A wonderful, vintage Hollywood actor – Mr. James Garner has sadly passed on, aged 86; he was born James Scott Bumgarner; April 7, 1928 – July 19, 2014) in Norman, Oklahoma, to a Methodist family.For over Five decades he appeared in several television series which would make him a household-name; it therefore follows that each generation (beginning with the 1950’s ‘Baby-Boomers’) will have fond memories of him as a particular character on television, film, or both; mine are for his tv role as the positively laid-back, work-shy, devilish, poker-playing Bret Maverick in the tv series ‘Maverick’, which ran from 1957 until 1962 for an impressive total of 60 episodes and also for the two comedy-movies he made with Doris Day! James played Doris’ impossibly good-looking husband in both ‘The Thrill Of It all’ and the celebrated ‘Move Over Darling’ to perfection, displaying a natural flair for comedy which beautifully complemented Doris’ style (he was one of her favourite people/co-stars).Other fans will love him for his role as the detective Jim Rockford in the 1970’s show ‘The Rockford Files’, which debuted on t.v. in 1974 and ran for six seasons.
James Garner’s early family-life was turbulent to say the least; his mother died when he was only five years old and his father remarried to a woman who would regularly beat James and his two older brothers – Jack and Charles.When this marrige broke up, James’ father relocated to Los Angeles where James re-joined him at age seventeen, enrolling at Hollywood High School, where (unsurprisingly!) he was voted ‘The most popular student’.In the early 1950’s he saw wartime military service in Korea for fourteen months with the 5th Regimental Combat team and earned himself two ‘Purple Hearts’; upon his return, Broadway, television and movies beckoned (he changed his last name from Bumgarner to Garner early in his t.v. career after the studio had credited him as “James Garner” without permission.
Television was where James Garner became a star, but he was also a veteran of over fifty films – including 1963’s iconic ‘The Great Escape’ (in which he played flight lieutenant Robert Hendley, an American in the RAF, alongside Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough and Donald Pleasence), ‘The Americanization of Emily’ (with Julie Andrews), ‘Grand Prix’, ‘Victor Victoria’, ‘Murphy’s Romance’ (for which he received an Academy Award nomination) ‘Space Cowboys’ and ‘The Notebook’.To the general public, James Garner was a much-loved actor during his lifetime and although he will be sorely missed, our love for him and his craft will not diminish, thanks largely to all his wonderful work preserved on celluloid.Jim, you were such a handsome devil!
Gary Alston/House Of Retro makes no claim to the ownership of any images shown on this page/website.Photographic copyright remains with respective owners.
Text ©copyright Gary Alston 2014.
I’ve written a letter to Daddy, his address is heaven above
I’ve written “Dear Daddy we miss you and wish you were with us to love …
Instead of a stamp I put kisses, the postman says that’s best to do….
I’ve written this letter to Daddy, saying: “I LOVE YOU!”
Who could ever forget the bizarre and grotesque sight of Bette Davis as “Baby Jane Hudson” in Robert Aldrichs’ darkly camp movie classic “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane”, released in 1962.Based on the novel of the same name by Henry Farrell and using a “Grand Guignol” format, this macabre tale of two sisters, one a former child-star (Bette Davis) the other a former movie-queen (Joan Crawford) forced into premature retirement as the result of an accident, offered audiences a war- of- nerves situation, with a surprise twist at the end. As it turned out, the movie evoked the strange, unreal atmosphere of Hollywood in the 1930s, even though it took place in the 1960s.Photographed in sharp black & white and with claustrophobically ornate sets by William Glasgow, ‘Whatever Happened To Baby Jane’ was not only a masterpiece of the genre, but also a virtuosic piece of casting where life did indeed imitate art , for throughout their long and brilliant Hollywood careers, Davis and Crawford had been bitter arch-rivals. Joan had been a star first, much to Bette’s chagrin; when she acidly suggested that Crawford’s success had come via the “casting couch” Joan shot back: “It sure as hell beat the cold, hard floor!”. Thus the stage was set for a clash of the “duelling divas” and one of the most inspired pieces of casting in Cinema’s history.
It may come as a surprise to some to learn that it was Joan Crawford herself who presented the “Baby Jane” project to Bette.When she told Davis that she had always wanted to work with her, Bette (in her own words) said: “I looked at her and thought, you’re full of shit!” However, having read the book, Davis revised her opinion of Crawford’s proposal thus: “Well it could work, you know.It’s all there – ‘Phony Joan’ and ‘Crazy Bette’! Once his star leads had agreed to play their respective roles, (at a minimal fee of $50,000 plus a percentage of the profits) Aldrich’s hardest challenge came in financing the film; in 1962, Davis and Crawford were no longer considered “box-office” and he was informed by countless studios to re-cast the movie and hire some star names. The bottom line from the studio-heads was: “We won’t give you a dime for those two old broads”, whilst Jack Warner (Bette and Joan’s old boss at Warner’s) put it far more colourfully: “I wouldn’t give you one dime for those two washed-up old bitches”. Ultimately, salvation came Aldrich’s way via “Seven Arts”, a small independent company owned by Englishman Elliot Hyman. He financed the movie with Davis and Crawford, (albeit on very tough terms) because he believed in Aldrich’s vision and his choice of the two legendary divas in the star-roles.
Once the financing had been secured, Jack Warner agreed to distribute the movie, but would not allow it to be filmed at his studios; instead, Bette and Joan were dispatched to “The Producers Studio” on Melrose Avenue, a delapidated lot used for “B” Westerns.The production was ‘cigarette-holders-at-ten-paces’ from day one. At the signing of the contracts, Joan was mistakenly handed Bette’s copy and faster than a slug of Pepsi, she noticed that Bette’s salary exceeded hers – to the tune of $60,000 for the picture, plus $600 a week in living expenses. Not to be out-done, Miss Crawford insisted that a new clause be inserted into her contract, giving her $1500 a week living expenses, and further more, if production on the film exceeded six weeks, she was to receive the same amount of overtime as Davis.
Whilst Davis moved into an expensive residence in Beverly Hills to learn her lines, Crawford was at work in North Hollywood, preparing for her role as a cripple.She took instruction on how to navigate a wheelchair from a Korean service veteran who had been left a paraplegic as a result of seeing action in the war. Norma Koch was the costume designer on the movie and for her sterling efforts, she received an Oscar. When the adult Jane first appears in the film, she is depressed, drinking heavily and taking her miserable situation out on her sister.At this stage, Koch dresses her in the sleaziest of nightwear and the scruffiest of slippers, in which she drags her feet and slouches around the mansion to great (character) effect.When she finally decides to make her comeback as ‘Baby Jane’, Norma created adult versions of little girl’s dresses for Davis to wear, creating an extension of the child-star Jane had once been .In the scene where Jane has to drive downtown to place a showbusiness ad in the local newspaper; Koch deliberately puts her in an under-sized, tight-fitting dress, teamed with tawdry accessories – a black waist-cincher (by that stage there was a lot to cinch! ) a black beret, an old road-kill fox-fur piece pulled from her closet and for her footwear, the classic Joan Crawford “Chase-me fuck-me pumps”.
Aldrich began shooting on “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane” on Monday, July 23rd, 1962.Crawford arrived at the location in true “Norma Desmond” style, complete with chauffeur-driven limo and entourage, amongst whom were her hairdresser, make-up man, secretary, maid and a junior agent from the William Morris agency. Her chauffeur carried a portable cooler filled with ice and bottles of Pepsi (naturally); in stark contrast, Miss Davis arrived alone.This diva-like behaviour continued with Joan re-designing her dressing room and lavishing gifts on the cast and crew.Bette viewed her co star’s actions with disdain. She refused any alterations to her own space, commenting: “Dressing rooms do not make good pictures”. When it came to costumes and appearance for the movie, Bette did her utmost to make herself a vision of decay and pantomime whilst Joan angled at every opportunity to exploit her legendary glamour.She was dismayed to learn, however, that there were no Adrian gowns on this gig and that any thoughts or plans of such would immediately be scuppered by Norma Koch who (needless to say) had an uphill battle all the way with Miss Crawford’s vanity. When one of the crew commented that Crawford was the only person they had ever seen cry at her own wardrobe tests, Bette blasted: “The BITCH could cry on demand!”
For a brief period (at the start of the production) Davis and Crawford were extremely polite to one another (in front of the cast and crew); after all, they both needed the picture and were determined to out-do each other in the co-operation stakes.Filming began in a riotous fashion, with Aldrich telling Bette that she was coming on too strong in her depiction of Jane, to which she responded: “Who’d-cha expect, Ann Blyth?”. Meanwhile, Joan was pre-occupied with some unwanted attention from her character’s parakeet – whilst perched on her shoulder, it was pecking away at her make-up.When the bird’s trainer informed her that it was a sign of affection, Crawford snapped: “Then we’d better find one that hates me!” Bette had insisted to Mike Connolly of “The Hollywood Reporter” that there was no feud between her and Joan; according to Bette’s daughter – B.D. (Hyman): “It was beneath them to compete with each other.Both felt so superior to the other that they couldn’t acknowledge their hatred, let alone express it”. Ernest Haller, the movie’s cinematographer, had previously worked with Bette on “Jezebel” and “Mrs Skeffington” and with Joan on “Mildred Pierce” and “Humouresque”.He was too tactful on-set to say who was his favourite star to photograph, but acknowleged that if he had filmed the two in this way ten years earlier, his head would have been on the block.Both ladies sobbed at their rushes, Joan from day one – for the duration.Bette felt that there were too may flattering close ups of Joan: “Miss Crawford was a fool,” she said some years later, “A good actress looks the part.Why she insisted on making Blanche look glamorous, I just don’t know”. Joan responded in kind: “I am aware of how Miss Davis felt about my make-up in “Baby Jane”, but my reasons for appearing somewhat glamorous were just as valid as hers, with all those layers of rice powder she wore and that ghastly lipstick.Blanche had class, she had glamour – Blanche was a LEGEND” – “Blanche was a CRIPPLE” Bette replied, “a recluse.She never left the house or saw anybody, yet Miss Crawford made her appear as if she lived in Elizabeth Arden’s beauty salon”.
One of the most electrifying scenes in the movie comes when Jane discovers Blanche making a telephone call to their doctor, advising him of Jane’s rapidly deteriorating mental-state; consequently, in a vicious ‘revenge-attack ‘ Jane sets about beating Blanche using a series of the most vicious kicks, aimed at her head and other parts of her body. It was a shocking and violent scene where most of the action was shot with a hand-held camera and the close-up on Bette as she demolished several mannequins in her ferocity.However, for two long-range shots of the brutalising, Crawford herself had to step in .Laying on the floor, she had to constantly roll-over, as if propelled by Bette’s kicks ; in spite of careful staging and choreography, at one point Bette’s foot made contact with Joan’s head. Crawford in best drama-queen fashion screamed, whilst Bette merely uttered: “I barely touched her”.Various (gleeful) reports in newspapers and magazines came thick and fast: “She raised a fair sized lump on Joan’s head” declared Hedda Hopper.”Her scalp was cut and required three stitches” said another. According to Bob Sherman, these accounts were nonsense; he said : “I don’t believe that Bette ever hurt her.If she did, it was an accident. She was too much of a pro for that kind of behaviour.”Crawford of course, got her own back – in the scene where Jane has to drag Blanche from the bedroom (where she has been bound and gagged on the bed) she wore a special weight-lifter’s belt beneath her long gown.When the scene was finally in the can, Bette collapsed in agony, letting out the most blood-curdling scream imaginable: “My back! Oh my God, my back!”. Crawford stepped over her, smiling innocently as she headed for her dressing room.
The movie opened to rave reviews on November 3rd 1962.Some critics praised Bette’s performance whilst others championed Joan’s; overall however, they were unanimous in their verdicts: “A brilliant tour-de-fource of acting and film-making” said Time, “Fine, horrific fun… take it straight and you’ll recoil from a murderous duel of snarls, shrieks, moans, and rattlesnake repartee by Bette Davis and Joan Crawford” said The New York Times, whilst The Nation reported: “Joan is such a sweetly-smiling fraud.Such an artless, hapless ninny, that one feels virtually nothing for her. No wonder her crazy-sister finds her a deadly bore”. Joan replied: “Sure, Miss Davis stole some of my big scenes, but the funny thing is, when I see the movie again, she stole them because she looked like a parody of herself, and I still looked like something of a star”. Bette was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Baby Jane, however there is evidence to show that Joan did all she could to scupper the Academy’s final vote. On Oscar night itself, Bette lost out on the ‘Best Actress’ award to Anne Bancroft, who won that year for “The Miracle Worker”.In an extremely Machiavellian fashion, Joan had arranged before-hand to collect the Oscar on an absent Miss Bancroft’s behalf, thereby dealing a devastating double-edged blow her adversary; she turned Bancroft’s award/night it into her own personal triumph whilst delivering to Bette a final humiliating denouncement. Gossip-queen Hedda Hopper commented: “I was rooting for Bette, but when it comes to giving or stealing a show, nobody can top Joan Crawford”. Bette Davis has said that “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” was a break-through in women’s pictures, the first successful one of its type in ten years.Baby Jane Hudson was one of her favourite parts and she found the whole project a delight (other than working with Crawford!). When the book’s author Henry Farrell visited the set, Bette Davis revelled in the fact that he had told her: “My God, you look just EXACTLY as I pictured Baby Jane”. The final (hilarious) line in my re-telling of this movie-diva saga must go to Miss Bette Davis, who when asked about her co-star’s fashion-sense, venomously spat: “Joan Crawford, what did she ever do for fashion, apart from those goddamn shoulder pads and TACKY “Fuck Me” pumps!”
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? ‘ Text ©copyright Gary Alston 2013.
House Of Retro/Gary Alston make no claims to the ownership of images appearing on this page.
