Tag Archives: John Barrymore actor

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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Filed under 1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage patterns, Vintage patterns from the movies

The Letty Lynton Dress, Adrian, and Joan Crawford’s Shoulders: Part 2

Part 1 of The Letty Lynton Dress, Adrian, and Joan Crawford’s Shoulders discussed one of the first movies Adrian designed for Joan Crawford:  Letty Lynton (1932,) and its fashion influence. Here’s the Letty Lynton dress again:

Joan Crawfrod in "the Letty Lynton dress" designed by Gilbert Adrian. 1932. Image from Creating the Illusion, by Jorgensen and Scoggins.

Joan Crawford in “the Letty Lynton dress” designed by Gilbert Adrian. 1932. Image from Creating the Illusion, by Jorgensen and Scoggins.

The legend is that, because Joan Crawford had very broad shoulders, costume designer Gilbert Adrian decided to exaggerate them, instead of trying to distract us with styling tricks, and incidentally started the fashion for padded shoulders on women. And it is true that broad, padded shoulders for women came into fashion in the 1930’s and lasted through the World War II years.

Butterick Fashion Flyer, April 1938. Broad, padded, shoulders on women.

Butterick Fashion Flyer, April 1938. Broad, padded shoulders for women — and impossible hips.

Butterick Fashion News, Sept. 1943. Broad, padded shoulders for women.

Butterick Fashion News, Sept. 1943. Broad, padded shoulders for women.

I’ve always been a little skeptical that Joan’s broad shoulders were ever a problem. This photo shows her in another evening dress from Letty Lynton.

Joan Crawford in another dress from Letty Lynton. Adrian often made bare- shoulder dresses for her.

Joan Crawford in another dress from Letty Lynton. Adrian often made bare-shouldered dresses for her. From Creating the Illusion.

You wouldn’t say she looks unattractive, or unfeminine…. In fact, she often wore costumes that bared her shoulders, like this one. from 1934.

Here she is in the 1920’s:

Joan Crawford in the 1920's. From Pinterest.

Joan Crawford in the 1920’s. From Pinterest.

Crawford had been making movies since the 1920’s, and the truth is, if you want your hips to look smaller, it’s a good idea to make your shoulders look wider. (Or stand sideways….) A woman’s hips are not — in nature — inches narrower than her shoulders, although that is the way women were drawn in fashion illustrations from the twenties and thirties.

Fashion illustration, July 1928. Delineator. Nobod has hips that narrow.

Fashion illustrations, July 1928. Delineator. Women don’t have hips that narrow.

Most women’s hips are as wide as, or wider than, their shoulders. Even Norma Shearer, “the Queen of MGM,” didn’t look fabulous photographed straight on in this twenties’ outfit.

Butterick fashion illustrations, Jan 1934. Delineator.

Butterick fashion illustrations, Jan 1934. Delineator. Even wearing a really tight girdle will not make normal, childbearing hips that small.

The ruffled shoulders of the famous “Letty Lynton” dress are twice as wide as her hips. In this film clip, as Crawford is seen from the back, standing against a ship’s railing, her waist and hips look very narrow — like a fashion illustration.

Wide shoulders and full sleeves were also used to enhance the illusion of a tiny waist in the 1830’s and the 1890’s.

Wide shoulders and full sleeves create the illusion of a tiny waist, in 1832 and in 1895. Left Casey Collection; right, Metropolitan Museum.

Wide shoulders and full sleeves create the illusion of a tiny waist, in 1832 and in 1895. Left Casey Collection; right, Metropolitan Museum.

The same “trick” reappeared in the 1980’s, to make waists and hips look smaller. Click here.

McCall's bridal pattern 9452 (1985) and Vogue 9816 (1987). Full sleeves, wide shoulders.

McCall’s bridal pattern 9452 (1985) and Vogue 9816 (1987). Full sleeves, wide shoulders.

I do believe another story that Adrian told — as quoted in Creating the Illusion: A Fashionable History of Hollywood Costume Designers, by Jay Jorgensen and Donald L. Scoggins. They mention that Adrian designed the costumes for Joan Crawford in more than thirty-two movies, “…and in the process, created the padded-shoulder silhouette that defined the 1940s.”

“Crawford insisted on a free range of movement in her clothing. During fittings, she would rotate her shoulders with arms outstretched to ensure the fabric in her costumes could move with her. When Adrian was not designing in jersey or a fabric that stretched, he would let the clothes out across the back. He heavily padded Crawford’s shoulders to take up the slack in the fabric….” He said, “She is constantly in motion. When she is in the fitting room, she is always walking around, swinging her arms above her head to be sure she has freedom.” — Adrian, quoted in Creating the Illusion.

I’m certainly not in Adrian’s league, but I remember fitting an 1840’s bodice on an opera singer who kept crossing her arms in front of her body as far as possible, hunching her back, and popping the back of the muslin open.

“It fits all right, but I can’t do that!” she complained.

“Do you need to do that on stage?” I asked.

“Uh, no….” Luckily for me, she was a lot more reasonable than Joan Crawford.

