Tag Archives: Judy Garland

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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The Little Red Dress

Forget the little black dress, this festive season its little red sister is a sexy and stylish alternative to that old party staple. Here’s a selection of inspirational red dresses from the movies, including the one I’ve spent 20 years coveting – the crimson halterneck number in which The Fabulous Baker Boys’ Suzie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer) so memorably makes whoopee one New Year’s Eve:

Suzy Diamond’s look throughout the super-sexy Fabulous Baker Boys film is very now – from her camel coat to her black beret, via her red lipstick. Actually, watching it recently, I realised that I’ve been subconsciously channelling her look every winter for as long as I can remember.. But for a classic red Christmas party dress, we should hark right back to 1944, and Meet Me in St Louis.

Judy Garland never looked more beautiful than in this movie, and in this scene she’s especially gorgeous – thanks to the killer combination of red hair, scarlet lips and scarlet dress. (She’s probably wearing her ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz under the long skirt.) Admittedly, hers is hardly the sexiest of red dresses, however. For that we need look no further than the sparkling tomato-red number that Cyd Charisse wore in her most celebrated movie dance routine – in The Bandwagon (1953).

Little red dresses seem to have seen a lot of movie action in the early 1950s – and in 1953 they were particularly popular: in addition to Cyd’s Band Wagon version that year, both Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell showed off their equally shapely, er, shapes in glittery red dresses in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Here they are poured into their slinky gowns… I’d say that the inspiration here is less the style of the dresses – wear that today and you’ll either look like Liz Hurley or a drag queen – but the attitude of the wearers!

Heavens, even the normally demure Grace Kelly got in on the racy red act. In Dial M for Murder (1954), the least memorable – both in terms of suspense and of style – of her Hitchcock movies, one dress stands out. Yup, you’ve guessed it: it was red. Red lace, in fact. Ordinarily, I’m not a fan of coloured lace (black, white and flesh tones are best), but this is the exception:

And, no Style on Film would be complete without Audrey Hepburn who knocks ’em dead when she descends the steps of the Louvre in this show-stopping tomato red Givenchy dress in the sublime musical Funny Face (1957). As with all the other ladies featured here, she’s wearing matching red shoes – take note: black shoes and a red dress just will not do …

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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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Christmas Crackers, Hollywood-style

Strangely for something with as much sentimental potential as Christmas, there is only a handful of really classic Christmas movies. Yet, every year, this buff draws up a list of Christmas movies to watch in the run-up to the big day – and every year she fails miserably to get through them all.

The viewing itinerary usually kicks off with a little-known 1945 comedy called The Cheaters, which is getting a rare screening on Channel 4 this weekend. With a screwball cast that includes the elephantine Eugene Pallette and the twittery Billie Burke (best remembered as Glinda from The Wizard of Oz), it’s about a family of hard-up socialites who – in order to impress their daughter’s rich suitor – take in the down-and-out Joseph Schildkraut over Christmas, and learn a thing or two about dignity from him.

The Cheaters makes a nice double bill with Christmas in Connecticut (pictured), another rarely shown 1945 comedy, this time about a sophisticated magazine columnist (Barbara Stanwyck) forced to live up to her phoney reputation as a Nigella-style domestic goddess when her editor decides to spend the holidays at her country cottage.

Continuing the unwelcome guest theme, The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941) is one I always manage to squeeze in to the viewing schedule. A gloriously funny comedy, it stars Monty Woolley as the obnoxious “idol of the airwaves” Sheridan Whiteside (a character based on the humorist Alexander Woollcott) who, during a lecture tour, breaks his leg and has to spend his recovery – and Christmas – at the home of the unlucky mid-west family outside whose house he slipped.

“Christmas may be postponed this year,” says one gossip column reporting the accident which has left the Stanley family confined to the upstairs quarters of their own home. The snazzy script, packed with one-liners, is a joy and the performances – by Billie Burke (again), Bette Davis, chic glamourpuss Ann Sheridan (my Christmas style icon), the wonderful character actress Mary Wickes and Jimmy Durante (playing a character based on Harpo Marx) – are as sparkling as a glass of Christmas bubbly.

Versions – live and animated – of A Christmas Carol abound, but the most atmospheric and haunting of all is the 1951 British classic, Scrooge, with the peerless Scots actor Alastair Sim gloriously dour as the miser who claims that “Christmas is a humbug” until he is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve and realises that friendship and love are worth more than money.

Wash that one down with the gentler The Bishop’s Wife (1947), a grown-up romantic fantasy in which Cary Grant stars as a particularly debonair and charming angel named Dudley, who answers the prayers of a stressed-out clergyman (David Niven)and his neglected wife (Loretta Young) at Christmas-time, and leaves a trail of swooning ladies in his wake.

