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Butterick Starred Patterns Part 4: Katharine Hepburn and Helen Chandler

The movie-linked patterns issued by Butterick in May of 1933 were designed by Howard Greer, for the movie Christopher Strong. Hepburn played an aviatrix in love with a married man, British MP Christopher Strong,  and Helen Chandler played his daughter, Monica Strong.

Katharine Hepburn and Helen Chandler wearing Howard's Greer's designs, copied as Butterick Starred Patterns. Delineator, May 1933.

Katharine Hepburn and Helen Chandler wearing Howard’s Greer’s designs, copied as Butterick Starred Patterns. Delineator, May 1933.

This was only Katharine Hepburn’s second movie.

After a New York stage success, “… she was cast in A Bill of Divorcement (1932), opposite John Barrymore. The film was a hit, and after agreeing to her salary demands, RKO signed her to a contract. She made five films between 1932 and 1934. For her third, Morning Glory (1933) she won her first Academy Award. Her fourth, Little Women (1933) was the most successful picture of its day.” — Internet Movie Database (IMDb.)

Helen Chandler, a successful stage actress, is probably best remembered in films as a victim of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931), although she appeared in over two dozen movies. Her later life was a sad one.

Butterick Starred Patterns 5156 and 5154, from Delineator, May 1933.

Butterick Starred Patterns 5156 and 5154, from Delineator, May 1933.

Here is Delineator raving about young Katharine Hepburn:

1933 may p 71 Katharine Hepburn ttrend setter 5156 5154 designer Howard Greer text

Delineator is especially interested in Katharine Hepburn because of the way she wears clothes. She has that thing called chic…. What she wears in a picture to-day has a good chance of being what Young America is going to demand tomorrow.” By 1933, fashion magazines like Delineator were beginning to appreciate that movie costumes might have more influence on young women’s clothing choices than Paris fashions. (The “Letty Lynton dress”of 1932 had created a great demand for copies.) Butterick entered into agreements with three studios — Warner Bros., R.K.O., and Paramount — which allowed Butterick to make exact copies of dresses worn in their movies. This was quite different from the Hollywood Pattern Company’s approach. However, for whatever reason, only a few of these Butterick Starred Patterns were ever issued.

This one, designed for Katharine Hepburn by Howard Greer, was Butterick 5156. It included a pattern for the tucked hat. The open sleeves were seen on other dresses in the 1930’s. You can see the pattern envelope, with alternate views, by clicking here.

Butterick Starred Pattern 5156 from May, 1933. Delineator.

Butterick Starred Pattern 5156 from May, 1933. Delineator.

Helen Chandler’s gown, No. 5154, was made of organdy — like the Letty Lynton dress — and trimmed with lace.

Butterick Starred Pattern 5154 was designed for Helen Chandler by Howard Greer. Delineator, May 1933.

Butterick Starred Pattern 5154 was designed for Helen Chandler by Howard Greer. Delineator, May 1933.

1933 may p 71 helen chandler text 5156 5154 designer Howard Greer text

The “lace is sewed along one edge only;”  i.e., it is not labor-intensive insertion lace.  A variation of this evening pattern, made in plaid organdy, was illustrated two months later, in the July issue of Delineator. There was no mention of its movie connection.

Butterick pattern 5154 as illustrated and described in Delineator, July 1933,

Butterick pattern 5154 as illustrated and described in Delineator, July 1933. “Pin some huge red poppies at the point of the neckline.”

Details of Butterick 5156 and 5154, May 1933.

Details of Butterick 5156 and 5154, May 1933.

You can see the Starred Pattern envelope for Butterick 5154 at the Commercial Pattern Archive; Click here.

Howard Greer, Costume Designer

Designer Howard Greer had been working in the movies since the 1920’s.  Jay Jorgenson and Donald L. Scoggins, authors of Creating the Illusion, put their chapter about him in the Silent Era. For a while, he was head of the wardrobe department at Paramount Studios, but he said he did his best work in three dimensions, while his friend and associateTravis Banton had a genius for what would look good on the screen. In 1927, Greer left Paramount to start his own custom clothing salon in Los Angeles. Many of his clients were movie stars. He obviously moved back and forth between his work for private clients and his film costume design, usually only designing gowns for the star. One of his later films was Bringing Up Baby, also with Katharine Hepburn. In the 1940’s, he started a ready-to-wear business. His last film credit was lingerie for Joan Crawford in Sudden Fear (1952).  He was also a mentor to Edith Head, giving her her first job at Paramount Studios.

Greer’s most famous costume from Christopher Strong was Katharine Hepburn’s metallic lame “moth” outfit; in this scene, she’s on her way to a masquerade ball:

Katharine Hepburn in Christopher Strong, wearing a Moth Costume by Howard Greer. From Creating the Illusion.

Katharine Hepburn in Christopher Strong, wearing a Moth Costume by Howard Greer. From Creating the Illusion.