Director Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” provides a mesmerising watershed in the world of mainstream Hollywood cinema. It bravely debunks that great American myth – the machismo of the cowboy West, and more to the point it does so on home territory, amidst the panoramic beauty of Wyoming’s mountains, forests, and lakes.The notion of homosexual love complete with a lariat is nothing new; one only has to refer to “Red River”, “Midnight Cowboy”, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid”, not to mention “The Lone Ranger” and “Tonto”; but whilst these movies and characters did not explore their “shadowy” side, “Brokeback Mountain” most certainly does – and then some. Based on Annie Proulx’s short story in The New Yorker, “Brokeback Mountain” exposes the complexities of human nature, and runs the gamut of emotions from unbridled passion and love, through heartache and bigotry, repression and betrayal. Ang Lee’s insightful direction affects deeply, whilst evoking a fragile melancholy that cutslike a knife.
“Brokeback Mountain” spans a period of twenty years in the telling.It recounts the story of casual ranch hand Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and rodeo cowboy Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) whose paths cross when both are hired for a seasonal job as sheep-herders by Montana rancher Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) on Wyoming’s Brokeback Mountain, in the summer of 1963. What ensues is a tale of forbidden love, set amongst a barren wilderness that provides the perfect canvas for the rawness and intensity of human desire that develops between them. The bond they forge together on an isolated ridge starts normally enough; boozy sessions around the campfire lead Ennis to divulge his lonely upbringing, raised by his brother and sister after his parents died in a car crash. Jack talls of his lifelong estrangement from his bull riding Father. However, the daily grind of herding sheep followed by eating canned beans and slugging back whiskey is soon forsaken for something more risqué. One night on Brokeback, the extreme cold brings the two together in the same tent.Jack makes the first move; Ennis initially recoils, but soon succumbs. Afterwards, he tries to reject any suggestion of homosexuality or romance by muttering “It’s a one shot thing we got going here…I ain’t queer”.When the two get ready to leave Brokeback at the end of the season, Ennis’ parting line to Jack is the almost throwaway “see you around”.Ironically, the “one shot thing” he referred to earlier is anything but, and will ultimately consume both men.In the meantime, they go their separate ways – Ennis marrying his childhood sweetheart and adoring house drudge Alma (Michelle Williams), and Jack marrying Texan rodeo queen Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway).In due course both couples have children, (Ennis two girls, and Jack a boy) and appear to settle down; but in spite of their efforts to conform, a persistant restlessness underlines both marriages, and the men are reunited four years later by a powerful yearning that refuses to go away. Theirs is a love that will not die – even if it dare not speak its name.As Annie Proulx writes: “What Jack remembered and craved in a way he could neither help nor understand was the time that distant summer on Brokeback when Ennis had come up behind him and pulled him close, the silent embrace satisfying some shared and sexless hunger.”
Eventually Jack sends a general delivery postcard to Ennis in Wyoming, telling him that he will be passing through the area, and suggesting that they meet up.Once they set eyes on each other, their suspended feelings explode in a wave of unrestrained passion and desire.(Alma spies their clinch in horror and disbelief; from now on her life becomes one of abject misery.) Overcome by the moment, the two lovers retire to a motel; thus begins a long and tormented affair, as guilt ridden and complex as it is sporadic. Ostensibly to the outside world they are fishing buddies who get together a few times each year.The reunions always take place on Brokeback Mountain, which represents their personal nirvana. Over the years the secret bond between the two is never broken, but whilst their lives are now inextricably linked, they are never fulfilled, and sadly, conflicted.Ennis feels compromised by their situation, whilst a frustrated Jack attempts to move things on; suggesting that they leave their wives and set up a ranch together. In the second half of the film, the relationships between the two men and their families disintegrates before our very eyes.Alma, torn apart by the pain and rejection she felt when her secure world was overturned by Ennis and Jack’s betrayal, has moved on to find solace in the arms of another man.Meanwhile, Jack and Lureen have become increasingly estranged to the point that their marriage is conducted by telephone.Ironically, at the same time, Ennis and Jack’s attempt at recreating their youthful eden on Brokeback Mountain has collapsed.The liberating environment that once fuelled their love affair (whilst at the same time providing a safe haven where it could flourish) has now become suffocating and desperate.
The film has attracted a large degree of attention, mostly (it has to be said) due to the homosexual subject matter. However, it would be dissapointing if one were to view “Brokeback Mountain” merely as a “gay cowboy movie”, as its basic message has a far broader appeal.In any case, if one were to be pedantic (as some have), it should be noted that Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist are wranglers, not cowboys.Wranglers herd sheep; cowboys herd cattle, and ne’er the twain shall meet, according to traditional western folklore. Homosexuality aside, this is a story of true love; its strength and fragility, its meaningfulness, and how it survives in the face of adversity. Both of the lead characters are struggling with their own demons, and for social acceptance in an environment and era that upheld repressive moral standards. At the film’s beginning, the notion of two men loving one another is an alien concept – particularly for Heath Ledger’s character, Ennis.From the outset, he is the reluctant participant; his lack of a formal education and conservative upbringing has chained him to stifling views of love, sex, and commitment.Moreover, an incident from his childhood has come back to haunt him with devastating results; his father had taken him to see the mutilated body of a rancher, beaten to death with a tyre iron for living with another man. The memory has sparked within him fear and shame, and as a consequence, he relentlessly subjects himself to agonising self doubt throughout the affair. Jack on the other hand, wears his heart very much on his sleeve, and is more accepting of his sexuality; he intuitively knows what’s right for him, and is prepared to act on his feelings, although this does leave him horribly exposed and vulnerable; ultimately with the most tragic of consequences.
Annie Proulx’s story works on every level; written in a gritty, down to earth style, it culminates in a totally believable ending which should melt the coldest heart. Apart from refusing to be political, her characters cleverly avoid any stereotyping. Proulx’s men are not fey imitations – they walk the walk, smoke the marlboro’s, and cuss up a blue streak, as good as the next wrangler. Her tale is a universal fable of a beautiful but tragic love affair between two ordinary people in an unforgiving society. The fact that they happen to be of the same gender is a coincidence, although there can be no denying that the theme of homosexual love is the story’s driving force. Likewise, Ang Lee’s masterful direction is one of the film’s greatest strengths. He neatly avoids the trap of turning the proceedings into a “queer movie”, by avoiding any overt references to political correctness, or titillation. His restrained (some have commented frigid) handling of the subject only serves to make it more accessible to a broader audience, whilst generating a stronger empathy, and connection. This is a director who has a consummate grasp of the material he is working with; his delicate and respectful touch brings a heartfelt realism to the piece.
Heath Ledger turns in a tour de force performance and career best to date; he brings an incredible physicality to the role of Ennis, whilst his gruff demeanour and inarticulate mumblings serve to highlight the fact that his character is an emotional retard. Ennis’ naturally quiet temperament and inability to communicate what is really going on in his head brings pain to not only himself, but to everyone around him. Whilst he is a man who doesn’t deny his feelings, ultimately he finds it impossible to accept them, and as a result who he is, or what he really wants. Heath Ledger manages to convey these aspects of Ennis to perfection, and most impressively, often with his tone and looks alone; instantly saying more than words ever could. To the outside world, the laconic Ennis may appear a simpleton, but clearly, the audience knows otherwise; for this is a man of complexity and depth, whose vulnerability is excruciating to watch. The truly sad part is that his inability to accept the danger of a homosexual romance also deprives him of fulfilling his true love with Jack.
Jake Gyllenhaal acts up a storm as the rodeo cowboy Jack Twist. His drooping silver dollar eyes, natural warmth, and talkative manner is the perfect ying to Ennis’ Yang. His love provides Ennis with his strongest anchor to emotional truth.Jack’s reckless optimism is perhaps his most endearing quality, whilst the frustration and pain he endures makes it easy for the audience to connect and empathise with him.Jake Gyllenhaal quite effortlessly makes Jack Twist likable.At the same time, Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway add considerable polish to the proceedings, neatly conveying the frustration of western women, and the misery of their lot. In the original short story their characters are more or less sidelined, but for the film they were developed, with excellent results.Their contribution adds great substance to the dynamics of the plot.Michelle Williams is quite superb as Alma; the simmering fire of knowledge about her husband’s indiscretion may be eating away at her beneath the surface, but it’s all too visible to the naked eye – whilst Anne Hathaway’s feisty Lureen disintegrates into a zombie like shell of her former self as Jack increasingly gives himself over to Ennis.
Argentine musician Gustavo Santaolalla provided the soundtrack to “Brokeback Mountain”. Noted for his remarkable atmospheric pieces on “The Motorcycle Diaries”, his sparse, yet resonant guitar-based compositions add a sublimely poignant mood to the film’s score.Elsewhere, Willie Nelson’s beautifully minimal version of Bob Dylan’s “He Was A Friend Of Mine” tugs at the heartstrings more effectively than any violin, whilst Emmylou Harris imbues “A Love That Will Never Grow Old” with her unmistakable style. The musical soundtrack, along with all other elements of this film, come together as one to create the most perfect of harmonies.
“Brokeback Mountain” won a “Golden Lion” at the Venice film festival in 2005. It cleared up at the BAFTA’s, with Ang Lee collecting “Best Director”, and Jake Gyllenhaal “Best Supporting Actor”. It received a disappointing reception at the Oscars, with only three awards: “Best Director” going once again to Ang Lee, “Best Adapted Screenplay” to Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, and “Best Original Score” to Gustavo Santaolalla. Sadly, Heath Ledger’s outstanding performance was overlooked.” Brokeback’s” failure to sweep the boards at the Oscars forced screenwriter Larry McMurtry to tell reporters backstage that he believed “Crash” won “Best Picture” due to the fact that it was set in Los Angeles, where many of the 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences live. “Americans don’t want cowboys to be gay,” McMurtry said. Ang Lee thanked the normal list of agents, managers and other Hollywood handlers, then added the comment that the fictional characters in his movie had taught audiences “the greatness of love, itself.” Whatever the Academy’s reasons for voting as it did, nobody can deny that Phillip Seymour Hoffman is quite remarkable in “Capote”, just as nobody can deny that Heath Ledger is magnificent in “Brokeback Mountain”.All of those involved in the “Brokeback Mountain” production can be justifiably proud, regardless of whether they won a statuette or not. The film adaption of “Brokeback Mountain”, proved better than the book it was based on. It is an old fashioned, romantic film, made with great care and loving affection; one which asks the audience to walk several hundred miles in its characters shoes before passing any judgements. Its story of forbidden fruit and those who sample it also rewards the viewer with a sumptuous taste, and a rich and rewarding experience that will last long after the final credit has rolled.At the same time, it serves as a stark reminder to us all that we should grab and grasp true love whenever and wherever it rears its head; life is too short, and the world is a big, lonesome prairie.
Directed by Ang Lee; written by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, based on the short story by Annie Proulx
Director of photography: Rodrigo Prieto
Edited by Geraldine Peroni and Dylan Tichenor
Music by Gustavo Santaolalla
Production designer: Judy Becker
Produced by Ms. Ossana and James Schamus
Released by Focus Features, running time: 134 minutes.
WITH: Heath Ledger (Ennis Del Mar)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Jack Twist)
Linda Cardellini (Cassie)
Anna Faris (Lashawn Malone)
Anne Hathaway (Lureen Newsome)
Michelle Williams (Alma)
Randy Quaid (Joe Aguirre)
Kate Mara (Alma Jr.)
HE WAS A FRIEND OF MINE
He was a friend of mine
He was a friend of mine
Every time I think about him now
Lord I just can’t keep from cryin’
‘Cause he was a friend of mine
He died on the road
He died on the road
He never had enough money
To pay his room or board
And he was a friend of mine
I stole away and cried
I stole away and cried
‘Cause I never had too much money
And I never been quite satisfied
And he was a friend of mine
He never done no wrong
He never done no wrong
A thousand miles from home
And he never harmed no one
And he was a friend of mine
He was a friend of mine
He was a friend of mine
Every time I hear his name
Lord I just can’t keep from cryin’
‘Cause he was a friend of mine.
Words & Music Bob Dylan
House Of Retro/Gary Alston makes no claim to the ownership of images shown on this page, images remain the copyright of their respective owner(s).
‘Brokeback Mountain’ ARTICLE ©copyright Gary Alston 2013.
May not be reproduced in any form without prior permission.
In 1959, glamour goddess Lana Turner made a triumphant screen comeback in the Douglas Sirk/Ross Hunter vehicle “Imitation Of Life”.German-born Douglas Sirk ranks as one of cinema’s premiere auteurist heroes.Critics have often tried to dismiss his work as mere tissue fodder – salient and weepy melodramas produced for the women’s market. In fact, there is much to be gleaned from such Sirk/Hunter box office hits as “All That Heaven Allows”,”Written On The Wind”, and “Imitation Of Life”, if one is prepared to look beneath their complex surface. Sirk had been a successful theatre director in
Germany before entering the world of film in the 1930’s.His stage work hadincluded Shakespeare, Shaw, Pirandello, Ibsen, and Brecht. Brecht’s influence on Sirk was considerable; his innovative thoughts about distancing and alienation are readily apparent in “Imitation Of Life”. Sirk chose to work with controver- sial figures in Hollywood, such as Albert Zugsmith on “Written On The Wind”, and gay Hollywood producer Ross Hunter on their classic collaborations “There’s Always Tomorrow”, “Imitation Of Life”, “Magnificent Obsession”, and “All That Heaven Allows”.
“Imitation Of Life”, based on the celebrated novel by Fannie Hurst, had originally been filmed in 1934, directed by John Stahl.It had starred Claudette Colbert in the lead role, with Louise Beavers co-starring. Sirks’ 1959 version took the same theme, but made alterations to the storyline.”Imitation Of Life” is a keenly observed study of friendship, racism, and patriarchal oppression.A classic character piece, it tells the tale of two mothers – one white, one black, who form a lasting bond together, whilst their daughters (also friends) go on to face the trials and tribulations of growing up in a harsh, unfair, and often judgemental society. Lana Turner plays Lora Meredith, the All-American Anglo Saxon single mother, with blonde bombshell looks and a burning ambition to make it to the top as an actress. Her hot-headed daughter Susie (Sandra Dee) is the prom queen sweetheart at odds with her mother’s relentless ambition, whilst harbouring a secret crush for Lora’s beau Steve Archer, played by John Gavin.Into their lives enters impossibly angelic African-American maid Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore) and her troubled half-caste daughter Sara Jane (Susan Kohner) who has a big problem with her own imitation of life.