Or settle down with family favourite Miracle on 34th Street (1947 – a vintage year for Christmas movies) in which department store Santa Edmund Gwenn has to prove that he’s the real McCoy to a non-believing seven-year-old (Natalie Wood).

Heartwarming Christmas scenes feature in plenty of movies, but the ones worth digging out in the run-up to midnight are Little Women (any of the three versions will do, as long as you have your hankies handy) and Meet Me In St Louis (1944).

Although it covers a whole year in the lives of the characters it depicts, Meet Me In St Louis easily qualifies as a festive film: not only does it embody all the sentiments of the season, but it also features Judy Garland introducing the beautiful song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas which is guaranteed to jerk a few buckets’ worth of tears.

The hours spanning Christmas Eve and Christmas morning should be spent in the company of Clarence the Angel, Zuzu, George, Uncle Billy and everyone else in Frank Capra’s evergreen It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – the definitive Christmas movie.

And, if by December 27, I feel that I’ve overdosed on the old Christmas spirit, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960) will provide just the right amount of cynicism to prepare me for the horrors of Hogmanay…

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Hallowe’en Movies

It may not have inspired nearly as many movies as those cheerier, more wholesome, festivities that take place in December, but Hallowe’en rears its ugly, pumpkin, head in a rich mix of classic films – from family fantasies, such as ET, to such serious dramas as Kramer Vs Kramer.

It pops up in musicals, romantic comedies, thrillers and chillers. Just as there are certain movies which are perfect for getting us into a Christmassy mood, so there is a less well-documented collection of films which are ideal for conjuring up the spirit of Hallowe’en. Here’s my guide to essential Hallowe’en viewing.