Joan Crawford’s broad shoulders were probably an asset when she was wearing 1920’s styles.

Joan Crawford in the 1920's. From Pinterest.

Joan Crawford in the 1920’s. From Pinterest. If you want to look thin in a twenties’ dress, stand sideways.

Joan Crawford first rose to stardom playing a series of flappers in Our Dancing Daughters; Paris; Sally, Irene and Mary; The Taxi Dancer;  The Duke Steps Out, and Our Modern Maidens. This video shows scenes from Our Dancing Daughters. (Also Pre-Code! note the panties, and her break-away skirt.) In 1932 she starred in Letty Lynton and in Rain (as Sadie Thompson , a prostitute with few illusions,) and appeared in Grand Hotel.

I admire her most in Grand Hotel . She plays a sympathetic role as a stenographer/part time prostitute trying to survive during the Depression. In this clip, she makes her situation clear to John Barrymore.

Crawford wore a “show biz” version of the Letty Lynton dress when she danced with Fred Astaire in Dancing Lady (1933). Here she is in another  1933 version of the Letty Lynton dress.

In this Hurrell photo, from 1934, you can see the padded shoulders on her evening gown. In 1937, her jacket is definitely padded like a man’s. The effect is even broader when done in fur: click here. Finally, here she is with Adrian, in 1939, and in Humoresque, 1946.

Most of these links are to a wonderful site: the photo gallery at joancrawfordbest.com. It’s well worth a visit, because Joan Crawford’s costumes were very influential in the mass market, and because — no matter what the style was,  she could really wear a hat!

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Filed under 1830s -1860s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, Musings, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage patterns

Classic French Fashions of the Twenties, a Dover Book

Two plates from Classic French Fashions of the Twenties, Atelier Bachwitz. A Dover Book.

Two plates from Classic French Fashions of the Twenties, Atelier Bachwitz. A Dover Book. Sporty Styles for 1929. Images from this book are used for purposes of review only. Please Do Not Copy.

I have had hours of pleasure studying the images in this book.

My first real design job, in grad school, was a production of The Royal Family, a play about a multi-generational family of actors [any resemblance to the Barrymore family was definitely intended]. It was originally performed December 1927 through 1928. Here are the real Lionel Barrymore and his brother John acting together in the film Grand Hotel, 1932.

Lionel and John Barrymore in Grand Hotel, 1932. Image from Pinterest.

Lionel and John Barrymore in Grand Hotel, 1932. Image from Pinterest.

A digression:  This generation of the Barrymores successfully transitioned from stage to film: Ethel as a mature actress, her brother Lionel as a character actor; and John, who was the American Hamlet of his era, was a matinee idol in the twenties and also a notoriously successful ladies’ man.

 A Shakespeare student, hoping to get some insight into the characters’ motivations, once asked  John Barrymore, “Did Ophelia sleep with Hamlet?”

“In my company, always,” Barrymore replied.

Ophelia (Mary Astor) and Hamlet (John Barrymore), 1925. Photo by Albin from Vanity Fair.

Ophelia (Mary Astor) and Hamlet (John Barrymore), 1925. Photo by Albin from Vanity Fair. This Ophelia did, as revealed in Mary Astor’s very frank autobiography.

Now, back to designing costumes for a play set in 1927:

My first meeting with the director was going very well; I hadn’t owned many books as a teenager, but one, which I read over and over, was Vanity Fair: A Cavalcade of the 1920s and 1930s, edited by Cleveland Amory and Frederic Bradlee. I loved the twenties, as I knew them. I “got” the references to popular culture in the play. I knew who the characters were, read “their” biographies and understood the character types. I even knew that a man who appears partially undressed in a 1927 comedy would be wearing stocking garters — good for a laugh in 1980.

Boston Garter ad for man's stocking garter; Delineator, Jan. 1917.

I knew how a successful theatrical producer — or actress — in the twenties might be dressed.

Producer Florenz Ziegfeld and his wife, actress Billie Burke, from Vanity Fair, 1927.

Producer Florenz Ziegfeld and his wife, actress Billie Burke, from Vanity Fair, 1927. Photo by Steichen.

I was delighted when the director told me he didn’t want “musical comedy” costumes; he wanted real, authentic-looking 1920’s clothes — absolutely true to 1927-28. And then, just as I packed up my notes and put my hand on the doorknob, he said,

“Just don’t give me any of those dresses with the waist down around the hips.”

Three Hattie Carnegie outfits from July 1928. Delineator.

Three Hattie Carnegie outfits from July 1928. Delineator.

I couldn’t help thinking about this experience while looking through the beautifully illustrated collection of styles from Beaux-Arts des Modes, 1929, which is published by Dover Books as Classic French Fashions of the Twenties. The author credited is Atelier Bachwitz. (Was it a sketch studio or a magazine publisher? The Met has another Atelier Bachwitz publication.) The fashion plates, with each design given an entire page in full color, are lovely, and so detailed that you can study their construction. From sporty outfits like those white pleated dresses at the top of this post, to afternoon dresses, fabulous coats, and evening wear, you can dream about an entire 1929 wardrobe —  and how you’d make it — while studying these pages.