TCM has a great 2 minute video that shows her making an entrance in it — Wait for it! “Forgive me if I keep staring at you,” says Colin Clive. No kidding.

This is Part Four of a Series about Butterick Starred Patterns. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 were patterns based on designs by Orry-Kelly, for Warner Brothers movies.

Next: Butterick Starred Costumes Part 5: Helen Twelvetrees and Designer Travis Banton

 

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Butterick Starred Patterns Part 3: Mary Astor

This is the third set of patterns based on Orry-Kelly’s designs for movie stars and featured in The Delineator magazine. (Click here for Part 1, Bette Davis and more about Orry-Kelly.) (Click Here for Part 2, Kay Francis.) Butterick had permission to make exact copies of the clothes worn in certain movies in 1933.

Two Frocks from The Little Giant; Delineator, July 1933, p. 55

Two Frocks from The Little Giant; Delineator, July 1933, p. 55.

One of these Butterick Starred Patterns was a dress for Mary Astor, who really was a star in the twenties, thirties and forties, and the other was for Shirley Grey, a lesser-known actress.

Butterick Starred Pattern 5271, designed for Shhirley grey by Orry-Kelly. Delineator, July 1933.

Butterick Starred Pattern 5271, designed for Shirley Grey by Orry-Kelly. Delineator, July 1933. Partly open sleeves were seen on several designs in 1933.

“Shirley Grey’s dress [Butterick 5271]  is one of those “frocks with ideas,” ideas for making itself into several. You can do things to it and obtain at least two frocks, possibly three. Made just as you saw it in the picture, it is simply a lovely afternoon dress consisting of a black satin skirt, on a thin underbody, and a white crinkled satin blouse. But made another way (and the pattern made of this dress provides for this version, too) it still looks just as you see it here except that the skirt is longer, instep length.”

Oddly, although Mary Astor’s dress was illustrated again, in a different fabric, in a later issue of Delineator, the alternate views of dress 5271 were described, but not pictured.  Perhaps they thought this lengthy verbal description was enough:

Shirley Grey dress 5271 LIttle giant text

However, you can see this dress without the “blouse” at the Vintage Pattern Wikia. Click here.

Mary Astor in a dress by Orry-Kelly that was copied as Butterick 5267. Delineator, July, 1933.

Mary Astor in a dress by Orry-Kelly that was copied as Butterick 5267 . Delineator, July, 1933.

Description of Butterick Starred Pattern 5267, from July 1933.

Description of Butterick Starred Pattern 5267, from July 1933.

This dress was illustrated in another version in the next issue of Delineator, August of 1933. It didn’t mention Mary Astor or the movies:

Butterick 5267 as drawn in July and August, 1933.

Butterick 5267 as drawn in July and August, 1933.

Buttrerick 6267 as described in the August 1933 Delineator.

Butterick 5267 as described in the August 1933 Delineator.

You can see a larger illustration of 5267 at the Vintage Pattern Wikia.

About Mary Astor and Edward G. Robinson

Mary Astor was a child actress whose career lasted well into middle age. She played Ophelia to John Barrymore’s Hamlet on the stage,  transitioned easily from silents to talkies, survived a huge scandal, and graduated to mature roles (and an Oscar *TM*) in the 1940’s.  She is best remembered as the temptress in The Maltese Falcon, the mother in Meet Me In St. Louis, and Marmee in Little Women.  The list of her credits (155 movies and TV episodes) at The Internet Movie Database pretty much defines “working actress.”  She also wrote two books: My Story and My Life on Film.  You can get a tiny sampling of her work in this one minute Tribute from Turner Classic Movies.

Edward G. Robinson and Mary Astorin The Little Giant, Delineator magazine, July 1933.

Russell Hopton, Edward G. Robinson and Mary Astor in The Little Giant, Delineator magazine, July 1933.

The real star of the picture was Edward G. Robinson, who had a blazing hit in 1931 playing a ruthless gangster in Little Caesar. The Little Giant allowed him to play a gangster in a comedy. Here he is explaining that he is “crawling with culture.” [In fact, Mr. Robinson was a deeply cultured, educated man, but, as beautifully explained at the Pre-Code movie site, his physical appearance made him an unlikely movie star.]

“You definitely can’t build a star like Edward G. Robinson. A Jewish-Romanian who’d studied to be a Rabbi before trying law school and eventually working his way to the theater, Robinson worked on Broadway for fifteen years and made his first appearance in a silent film in 1923. But when the talkies came, so came Robinson’s voice to the masses– a distinctly New York-ian snappy piece of work, a raspy growl that signifies a great deal of soon-to-come fury. Little Caesar is the movie that made Robinson a star, a role that allows him to embody a character of unstoppable, aggressive malice. His character of Rico, AKA Little Caesar, is a bully in search of the American dream, all too eager to find the next guy to squeeze it out of. He’s not just a thug– he’s charismatic and clever. And, most importantly, he’s ruthless.” — Pre-Code.com

The TCM tribute to Edward G. Robinson is six minutes long, but a reminder of his versatility. Click here.

