Stellar Vintage #521: Marjorie Main in an up ‘do, gold ball earrings and a pin-tuck shoulder frock, 1937.
Joan Crawford’s diet tip: “Try going without lunch for two years, darling. And besides, it’s good for the hips.”
—From Our Blushing Brides (1930).
Classic Film Fashion #317: Ruth Gordon’s senior style for Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
As Minnie Castevet, Ruth Gordon demonstrates that the worst thing an older lady can do isn’t to worship Satan or try to steal a lady’s baby in a demonic ritual, but rather, to abandon style altogether. While Patsy Kelly’s Laura-Louise sticks with gormless polyester and looks like the help, Gordon’s Minnie knows that if you want to be formidable past a certain age, you have to exude style. Minnie sports a curated Pucci collection, fierce blue eye shadow, bold prints, inspired head wraps, costume jewels, a saffron hue beaded cardigan, feather boas and clutches that merit her being cast as the Queen of Fifth Avenue or Queen of Lucifer’s minions. Minnie’s chocolate mouse may deliver a chalky undertaste but who cares when she has so much style?
Classic Film Guide for How to be a Lady #28: Don’t move to a farm as poor Mary Duncan should have learnt in City Girl (1930).
A gal can grow forlorn living next to the El in a tiny flat with only a mechanical birdsong and a scrubby plant to mimic nature, but that doesn’t mean she should marry a stranger and agree to become a farmer’s wife. Turn a cloche hat back on progress, modernity and culture and land on the savage prairie, where grim toil haunts a lady to the grave. A bride’s reception in a joyless house with a single book, no art or beauty and a mother-in-law who is rendered crone at 40, Mary Duncan gets insulted, struck in the face and treated with less kindness than the plough horses. There’s no fashion, just burlap-looking denim and morose calico. No one appreciates T-bar straps, spit curls, scarves or hosiery. Nothing but servitude awaits, plus fending off a gang of rape-minded knuckle draggers.
What’s the gripe about a little noise, steel and concrete?
Classic Film Guide for How to be a Lady #27: Better to be alone than with a scoundrel, which Olivia de Havilland realises in The Heiress (1949).
When Olivia de Havilland’s Catherine Sloper says “Bolt the door, Mariah” in a steely tone forged by years of mistreatment, she essentially offers the 19th Century imprint of the contemporary feminist manifesto we know as “I don’t want no scrub.”
Happy 98th Birthday, Olivia de Havilland!
Classic Film Fashion #316: Joan Blondell proves resourceful with a limited wardrobe in Dames (1934).
Left high and dry in the sticks by some fella with only “a coat and a pair of step-ins” to her name, Blondell transforms a vulnerable position through bantam moxie. She cadges a bed for the night and ends up holding all the metaphorical cards when a guilt-ridden baldy leaves a payoff and business card intimating misdeeds in the Pullman car.
Blondell plays no grifter or untoward sort. Rather than cast as an extortionist, the audience sees that after taking funds to be suitably attired, she uses the dough for the greater good to put on a show. What’s a little blackmail when a lady needs a wardrobe and there’s a hot production to stage?
Movie Logic 101.
"If an advance call from the gate describing the automobile (sports car, sedan, or limousine) Crawford was riding in that day did not provide the clue to Mankiewicz, her outfit was a sure tip-off. ‘You’d have to watch the way she came in,’ Mankiewicz relates. ‘If Joan was wearing a pair of slacks, that meant you’d go over and slap her right on the ass and say "Hiya kid. You getting much?" In turn, she’d be as raucous as Billie Cassin from Texas at that moment, and you’d have an absolute ball. She could come back the next day wearing black sables and incredible sapphires, and, by Jesus, you’d better be on your feet and click your heels, kiss her hand, and talk with the best British accent you had, but never in any way indicate she was different in any respect from the way she was yesterday, because the following day she’d come in in a drindl or a pinafore and you’d be on the floor playing jacks with her. I loved it. You had to be an actor and be adaptive to what she was playing, though the moment she left my office, I went back to what I was before she came in.’
Crawford explained, ‘I was trying to find myself … I didn’t know what I was or who I was. He knew that. That’s why we got along together so well. He picked up my moods. At the time I didn’t realize it.’”
—Pictures Will Talk: The Life and Films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz by Kenneth L. Geist (1978).
Stellar Vintage #520: Clark Gable dons flat cap, zip jacket, chinos and suede boots to hit the open road.
Stellar Vintage #519: Douglas Fairbanks Jr deploys his secret weapons—ice blue laser beams to render you dumbstruck and a rogue crooked knot tie, 1928.
Classic Film Fashion #315: Grease monkey overalls lend Cathy O’Donnell authority in They Live by Night (1948).
O’Donnell plays the hard boiled voice of reason and experience who rescues the wounded and oh-so pretty Farley Granger. She’s able to convince him he’s in a mug’s game risking his life in bank jobs with a doomed pair of career criminals. In a twin-set, tweed skirt or any other ensemble she dons later in the film, O’Donnell would not carry the same degree of knowingness as she does in the smudged, rolled-sleeve menswear. She doesn’t need glamour to distract him from the inevitable forecast promising a storm of bullets headed for the outlaw’s path.
Things Joan Says with Her Eyes #66: Don’t try these lashes at home.
Joan reminds you to leave it to the pros, 1934.
Classic Film Fashion #314: Monocle typecasting for George Sanders in Lancer Spy (1937).
'One of my earliest successes was in a film called Lancer Spy in which I played a double role. In one of these roles, as a Nazi officer, I wore a monocle to some effect. As a result of this, when my next role came along, that of a pirate in a thing called Slave Ship, I was again called upon to wear a monocle. It was useless for me to protest that at the time of this particular story monocles had not yet been invented. Such pedantry made little impression on the film’s producer, and I duly became history’s first monocled pirate.
I was eventually allowed to dispense with monocles, but the character I had played in Lancer Spy was more difficult to get rid of. For a long time I was considered ideal actor to play sneering, arrogant, bull-necked Nazi brutes. Nobody, it seems, could enunciate the word Schweinehund, which constituted a large part of the dialogue in such films, quite as feelingly as I.
There was a limit to the number of Nazi roles that could be offered to me, and eventually I was allowed to do other things. But by this time I had been typed. I was definitely a nasty bit of goods. My nastiness however was of a novel kind. I was beastly but I was never coarse. I was a high-class sort of heel. If the plot required me to kill or maim anybody I always did so in a well-mannered way and if I may say so, with good taste. And I always wore a clean shirt. I was the sort of villain who was finicky about getting blood on his clothes; it wasn’t so much that I cared about being found out, but I liked to look neat.’
—-Memoirs of a Professional Cad by George Sanders (1960).