The movie’s opening titles instantly convey Ross Hunter’s obsession with beauty and glamour, whilst the luxurious shot of diamonds slowly falling into a glass container filling the frame from top to bottom is Sirks’ way of acknowledging the precious and artifical nature of the film itself.As the movie begins, Lora Meredith is frantically searching the beaches of Coney Island for her little Girl Susie.A single mother and an aspiring actress, she is well past the first flush of youth, yet determined to succeed in her quest for greatness as a stage actress.She encounters freelance beach snapper Steve Archer, who helps her to find the child.Susie is soon located, playing with her new friend Sara Jane, watched over by Sara Jane’s mother, Annie Johnson. A relieved Lora strikes up a conversation with Annie, and muses that she wishes she had somebody to look after Susie for her (evidently, she has assumed that Annie is Sara Jane’s nanny; her being coloured, and Sara Jane seemingly white). Annie answers that she would be perfect for the job. Lora is surprised that Annie would consider leaving her current position almost on impulse, until she is told that Sara Jane is in fact Annie’s daughter, and that “My baby goes where I go”.Annie tells Lora that Sara Jane favours her father, who “was almost white”. She also mentions that they have nowhere to stay, and Lora offers them shelter for the night in hers and Susie’s meagre apartment.
The next day, Annie agrees to look after the two children while Lora walks the pavement on and off Broadway, trying to get herself an acting role, and an agent. From this moment on, a friendship develops between the two, and Annie and Sara Jane become a permanent fixture in the Meredith household. Lora appears to be getting nowhere fast in her quest for fame, and after a day spent modelling for a flea powder advertisement, she is visited by Steve Archer, the beach photographer. He has come armed with the pics he took of Susie and Sara Jane at the beach, but he has an ulterior motive – courting Lora. As he flirts with her, complementing her bone structure, he says “My camera could easily have a love affair with you.” Lora is taken with Steve, but always at the forefront of her mind is what he can do for her profess-ionally.Eventually she meets a seedy agent by the name of Albert Loomis (Robert Alda) who feeds on her desire for fame.After putting on an act to talk her way onto his books, her ruse is quicklyuncovered. Alda tries to bed her, whilst suggesting that she prostitute herself for success: “If the dramatist’s club wants to eat and sleep with you, you’ll eat and sleep with them. If some producer with a hand as cold as a toad wants to do a painting of you in the nude, you’ll accommodate him for a very small part.”Lora is disg- usted, telling him that she will not be cheapened, and that she will make it her own way, not via the casting couch.
Sara Jane in the meantime is still in denial of her colour. A distraught Annie learns that she has been passing herself off as white when she visits the child’s school. A horrified Sara Jane dashes from the building, and back at the apartment declares to Lora and her mother “But I am white! I’m as white as Susie!”. Steve Archer has given up photography and found a steady job in advertising; he arrives at the apartment to ask Lora to marry him. However, at that very moment the phone rings. Lora’s agent has instructed her to pick up a script from a big time playwright, with a view to auditioning for him. Steve
tries to prevent her leaving, but she is not prepared to sacrifice her career for holy wedlock, and tells him (in one of the movie’s best lines) that: “I’m going up and up, and nobody’s going to pull me down! Chris- tmas is fast approaching. As Lora rehearses her lines for the audition, Annie tells Susie and Sara Jane the story of the nativity. Still obsessed with the issue of race, Sara Jane asks “Was Jesus white or black?”. As both Lora and Annie try to tactfully explain, Sara Jane replies defensively:“He was like me – white!”Lora’s audition for famed playwright David Edwards (Dan O’Herlihy) goes horribly wrong. In spite of her we- asel like agent’s attempt to instantly disown her, a gutsy Lora challenges Edwards about the scene, and tells him that he is too good a writer to have it included in his play. He admires her spirit, and casts her in the role. On opening night she is a sensation; needless to say, she embarks on a love affair with Edwards, and he begins to write a series of plays specifically for her. As the years fly by, such productions as “Sum- mer Madness”, “Happiness”, and “Born To Laugh” take her to the very top of her profession.
Eventually Lora grows restless with her lot, declaring that something is missing in her life. She decides to take a role by another playwright, which signals the end of her relationship with David Edwards. She throws a chic soiree at her new Frank Lloyd Wright inspired ranch house, to which Steve Archer is invited. He had run into Lora again at the theatre, at the end of one of her performances.To his surprise he discovers that Susie and Sara Jane are no longer littlegirls.They have grown up – Susie has become a junior Doris Day type, while Sara Jane has metamorphosed into a smouldering sexpot. Steve angles to rekindle his affair with Lora. He tells her: “You know I still have you in my blood, don’t you?”. On a countryside picnic they plan their new lives together; Steve promising to give up his ad executive job, and Lora vowing never to do another play. Unfortunately, in a déjà vu scenario, Lora receives a call from her agent to play “the best part since Scarlett O Hara”. Evidently she has not changed one iota in the intervening years.
Meanwhile, Sara Jane has been playing around with fraternity god boyfriend Frankie (Troy Donahue). Unfortunately for her, he has learned that she is coloured.In an especially violent and disturbing scene, he confronts her: “All the kids are talking behind my back! Is it true?” he demands: “are you black?” “No, I’m as white as you!” she screams, as he proceeds to slap and beat the hell out of her, leaving her literally lying in the gutter. The incident fuels Annie’s anguish, and Sara Jane goes further off the rails, leaving the Meredith home to live on the West Coast. With Steve’s help, Annie traces her to Hollywood, and the see- dy bar at which she works. In one last desperate attempt to reach her daughter, Annie visits her there. Sara Jane’s pitiful act and the men’s leering manner sickens her. In the dressing room backstage she begs Sara Jane to come home. Sara Jane refuses, and in an emotionally charged scene, she says a final good- bye to her Mother, begging her to let her go, pleading: “If we should ever pass on the street, please don’t recognise me!”. When the bar manager enters and finds out that Annie is Sara Jane’s Mother, he fires her. She in turn packs her bags, and walks out not only on her job, but on her Mother, too.
Heartbroken, Annie returns home, where she develops a life threatening illness. When Susie asks Steve what they can do to help her, he replies that there is no cure for a broken heart. Susie confesses to Annie that she is in love with Steve, and thereafter is devastated to learn that he and her Mother will finally marry. Annie tells Lora about Susie’s feelings for Steve, who in turn tells Susie that if Steve is going to come between them, she will give him up completely. An exasperated Susie responds, “Oh Mama, stop acting!” On her deathbed Annie asks Lora to put things right with Sara Jane, and to tell her that: “If I loved her too much, I’m sorry. She was all I had.” Lora dissolves into histrionics, and the scene is set for an especially tragic dénouement. Annie’s funeral is an overblown dramatic affair, worthy of Royalty. A cathedral resembling Westminster Abbey is full to capacity, whilst hundreds of flowers surround Annie’s casket. No less than Mahalia Jackson delivers the heart wrenching hymnal ‘Trouble Of The World’. Outside in the street, as a hushed crowd watch a group of pallbearers place Annie’s coffin onto a horse drawn funeral carriage, Sara Jane pushes through the throng, and throws herself on her Mother’s casket. Sobbing hysterically, she cries: “I’m sorry Mama. Mama I did love you.” As Lora rushes to her side, Sara Jane cries in anguish: “Miss Lora, I killed my Mother.” Together with Steve and Susie, Lora and Sara Jane exit by car in the somber funeral procession to the strains of a heavenly choir.
‘Imitation Of Life’ was Sirks’ final American film. In spite of several bad reviews early on, it turned out to be a huge commercial success, and went on to become Universal’s biggest box office money spinner of 1959.For, behind the campy melodramatics, lush scenery, and designer gowns , ‘Imitation Of Life’ was a serious attempt to analyse social consciousness. Under Sirk’s direction, the idiosyncrasies of the film’s characters and the dark side of human nature is exposed in the most unflattering and cynical manner.The plot is an exercise in the pitfalls of materialism, and the pivotal role it plays in the breakdown of the nuclear family; it also examines America’s pre occupation with class and race.Lana Turner’s character Lora Meredith is one of the coldest and strangest protagonists ever to feature in a Hollywood film. Her complete obsession with personal ambition at the expense of all else makes for uncomfortable viewing. In the pursuit of becoming a star she neglects her daughter, (leaving her to be raised by Annie) and spurns the love of Steve – a man who truly loves her, and one who is ready to sacrifice his own career for their happiness; something Lora simply cannot understand. Ambition is her God, and it has made her blind to the really important things in life; she is the embodiment of all that is shallow and meaningless.Lora Meredith is supposed to be a great actress, but more focus is given to her wardrobe than her acting skills. Likewise, Lana Turner found herself conforming to her negative critical reputation as a ‘clothes horse’ – and how. However, in this instance, the clothes were a logical extension of her character Lora’s materialistic nature, and therefore entirely justified as an important prop. Lana wore $1, 000,000 worth of jewels in the movie, and a $78,000 wardrobe courtesy of star designer Jean Louis – 34 costume changes at an average cost of $2,214.13 each.With housewives high on the target audience demographic, it was felt that Lana’s character would enable them to live vicariously through her portrayal of a glamorous, mature, career girl.
The character of Lora Meredith draws on Lana Turner’s own soda-fountain-to-stardom iconography and an M.G.M. tradition for movies about girls who brave the urban wolf trap to become showgirls or models (including the Lana Turner vehicles ‘Ziegfeld Girl’ and ‘A Life Of Her Own’).Although her character begins the movie at a disadvantage, the parallel existence of Annie deprives her of real underdog status, whilst neatly highlighting the issue of racial inequality by direct comparison. Sirk’s decision to make Lora Meredith a successful stage actress created an especially anachronistic air, whilst at the same time making her character harder for the audience to identify with.Given her circumstances, Lora’s deperate quest for fame makes her appear impractical and self indulgent. Interestingly, Sirk takes a neutral view on Lora’s motivations; he neither endorses nor moralises about her behaviour.As the film enters its second half, there is a rhetorical shift. The action moves forward by a decade.Lora, by now the toast of Broadway, has her sights set on a dramatic career in the movies. Although Steve is back in the picture, he is slighted once more by her determination to have a career. He may be a chauvinist by nature, but he is astute enough to realise Lora’s almost sadistic ability to reject personal happiness and fulfillment. In this part of the film, Sirk shoots the characters in such a way as to emphasise the emotional separation that exists between them.Even though Lora’s love for Annie is without question, Sirk is critical of its self centred nature.By now, it is very clear that money does not buy happiness; only a loving relationship can provide that.The viewer is thereby reassured that the woman she has been encouraged to envy and admire in the first half of the film is not so lucky at all; she is therefore able to leave the cinema reconciled to her own domestic situation, integrity intact.
Just as Joan Crawford did in ‘Mildred Pierce’, Lana Turner as Lora finds herself competing with her own daughter for the affections of a man. The deluded Susie believes that Steve Archer is really in love with her, and not her Mother. In this instance the truth is painful for both parties; Susie experiences abject dismay upon discovering that her feelings for Steve will not be reciprocated, while her confession to her Mother about her feelings for him and her unhappy childhood makes Lora realise just how distant and inadequate a parent she has been. This plotline must have stirred up unwelcome memories and associations for Lana Turner. One of the reasons she was cast in ‘Imitation Of life’ was the notorious real life scandal of 1958 when her fifteen year old daughter Cheryl stabbed her Mother’s gangster lover Johnny Stompanato to death, a true life-imitating-art episode.There was some speculation at the time that Cheryl had been part of a ‘lover’s triangle’, and had held an unrequited crush for Stompanato. Several cruel hacks were heard to comment that Lana gave the best performance of her life as herself on the witness stand at Cheryl’s trial.’Imitation Of Life’ itself was a wholly commercial project, and one which was not afraid to exploit its stars for its own benefit.The Lana Turner casting was one such example.Then again, Ross Hunter had ‘pre-sold’ casting with most cast members; Robert Alda as a lecherous agent for the mature spectator, Sandra Dee as Susie for the teenagers, John Gavin for the housewives, and sultry Susan Kohner for the boys.
Of course, Sirks’ trump card in the ‘Imitation Of Life’ plot was its treatment of racism. It was an important movie for him to make precisely for this reason, and because it embodied so many of his key beliefs and aesthetic truths. The film’s rare fascination with white America’s difficulty in relating to people of colour was considered revolutionary at the time of its release.Many see the film as a painful if overblown depiction of racial passing.There is no doubt that Juanita Moore as Annie, and Susan Kohner as Sara Jane, gave the film some of its most powerful and dynamic moments, and earnt them both Academy Award nominations in the process. Sirk thrived on such dramatic scenes; he excelled in explicit directness, such as in the sequence where Frankie (Troy Donahue) beats Sara Jane mercilessly upon learning that she has been passing herself off for white. The action is full on, which not only dramatically intensifies the scene, but more importantly its impact, on the viewer. Annie’s self sacrificing saintliness seems of little purpose or help to her daughter throughout the film; she desperately wants something that money can’t buy – a white skin. Ironically, just as Juanita Moore’s character Annie acts as a Mother substitute for Susie, so Lana Turner’s Lora provides an indirect role model for Sara Jane.As the girls grow up, both begin to rebel against their Mothers.Susie runs away to college in Denver, whilst Sara Jane, humiliated by the Frankie beating incident, escapes to the West Coast to become a chorus girl in a cheap dive.She blames her Mother for ruining her life, which ultimately creates even more tragic implications for her than the issue of her colour.In fact all of the film’s characters make gross assumptions about one another, and feed off deceptive surfaces, always to their detriment. When Annie visits Sara Jane at school (and by so doing revealing her true ethnicity) the schoolteacher exclaims “We didn’t know”. Later, when Annie is in Sara Jane’s dressing room at the seedy club where she is working, a fellow chorus girl enters and immediately assumes that Annie is a maid, instantly issuing a list of demands. Nobody ever questions Sara Jane’s colour, so she doesn’t feel inclined to tell the truth. Naturally Annie is upset at her denial, but this is the moment when she finally realises that she has to let the girl go.Much as it pains her, she understands that she can no longer live her life through Sara Jane.
Sara Jane’s move to distance herself from her racial identity by performing in a dance troupe once more offers a direct comparison between the characters, and the boundaries that separate/constrict/define them. Although the chorus line that Sara Jane finds herself in is an all-white affair, traditionally this is one area of showbusiness that has always been open to coloured people; not so the ‘legitimate’ stage of Lora Meredith’s career. It is darkly ironic that even while passing herself off for white, Sara Jane can only find a lowly, secondary role as a showgirl in an environment that still leaves her desperately searching for the respect and acceptance that she craves. Not for her the glittering opportunities that open up willingly for Lora Meredith. Not for her the classy, subdued colours and décor of Lora’s world; Sara Jane’s nightclub environment is a riot of garish colour and gaudiness; it personifies the stereotypical manner in which blacks were merchandised to thrill-seeking whites. One of the movie’s most tragic and heartbreaking moments occurs when Annie agrees to Sara Jane’s request to no longer see or be seen with her. Effectively she asks Annie to disown her, and it is a measure of the Mother’s deep love for her child when she complies. Grotesque as Sara Jane’s request may be, Annie is quick to understand the opportunities that her daughter’s deceptive skin tone can provide. She may have condemned herself to a life of subjugation because of her own colour, but Sara Jane tries to give herself the chance of a life by casting off the restrictions of that colour, however brutal and misguided her methods may be.
‘Imitation Of Life’ culminates with Annie’s death. Cliches aside, Annie truly does die of a broken heart. Although Lora loves Annie deeply, her self centred nature rears its ugly head once again when she screams about being left alone in the world. It is the perfect example of her inability to face up to, or deal with, her own problems by herself. Playing to the maximum violin factor, Sirk’s camera opens to a shot which includes a background photograph of Sara Jane. Annie’s last wish is for a grand funeral, and Lora is certain to provide it.Annie’s death forces Sara Jane to acknowledge her Mother at long last, and to realise the terrible cost she has paid for her own imitation of life. Emotionally distraught, she collapses in a scene worthy of a Greek tragedy. With the grand cathedral style setting, magnificent floral arrangements, and packed congregation, Annie is accorded a status she never received in life. In a telling inversion, Lora, Susie, and Sara Jane, (who so desperately fought to be white) are reunited in a black limousine, all made equal by the black of mourning and bereavement.
The underlying message of ‘Imitation Of Life’ is that if you cannot live your life for who and what you are and be proud of the fact, then you are doomed to heartache and a miserable existence; ‘existence’ being the key word, here. The film’s characters are all searching frantically for the one thing that they feel will transform their lives and bestow happiness, when in actual fact it is already within their grasp. The things that they desire are, for the most part, of little value or importance. Lora wants nothing more than to be a star, but when she finally achieves her goal, she is left empty and unfulfilled, and has damaged her loved ones lives into the bargain. Annie only wanted a big funeral to bestow her with the importance that she never received in life. But what good has it done her when she is dead and unable to enjoy the accolade? Sara Jane yearns to be white, because she believes that she can live a better life as a white person. If she had only stood back and observed the white people around her, she would have realised that things were not that simple. Susie thinks that she is in love with Steve Archer, but when he rejects her, she decides to run away from her past. Like mother, like daughter. All of these characters are governed and manipulated by their social reality, but are unable to see it. They do not truly understand who they are and what they really want, and this in turn makes them blind to the needs of each other, and to those around them. A clear example of this is demonstrated in Lora and Annie’s relationship. Although Annie has lived with Lora for ten years, Lora knows little about her. She is surprised when Annie tells her one day that she has many friends and interests.Lora’s problems are the worries of the comfortably off, borrowed from the overblown Hollywood melodramas of the 1940’s.In short, they are as insubstantial as the lifestyle she has chosen to lead. They are certainly not as profound or as consequential as those of Annie and Sara Jane, who are fighting for survival and identity. Their problems are racial, social, open-ended, and on a grand scale which could never be resolved within the boundaries of a woman’s picture. Douglas Sirk uses convention in the film to cleverly highlight the need for a bigger more ideological world view on the racial problem. He said of ‘Imitation Of Life’ that he would have made the picture for the title alone.
By the time ‘Imitation Of Life’ was released in 1959, the women’s picture had been in decline for many years.However, Ross Hunter came along and not only reinvented the genre, but made it his own. In the South, Universal booked ’Imitation Of Life’ into white and negro cinemas alike to unheard of audiences. It was also shown to racially mixed audiences in big city movie theatres like the ‘Roxy’ in New York. At the time, Pittsburgh newspapers declined ads with the catch-line “I’m going to pass for white”. Interestingly, in the late 1960’s when coloured people were included in demographic research into cinema audiences for the first time, the industry was amazed to find out that 30% of audiences were in fact black – higher than anyone ever suspected. As the ‘Jim Crow’ circuit disappeared in the racial upheaval of that time, white people deserted downtown theatres, leaving the remaining large ones to blacks. In 1959 the race riots were a world away. Sirks’ ‘Imitation Of Life’ was a brave and admirable attempt to draw attention to a difficult subject that would have a major cultural and political affect on the American nation in the decade that followed. It was a plea for understanding and tolerance, albeit dressed up in Hollywood finery. It is also one of the most important films ever to have been released about post war America – something the audiences of the day evidently realised long before the critics ever did.
What is life, without forgiving?
Without love, we’re merely living
An imitation, an imitation of life
Skies above, in flaming colour
Without love, they’re so much duller
A false creation, an imitation of life
Would the song of the lark sound just as sweet?
Would the moon be as bright above?
Everyday would be grey and incomplete
Without the one you love…
Lips that kiss, can tell you clearly
Without this, our lives are merely
An imitation, an imitation of life
Lora Meredith………………………….Lana Turner
Annie Johnson……………………….. Juanita Moore
Steve Archer…………………………..John Gavin
Susie Meredith………………………..Sandra Dee
Sara Jane Johnson…………………….Susan Kohner
David Edwards………………………..Dan O’Herlihy
IMAGES ©copyright 1959 UNIVERSAL PICTURES
*IMITATION OF LIFE” : Text ©copyright 2013 Gary Alston
House Of Retro/Gary Alston make no claims to the ownership of images appearing on this page.
The immensely-talented André Courrèges was one of a French Haute Couture triumvirate (the other members being Paco Rabanne & Pierre Cardin) whose innovation and individual style helped to define a whole new era of fashion during the 1960’s.He was born in March 1923 in Pau, the Basque region of France. After studying to become a civil engineer (at his father’s request) and working as a pilot in the French Air Force, at the age of 25, he changed his vocation to a career in fashion, which lead him to Paris and a place at the Chambre Syndicale school. Courrèges followed this schooling with a period working for the Jeanne Lafaurie fashion design house before ultimately training under the legendary Spanish couturier Balenciaga from 1950 to 1961.Like Courrèges, Balenciaga was a man way ahead of his time who happened to excell at innovative tailoring; his garments were literally sculpted to his client’s body and it was from him that Courrèges learnt a highly disciplined yet completely revolutionary approach to design which would serve him well and heavily influence/feature in his own, future collections (pun not intended!).In 1961 Courrèges set up his own house on the eve of the great youth revolution or “youthquake” of the 1960s, which would not only radically alter the direction of womenswear , but also, more profoundly, their “perceived” roles in society, forever.Courrèges was a “man of the times”, but more importantly, he was a visionary, who “seized the moment” he found himself in; he used his fascination with the youth movement and his obsession with the headline-grabbing “Space-Race” craze of that period (soon to become a reality – man would land on the Moon in 1969 for the first time!) as his motivation, inspiration and muse, in the process creating his outstanding “Moon Girl” collection of 1964, which (when shown to an incredulous and captivated fashionista crowd ) caused an over-night sensation.At the core of Courrèges’ “Space-Age” collection were high-fashion, geometric-shaped, tailored garments, which were almost architecturally-sculpted, such was the precision in their design, thought and execution. Using a futuristic colour palette of white and silver, complemented by trims in vivid shades of pink, orange, green and navy, he introduced an unsuspecting fashion-press (and subsequently the world!) to the now-legendary “mini” skirt and dress, worn with/under beautifully tailored, double-breasted coats with drop waists, highly-detailed, welt seaming and contrasting trim, along with cutting-edge accessories such as oversized, white, tennis-ball sunglasses, goggles with narrow eye slits and helmet-shaped hats. The dresses were built from geometric shapes such as squares, trapezoids and triangles, forsaking the traditional “flowing” principles of womens fashion; “built” is the key word here – it has been said that Courrèges built dresses as opposed to designing them.In addition, Courrèges was just as extreme/revolutionary in his choice of/approach to fabrics, constantly using PVC in his work in everything from footwear to eyewear. The designer’s intention was to startle, provoke and change the “status quo”; as he remarked at the time to “Life” magazine: “Women of today are archaic in their appearance, I want to help them coincide with their time”.To say that Courrèges was successful in his intentions is an understatement – his work succeeded to great acclaim and international success; for a short while he became the King Of Paris Fashion, whose mini skirts were shorter than anyone elses and whose style was as sharp as his sheers.From his studio on the Avenue Kléber and his “White Salon”, Courrèges dressed luminaries from the Duchess of Windsor to Jacqueline Kennedy, Lee Radziwill, and Jane Holzer.Probably the most iconic and famous creation to emerge from this era (after the legendary mini-skirt) was the famous “Courrèges “Go-Go” Boot” – originally designed and presented in 1963, it featured a mid-calf length design, with square, peep-hole toes and bows, all fashioned from a beautifully soft kid-leather.In 1965 Courrèges launched his first official couture collection under the “Prototypes” label, which was followed by his deluxe made-to-order custom line “Couture Future” in 1967; in 1971 the “Hyperbole” range was created as a ready-to-wear alternative for the younger market.Today, the Courrèges “Space-Age” look appears to be forever-entwined with sixties legend and an outdated, somewhat naive, child-like idealism; that said, the designer still has the power to influence, inspire and STIMULATE fashion aficionados well into the 21st century and beyond, for it is his SPIRIT, apart from his legend and creativity, which is TIMELESS.
House Of Retro/Gary Alston makes no claim to the ownership of images shown on this page; copyright remains with the respective owner(s).
Text ©copyright 2013 Gary Alston
Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary “Psycho” (1960) is a cinematic masterpiece.The film’s macabre and perverse storyline, accompanied by its graphic depiction of sexuality and violence, provided a cultural breakthrough in the world of mainstream cinema at the start of the 1960’s.It represented a new mood in Hollywood; the studio system had finally collapsed, and censorship laws were weakening. “Psycho” brought previously taboo subjects to the forefront of peoples attention. Aimed at a new, younger generation of moviegoers, it heralded the introduction of the “formula thriller”, and provided a new benchmark for standards of censorship. Although a burgeoning youth market welcomed the filmwith open arms, older audiences rejected its radical new style, and it was initially met with anger and criticism from many quarters. In “Psycho”, Hitchcock re-examined the familiar themes which characterise his work -including guilt, voyeurism, Oedipal complexes, and misogyny, but in such a brilliant and innovative manner, that he reinvented himself in the process.
“Psycho” is based on the pulp novel by Robert Bloch. It revolves around the characters Of Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) and her boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin). The movie begins in Phoenix, Arizona, with the two enjoying a Friday afternoon tryst in a seedy hotel room. Marion is unhappy; whilst she wants to be with Sam, she feels cheapened by the manner of their affair, and wants him to marry her. He explains that it is financially impossible for him to do so, as he is currently living in the back of a store in Fairvale, California, and trying to clear his father’s unpaid debts, whilst also making alimony payments to his wife.He has been flying down to Phoenix for his romantic interludes with Marion, and makes it clear to her that until his finances improve, marriage is not an option. Marion returns to the real estate office where she works to find a rich client Tom Cassidy (Frank Albertson) leaving $40,000 in cash with her boss George Lowery (Vaughn Taylor) as payment for a house which is part of his daughter’s wedding dowry. A gloating Cassidy flirts with Marion, (who at that moment feels painfully deprived) whilst dangling the notes before her in a tantalising, yet vulgar, manner.
Lowery is uncomfortable with such a vast amount of money being left in the office, so he asks Marion to deposit it in the bank for the weekend. Acting on impulse, Marion feigns a headache, and asks him if she may go home after depositing the money. Instead, she packs and leaves town with the cash bundle in her purse. She sees it as the solution to hers and Sam’s problems, and their passport to marital bliss. As Marion leaves Phoenix in her car, she is spotted by Lowery and Tom Cassidy, as they cross the street in front of her. Instinctively she smiles in recognition, whilst Lowery casts her a puzzled and concerned look. Marion’s face drops as she realises she has been caught out. Hitchcock begins to build his trademark tension from this point on, aided by Bernard Hermann’s jarring, slashing, music. With a guilty conscience she drives on, and her thoughts become irrational. Suspecting that she is being followed, and that everybody knows that she has just committed a crime, she repeatedly checks her rear-view mirror. As dusk turns to night, the glaring headlights of the oncoming cars seem to seek and search her out, spotlighting her wrongdoing.
For this reason she decides to trade her car in for another, once she has crossed the state line into California; but not before she is stopped and questioned by a suspicious police officer, who finds her asleep in her car on the roadside. He follows her to a garage, where she uses some of the stolen money and her car for a trade-in on a new model. Miraculously, the policeman doesn’t detain her, and she drives off. As night falls, she finds herself driving in pouring rain, and, missing a turnoff, ends up on a nearly deserted road. Just as tiredness is getting the better of her and she feels she can go no further, she suddenly notices a sign for the Bates Motel. As she pulls in, she spies a figure in the upstairs window of the house at the back of the motel. After honking her car horn, she is met by the motel’s owner, an obliging (if odd) young man by the name of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins).
Norman explains to Marion that his motel receives few visitors due to a new freeway, which unfortunately has bypassed the road it is on. He says that he keeps the motel open to give him a break from caring for his invalid mother. He offers to share supper with Marion and she agrees, but as she settles into her room, she is shocked to hear a verbal fight occur between Norman and his mother up at the house, through her open window.In a shrieking voice and disturbing fashion, Norman’s mother rages that she will not entertain Marion at the house.She tells Norman that he disgusts her, whilst accusing him of having a “cheap, erotic mind”. He returns to the motel with some sandwiches and milk, and sheepishly suggests that Marion and he dine in the office parlour, which is decorated with examples of his hobby of taxidermy. Birds are his favourite subject; they adorn the walls in a gaudily menacing display. From their conversation, Marion concludes that Norman is overly controlled by his mother, and gently suggests that he try to build a life of his own, and seek outside help for her. This is met with an aggressive outburst, much to her shock and discomfort. As the conversation draws to an end, she realises that she must return to Phoenix, and make amends for her crime.
Marion retires for the night, and is unaware as she strips to take a shower that Norman is watching her from a peephole in the parlour wall. It is evident from his actions that he is a seasoned voyeur. What follows is the “infamous” shower scene, and one of the most iconic moments in cinema history. Marion is stabbed to death in a violent frenzy by a female figure who is only seen in silhouette. Minutes later there are dramatic cries from Norman at the house, who screams: “MOTHER! OH GOD, MOTHER! BLOOD!”. Racing to the motel, he is horrified and sickened to find Marion’s corpse in the bathroom; moments later he is eerily calm, and methodically sets about cleaning up the scene of the murder; disposing of Marion’s body, her car, her belongings, and the money, in the swamp behind the Bates property. Thus the stage is set for the rest of the film. Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles) travels to Fairvale to confront Sam. She believes that Marion may be hiding out there with him, and demands an explanation.
As they talk, a private detective named Milton Aborgast (Martin Balsam) arrives, and interrupts their conversation. He has been hired by Tom Cassidy to retrieve the stolen money, and has followed Lila in the hope that she will lead him to Marion. However, Sam explains to both of them that he doesn’t know where Marion is, and that he knows nothing about the theft. Aborgast comes up with a lead that traces Marion to the Bates motel, and calls Sam and Lila to tell them that he will be following it up.Subse- quently he meets with Norman, and quickly suspects that he is hiding something. After checking the motel’s register, he finds Marion signed in under an alias – (he matches her handwriting to a sample he has been given).Norman becomes jumpy when Aborgast asks if he is hiding Marion in the house.He explains that he saw a figure at the window of the house when he pulled in to the motel. Norman replies that it is his sick mother, who is unable to receive visitors. When Aborgast pushes the point, Norman asks him to leave.
Aborgast’s suspicions proves fatal when he returns later, to the motel. Entering the Bates house, he climbs the stairs to locate Norman’s mother. As he reaches the top, a female figure dashes from an adjacent doorway, and stabs the stunned private eye to death, in a violent knife attack.When Aborgast fails to return, Lila and Sam assume that he must have discovered some important information, and decide that it is time to go to the law. The local sheriff is not convinced that Norman knows anything about Marion’s disappearance. He also explains that Norman’s mother died ten years previously, in a gruesome murder. The couple are left with no other option than to return to the Bates motel themselves.Masquerading as a married couple, they sign in at the motel; whilst Sam distracts Norman in the office, Lila makes her way up to the house to talk with his mother. Sam confronts Norman with Marion’s disappearance, and at the same time tries to force him into admitting that he has stolen Marion’s money. As the argument escalates, Norman suddenly realises that Lila is conspicuously absent; he grapples with Sam, and knocks him unconscious. Lila spies Norman running up to the house, and rushes to hide in the cellar, only to find the semi preserved corpse of Mrs. Bates positioned in a rocking chair. At that moment, the killer is revealed.Norman Bates, cross-dressed in his mother’s clothing, complete with wig, darts forward brandishing a butcher’s knife. As Lila screams, Sam appears and disarms him.
The film concludes in the local police station. There, a forensic psychiatrist named Fred Richmond (Simon Oakland) explains to Lila, Sam, and the police, Norman Bates’ psychosis.As he tells it: although dead, Norman’s mother lives on in his troubled psyche.Whilst she was alive, he was dominated and ruled by her; then when another man came into her life and she looked set to remarry, a jealous Norman killed them both. Guilt-ridden by his crimes, he mentally blocked out the murders by trying to bring his mother back to life. He accomplished this by exhuming her corpse, and using his taxidermy skills to preserve what was left of it. In addition, he took on his mother’s persona by allocating half his mind to her. That meant talking, acting, and dressing as she did, in order to make her presence appear real, and thus erasing her absence. Norman was pathologically jealous of his mother, and assumed that she felt the same way about him. This is the explanation for Marion’s murder. The Norman persona believes that his mother is very much alive, and he has no knowledge of the murders “she” has committed. In the final scene of the film, he sits silently in his cell, whilst the persona of his mother has finally taken over his mind completely.
Filmed on a low budget of $800,000, and utilising members of Hitchcock’s television series crew, “Psycho” was originally intended as a cheap “B” movie feature; instead, it turned out to be a brilliantly edited, powerful and complex psychological thriller that remains unsurpassed to this day. It has been suggested that it formed the archetypal basis for all horror movies that followed its 1960 release; especially those of the “slasher” genre. Movies such as “Homicidal” (1961), “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974), “Halloween” (1978), “Motel Hell” (1980), and “Dressed To Kill” (1980) all tried to emulate Hitchcock’s style, yet with inferior results. “Psycho” was Hitchcock’s first horror movie, and unfortunately for ever after he was labelled as a “horror film” director, which is simply not the case.In fact, at the time of its release, it was the most un-Hitchcockian movie of all. There are several reasons for the success and longevity of “Psycho”, not least its universality. In “Psycho”, Hitchcock involves the audience directly; he allows them to become a subjective character within the storyline in order to enhance the film’s psychological effects and impact. The audience are forced to recognise their own neurosis and psychological flaws as they identify with the contrasting personalities of the film’s main characters; their motivations and actions, and the consequences thereof.Via his characters, and with the active participation of his audience, Hitchcock is able to graphically convey the unending subconscious battle between good and evil that exists in everyone. He skilfully manipulates the audience’s emotions; first by encouraging them to identify with the main character – luckless and lovelorn victim Marion Crane, and then the murderer – crazed and troubled taxidermist Norman Bates. At the same time, his masterful technique voyeuristically implicates the audience with the dark side of human nature and vulnerability, as they witness at first hand the nightmare of corruption, confused identities, victimisation, and Oedipal murder that unfolds before them.
The movie screenplay for “Psycho” was written by Joseph Stefano, and adapted from Robert Bloch’s novel.In turn, Bloch’s story was based on the real life Plainsville psychotic serial killer Edward Gein. In 1957, Bloch was living in Weyauwega, Wisconsin – close to Gein’s stalking grounds. At the time, Bloch became fascinated with the idea that a seemingly normal law abiding citizen (but posessed of dangerous psychotic tendencies) could live undetected, within the microcosm of a small-town, gossip mongering community.Bloch commented that it was not until many years later that he realised how closely the character he had created in Norman Bates resembled Gein, “both in overt act and apparent motivation”. Gein’s crimes were so bizarre and grisly that many news outlets of the day refused to give a full report of the atrocities he committed. Interestingly, Bloch’s vision of Norman Bates is a fat, balding, middle-aged voyeur, modelled on writer and magazine publisher Calvin Thomas Beck. Stefano reworked him into a handsome, young man, to make the character more sympathetic. Anthony Perkins turned in a superlative performance as Norman, which is as chilling as it is memorable. His rakish frame, childlike voice, jittery, nervous mannerisms, and cowardly manner belie the true nature of his tortured, psychotic mind; making the inevitable revelation of his true character especially shocking. Unfortunatley, for the rest of his acting life Perkins would be typecast as Norman Bates, and the whole trajectory of his career changed as a result. After a decade or so of refusing to talk about the part, he finally came to terms with the situation, and returned to play the role of Norman in three “Psycho” sequels, none of which held a candle to the original.
The stark black and white photography in “Psycho” brilliantly conveyed the mood of the story. It was the work of John L. Russell, a regular from Hitchcock’s television series. His stunning cinematography expertly captured the brooding shadows and eerie menace that gave the film its unique look. One of his most memorable scenes occurs when Marion reaches her final destination on a dark, rainy, night. As the wipers clear the rain from her car windscreen, the infamous neon sign “Bates Motel – Vacancy” appears, and a masterful celluloid moment enters the realm of movie legend. Russell also handles the murder scenes in the most striking fashion, aided by Bernard Herrmann’s score. His use of violins in the notorious shower sequence is sheer genius; the masterful composition conveying the sense of a knife eagerly ripping apart human flesh. This theme is also present in the film’s opening moments, when the titles (superbly designed by Saul Bass) are slashed away. Marion Crane being hacked to death in the shower is probably the single most powerful moment from “Psycho”, and certainly the one that people most recall; including those who have never seen the film. Herrmann’s striking and discordant music vividly denotes the presence of a psychopath. Although blood (chocolate sauce) and a knife is shown, the full horror of the murder is only hinted at on-screen, leaving the rest to the viewer’s (by now) fertile imagination. In Bloch’s novel, Marion is actually decapitated; this however does not detract from the power of the movie version. Indeed, it induced a wide spread shower phobia for a long while after amongst impressionable people, who preferred to take a bath instead. One such person was Janet Leigh herself – she never took a shower again after making the film!
The true genius of “Psycho” can be found not in its story, but in its construction.Hitchcock and Stefano developed the script in such a way that it consistently flouted expectations, thereby keeping the audience guessing, and on the edge of their seats – sometimes quite literally. There is no foreshadowing in the film; the audience, like the characters themselves, have no idea of where the danger is coming from. The two major surprises occur with the shower murder and the final revelation about Norman’s mother.The uninitiated viewer who is seeing the film for the first time with no knowledge of the plot, will experience the maximum impact that these two elements provide.At the start of “Psycho”, the screenplay leads people to assume that Janet Leigh’s character Marion is the main focus; her death early on in the story is therefore quite a shock; then when the plot changes to Norman’s perspective, the audience are left baffled – and intrigued. This is exactly the affect that Hitchcock and Stefano intended. In fact, when the film was first released in June 1960, Hitchcock was so concerned that these crucial aspects were kept secret before viewing, that he ordered there should be no advance screenings – enlisting special security guards to ensure that no one was admitted after the feature had started. “Psycho” was the first major Hollywood movie to feature a woman dressed only in her underwear, the first to feature toilet bowls and flushing water, the first to use the word “transvestite”, and, most original of all, the first to kill its lead character off a third of the way through the film. These points may seem of little consequence in today’s jaded, seen-it-all-before society, but one has to view them in the context of the era in which the film was originally released. The fact that Marion Crane was killed at all made “Psycho” the scariest movie ever, at that point in time. Audiences were simply not used to seeing an attractive young woman being violated in such a gruesome fashion.
Some film historians have claimed that Hitchcock had originally intended on shooting “Psycho” in colour, or, more interestingly, film everything in black and white, apart from the shower scene; then shock the audience with a technicolour bloodbath. Fortunately, the right decision was taken. The black and white medium lent a surreal and stylish quality that completely fitted the tone of the film. Even more controversial is the proposition that Saul Bass (the gifted artist who designed the opening credits and frequently contributed to Hitchcock’s films) directed the much lauded shower sequence himself.Although Bass meticulously storyboarded the 90 second shower scene, it is accepted by most people that it WAS Hitchcock who directed it.He composed each scene with painstaking care and attention to detail. When “Psycho” was released in June 1960, it was a huge hit where it counted; with the young. There were reports at the time of three mile long tailbacks at drive-in entrances. For over forty years, its influence has not waned. In 1998, Gus Van Sant committed sacrilege; he did a rather pointless frame by frame remake, which only served to promote interest in the original. John Carpenter’s “Halloween” is justifiably considered to be the father Of the modern “slasher” movie, but it is worth pointing out that he did not Invent this brand of terror; he reinvented the genre by paying homage to Hitchcock and “Psycho”. Robert Bloch benefited hugely from the success of “Psycho”. He became a major horror screenwriter throughout the 1960’s and beyond, scripting such horror films and chillers as “The Cabinet of Caligari” (1962), “Strait Jacket” (1964), “The Night Walker” (1964), “The Skull” (1965), “The Psychopath” (1966), “The Deadly Bees” (1967), “The Torture Garden” (1967), “The House That Dripped Blood” (1971), “Asylum” (1972), the short feature “Mannikin” (1977), and “The Amazing Captain Nemo”.
One of the major questions that “Psycho” poses is the importance of fate. Are we responsible for the directions our lives take? Is it inevitable that certain actions will provoke a reaction? Hitchcock certainly believed so, and used “Psycho” to make the point. The message seems to be that one can go through life as an upstanding member of the community, yet one wrong move, one indiscretion or moment of weakness, and you will come to a horrific end. Marion’s spur of the moment impulse, and loss of reason and propriety when she absconded with the cash not only sealed her fate, (in the most ghastly manner) but others , too.It is easy to forget this after the graphic depiction and sensational aspect of her murder. “Psycho” is also about movement, agitation, and anxiety. Marion on the run, driving her car, Sam Loomis and Lila Crane, Milton Aborgast. Even Norman Bates seems to continuously pace the motel and large mansion on the hilltop.When Marion is finally murdered, her immobility is as much a shock as the manner of her murder.For a neo second, everything freeezes; the lifeless close up of Marion’s face on the bathroom floor whilst the shower continues to rain down on her from overhead, is one of the movie’s most haunting and affecting images.