Next: Butterick Starred Patterns Part 4: Katharine Hepburn and Helen Chandler in designs by Howard Greer.

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Butterick Starred Patterns Part 2: Kay Francis in The Keyhole

Orry-Kelly, who designed the costumes for Bette Davis in forty-two movies (see Part 1,) was also credited with these designs for Kay Francis in The Keyhole. Butterick chose two designs from the movie to copy as Butterick Starred Patterns 5102 and 5113. This article introduced the Starred Patterns idea in April of 1933, in Butterick’s Delineator magazine, although the term “Starred Patterns” was not used.

Delineator, page 74, from April 1933. This is the first mention of Butterick Starred Patterns.

Delineator, page 74, from April 1933. This is the first mention of Butterick’s exact copies of clothes from the movies. Patterns  5102 and 5113 were featured.

Although she’s not remembered as well as Bette Davis, who displaced her at Warner Bros., Kay Francis was a very big star in the early thirties.

“Despite a slight lisp, she was one of Hollywood’s most glamorous and highly paid stars in the 30s, … typically portraying stylish, worldly brunettes in romantic melodramas and occasional comedies…. By the early 40s she had been mostly relegated to B pictures.”  — Ephraim Katz, in The Film Encyclopedia.

Here is the text of the Delineator article which introduced the concept behind Butterick Starred Patterns:

Butterick Starred Patterns; Text of Delineator article, April 1933, p. 74

Text of Delineator article, April 1933, p. 74. “The patterns for these two frocks reproduce the Kay Francis dresses exactly, as the sketches … show.”

“Each month Delineator will present fashions from motion pictures. Each month two or more dresses, worn by the stars who are noted for their chic, will be chosen. Butterick will make patterns of them, and Delineator will illustrate them, and bring you news of the new motion pictures.” In previous decades, Butterick bragged about its copies of Paris fashions. In 1933, there were more references to New York styles, and to the influence of the movies.

Butterick 5120 was an exact copy of this brown evening gown worn by Kay Francis in the movie The Keyhole. 1933.

Butterick 5102 was an exact copy of this brown evening gown worn by Kay Francis in the movie The Keyhole. Delineator, April, 1933.

The caption read “Kay Francis in the role of ‘Anne,’ a dancer, in the mirror scene from her new picture, The Keyhole.”  (Click the link to watch it.) The article said, “Throughout her troubles [bigamy and blackmail] — her taste for stunning clothes remains intact.”

Butterick Starred Patterns 5113 and 5102. Delineator, April 1933.

Butterick Starred Patterns 5113 and 5102. Delineator, April 1933.

[Note: No. 5102 is a dress for those with perfect posture, or with toupee tape on their shoulders. If your napkin slips off your lap at dinner, don’t reach down to retrieve it in a backless, sideless bodice like this….] “The evening gown is made of brown lacquered satin, and the jacket frock of chartreuse wool and white pique.”  Here is a closer view of the bodice details:

Butterick 5113 and 5102, details. Delineator, April 1933.

Butterick 5113 and 5102, details. Delineator, April 1933. The dress on the left was lime green and white.

The photos from the film show how precisely Butterick’s patterns copied these dresses.

Butterick 5113 was a close copy of Orry-Kelly's design for Kay Francis. 1933.

Butterick 5113 was a close copy of Orry-Kelly’s design for Kay Francis. 1933.

You can see larger images of Butterick 5113 and 5102 at the Vintage Pattern Wikia, where their images from the Fall 1933 Butterick pattern catalog can be found. You can see the pattern envelope for 5102, with a very different bodice, by clicking here. It says nothing about “Starred” patterns, so perhaps that title wasn’t conferred until later. These are actually the first two patterns in the series of twelve, and do appear as a group in the 1933 pattern catalog.

After watching a lot of clips on YouTube, I discovered that Kay Francis is much more attractive in motion than she appears in studio portraits. Those downward-slanting eyebrows make her look morose in still photos, but in movies her face seems lively, and her fleeting expressions strike me as more natural and genuine than run-of-the-mill thirties’ acting. She was equally at home in comedy and melodrama.

Leonard Maltin’s Classic Film Guide describes The Keyhole as a “seedy romantic drama with Francis anguishing in a variety of elegant Orry-Kelly gowns.” Well, isn’t suffering supposed to make you beautiful? In the movies, it could.

You can read more about glamorous Kay Francis at the TCM site. Costume designer Orry-Kelly is the subject of a new documentary film, Women He’s Undressed (2015). See the trailer here. (It’s Australian, like Orry-Kelly, so may not yet be available in the U.S.  I love that trailer! No wonder he won three Oscars *TM*!)

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