Friday, October 14, 2016

Fashion Friday #13: The Lady of the Camellias

In 1961, Vivien Leigh embarked on a world tour, leading the Old Vic Company in three different plays with stops across three continents: Australia, South America and North America. One of the plays performed was The Lady of the Camellias.

In The Lady of the Camellias, Vivien plays a nineteenth-century courtesan named Marguerite Gauthier. The play was based on the book La Dame aux Camélias, by Alexandre Dumas fils (the son of Alexandre Dumas, writer of novels such as The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask). The character of Marguerite was based on Marie Duplessis, a real life courtesan that Dumas knew and loved. Sadly, Marie died of consumption (tuberculosis) at the young age of 23.

Over the years, La Dame aux Camélias has been adapted for the stage, ballet and film. The story also inspired Verdi's opera, La traviata. It's most famous film rendition is Greta Garbo's Camille, made in 1936 and co-starring Robert Taylor.

The costumes and sets for the Old Vic's production in 1961 were designed by Carl Toms. Mr. Toms really did his research. The time-frame of the play was moved from the 1840s to 1865. This put Vivien back into those hooped skirts she wore as Scarlett O'Hara in that little movie called Gone With the Wind. For The Lady of the Camellias, Vivien wore six different costumes.

Vivien Leigh with her co-star, Jack Merivale (Photo by Anthony Buckley)
The play opens in April, 1865, and in Act I, Vivien makes a stunning entrance on stage in a white opera cloak. One first hand account says that  A gale of admiring gasps always sweeps through the theater as Miss Leigh enters in a floor length cloak of frothy white ostrich feathers over her billowing white ball gown. I think I'd gasp out loud, too!

Vivien Leigh as Marguerite (Photo by Athol Shmith)
Beneath her opera cape, Vivien wore a hooped, white ball gown. The gown was adorned with ribbon and white camellias. The white flowers meant that Marguerite was ready to receive her gentlemen callers.

 Vivien Leigh in The Lady of the Camellias by Athol Shmith, 1961
The upper part of the bodice, or corsage as it was called in the 19th century, is trimmed in silk, ending in a tied bow. The bodice also features short, puffed sleeves, while the scooped overskirt is caught up with flowers and bows. All in keeping with ball gowns of the mid-1860s. The bottom of the dress ends in cartridge pleats.

The next costume, from The Lady of the Camellias, is a two piece ensemble with a short jacket. Jackets were actually very common in the 1860s. There were many different styles of ladies' jackets, which all came with their own names, such as the Pauline, the Senorita, the Zouave, the Eustache, the Robe, the Home jacket and many more.

Vivien's jacket is made from black velvet. The collar and lapels are turned back and trimmed with an ivory gauze featuring what appears to be a fluted ruffle. The same ruffle is also seen on the jacket's cuffs. The coral coloured, silk vest and jacket are made together as one piece. The second piece of the ensemble is the pleated, hooped skirt, which is also made from the same pink silk as the vest.

Vivien's dress as it appeared on the auction block. The dress was actually auctioned off twice. It made its auction debut back on December 17th, 1993, selling for just $459. Then it hit the auction block once more in 2012 as part of the Hollywood Legends sale. This time it sold for $3,200.

Label inside Vivien's gown
Next on the list is this black and white, evening gown. The dress features a low scooped bodice trimmed in a white, fluted ruffle, with an overlay of sheer, black material. The bodice's white sleeves are short, with pleated, black, sheer layers covering them. The top of the sleeves are caught up with tiny flowers at the shoulder.

The pictures above and below are drawings of Vivien as Marguerite, by the costume and set designer, Carl Toms. Here we can see the entire dress from the front along with a partial view of the back. Ball gowns in the 1860s were adorned in many ways (lace, ruffles, pleats, flowers, ribbons, bows, etc).  I can't really tell, from this bottom image, if those are suppose to be white ruffles or pleats, cascading down the backside of the gown. Either way, it's a stunning effect!

Next, we have another masterful example of Carl Toms' creative genius for Vivien in the role of Marguerite. He's imagined Marguerite in a summer dress, also consistent with the time period of the play.

Vivien shines in this lovely gown. Note the difference in color between Carl's illustration and Vivien's actual dress. Either the color of the dress was changed to the yellow pictured below or the photo below was colorized.

Photo by Anthony Buckley
The gown features long, puffed, bishop sleeves made from a semi-sheer material. The sleeves originate in pleats at the shoulder and end in cravat cuffs at the wrist. At the top of the dress is a cravat (necktie) collar. The collar and cuffs were made to match each other. The gown also features a floral/leaf design, repeated throughout the fabric. The print is more visible in the color photo, than in the black & white ones.

Bobby Helpmann, Vivien's good friend, directed her in The Lady of the Camellias. On Vivien playing the role of Marguerite, he said: It has come just at the right moment in her career. Edwige Feuillère and other French actresses are apt to overstress the grande dame aspect of the character and forget that she was a great courtesan. Miss Leigh blends the two aspects to perfection and has never looked lovelier than in the costumes Carl Toms has designed for her. She is a far greater actress than many people are ready to admit. Once she has made The Lady Of The Camellias her own on this tour, I want to see her play it in the West End, and score what may well turn out to be the most spectacular success of her career.

Thanks for joining me for this week's Fashion Friday post!

