Posts Tagged ‘Greta Garbo’


Posted by Winifred on June 25th, 2014  •  No Comments »

We’re having such a time reading about the work of interior designer Tony Duquette, his tutelage under Elsie de Wolfe, his many clients in Old Hollywood and his work with the costume designer Adrian. When Adrian left MGM to open his own Beverly Hills salon, it was Tony Duquette he turned to to create the interiors, advertising and displays.


Adrian Salon Beverly Hills


With “amaze me” as his only directive,  Tony created dipped plaster elephants, plaster lace pagodas, plaster monkeys, bas reliefs and a scene of found objects. Only the artistry of Adrian’s gowns could withstand the dramatics of a Duquette staging. It was Adrian who created the look that would launch Jean Harlow as the original blonde bombshell. Harlow once said that without her hair color Hollywood would never know her name. We suspect those fitted silk gowns cut to accentuate always braless breasts and flow along every curve of her figure, also made her a star in films like Dinner at Eight and Hold Your Man.

We always did find her to have a funny looking face, and don’t much care for the extreme pencil thin eyebrows, even if it was the 1930s. We can’t imagine what her lover, William Powell faced first thing in the morning before they were painted on. Harlow surely slept in make-up…Nevertheless, we came to like her style and her attitude in films like Red Dust. But mostly we love her dresses. It’s what we adore about the 1930s. The decadence, the ultra feminine, the soft yet bold sexy. Though Adrian became better known for his stronger silhouettes created for Joan Crawford, particularly the padded shoulders, he knew how to tailor a dress to glorify any woman’s body and build character through costume.

Born Adrian Adolph Greenberg, the designer became known as Adrian during his career creating costumes for MGM film studios in the 1930s and 1940s. Adrian created costumes for over 200 films, many that we have loved. Dinner at Eight, The Great Ziegfeld, Grand Hotel, Marie Antoinette, Mata Hari, The Philadelphia Story, The Women.  Too many to name, but classic film lovers will not have missed his work.

We thought we would take a detour from our readings on Duquette and celebrate the glamour and design in film costumed by Adrian


Greta GarboMata Hari , 1931


Jean HarlowDinner at Eight, 1933


Joan Crawford Grand Hotel,  1932


Katherine Hepburn The Philadelphia Story, 1940


Jeanette MacDonaldThe Firefly, 1937


Norma ShearerMarie Antoinette, 1938

Hedy LamarrThe Great Ziegfeld, 1936

Posted in : Classic Films, Head wear, On Style, Vintage Fashion  •  Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Should TCM still show films with blackface?

Posted by Winifred on June 19th, 2014  •  No Comments »


We love William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man series and are always pleased when we run across an episode on TCM. As Mr. K has recently started to enjoy the work of William Powell, we thought we would introduce him to the series as well, inviting him to join us for Shadow of the Thin Man. It was mere seconds in when we lost him. All it took to ruin Mr. K’s rare interest in a classic film was the appearance of Louise Beavers as the Charles’ maid, wide eyed with open mouth as she struggles to pronounce the word telepathy. This is a frequent routine for us in our efforts to bring Mr. K into our love for classic film. Mr. K starts off open, is soon offended with the appearance of a black actor in a subservient role, and closes the door on TCM until we slowly, weeks or months later can lure him back with the proper star, story or action, preferably along the lines of Bullitt.

A few days after Mr. K sulked through The Thin Man, we saw Barry Cunningham question with disgust why TCM (the Turner Classic Movie Channel) continues to broadcast films depicting blackface. Mr. K understood the question – he would just as soon scrub a number of titles from TCM’s lineup and not just those showing blackface. We no more enjoy Louise Beavers’ eyes popping out of her head than Mr. K does. We just finally experienced an exquisite moment of elegance with Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Belle, an image of a black woman still so rare in media, some 80 years after The Thin Man. We too would prefer to not, each time we turn to TCM, be confronted with only the most racist, unflattering imagery of black men and women, or feel the greatest regret that the 1930s and 40s had no black Gene Tierney, Carol Lombard, or Bette Davis.

Barry Cunningham offers that TCM at least start with a warning label to films depicting blackface, allowing parents, for instance, to determine if such imagery is something they would allow their children to see. We second that, but also wonder if this label would not be appropriate for just about every film with a black cast member say, pre-1970? Let’s look at In The Heat Of The Night. How hard is it to stomach the gallant, debonair, gem that is Sidney Poitier being called “boy” throughout the film? Would a warning label be placed on that? And if Mr. K had his way and we scrubbed TCM’s lineup clean of such offending films, would In The Heat Of The Night, an important film in the history of Black Hollywood, not be one to be edited out?