Although “Psycho” may not be Hitchcock’s greatest film (that subjective distinction belongs perhaps to “Vertigo” or “Rear Window”), it is the one for which he is universally remembered.Clearly the film is horrific, but it also contains all the elements of a very dark, black comedy; something the critics did not pick up on at the time of its release.One person who DID was Mel Brooks; he parodied several scenes from Hitchcock’s films (including “Psycho”) in his 1978 comedy “High Anxiety”. “Psycho” represented a shift from the “Classical” style of film making to the “Post-Classical”. Its unconventional storyline, stylised photography, and editing, show the influences on Hitchcock of the French “New Wave” movement and the European “Art Films” , both of which he greatly admired. The shower scene sequence, with its startling editing techniques, was borrowed from the Soviet “Montage” filmmakers. Interestingly, the film was not given a rating until 1968, when an early version of the MPAA rated it “M”, for mature audiences only. When it was re-released in 1984, it was given an “R” rating. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Janet Leigh (Best supporting actress), Alfred Hitchcock (Best Director), Best black and white cinematography, and Best black and white art direction/Set direction. Unfortunately, all of the contenders lost out. With the benefit of hindsight, it is perhaps not surprising; the Academy wasn’t ready in 1960 for a movie which not only featured the murder of a young female, but touched on incest and necrophilia, too. It is astonishing that Hitchcock never picked up an Academy award during his career; “Psycho” was the last of his five nominations. Academy Award or not, “Psycho” has been acclaimed as one of the most effective horror films ever made, and the legacy it has left is priceless.So priceless in fact, that it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, and deemed “Culturally significant” by the United States Library Of Congress. Moreover, it has had the most far reaching affect of any movie to come out of Hollywood; PERIOD. Hitchcock would have felt deeply honoured, had he known this. He created a stunning piece of cinema (in every sense) which still retains the ability to shock and entertain, be controversial, and stimulate discussion; it will live on in people’s minds forever.
Psycho was the first film to kill off a main character halfway through the story.This unprecedented move added to its uniqueness, and kept the audience guessing.
Norman Bates is thought to have been modelled on magazine publisher Calvin Thomas Beck – a world away in physical looks from Anthony Perkins’ Norman.
“Psycho” was the first film to show a toilet being flushed onscreen.
The notorious shower scene is considered to be one of the most frightening in the history of cinema, even though there is little visible gore. A large part of the impact came from Bernard Herrmann’s excellent soundtrack.His piece for this sequence was called, rather appropriately, “The Murder”.
A frame by frame analysis of the shower scene shows that the knife visibly penetrates the skin by a fraction of an inch, albeit briefly (about three frames of film, or an eighth of a second.)
Bosco chocolate sauce was used for the stage blood on film. The sound effect of the knife entering flesh was provided by Hitchcock himself, as he repeatedly thrust a knife into a casaba melon.
Hitchcock makes his customary movie appearance in “Psycho”, (as in his other films) standing outside the office window when Janet Leigh enters. Anthony Perkins did not appear in the shower scene.He was in New York, preparing for a stage play.
The voice of Norman Bates’ mother was provided by radio actress Virginia Gregg.
Hitchcock financed the making of “Psycho” himself, whilst Paramount agreed to distribute it.When the film became a huge hit, Hitchcock took home the lion’s share of the profits.
To test the scare factor of the mother’s corpse prop, Hitchcock installed it in Janet Leigh’s dressing room, then waited to hear how loud she screamed.
Plain looking Patricia Hitchcock, (Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter) played Marion’s co worker at the office.A reference is made to her dowdiness in the sript: when Ted Cassidy fails to flirt with her, she comments that he must have seen her wedding ring.
“Psycho” was #1 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years, 100 Thrills list, and is continuously in the top 25 of the IMDB chart.
In “Psycho” Hitchcock’s gimmicky device termed a “MacGuffin” was the stolen $40,000 from the realtor’s office.(A MacGuffin refers to the thing or device that motivates the characters or propels the plot and action).Marion Crane herself becomes a secondary Macguffin.
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THE “PSYCHO!” FILE : Text ©copyright 2013 Gary Alston
House Of Retro/Gary Alston make no claims to the ownership of images appearing on this page.
On Thanksgiving day 26th November 1942, a cinematic legend was born. On that date the immortal Humphrey Bogart movie ’Casablanca’ received its world premiere at the Hollywood Theater in New York City .It was a particularly auspicous occasion, for the film’s premiere occured just eighteen days after the allied invasion of North Africa, and the capture of Casablanca itself.Film makers Warners Brothers must have been elated, for this was the kind of publicity that money simply could not buy. When the movie went on general release on January 23rd 1943, it also took advantage of the ‘Casablanca Conference’ (attended by President Roosevelt and British Prime minister Winston Churchill) in New York City. Seldom do I use the adjective ‘awesome’ in my writing, but in this case it seems an entirely appropriate description for a movie which has infused our culture like no other has done before or since.The accolades which ‘Casablanca’ has received over the years are as prestigious as they have been considerable; in 1989 the movie was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, and in 1999 it was named as the second GREATEST AMERICAN FILM ever made by the American Film Institute (‘Citizen Kane’ came top). In 2005 ‘Casablanca’ was named one of the 100 greatest films of the last eighty years by ‘Time’, and in 2006 the Writers Guild Of America voted the movie’s screenplay as the BEST of all time in its list of ‘101 Greatest Screenplays’. The film was nominated for eight Oscars and won three.It made stars out of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, whilst its script contained lines that have become a part of our cultural lexicon. But perhaps the film’s biggest achievement is the enduring charm and spell it has cast over the public consciousness for the past 64 years.
‘Casablanca’ was based on the (then) unproduced play ‘Everybody Comes To Rick’s’ written by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison.A story editor named Irene Diamond persuaded Producer Hal Wallis to buy the film rights for Warner Brothers at a cost of $20,000.Subsequently the title was changed to ‘Casablanca’ for the movie, and shooting began on May 25th 1942, and was finished on August 3rd. Humphrey Bogart starred as Rick Blaine, an American expatriate who runs an upmarket club and gambling den in the Moroccan city of Casablanca called ‘Rick’s Café Américain’. Since the war began, Casablanca has become a hotbed for political intrigue and shadey individuals.The city is rife with Vichy French, Nazis, refugees from the war and thieves, all of whom patronise Rick’s establishment. Although Rick is a bitter and cynical man (for reasons that will soon become apparent) who claims neutrality in terms of the war, he clearly dislikes his facist customers (later on we learn that he had supplied arms to the government of Haile Selassie 1st of Ethiopia to combat the 1935 Italian invasion, and that he fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War). The movie’s plot takes off when a petty crook named Guillermo Ugarte (Peter Lorre) arrives at Rick’s with ‘letters of transit’ which he has obtained by killing two German couriers.These papers allow the bearer unrestricted passage throughout German controlled Europe, including to the neutral city of Lisbon in Portugal, from where it is possible to travel to the United States.As such the papers are priceless, and with a never-ending que of refugees stranded and desperate to get out of Casblanca, he plans to sell them on to the highest bidder – who he is due to meet at Rick’s club later that evening.Ugarte leaves the letters with Rick for safekeeping, but before the exchange can take place, he is arrested by the Vichy police headed by Rick’s friend Captain Renault (Claude Rains), a corrupt official who caters to the Germans.
Enter the source of Rick’s bitterness – his ex-lover Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) a reknowned Czech freedom fighter who has escaped from a Nazi concentration camp.With a high bounty on his head, Laszlo has come to Rick’s to purchase the papers from Ugarte so that he can flea to America with Ilsa and continue his work. It transpires that when Ilsa first met and fell in love with Rick in Paris, she believed that Victor had been killed whilst in captivity.When she learns that he is still alive, she leaves Rick abruptly and without explanation just as Paris falls and they are all bidding a hasty retreat. After her frosty re-union with Rick at the club, Ilsa returns after hours to try and explain what had happened, but he is too drunk and too bitter to listen. Laszlo suspects that Rick has the letters of transit in his posession, and approaches him at the club about obtaining them.Their conversation is interrupted by a noisy group of German officers headed by Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) who launch into a rambunctious version of ‘Die Wacht am Rhein’. With Rick’s permission, a furious Laszlo orders the house band to play ‘La Marseillaise’ in reply. The crowd join Laszlo’s singing with an unprecedented patriotic fervour, drowning out the Germans in the process. As a result, Strasser orders Renault to close the club.Later that evening Ilsa confronts Rick at the deserted club, and begs him to give her the letters of transit.He refuses, even when she pulls a gun on him.Unable to shoot, she confesses to Rick that she still loves him.Rick declares that he will help Laszlo to escape, leading Ilsa to believe that she will remain with him in Casablanca when Laszlo leaves.
In the meantime, Strasser has his eye on detaining Laszlo, as he considers him too dangerous as a free man. He arranges with Renault to have Laszlo jailed on a minor charge, but Rick intervenes and persuades Renault to release him – promising to set him up for the far more serious crime: possession of the letters of transit. Rick in fact double crosses Renault, and forces him at gunpoint to help with Ilsa and Laszlo’s escape.At the very last minute, and in the most poignant scene of the movie, Rick makes Ilsa get on the plane with Laszlo, telling her that if she doesn’t go with him she will regret it : “Maybe not today.Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.” He also tells her: “We’ll always have Paris.” Just as the plane is due to take off, Major Strasser drives up, but he is shot by Rick when he tries to prevent the escape.As the police arrive, Renault saves Rick’s life by telling them to “Round up the usual suspects.”Renault then suggests that he and Rick should both leave Casablanca, and as they stroll off into the airport fog, Rick utters one of the most memorable exit lines in movie history: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship!”
‘Casablanca’ was shot entirely on the Warner Brothers lot (apart from the scene of Major Strasser’s arrival, which was filmed at Van Nuys airport) and came in at a budget of just over $950,000 – an average amount for the time.The film was directed by the legendary Michael Curtiz, a Hungarian Jewish émigré who had come to the United States in the 1920’s, whilst the second unit which filmed the opening sequence of the refugee trail and also the invasion of France was directed by Don Siegel. Curtiz had previously worked with Errol Flynn on ‘The Adventures Of Robin Hood’ and Joan Crawford on ‘Mildred Pierce’. Hal Wallis had originally wanted William Wyler for the job, but he was unavailable.Curtiz’s method of filming was to use images to tell the story rather than for their own sake.He had no part in developing the film’s plot or storyline. Casey Robinson, an uncredited scriptwriter on ‘Casablanca’ (who in fact wrote the series of meetings between Ilsa and Rick in the café) commented: “Curtiz knew nothing whatever about the story… he saw it in pictures, and you supplied the stories.” In his study of Curtiz’s work, Sidney Rosenweig saw the film as a typical example of Curtiz’s highlighting of moral dilemmas. The Epstein twins – Julius and Philip were the first writers to work on the script for Warner Brothers. They altered several details from the original play’s storyline, and also added a comedic touch.Later on Howard Koch joined the writing team and worked in tandem with the Epsteins, even though their styles and approach differed, with Koch’s writing focusing on the political and melodramatic aspects of the story. Michael Curtiz favoured the romantic element, and insisted on keeping the Paris flashback sequence in the completed movie when cuts needed to be made.
One of the film’s most famous lines “Here’s looking at you kid” was apparently not included in the draft screenplay.Instead, it is said to have come from the poker lessons Bogart was giving Bergman in between takes. Rick Blaine’s equally famous last line: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” was actually written by Hal Wallis, and dubbed by Bogart a month after the final shooting was finished.Interestingly there had been plans for a further scene in the movie showing Rick, Renault and a detachment of Free French soldiers onboard a ship (to incorporate the Allies 1942 invasion of North Africa).Fortunately this ending was abandoned in favour of the bitter sweet one we all know and love, after David O Selznick himself judged that it would be “a terrible mistake” to alter it. Although there were a number of different writers involved in the final script of ‘Casablanca’, the overall result was one of consistency. Koch in particular had come into tension with Curtiz with regard to their differing approach to the story; however, he later remarked: “Surprisingly, these disparate approaches somehow meshed, and perhaps it was partly this tug of war between Curtiz and me that gave the film a certain balance”.It was also remarkable how Bogart and Bergman brought dignity and artistry to lines that otherwise would have been dismissed as pure corn, for example: (Ilsa to Rick) “Was that cannon fire, or is it my heart pounding?” As Julius Epstein noted, the screenplay contained: “more corn than in the states of Kansas and Iowa combined, but when corn works, there’s nothing better.” The only other problem in the writing department came from Joseph Breen and the Production Code Administration.They were not happy with the implication that Captain Renault extorted sexual favours from his supplicants, and that Rick and Ilsa had slept together in Paris.Thankfully common sense prevailed; and whatever the moral climate of the day, both these implications remained in the finished movie.
‘Casablanca’ boasted an international cast; only three of the credited actors were Americans.Top billing went to Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid. Although Bogart had appeared in many roles prior to ‘Casablanca’ including ‘High Sierra’ (1941) they were usually gangster parts, and none of them had brought him the huge stardom he would enjoy as a result of his playing Rick Blaine. ’Casablanca’ was his first romantic role, and he was able to emote and exhibit a warmth as Rick which he had not been able to display in previous roles. Ingrid Bergman was a native of Sweden, and had made her Hollywood debut in ‘Intermezzo’ which had been well received, but nothing compared to the rapturous reviews she would receive for her role as ‘Ilsa’ in ‘Casablanca’.She was not the standard Hollywood style actress, but this uniqueness and her electrifying chemistry with Bogart helped to make the movie what it is.Bergman won the part of Ilsa over Ann Sheridan, Hedy Lamarr and Michélle Morgan.She was contracted to David O. Selznick, at the time, but he loaned her out at Hal Wallis’s request in exchange for Olivia de Havilland. Bergman’s height did present some problems – she was one and a half inches taller than Bogart. In their scenes together he would often have to stand on boxes or sit on cushions. The part of ‘Ilsa’ is her most famous and enduring role.
