not show. In fact, he looked very confident as he walked up to the King and knelt down on one knee.

Sir Laurence Olivier and his friend, Sir Malcolm Sargent, were knighted at the same ceremony.
It's kind of strange to consider, but Olivier did not own a proper morning suit for the occasion. Luckily, two friends pitched in to help him out. Anthony Bushell lent him his morning jacket and Ralph Richardson lent him the waistcoat. However, as Olivier would later joke, his pants were his own!

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier
The black morning jacket featured black-braiding, which is a silk trim. The braiding can be seen around the jacket's collar, lapels, front pocket, sleeves and tails. The interesting thing to note is that the silk trim, at the bottom of the sleeve, gives the appearance of a turn-back cuff, for an extra touch of elegance. 

Vivien dressed quite elegantly in simple black. She wore a wide-brimmed hat with a veil that covered her face. Her black suit featured a nipped in waist, slanting pocket flaps and oversized pearl buttons, at the jacket's closure and cuffs. The frilly, ruffled collar of her white blouse peeks out from the suit's jacket. Vivien and Larry's biographers report that she wore no jewelry for the occasion, but as we can see in these pictures, that's not true. Vivien wore small earrings, which look flower-shaped, and a strand of pearls. 



       Here's a list of 5 Cool Things About Olivier's Knighthood:

  1. Olivier was a blonde when knighted. He was in the middle of filming Hamlet, so his hair had been bleached blonde for the role.
  2. Alexander Korda closed down the Anna Karenina set for the investiture.
  3. Olivier, at 40, was the youngest actor to be knighted. 
  4. He'd been skipped over the Honors List before, due to his divorce and subsequent remarriage to a divorced woman.
  5. Olivier was the fourth most popular British actor when knighted. The top three actors were James Mason, Stewart Granger and Ray Milland. 


Thanks for joining me for today's Fashion Friday post!




Friday, January 20, 2017

Fashion Friday: That Hamilton Woman

That Hamilton Woman! is a 1941 movie about the real-life romance of Emma Hamilton and Horatio Nelson, starring Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. René Hubert, the man tapped to be the costume designer for the film, was no stranger to Vivien. He had previously worked with her on three movies:  Fire Over England, Dark Journey and A Yank at Oxford. René was born in Switzerland, in 1895.

Vivien Leigh and designer René Hubert
When it came to fashion, René's motto was that a woman should dress her personality, then everything else would fall into place. Your clothes must never overshadow you. You must triumph over them, for beauty's greatest asset is the lack of self-consciousness. René designed many sets and costumes for revues/plays in Europe, including designs for Max Reinhardt. By the age of thirty, his most famous client was Gloria Swanson, whom he began designing for in 1925. During his career, Rene received two Oscar nominations for costume design: Desiree, 1954 and The Visit, 1964.

That Hamilton Woman! opens at the British Embassy in Naples. We catch our first glimpse of Vivien as the young Emma as she arrives in Naples, along with her mother, at the home of Sir William Hamilton.

Vivien Leigh and Sara Allgood 
Vivien wears a large hat, based on one from a George Romney painting of Emma Hamilton. The hat features oversized black bows on top and a streaming, grey chiffon, scarf wraps around Vivien's chin. She wears a floor-length grey cape, with a multi-tiered capelet. Beneath the cape she wears a matching grey, chiffon dress cinched at the waist with a black sash. The close-fitting, long sleeves of the dress end in a small ruffle at each wrist.

Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh


Sir William arranges to dine alone with Emma on her first night in Naples. The costume for this scene is a sweet dress made from a light, pink organza. The dress features elbow length sleeves, with banded ribbon midway through the sleeves and a low, ruffled collar, which extends to the shoulders, covering the bodice. A large, pink bow sits in the center of the ruffled collar.


Vivien wears a super-cute, three piece, sailor outfit, which reflects the colors of the British flag (red, white and blue). The gown features a long, pleated, chiffon dress. The skirt portion is highlighted by light blue stripes. The dress is topped off with a red, double-breasted waistcoat made from red moire (a silk fabric with a wavy pattern). Over the waistcoat, Vivien wears a short, bolero jacket made from blue silk.


Brass buttons are lined up in neat little double rows, running down both the vest and the jacket. The nautical theme continues with Vivien's jewelry. She wears an anchor necklace and anchor earrings. Her white collar also features gold anchors; one pinned to each side.  Vivien's curls are crowned by a straw hat, with an upturned brim, trimmed in blue ribbon.