Plate 31 from Classic French Fashions of the Twenties. This ensemble has a 3/4 length coat to harmonize with the skirt's asymmetrical hem.

Plate 31 from Dover’s Classic French Fashions of the Twenties. This ensemble has a 3/4 length coat to harmonize with the dress’s asymmetrical hem. The sleeve cuff echoes the pocket.

I’m glad I bought this book, just for the pleasure of analyzing lovely renderings like this one. The vertical seam lines down the back of the coat are a slenderizing touch….

…Which just goes to show that the costume designer probably studies them with a skewed viewpoint. For one thing, you are “Shopping in Character,” trying to think like the characters in the play or script, and choosing appropriate clothes for them. You think about their age (and how they feel about their age,) and their personalities. You think about what happens in the play to the woman wearing this dress. You think about her budget (the women who could afford these dresses were not shopgirls or schooteachers.) And you think about the actor’s figure, and how the audience will perceive her clothes. After all, “Costume Communicates” is a First Principle, and the audience will have a smaller style “vocabulary” than a costume historian. You try to remain true to the period, while keeping audience expectations –based on modern clothing  — in mind.

I’ve shown this picture before, and asked, “If you were an actress — whose next job might depend on being shapely — which would you prefer to wear?”

These three outfits from a 1917 catalog not only express different personalities — the girl on the right seems super-feminine, compared to the less fussy clothes on the left — but only the center outfit would not make the actress look overweight to modern eyes. [It has a long, vertical jacket opening, and the belt doesn’t create a horizontal line across the semi-fitted waist.]

That problem — making the star attractive to modern eyes — is always at the back of your mind when designing for real bodies, especially when looking at research from the 1920’s. I think it’s natural to look through a book like Classic French Fashions of the Twenties searching for ways the original designers dealt with the same problem.

One way was to introduce vertical design lines:

Authentic 1929 designs with strong vertical lines. From Classic French Fashions of the Twenties

Authentic 1929 designs with strong vertical lines. From Classic French Fashions of the Twenties.

Another good idea, especially for actors and singers, is to attract attention upward, toward the face.

Plates 9 and 39 from lassic French Fashions of the Twenties. The center of interest in these dresses is close to the face, not the hip.

Plates 9 and 39 from Classic French Fashions of the Twenties. The center of interest in these dresses is close to the face, not the hip.

The seam lines on the left dress are ingenious, literally pointing toward the center of the body, away from the hip width.

plate 4 scarf297

“Focus on the face” is the reason we see so many bright scarves and contrasting collars on 1920’s and 1930’s clothing.

On the two dresses below, the area near the face and shoulders is much lighter than the area near the hips. Cleverly, in front the designer has avoided “cutting the body in half” with a horizontal color change at the waist or hip.

Plate 44 and plate 14 from Classic French Fashions of the Twenties. The top part of each dress is lighter than the bottom hip area.

Plate 44 and plate 14 from Classic French Fashions of the Twenties. The top part of each dress is lighter than the bottom part. Again, the eye is led toward the face. The dress on the left doesn’t have to be made in red….or have such a wide buckle.

I was delighted to find this very similar dress — via Instagram (thank you, Vintage Traveler!) — from the NYUCostumeStudies site. It has a strong family resemblance to these dresses, which bridge the seams between dark and light fabric with coordinating embroidery. The evening dress from Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens belonged to etiquette maven Marjorie Merriweather Post. Their online dress collection is superb.

I just have to share this Art Deco coat design. It is much simpler to make than it looks.

This coat is made of "silk rep, with incrustation forming scallops. Open sleeves, shawl collar."

This coat is made of “silk rep, with incrustation forming scallops. Open sleeves, shawl collar.” 1929.

“Incrustation?” Also used about other designs in the book, “incrustation” appears to be a translation meaning “applied trim.” The “scallops”, which I would call zigzags, would be absolute hell if they were seam lines. But this coat is not pieced together; the lines appear to have no structural purpose (see its back view) except, perhaps, on the collar. Again, look how tall and slender she appears in the back view. (Vertical lines….)  And there is no “waist down around the hips,” either. Unfortunately, I didn’t have this book in grad school, but I did solve my problem back then by asking the director to move the date of the play to 1929! By then, some dresses had belts at the natural waist.

Another thing to keep in mind:  If a dress seems too frilly, too silly, or too fattening for the leading lady, it might be perfect for another character — like the 50-ish matron who wears clothes that are too young for her, or the scatterbrained socialite who moves in a cloud of fluttering chiffon. Classic French Fashions from the Twenties has plenty of ideas that might not be right for everybody, but which may be perfect for somebody.

Three versions of a frilly chiffon dress/ Left, as drawn, center, on a more realistic figure, and right, as it might look on a character who overdoes everything.

Three versions of a frilly chiffon dress: Left, as drawn; center, on a more realistic figure; and right, as it might look on a character who overdoes everything.

I wasted way too much time playing with that in a photo program!

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade