Tag Archives: Katharine Hepburn

My City of (Stylish) Stars Exhibition

Judy Garland in Balmain, Empire Theatre, Glasgow, 1951 (c) The Herald and Times Group

I’m afraid I’ve been a bit of an absent blogger these last couple of weeks because I’ve been completely immersed in a last-minute commission to put together an exhibition based on a book I was trying to get off the ground – about the stars who passed through Scotland from the 1930s onwards.

Gene Kelly on Gordon St, Glasgow, April 1953 (c) The Herald and Times Group

The idea came up in a conversation with the director of music of the concert halls in Glasgow. We were chatting about the Glasgow Film Festival (currently underway) and the fact that Gene Kelly was to be the subject of its retrospective. I told him that Gene Kelly had come to Glasgow on a flying visit in 1953, to seek inspiration for the forthcoming MGM film version of the Broadway show Brigadoon. And that I had researched his visit – along with those of other great stars.  And, most crucially, that there were beautiful, rarely seen, photographs of the occasion in the photo archive of The Herald and Times.

Back in the 1950s, and earlier, Glasgow was the often the first port of call for big entertainment stars performing in Scotland. Indeed, it was often their only port of call north of the border – and some venues, notably the Empire Theatre, were viewed as the testing ground for acts. If you could survive the Empire, you could make it anywhere – that was the philosophy.

Hollywood stars would come to Glasgow to publicise their films with personal appearances (as Cary Grant did no fewer than three times at the peak of his career), to appear onstage (as Mae West and Marlene Dietrich did) and for social reasons (as Elizabeth Taylor and Danny Kaye did).

One thing that struck me, while sifting through the pictures I’d selected, was that two of the biggest female stars I was featuring were wearing gowns by Balmain when they were photographed in Glasgow – and, of course, Balmain is a fashion house that is very much back in vogue. Here’s Katharine Hepburn looking gorgeous in one of the dresses designed by Monsieur B for her character in The Millionairess. Check this picture – and 22 others – out at the City of Stars exhibition at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall from Saturday, February 25 until September…

Katharine Hepburn, King's Theatre, Glasgow, May 1952 (c) The Herald and Times Group

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Lipstick, Powder and Pants

I’ve spent much of the last week wearing a men’s fragrance and it got me thinking about some of the great female style icons who made cross-dressing both elegant and sexy. And nobody did it better than Marlene ..

Mind you, she wasn’t the only 1930s style queen to embrace cross-dressing – Katharine Hepburn was another fan of trouser suits and brogues, and – unlike Marlene – she continued to sport the style throughout the rest of her life. Here she is in a favourite shot from the 1940s.

Other style heroines of mine, including the great photographer Lee Miller, have dabbled with elements of the male wardrobe. Carole Lombard was often photographed wearing skirt suits with very mannish jackets, or off-duty in checked shirts, rolled-up jeans and brogues. I love this picture of her wearing a very masculine jacket and trousers with her high-heeled Mary Janes.

Sixties style icon Bianca Jagger set a trend for white trouser suits but few women could have carried off this Charlie Chaplin-inspired ensemble as beautifully as she did.

The only other person of her generation who could – and did – was Diane Keaton whose own naturally quirky style was showcased in the brilliant 1977 comedy Annie Hall.

And if a trilby is more your taste in headgear, then take a leaf out of Judy Garland’s book and team it with a slimming black tux and a great pair of legs …

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Great Movie Hats of the 1930s

I grew up on a diet of old movies and I love to style-watch them – to play at spot the fabulous frock or the ace accessory. Recently I’ve been a bit obsessed with some of the ridiculous – but wonderful – hats that popped up in 1930s films. And they don’t come much more wonderfully ridiculous than Greta Garbo’s in the 1939 comedy Ninotchka.

The Ninotchka hat was much more than a fashion accessory; it was symbolic of the fact that its wearer had succumbed to the romance of Paris and was shaking off the shackles of communism…. Irene Dunne’s crazy black heatgear in the priceless 1937 screwball comedy The Awful Truth, on the other hand, was representative of nothing more than high fashion – though her newly ex-husband (Cary Grant) doesn’t look convinced…

Cary Grant looks much more at ease in the next picture, from the 1938 romantic comedy-drama, Holiday – maybe because he’s just resigned himself to the fact that he’s outnumbered (by Doris Nolan, left, and Katharine Hepburn) on the silly hat front..