Paul Henreid was an Austrian actor who had fled Nazi Germany in 1935.He had appeared as Bette Davis’ love interest Jeremiah D. Durrance in ‘Now, Voyager’ (1942). He was reluctant to take the part of Victor Laszlo until he was promised top billing alongside Bogart and Bergman. He did not appear to get along with his fellow players; commenting that he thought Bogart “ a mediocre actor”.Bergman later said that Henreid was a “prima donna”.The English actor Claude Rains turned in a stellar performance as Captain Louis Renault.He had previously worked with Michael Curtiz on ‘The Adventures Of Robin Hood’ in which he played The Sheriff Of Nottingham, and had appeared with Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in ‘Now Voyager’. His performance in ‘Casablanca’ was so superb that he was nominated for the best supporting actor Oscar. In every scene he shone, whilst always conceding the spotlight to the star leads. The Hungarian actor Peter Lorre was suitably creepy as the ‘cut-rate parasite’ Ugarte.His wide eyed stare and distinctive nasal voice made him the perfect subject for parody.As Ugarte he is the catalyst for the dramatic action which fuels the movie, and also has one of the greatest lines: “You know, Rick, I have many a friend in Casablanca, but somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.” Sydney Greenstreet (who played Signor Ferrari, the rival club owner) was another English actor.He had made his film debut with Bogart and Lorre in ‘The Maltese Falcon’ (1941). Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser) was a German actor who had appeared in the 1920 version of ‘The Cabinet Of Dr. Calgari’.Ironically, he had fled the Nazis and moved to the United States only to end his career playing Nazis in American movies.The unforgettable Dooley Wilson who enacted Sam the piano player (and Rick’s loyal aide and confidante) was one of the few Americans in the cast.Wilson was in fact a drummer in real life, and couldn’t play a note on the piano. Earlier on in the movie’s development, Hal Wallis had considered changing the role of Sam to a female one (Ella Fitzgerald and Hazel Scott were in the running) – but thankfully Dooley Wilson remained, although even after the shooting had wrapped, Wallis considered dubbing his singing voice.
The remarkable cinematography for ‘Casablanca’ was shot by Arthur Edeson who had also filmed ‘The Maltese Falcon’ and ‘Frankenstein’.He used dark Film Noir and Expressionist lighting in several scenes to evoke mood, such as bars of shade and strips of light to evoke the feeling of imprisonment and emotional turmoil.In particular, Edeson did a marvellous job of photographing Ingrid Bergman.He always shot her from her preferred left side, often with a gauze filter and with catch lights to make her eyes sparkle.The resulting effect was enchanting – her character came across as sad, tender, nostalgic and beautiful.Max Steiner composed the score for ‘Casablanca’.He had previously worked on ‘Gone With The Wind’.Herman Hupfeld’s classic ‘As Time Goes By’ had been part of the story from the original play.Steiner wanted to replace the song with his own version, but Ingrid Bergman had already had her hair cut very short for her next movie ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls, and could not re-shoot the scenes which utilised the new song. As a consequence, Steiner based the entire movie score around ‘As Time Goes By’ and ‘La Marseillaise’ to evoke and reflect the changing moods of the storyline. ‘As Time Goes By’ became a much loved standard in the great American songbook.It spent 21 weeks on the hit parade after the film had been released.
Other memorable songs in the movie were Gus Khan’s ‘It had to be you’ and ‘Knock On Wood’ by M K Jerome and Jack Scholl.’Casablanca’ is one of those rare movies where all of the creative elements – writing, direction, cast, lighting, and music came together as a beautiful and unique whole. Even before the film was released, audiences at previews rated it a hit of epic proportions.In fact, their ecstatic reaction was described as ‘beyond belief’. Amongst the universally great reviews the film received, Bosley Crowther wrote in the New York Times on November 27th 1942 about the cast: “We will tell you also that the performances of the actors are all of the first order, but especially those of Mr. Bogart and Miss Bergman in the leading roles. Mr. Bogart is, as usual, the cool, cynical, efficient and super-wise guy who operates his business strictly for profit but has a core of sentiment and idealism inside. Conflict becomes his inner character, and he handles it credibly. Miss Bergman is surpassingly lovely, crisp and natural as the girl and lights the romantic passages with a warm and genuine glow. “
At the 1944 Oscars the film won three academy awards, including ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’, ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Picture’.Jack Warner himself collected the latter award rather than Hal Wallis.This led to a big falling out between the two, and Wallis severed all ties with Warner Brothers in April of that year.By 1955 alone, ‘Casablanca’ had made 6.8 million dollars.The film was so popular that the Brattle Theater of Cambridge, Massachusetts began a tradition in 1957 (which continues To this day) of screening the movie during the final exams week at Harvard University – a tradition which many colleges across the United States followed. Todd Gitlin, a professor of sociology, attended one such screening himself, and described it as “the acting out of my own personal rite of passage.” This tradition helped to keep the movie popular and in the public eye whilst others of the same era faded away. By 1977, ‘Casablanca’ was the most frequently broadcast film on American television. Roger Ebert has stated that ‘Casablanca’ is probably on more ‘greatest films of all-time’ lists than any other, and that whilst ‘Citizen Kane’ may be greater, ‘Casablanca’ is more loved.‘Casablanca’ has influenced many other movies and spawned a host of imitators. ‘Passage To Marseilles’ (1944) reunited Bogart, Rains, Greenstreet, Lorre and Curtiz, whilst Bogart’s later movie ‘Sirocco’ contained many similarities to ‘Casablanca’. Parodies have included the Marx Brothers’ ‘A Night In Casablanca’ (1946) Woody Allen’s ‘Play It Again Sam’ (1972) Neil Simon’s ‘The Cheap Detective’ (1978) and ‘Barb Wire’ (1996).’Casablanca’ also provided the title for 1995’s ‘The Usual Suspects’, whilst Bugs Bunny got a piece of the parody with ‘Carrotblanca’ from the same year.Recently, Steven Soderbergh paid homage to ‘Casablanca’ with ‘The Good German’ – a post World War 11 murder mystery set in Berlin starring George Clooney, Cate Blanchet and Tobey Maguire, which utilised film technology from the era in which ‘Casablanca’ was made.
Aside from’Casablanca’ being one of the most influential American movies of all time, it is also one of the most treasured. Since the film’s release in 1943, more words have been written about it than any other movie, and certainly in more depth than I can cover here. People the world over have watched and become enchanted with the film and its characters; indeed, the characters are one of the major reasons the film has endured – people care about them and their fate. Rick and Ilsa’s dilemma in the movie connected with lovers and romantics the world over. Bogart and Bergman were so perfectly cast that it is hard to imagine anyone else playing their parts, although at one point Ronald Regan and Ann Sheridan were contenders. Bogart excelled in ‘Casablanca’ – his tough outer cynicism hiding an inner broken heart beneath a fractured layer of sarcasm.Every word he utters, every gesture he makes is loaded with pain and regret, yet he posesses the fortitude to continue on the path he has chosen, and see things through to their inevitable conclusion.The part of Rick was so complex that it demanded Bogart’s full range of acting, and he pulled it off superlatively.
Bergman’s Ilsa lights up the screen. Her beauty is there not only in the traditional sense, but in her vunerability and loyalty, and sense of right and wrong. One can easily understand why Rick had his heart broken by her, and equally why he would follow her to the ends of the earth if he were given half a chance. A major reason for Casablanca’s success is that it stayed true to itself, its story, and its characters – all of whom ultimately ‘do the right thing’. There was no crowd-pleasing happy ending to the story, and the movie is all the stronger for it. It is precisely for this reason that ‘Casablanca’ has become known as one of the greatest films of all-time.Its story of a love lost, then found again, then lost forever struck a resounding chord in all but the most cynical of hearts. For make no mistake, this is a movie which belongs in the HEART.’Casablanca’ has become a celluloid institution – a LEGEND.Although practically everybody associated with the film has since passed away, it has survived for well over half a century and will live on forever – for as long as the world welcomes lovers – as time goes by.
‘AS TIME GOES BY’
This day and age we’re living in
Gives cause for apprehension
With speed and new invention
And things like fourth dimension
Yet we get a trifle weary
With Mr. Einstein’s theory
So we must get down to earth at times
Relax, relieve the tension
And no matter what the progress
Or what may yet be proved
The simple facts of life are such
They cannot be removed…
You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by
And when two lovers woo
They still say, “I love you”
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by
Moonlight and love songs
Never out of date
Hearts full of passion
Jealousy and hate
Woman needs man
And man must have his mate
That no one can deny
Well, it’s still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by
Oh yes, the world will always welcome lovers
“AS TIME GOES BY”:
Lyrics and Music by Herman Hupfeld; © 1931 Warner Bros. Music Corp., ASCAP
UNFORGETTABLE LINES FROM THE LEGENDARY ‘CASABLANCA’ SCREENPLAY:
(Rick): “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”(Rick): “Here’s looking at you, kid.”(Ilsa Lund): “A franc for your thoughts.”(Rick): “In America they’d bring only a penny, and, huh, I guess that’s about all they’re worth.”(Ilsa): “Well, I’m willing to be overcharged. Tell me.”(Rick): “Well, I was wondering…”(Ilsa) : “Yes? (Rick): “Why I’m so lucky. Why I should find you waiting for me to come along.”(Ilsa): “Why there is no other man in my life?”(Rick): “Uh-huh.”(Ilsa): “That’s easy: there was. And he’s dead.”
(Ilsa): “Play it once, Sam. For old times’ sake.”(Sam): [lying] “I don’t know what you mean, Miss Elsa.”(Ilsa): “Play it, Sam. Play “As Time Goes By.”(Sam): [lying] “Oh, I can’t remember it, Miss Elsa. I’m a little rusty on it.”(Ilsa): “I’ll hum it for you. Da..dee..da..dee..da..dum, da..dee..da..dee..da..dum…”[Sam begins playing on the piano](Ilsa): “Sing it, Sam.”(Sam): [singing] “You must remember this / A kiss is still a kiss / A sigh is just a sigh / The fundamental things apply /As time goes by. / And when two lovers woo, / They still say, “I love you” / On that you can rely / No matter what the future brings…”(Rick): [rushing up] “Sam, I thought I told you never to play…”[Rick sees Ilsa. Sam closes the piano and rolls it away](Rick): “You know what I want to hear” (Sam): “No, I don’t.”(Rick): “You played it for her, you can play it for me!” (Sam): “Well, I don’t think I can remember…” (Rick):” If she can stand it, I can! Play it!”
‘Casablanca’ was the recipient of three academy awards: Academy Award for Best Picture — Warner Bros. (Hal B. Wallis, producer) Academy Award for Directing — Michael Curtiz, Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay — Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch.It was also nominated for another five Oscars: Academy Award for Best Actor — Humphrey Bogart, Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor — Claude Rains, Academy Award for Best Cinematography, black-and-white — Arthur Edeson, Academy Award for Film Editing — Owen Marks, Academy Award for Original Music Score — Max Steiner
‘YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS…. CASABLANCA’ ARTICLE TEXT ©copyright Gary Alston 2013.
House Of Retro/Gary Alston make no claims to the ownership of images appearing on this page.
FROM GARY ALSTON ~ COSTUME DESIGNER:
The magical and luminescent art of Parisian Haute Couture has reigned supreme over the world of fashion for more than 150 years. Unrivalled and inaccessible it continues to enthral and captivate us.Haute Couture’s savoir faire is steeped in historical tradition. Indeed, it can be traced back to the court of Louis XIV. Ironically, it was a Briton, Charles Frederick Worth, who founded the first two houses of Haute Couture in Paris in 1858. Yesterday’s Haute Couture existed in a more formal world and in answer to the needs of a certain social class, for clothes for their grand occasions, such as gala balls, first nights, embassy and presidential dinners etc. This is the era I sought to recreate when designing Milou’s ‘L’Ouverture’ collection, which features two separate costumes along with the ‘Vent Doux’ dressed doll. My approach to the project was to design outfits for a human being, rather than an inanimate object, whilst uppermost in my mind was the ‘simplicité de luxe’ concept which Milou so perfectly embodies. The results of this endeavour can be seen in the two new Milou designs: ‘L’Heure Six’ – a charming cocktail suit, and ‘Belle Epoque’ – a stunning eveningwear ensemble. Both of these costumes were painstakingly researched and put together using the finest fabrics; in addition, they feature precision tailoring and extraordinarily fine detail rarely witnessed on this scale. The ‘L’Ouverture’ collection is understated, luxurious and timeless and is possessed of its own unique ability to captivate and charm. It was born of a true admiration, respect and fondness for not only a particularly auspicious period in the history of fashion, but for a world and time when good manners, refinement and breeding counted for something. I hope that you will enjoy the fruits of my collaboration with Wendy Roper and Mannequins de la Mode as much as I have.
FROM WENDY ROPER ~ CREATIVE DIRECTOR MANNEQUINS DE LA MODE
“Exclusive is a word that is used too often and applied indiscriminately these days to market a product. But in this small collection of costumes designed by Gary Alston the word fits like a glove. You will not find this quality of design, fabric and construction in the large, mass-produced ranges of doll outfits. In fact, I believe this debut collection for Milou is the best and the finest evocation of the original Theatre de la Mode that there has yet been. Each of the three costumes is a miniature masterpiece of museum quality. Together they form a beautiful and enchanting work of art that will gain in charm and interest as the years go by. Gary discusses at length the fabrics and details that make this collection cohere, but I would like to draw your attention to the lovely vintage colours we have used: antique gold, bronze olive and cafe au lait all classically teamed with black. These subtle and unusual shades evoke so charmingly the immediate, post-war Paris of 1945. To my original vision and design brief for Milou Gary has added not only his creative talent but his extraordinary integrity of execution, coupled with a complete surrender to quality in all its aspects.”