Next up is the costume I've dubbed the opera gown. This particular ball gown is only shown briefly as Emma and Nelson attend the opera. Later, at an inn, we catch a fleeting glimpse of the dress beneath Emma's cape. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a full length photograph of the gown by itself.


The ball gown is made from blue satin, which is draped over side hoops, leaving the front and back more or less flat (which I'm sure Vivien appreciated after wearing those wide hooped skirts in GWTW!). Pink chiffon roses are sewn onto the dress, contrasting with the blue satin. The leaves and stems for the roses are embroidered directly onto the gown's fabric in a silver thread and are embellished with tiny rhinestones. The underskirt is a heavy satin, with diamond shapes studded with more rhinestones. The entire outfit is topped off by an enormous hat, adorned with pink chiffon roses and ostrich feathers.


Vivien stuns in this next costume, which is another glamorous ball gown. The gown features a tight fighting, silver bodice with short sleeves. The skirt flounces out over side hoops for a dazzling effect, especially when Vivien, as Emma, runs through the palace in search of Nelson! The black chiffon skirt features a large, silver pattern with an overlay of black netting, studded with diamantes.




The Now I've kissed you through two centuries ball gown was auctioned off a few years ago by Christie's, selling for $7,800 USD.  From Christie's website: A full-length formal gown of black velvet, the v-shaped neckline trimmed with black lace, the bodice and skirt embellished with rhinestones and bugle beads in the form of feathers and bows. The dress was subsequently adapted for later use.


Eugne Joseff was the jewelry designer for That Hamilton Woman. In the movie, Vivien wears this gorgeous, faux diamond and emerald necklace. The necklace was originally created by Joseff for Greta Garbo to wear in the 1936 movie, Camille. Greta complained that the weight of her cape caused the leaves of the necklace to pierce her skin, so she refused to wear it. Joseff brought the piece out of storage for Vivien to wear as we see in these pictures.


Another of Vivien's costumes that went on the auction block is this gorgeous overcoat. The outfit was sold at Sotheby's in 2002 for around $8,000 USD. Looking at the black and white photos, one would never guess that the coat was a gorgeous green color.


The top of the coat features a multi-tiered capelet, while the sleeves end in oversized cuffs. The extra large, black buttons run almost the entire length of the overcoat. A black belt is cinched into place around the close fitting waist. In the picture above, a frilly cravat stands its ground, held in place with a large cameo brooch.


One part of the publicity campaign for That Hamilton Woman! were costume reproductions. These modern day replicas were available to the general public at fine department stores.


One of my personal favorites, from That Hamilton Woman!, is this gorgeous gown. I don't have a description of the dress as viewed in the movie, but I do have a description of the replica made for the public. The replica gown was made from white crepe. The crepe drapes over the bodice Grecian style and the shoulders feature toga like knots. The bodice and the detachable shawl feature an embroidered design, embellished with diamantes.


And finally, we come to a costume worn by Laurence Olivier as Horatio Nelson. This costume went on the auction block in 2011, selling for $19,000!


As Nelson, Olivier wears several different naval uniforms. This particular one can be seen, in the movie, when Vivien comes aboard Nelson's ship. It's a long, navy colored jacket with a cream vest and white shirt beneath. The white shirt features ruffles in the front and at the wrists. The jacket, as pictured above, is missing its gold epaulettes from the shoulders.


This last picture shows the real Nelson's naval uniform. Nelson wore it in the Battle of Trafalgar, where unfortunately, he was killed by gunfire. The gentleman in the picture is pointing to the bullet hole in Nelson's jacket.


From Napoleon.org: Nelson had lost his right arm at Santa Cruz de Tenerife on 22 July 1797, and accordingly the right sleeve of the jacket is only lined to the elbow, and is equipped with a small loop that allows it to be crossed over the breast and fastened to a button. On the left sleeve and tails there are visible bloodstains, probably those of John Scott, Nelson’s secretary, who was killed just before him. The uniform and a number of other effects were given to Lady Hamilton, who gave them away to settle a debt in 1814. Prince Albert acquired them later for 150 pounds and donated them to Greenwich Hospital. As for the bullet that killed Nelson, it is now kept in the Royal Collection at Windsor.


Thanks for joining me for today's Fashion Friday post!


For more on That Hamilton Woman!, please check out this previous post:
 21 Cool Things About That Hamilton Woman!