I don’t know if Linda Darnell wore this next hat in a movie, but, given that it seems to be Saturn-inspired in design, it’s way ahead of its time: after all, the sci-fi movie genre didn’t take off until the 1950s!

Similarly, I don’t recall ever seeing Ginger Rogers wearing this next natty hat – by celebrated hat designer Lily Dache – in any of her 1930s films. Maybe the stars circling the pointy peak of the hat was too much like Paramount Studios’ logo for RKO’s (her home studio’s) liking..

And finally, my favourite daft hat of the 1930s – worn, as only she could, by the inimitable Rosalind Russell (pictured here with Joan Crawford) in the gloriously funny and stylish 1939 movie The Women..

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Style File: Katharine Hepburn

Today is the birthday of the late, great Katharine Hepburn, a movie star who refused to bow to convention and who evolved an androgynous look that is still inspirational today. Whether the above, early 1940s, photo is Hepburn in her own kit or in one of her characters’, it nevertheless reflects the distinctive Hepburn style: simple, mannish tailoring (and brogues) combined with loose, feminine hair. She was photographed in 1937 wearing similar gear, on the set of Stage Door (that’s Ginger Rogers on the left).

I love Hepburn’s look in The Philadelphia Story (1940) – apart from the intentionally OTT flouncy gingham number she wears during the performance she puts on for the reporters from Spy Magazine.  Here she is with James Stewart in the scene in the library. Love the Wee Willie Winky hat …

Designed by Adrian, this is the stand-out gown in the film, appropriately classical because Hepburn’s character, Tracy Lord, is seen (not least, by herself) as something of a goddess..

The gown she had worn when she played Tracy in the original stage production of The Philadelphia Story was even more overt in its nod to Greek influences.

My other favourite Hepburn movie is the one she made after The Philadelphia Story. Woman of the Year (1942) is another stylish and very funny comedy – about the love affair that develops between two writers on the same newspaper: Tess (Hepburn), the world-renowned political columnist, and Sam (Spencer Tracy), the top sports reporter.  Here they are at Tess’s first-ever baseball game.

Tess and Sam get married – not at the end of the film, but maybe halfway through. Here’s Hepburn looking elegant(and radiant – she had just fallen in love with her co-star, after all – in the wedding dress which Adrian designed for her.

Sadly, I couldn’t find a photo of Tess in the stripy Adrian suit she memorably wears in the film, but here she is in the film’s most celebrated scene, trying unsuccessfully to be the kind of wife who cooks breakfast for her husband. The straps on her pinafore-style dress were not purely decorative: they provided some of the comedy as they continuously got in the way of her attempts to get to grips with unfamiliar kitchen gadgets.

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Hold The Front Page!

The Glasgow Film Theatre is currently showing a mini-season of films from a genre which is routinely overlooked but is as quintessentially American as the gangster movie and the western.

The season, Heroes and Villains, celebrates journalism on the silver screen and belongs to a bigger genre – the newspaper movie, which had its heyday in the 1930s.

The newspaper building (or at least newspaper buildings until ten years ago, when journalists became  bogged down by bureaucracy and cost-cutting) is an obvious setting for a Hollywood movie. All human life can be found there, and the pace – leisurely and laidback at the beginning of the day; frantic and frenetic as deadlines approach – is quite unlike that of any other workplace.

Many of the great newspaper movies have been based on true stories: after all, this was – like the gangster movie – a genre born out of topicality. The 1933 James Cagney comedy Picture Snatcher, for example, was based on the scandal surrounding the New York Daily News’s secretly snatched photograph of murderess Ruth Snyder in the electric chair. Cagney – like Jude Law in The Road to Perdition – played a snapper who often beat the cops to grisly crime scenes.

Some of the most memorable characters in newspaper movies were inspired by real people, proof that newspaper people are not only excellent sniffers-out of stories but also great material in themselves. It took only a handful of tyrannical editors to furnish Hollywood with enough material to create the stereotypical kick-ass editor character we see in such classic newspaper movies as Nothing Sacred (1937) and His Girl Friday (1940).

Both these films were comedies but the newspaper movie can also be a hard-hitting drama (in the case of Five Star Final), a fantasy (Superman) or a crime drama.

Indeed, the newspaper movie has most often functioned as a variation on the traditional crime movie, with the reporter playing the detective role. The Humphrey Bogart film Deadline USA (1952) and Ron Howard’s all-star comedy-drama The Paper (1994) focused on newspaper investigations into mob murders.  And, of course, All the President’s Men (1976) concerned the Washington Post’s investigation into what proved to be the scoop of the century – the Watergate scandal.

But what sets these films apart from crime dramas is that they are as much about the putting together of a newspaper and the people involved in that process as they are about the investigation.

The newspaper genre is one of the few which showed women working as men’s equals from day one:  in 1931, the year in which the newspaper genre broke through, Fay Wray starred as a hotshot reporter battling corruption in The Finger Points, and Loretta Young (above) played Gallagher, just “one of the boys” in the newsroom and the press bar, in Platinum Blonde.

The most popular film version of the hit Broadway play The Front Page was the second one, His Girl Friday, in which ace reporter Hildy Johnson was rewritten as a woman, and played – with great panache – by Rosalind Russell. And Katharine Hepburn portrayed a leading political columnist in Woman of the Year in 1942.

Roles like these were among the best that Hollywood had to offer since the characters were – by necessity, since they were operating in a male-dominated environment – feisty and street-smart.

THE newspaper genre came about as a result of coincidence. The 1920s had been a boom time for the newspaper and magazine industry in America. A new style of tabloid emerged in the 1920s: the sensationalistic rag which shied away from no topic and which would publish photos of murder victims, suicides, illicit lovers caught offguard – anything likely to titillate the readership. There was no level to which these papers wouldn’t stoop for a scoop. And the truth was rarely newsworthy.

Against this backdrop came the sound era in Hollywood, and studios suddenly found themselves in need of snappy, realistic dialogue.  The idealised characters and situations favoured by many of the filmmakers of the silent era were now passe, and audiences,  reeling from the effects of the Depression, demanded films which tackled the problems facing society.

Prohibition and gangsters quickly became favoured topics, and movies set in newspapers were seen as the perfect vehicles for debates about corruption, crime and poverty. The role of newspapers themselves could be dealt with in this new genre, and there was plenty of comic material to be found in the crazy stunts pulled off by some of the tabloids in the bid to increase circulation.

Five Star Final and The Front Page were two of the first newspaper movies. Both were made in 1931, both had their roots in reality, and both had been successful Broadway plays. Five Star Final was written by Louis Weitzenkorn, former editor of one of New York’s most salacious rags, The Evening Graphic (fondly known as the Pornographic). Randall, the editor, played by Edward G Robinson, was based on another Evening Graphic editor, Emile Gauvrau, who, like Lady Macbeth, was always washing his hands as if to rid himself of guilt for some of his dirtier deeds.

Five Star Final spared no detail about the way in which the sleazier papers operated. The opening shot is of an old news vendor being beaten up by thugs employed to ensure that the Evening Gazette is given the prime position on the news-stands.

Written by former newspapermen BenHecht and Charles MacArthur, The Front Page (remade as His Girl Friday, then again in 1974 as The Front Page, and then re-worked as Broadcast News in 1988) was a black comedy about a newspaper finding an escaped death-row convict, and trying to keep him hidden to protect its scoop. The editor, Walter Burns (most famously played by Cary Grant in His Girl Friday), was based on Walter Howie, the Chicago editor whom Ben Hecht claimed he would not work, “being incapable of such treachery as he proposed”.

Clearly, there was no scheme too odious for Walter and Hildy who, at one point reminisces: “Remember the time we stole old Aggie Haggerty’s stomach off the coroner’s table? We proved she’d been poisoned, didn’t we?”

Hecht also satirised the tabloids’ desperate publicity stunts in his 1937 comedy Nothing Sacred (above)  in which reporter Frederic March and his newspaper shamelessly exploit an apparently dying girl (Carole Lombard), little realising that she is in fact exploiting them.

Exploitation was also the theme of Billy Wilder’s blackly cynical Ace in the Hole (1951)  in which reporter Kirk Douglas artificially prolongs a human interest story so he can get as much mileage out of it as possible.

In the 1930s, when it was fashionable to look down on hacks, the newspaper genre was at the peak of its popularity. When the papers tidied up their act, and journalists – especially war correspondents – were looked on in a more respectful manner, the genre began to die. And by the 1980s, the setting for journalism-themed movies had switched to the TV newsroom. But I’ll bet there are still would-be hot-shot reporters and girl fridays out there who seek the thrills of the 1930s-style newspaper offices..

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