Paragraph 5 quote:
Elizabeth Reeve, New Zealand, Autumn-Winter 1962

Friday, October 7, 2016

Fashion Friday #12: Gone With the Wind's 21st Anniversary

Gone With the Wind celebrated its 21st anniversary in March, 1961. The celebrations were held in Atlanta, Georgia, in conjunction with the Civil War Centennial. Newspapers around the world ran headlines such as Scarlett turns 21. The three day event took place from Wednesday, March 8th to Friday, March 10th.

The luminaries began to pour into Atlanta on Wednesday. Olivia de Havilland,  David Selznick, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, George Murphy and several MGM business associates arrived together on a Gone With the Wind Delta Special flight. Thomas Mitchell, whom we all remember as Scarlett’s Pa, was too ill to attend the festivities. There was a large parade, with Olivia de Havilland in the lead car-- an open convertible-- that traveled down Peachtree Street.

Vivien didn’t arrive in Atlanta until the following day. After crossing the ocean, her plane landed first at Idlewild Airport (now JFK).  Vivien’s chosen outfit for the day was a two-piece tweed suit. The fawn colored suit featured large buttons and a fur collar. Her hat and shoes matched her suit perfectly in color. She topped her outfit off with a pair of dark sunglasses.

Unfortunately, when Vivien landed in New York, she agreed to a small press conference. The first reporter, who asked her a question, definitely asked her the wrong question. The journalist asked Vivien what part she played in Gone With the Wind.

Her response: Have you seen the picture? Have you read the book? When the fellow confessed that he had not done either, Vivien replied, Since you are not informed, gentlemen, there is no sense in continuing. But the reporter asked another question, Do you mind telling me what film you are going to do next?

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone and I’m not playing the Roman spring! Then she swept from the room in true Scarlett O’Hara style. According to Dorothy Kilgallen, her response was far saltier than what she was actually quoted in the papers.

Vivien arrived in Atlanta on Thursday. Joseph Baird of The Christian Science Monitor wrote: Miss Scarlett O’Hara of Gone With the Wind  fame came home after 20 years of wandering in foreign parts, and the people took her to their hearts like a long lost daughter.

After disembarking, she received a bouquet of red roses from Mayor Hartsfield. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, who was in Atlanta for the special occasion, also greeted Vivien at the airport. On the list of activities for the day was a visit back to the Cyclorama with Olivia de Havilland. Vivien had originally toured it on her first visit to Atlanta. Also on the list was a scheduled press conference. For this event, Vivien wrapped herself in a mink coat and capped her head in an amazing --you either love it or hate it (I love it!)-- hat.

This was a much easier press conference as all these reporters knew whom she’d played in the movie. Vivien called herself a middle-aged Scarlett and discussed her upcoming world tour with the reporters on hand. One question that Vivien was asked, How did you, as a British actress, manage a convincing Southern drawl?  She replied, I just studied it for two weeks. She was also asked about walking away from that press conference in New York. She said she felt sorry for him because he had never read such a marvelous book. I love the book and I love Scarlett.

On Thursday night, a costume ball was held at the Biltmore Hotel, hosted by the Governor of Georgia, Ernest Vandiver. Antebellum skirts swooshed through the hotel as ladies dressed up in crinoline dresses and the men dressed up as Confederate soldiers and gentlemen of days past. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, recited part of Stephen Vincent Benet’s Pulitzer Prize winning, epic poem about abolitionist John Brown, titled John Brown’s Body.

Radie Harris accompanied Vivien Leigh to the ball.
Vivien wore an original ball gown, specially created for the 21st anniversary gala. One source that I have says the dress was made from satin, while another says it was made from silk. In either case, the white gown had a billowing skirt, which trailed behind Vivien when she walked. The dress featured a green velvet waistband with flowing ribbons down the backside of the skirt.

The very fitted bodice showed off the gown’s gorgeous embroidery. Green-blue sprays of flowers were embroidered onto the gown and peppered with pearls and rhinestones. Vivien’s accessories for the evening included a three strand pearl necklace with a diamond drop pin around her neck, while diamond hair barrettes adorned her coiffure. She topped the gown off with long gloves and a fox fur wrap, both white to match her dress.

David Selznick wore a traditional tuxedo, while Olivia de Havilland glowed in a gold ball gown. She accented her sleeveless, lace evening dress, with elbow length gloves.

The next evening Gone With the Wind re-premiered at the Loew’s Grand theater-- the same theater where the epic movie had its original premiere back in 1939. George Murphy played Master of Ceremonies.

On a special platform, Vivien told the crowd that It’s wonderful… it’s wonderful to be back. Her gown of choice for the evening was a sleeveless, white number with a small bow on the bodice. The ball gown featured sheer layers over the skirt, gathered in the back, for a cascade effect. She paired her dress with long white gloves, pearls and a brooch.

David Selznick presented a leather bound copy of the Gone With the Wind script to Mayor Hartsfield (who had also been mayor in 1939), along with portraits of Margaret Mitchell and Clark Gable. The portraits were unveiled by Vivien Leigh (for Gable) and Olivia de Havilland (for Mitchell).

This last picture is a screenshot from a youtube video on the festivities in Atlanta. From this angle, the side of Vivien's dress is visible and one gets a partial glimpse of the backside of her gown.

Thanks for joining me for this week's Fashion Friday post!

Boxoffice Magazine, March 1961
Radie's World by Radie Harris
The Christian Science Monitor, March 13, 1961