We have previously written about the difficulty of loving the early 20th century and the disappointments that come with that for a black woman. But we persist in these films because after we close our eyes for the humiliation of actresses like Louise Beavers, we are left with film that is beautiful, that is art, that shows Myrna Loy making 3 outfit changes within a day, that tells of the social norms of that time, the language, the mannerisms. We get a view of history. We saw Barry Cunningham scoff at this concept a bit, and we do not blame him. But as an immigrant we truly appreciate the opportunity to look back.


We want to know even the unpleasant parts of America. Fortunately on TCM they are served with a side of refinement and style we wished had better endured. We want to know that in 1929 Nina Mae McKinney starred in Hallelujah, the first sound film with an all black cast. We can see for ourselves that despite all efforts to deglamourize her, Nina Mae would have outDietriched Dietrich, outlgamoured Lombard, outposed Garbo.

We would certainly have appreciated a warning for Showboat, letting us know Irene Dunne, who we had just enjoyed in several films including A Guy Named Joe, was going to appear in blackface. Shame on Irene Dunne, but thank you TCM for airing the film and her dirty laundry in effect. Had it not been for TCM, we might not have known and would foolishly have given her a place not deserved. The upside was not missing the opportunity to enjoy the voice of Paul Robeson.

Old Hollywood was for black actors an unbearable time and continuing to show these films is a reminder of a great shame that should not be forgotten. In a small way we feel that not suppressing these works also honors those who had this shame to bear. We quietly do so every time we tune in…

Posted in : Classic Films, In an Ideal World..., On Style, Vintage Fashion  •  Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What we learned from Anna Karenina, the Garbo version…

Posted by Winifred on December 19th, 2013  •  No Comments »


We have been perplexed for some time now about the star status of a certain actress by the name of Greta Garbo. Try as we may, we just cannot understand the appeal of her, not now, not then. Once in a while we tune in for one of her films, in the hopes that this will be the one to help explain it all, and each time we only become more mystified. To start, there are her looks, not in any way beautiful, though we see where attempts were made to sway us with photography. Soft focus, specific angles and heavy contouring to help widen the eyes and narrow the nose. But it never works for us. All we see is a rather large, squarish head, scandinavian coldness and a sluggish carriage that bespeaks of the awkwardness expected of a much taller woman, someone not quite accustomed to her physique.


Garbo is shockingly androgynous, unfeminine, not glamorous in a way that is particularly startling considering the era in which she was a star. The 1920s and 30s were the time of Louise Brooks, Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard, Bette Davis. All were actresses who made me love this era, the fashion, the glamour, the decadence of being a woman. We cannot understand how during a time of hyper femininity, a woman of Garbo’s rather dour constitution could have broken through to become a star.


Our confusion was only furthered upon seeing Garbo’s performance in Anna Karenina. Having first seen Vivien Leigh, it would naturally be difficult to have enthusiasm for another Anna – though the most recent Keira Knightley version was worth being made for the dance sequence with Count Vronsky alone. Vivien’s Anna conveyed vulnerability, softness, charm and glamour, making it obvious why Vronsky would fall for her over Kitty. Garbo lacked all these things and from the beginning conveyed only the sad, defeated side of Anna. We never felt the levity, the flirtation, the thrill of the lovers’ early meetings. We were never sold on any great passion, though granted, Fredric March was an awful choice for Vronsky.

The tragic, grand love, damsel in distress aspects of Anna Karenina were intended for a lady, a soft, gentle woman, everything we find that Garbo is not. It makes it rather difficult for us to see her even as a good actress as there is no movement, no dimension, no fluidity to her. Thus what we have learned is that we do not accept the appeal of Garbo as a star. We will no longer make the effort to see her films, in fact we’re rather inclined to avoid them. We re-learned that it is okay to go against the tide. We never liked ‘Moulin Rouge’, we never approved of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Oscar win for ‘Shakespeare in Love’, we do not find Nobu to be the best sushi, we do not care for the Marc Jacobs line of clothes.

How satisfying to trust again in one’s own tastes…

Images via Wikipedia, Biography, The Guardian

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