HALLOWE’EN MUST-SEES
1. Arsenic and Old Lace (1941)
“Insanity runs in my family,” says Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) in this madcap black comedy. “In fact, it practically gallops.” And it’s all unleashed on one wild Hallowe’en night when he discovers a body stashed in the window seat of the quaint Brooklyn home shared by his beloved spinster aunts. Turns out they have a penchant for bumping off lonely old gentlemen. It’s not just Aunt Martha and Aunt Abi who are nuts; Mortimer’s brother Teddy thinks he’s Theodore Roosevelt, and his other sibling, Jonathan, is a maniac who flies into a murderous rage when anyone comments on his obvious resemblance to Boris Karloff…
This timeless classic blends high octane comedy – Cary Grant was never as hysterical as when he was playing the increasingly hysterical Mortimer – with black humour and the genuine chills provided by torture-loving Jonathan Brewster and his slimy, plastic surgeon, sidekick Dr Einstein (the ever-creepy Peter Lorre). It’s a great one to watch in the dark in the middle of the night .. Director Frank Capra followed this Hallowe’en-themed film with the greatest Christmas movie of them all – It’s a Wonderful Life.
2. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Two festive seasons for the price of one in this cult animation from the eccentric mind of Tim Burton, a magician of the macabre whose every film hints of Hallowe’en-style horrors. This musical, which was clearly inspired by Burton’s heroes, the illustrators Charles Addams and Edward Gorey, tells the story of Pumpkin Jack, the main man in Hallowe’en Town, and what happens when he tires of the Hallowe’en routine and tries his hand at being Santa instead..
TRICKS AND TREATS
3. Meet Me in St Louis (1944)
Is there anyone who has seen this heart-warming Judy Garland musical and doesn’t remember the traumatic trick-or-treating scene in which little Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) rises to the terrible challenge of approaching the front door of the scariest man in the street – and throwing flour in his face. Director Vincente Minnelli brilliantly captures the menacing mood as Tootie tentatively knocks on the door… and her jubilation as she realises that she is “the bravest of them all and the most horrible” after she has completed the task that none of the other kids would take on..
4. Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
Woody Allen’s joyful musical – in which stars ranging from Drew Barrymore to Alan Alda bravely sang old standards (regardless of how well – or not, in the case of Julia Roberts – they could sing) – follows a year in the life of a wacky Park Avenue family. One of the highlights is the Hallowe’en sequence when the children from the building come to the door to trick or treat. This being the wealthiest part of New York, you don’t just get a kid in a supermarket outfit singing a pop song; you get full, MGM-style, production numbers. And the one that the family falls for is a girl dressed as a banana, singing Carmen Miranda’s Chiquita Banana song, accompanied by two maracas-shaking boys in Mexican costume.
OF MICE AND BOGEY MEN
5. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
It’s not a horror movie, but this peerless film of Harper Lee’s wonderful book has an unforgettable scene, set at Hallowe’en, which is utterly terrifying. Our young heroine, Scout, through whose eyes the story is told, is set upon by an assailant in the dark as she and her brother Jem are returning home from a Hallowe’en pageant at their school. Scout is still in her ham costume and is knocked to the ground as the attacker lays into Jem. Her unwieldy, solid costume prevents her from seeing what’s happening and who her attacker is and stops her from being able to get to her feet. All of which adds to the suspense, which is brilliantly heightened by Elmer Bernstein’s magnificent music. The scene is not only extremely scary but also a pivotal point in the plot – as it leads to our first glimpse of the mysterious Boo Radley..
6. Hallowe’en (1978)
The low-budget chiller that spawned several sequels and a series of spoofs (the Scary Movies etc), this creepy horror flick takes place on October 31 when a psychotic killer, who has been mistakenly released from an institution, returns to his family home to pick up where he left off 15 years earlier. Jamie Lee Curtis followed in her mother Janet “Psycho” Leigh’s filmic footsteps by being something of a magnet for the murderer..
SAUCY SORCERESSES
7. I Married a Witch (1942)
Veronica Lake – she of the peekaboo fringe, petite figure and impish face – was brilliantly cast as Jennifer, the mischievous minx of a witch, who, having been burned at the stake in the 17th century, plots revenge on the modern-day ancestor of the puritan responsible for her fate. She seduces him, wrecks his marriage plans and his political campaign and, of course, ends up falling in love with him in this downright magic romantic comedy which undoubtedly inspired the hit 1960s TV show, Bewitched, but is ten times funnier..
8. Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
As sexy sorceresses go, they don’t come more sultry and spellbinding (or chic) than the beatnik witch Gillian Holroyd in this stylish romantic fantasy/comedy which reunited Vertigo stars Kim Novak and James Stewart. Gillian takes a fancy to her new neighbour and uses her magic powers to make him fall in love with her and out of love with the bully who made her life hell at school. Needless to say that she doesn’t expect to fall hook, line and sinker herself …
This dreamy, Manhattan-set romance also stars Elsa “The Bride of Frankenstein” Lanchester as Gillian’s mad old aunt Queenie, while Jack Lemmon is great fun as Gillian’s brother, a wizard with a regular gig playing the bongos at the local witches’ hangout, the Zodiac Club, in Greenwich Village.
9. The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Three witches for the price of one in this fantastical comedy: Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer discover they have magic powers when a devilish stranger (Jack Nicholson) blows into town in answer to their prayers. He wreaks so much havoc that they ultimately have to draw on their powers to get rid of him too…
WICKED WITCHES
10. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Why The Wizard of Oz has become a staple of the Christmas TV schedule beats me: it should surely be reserved for Hallowe’en viewing. After all, you don’t get very many witches who are uglier than the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) with her hatchet features, snotter-coloured complexion, scrawny frame and stripy stockings. And that voice that saws right through one’s head as it cackles “Surrender Dorothy!”. Her entourage of flying monkeys in military costume aside, the Wicked Witch is a creature of convention with all the accessories that are considered de rigueur for a witch at Hallowe’en: broomstick, cauldron, pointy black hat….
11. The Witches (1990)
Considerably more evil than the Wicked Witch of the West – just watch how she gleefully pushes a baby in its pram down the steep slope to a cliff edge – is the Grand High Witch, played by Anjelica Huston in Nicolas Roeg’s movie of Roald Dahl’s book The Witches. With her Hitler-like oratory and her desire to wipe out a section of the population (ie: children), the Grand High Witch is one of the scariest sorceresses ever portrayed on film. And far too terrifying for young audiences.
On a lighter note, she is also one of the most striking-looking of all movie witches: you’ve got to admit that, in her slinky black satin, purple trimmed, dress, her long black gloves, Cleopatra-style hair and blood-red lips, she cuts quite a dash. At least, that is, until she peels off her human skin to reveal her real, hideous, witch face.
12. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most magnificent villain of them all? Not the Queen from Snow White, though she is a contender, but the elegant, beautiful and utterly evil Maleficent, the bad witch from Disney’s wonderful interpretation of Sleeping Beauty. Left off the guest list for the christening of Princess Aurora, this horned witch casts a terrifying spell on the infant: that when she turns 18, she will prick her finger on a spindle and die…
Like Anjelica Huston’s Grand High Witch, Maleficent is a vision in swathes of black and purple (clearly the only colours for any self-respecting sorceress to sport), and a supermodel of the supernatural world (by way of total contrast with her arch enemies – the three dumpy, frumpy good fairies). And forget your black cats and brooms; Maleficent has a crow as her assistant and can transform herself into whatever she likes – most memorably, a monstrous, fire-breathing dragon.

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