All three costumes in the ‘Ouverture’ collection are linked via their tailored silhouette, colour and fabric. The finest materials have been utilised in their execution – taffeta being the fabric of choice not only here, but for many eveningwear looks during the 1940’s. Attention has been given to the smallest detail – from the most delicate of Miyuki beads to luxurious silk linings. Here follows a detailed description of the two new separate costumes…
A charmingly detailed cocktail suit cut from silk taffeta, featuring a form-fitting jacket with layered peplum waist along with an ‘A’ line knee-length skirt. The jacket bodice is cut with princess seams to provide the perfect fit whilst the double-layered peplum features a contrasting top layer fashioned from an exclusive sequinned cloth (perfectly in scale & lined in taffeta) with a draped sash effect at the jacket waist opening. The short, set-in sleeves are ruched at the centre of their bottom edge (an attractive style of the day) and accented with hand-sewn clusters of miniature bugle beads. This same process of beading forms the three ‘buttons’ on the jacket’s centre front edge. At the neckline a delightful silk contrast forms a draped, scarf effect; the silk is also used throughout the cocktail suit as a lining. The ‘A’ line skirt is cut in the classic style of the era. It sports an inverted pleat at centre front along with a darted waistline for a perfect fit.The ensemble is completed by a draped silk turban with hand-sewn beaded accent and a pair of three-quarter length black gloves.
A stunning eveningwear costume which perfectly captures the look and mood of an era, ‘Belle Epoque’ is actually two designs in one as the evening gown can also be displayed in its own right, sans jacket. The ensemble consists of a strapless evening gown and hip-length evening jacket in silk-taffeta. The evening gown’s bodice is cut in princess seamed panels with a dropped waistline forming a shallow ‘V’ shape at the front and a deeper ‘V’ shape at the back .The bodice is painstakingly mounted with black lace then hand beaded with ‘Smoked Topaz’ Miyuki beads which also trim the lower bodice edges and miniature bow at the bottom of the back bodice. The skirt part of the gown is cut in an ‘A’ line silhouette with centre front seam which opens into a curved edge slit at the centre front hemline. At the back a delightfully gathered godet panel in the centre back seam forms an attractive, flared train effect. The breath-taking evening jacket exhibits all the hallmarks of Haute Couture. Cut in silk taffeta it features a notched lapel, two-piece ‘leg-of-mutton’ sleeves and beaded sash effect at the centre front waistline opening edge. The hip-length bodice of the jacket is darted to fit perfectly over the evening gown. The sumptuous detailing includes mounted, hand-applied lace on the jacket top collar and lapels, the yoke on the jacket front/back and hand-cut lace appliques on the sleeve heads.In addition, the lace has then been hand-beaded with the same Miyuki beads as for the evening gown. On the inside of the jacket there are miniature shoulder pads covered in black lace – in the true Haute Couture manner! Accessories include a luxurious dark brown fur muff lined in the taffeta of the jacket and full-length black opera gloves.
Images ©copyright 2008-2013 Mannequins de la
Salvatore Mineo jr. better known to the world as Sal Mineo, was the exotic-looking, baby-faced American actor whose legend and cult following largely stems from his iconic role as the doomed ‘Plato’ in Nicholas Ray’s 1955 classic of ‘switchblade cinema’ – ‘Rebel Without A Cause’. In this movie he played a troubled high-school kid who falls in love with James Dean (or to be more precise Dean’s character Jim Stark, although there are reports of a real-life love affair between the two off-set).This was the role for which he would earn the first of two Academy Award nominations.
Sal Mineo was born on January 10th 1939, the son of a Sicilian carpenter – Sal Mineo Sr and Josephine Alvisi who had emigrated to the United States to found a coffin-making business. Shortly after Sal was born, the family moved to an old house they had bought in the Bronx, New York City. Sal did not have an easy start in life; in spite of picking up the area’s distinctive accent he was considered an outsider and rejected by the local boys because of his father’s rather morbid profession. Sal attempted to woo the boys over, suggesting to them that his father’s un-finished coffins were in fact filled with candy. Taking the bait, the boys looked inside, whereupon prankster Sal leapt out, sending them running. Needless to say this did nothing to further his cause for friendship. It was only when he accepted a dare to smoke an entire cigar that he was accepted into the local gang and elevated at the same time to vice president!
Sal attended St. Marys – a Dominican Catholic school where he was known as a trouble-maker, but evidently not completely without virtues, for the nuns at the school decided to cast him as Jesus Christ in a play about the Saviour. Sal took to the project like the proverbial duck to water, immersing himself in the character, researching and studying his part. He even improvised his own props when he considered the ones he was supplied with were inadequate. It was this humble introduction to drama which ignited Sal’s desire to become an actor. He may have played Jesus Christ on his high school stage, but elsewhere his behaviour was more akin to the devil; he indulged in frequent fights and various forms of mischief whilst ignoring the nuns. Eventually they had enough and expelled him; with plenty of free-time on his hands he quickly rose to head position of his teenage gang and led a daring heist which was promptly crushed by police. Fate intervened at about the at about the same time when Sal’s mother was propositioned by a man advertising a dance school whose intention was to bring its students to the attention of television producers. Although extremely wary of the offer, Josephine Mineo did not wish to see her son sink from a life of petty theft into that of a bona-fide criminal who would eventually end up in reform school or worse, behind bars. She broached Sal about the offer and he was ecstatic; he began to take classes immediately. Although Josephine’s hunch about non-existent television producers proved to be true, Sal demonstrated a great talent for dancing, so much so that his mother moved him to a more reputable school along with his sister Sarina. One day a Broadway producer came by the school to audition students for a small part in Tennessee Williams’ latest play ‘The Rose Tattoo’. Sal had to deliver the line “The goat is in the yard” to her several times. As a result, He was offered the job at $65.00 per week. At the tender age of eleven he was destined for his Broadway debut.
The play’s initial staging took place in Chicago, whereupon Sal returned to New York for rehearsals. What should have been an exciting experience turned into something of a nightmare as each day when he caught the subway down to Times Square he would be accosted by rival gangs patrolling their ‘turf’ and as a result of fighting back would often arrive at the theatre bruised and bloodied; when he wasn’t fending off violent youths, he was fending off older gay men who, attracted to his exotic good looks, made advances towards him. In the end the threat of a toy gun helped stop the ‘johns’ from hitting on him. After a year on Broadway ‘The Rose Tattoo’ closed and Sal found another small part in a play called ‘The Little Screwball’. Acting was now well and truly in his blood and he auditioned for the role of the Crown Prince of Siam in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s legendary musical ‘The King And I’. Initially Sal was given the role of understudy, but eventually the lead took a holiday and Sal was required to fill in. He was in awe of the renowned actor Yul Brynner (who played the King Of Siam) to the point of being terrified, until he needed help with applying his make-up at which point the had to overcome his shyness as he was told to seek Brynner’s assistance.Sal remarked: “ I was so shy of him, so completely awed, that I never dared approach him, though I very much wanted to. But now that I was to play opposite him, I was more afraid of the man than ever… An important actor like Mr. Brynner wouldn’t want to be bothered with such trifles as telling a thirteen year-old kid how to put on greasepaint”. Sal needn’t have worried; Brynner took the boy under his wing, and when the lead prince left the show, Sal replaced him permanently. At this point Brynner instructed Sal on his acting and his performances greatly improved. Brynner would invite Sal to his mansion on weekends to learn how to water-ski and the pair ended up becoming personal friends for many years.
After ‘The King and I’ closed, Sal sought out work on television. He played small roles in a medical drama entitled ‘Janet Dean, Registered Nurse’ and in ‘Omnibus’ a biographical account of William Saroyan’s life. He played the part of Tony Curtis’ criminal character as a kid in the movie ’Six Bridges To Cross’ – a story about the mastermind of a perfectly executed three million dollar robbery in 1950. Sal was called to Hollywood to dub extra dialogue for the movie (which had turned out poorly on-set). Whilst there he managed to land a part in ‘The Private War Of Major Benson’ about a hard-edged commander assigned to coaching a football team at a boys military academy. It was whilst he was in Hollywood working on ‘Benson’ that the opportunity came for him to try out for his landmark breakthrough role in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’. Directed by Nicholas Ray, ‘Rebel’ was just one of a spate of new movies designed to cash in on the burgeoning teenage market and exploring the topical theme of juvenile delinquency. He was desperate to play the sensitive but troubled teen ‘Plato’ who is smitten/in love with the lead character Jim Stark, as immortalised on-screen by James Dean. Sal’s very distinctive, ‘pretty-boy’ looks set him apart form the other boys who were auditioning; he was asked to do an improvised scene with one of the gang members and was then called back for a reading with James Dean. Sal remarked about their initial meeting: “I thought I dressed pretty sharp for those days in pegged pants, skinny tie, jacket – until Jimmy Dean walked in with his tee shirt and blue jeans. We went through a scene and nothing happened between us. Nick Ray finally walked over and suggested we sit and talk for a while. When Jimmy found out I was from the Bronx, we started gabbing about New York and then progressed to cars, and before we knew it, we were buddies. Then we went back to the script, and this time if went off like clockwork”. Nick Ray harboured doubts about casting Sal as Plato – he did not fit Ray’s vision of the character. However, there was some element in Sal’s performance/appearance which registered positively in Ray’s consciousness as he ende dup offering the role to Sal saying: “Every once in a while a director has to gamble. I’m going to take a chance. You’re Plato.” It is hard to believe today after Sal Mineo’s stunning performance in such an iconic movie that anyone else but him could have played the role of Plato.
‘Rebel Without A Cause’ became a landmark picture; not only did it capture the spirit of a particular age (the mid 1950’s) and generation, but it has continued to do so ever since. It reflected the growing Cult of the ‘Teenager’ who, for the first time in history were exerting influence on their own terms; they were not children or adults but a unique demographic which emerged post world War 11 in a newly prosperous era. Teenagers defied convention through their fashions, their music and their adoption of celebrity idols. James Dean (or to be more precise, his character JIM STARK) emerged as their adoptive eleader.He dressed like them, looked like them, but most important of all he had their problems.The charcter of Jim Stark was a complete contradiction of terms. He was cocky yet insecure – tough yet vulnerable. He disrespected his parents and authority and appeared to live his life in emotional torment. His ‘sidekick’ Plato as played by Sal Mineo was an expression of overt youthful neurosis taken to the extreme with quite obvious homosexual undertones attached. Whilst not a Ménage à trois Per se, the relationship between the movie’s three central characters of Jim Stark, Plato and Judy Phillips (Natalie Wood) explored far deeper and controversial issues. Clearly, Jim and Judy became fantasy substitute parents to the troubled Plato – who was desperate to create his ‘ideal family’. The real controversy arouse in the romantic dynamics of the piece; clearly Jim and Judy were in the throes of an early romance but the homosexual undertones of Jim and Plato’s relationship were just as apparent. In the original script for ‘Rebel’ the concept of a homosexual ’friendship’ was intentional to the point that an original working copy of the script had included a scene in which Jim and Plato kissed. Obviously the Hollywood Censors immediately put heir foot down firmly regarding any ‘deviant’ sexual behaviour; Nick Ray on the other hand, urged Sal to play up his desire for Dean in his acting. Sal was Apprehensive until James Dean said to him : “You know how I am with Natalie. Well, why don’t you pretend I’m her and you’re me? Pretend you want to touch my hair, but you’re shy. I’m not shy like you. I love you. I’ll touch your hair.” Sal began to warm to the feeling until Ray commented that in one scene he “broke the sound barrier”.
There has been much speculation and many rumours over the years regarding a real-life romance between Sal Mineo and James Dean. Dean was well known as a bisexual, And as an individual who blatantly used men and women to further his career. Sal always denied that any physical relationship had occurred between them. According to him he was not yet conscious of the sexual nature of his attraction and feelings towards other men (he admitted to being a bisexual in a 1972 interview which wasn’t published until after his death and it has been noted by some that he only had exclusive male-male relations in his final years).He did however acknowledge that he was in love with Dean at the time of making ’Rebel’ but that his lack of understanding regarding his sexuality prevented him from acting upon it. He is reported to have said once: “If I’d understood back then that a guy could be in love with another one, it would have happened. But I didn’t come to that realisation for a few more years and then it was too late for Jimmy and me.” In today’s more educated and liberal climate reports have emerged of full-blown gay affairs amongst Hollywood’s so-called ‘straight’ movie stars – some of them as legendary as James Dean.which were conveniently and regularly ‘hushed up’ by the Studios who were a powerful force unto themselves. Homosexuality was as rife in Hollywood as it is now – only back then the level of media attention and capability was not as vast and efficient as it is today. Personally this writer would not find it hard to believe (or be surprised) if Sal Mineo did in fact have an affair and physical relations with James Dean. On the surface, the one thing that we can all be sure of is that for the time in which it was produced the depiction of the homosexual romance between Sal and James Dean in ‘Rebel’ was so obvious as to be palpable and it is astounding that it ultimately slipped past the censors of the day. Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon’s ‘Who’s Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day’, nicely sums up James Dean and Sal Mineo’s relationship in ‘Rebel’ thus: “Dean’s loving tenderness towards the besotted Sal Mineo in ‘Rebel without a Cause’ touches and excites gay audiences by its honesty.” As history has proven, ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ was not only an incredible success upon release in 1955, but went on to become an iconic classic of ‘youth’ cinema with its lead player James Dean becoming not only a spokesperson for young people around the world but a legend of cinema and popular culture. He was, and remains posthumously the ultimate rebel. Warner Brothers made an incredible return on their investment as American teenagers flocked in their millions to view the story of their generation told on screen in just two hours. Sal immediately found himself a place in the hearts of teenage girls (and no doubt some boys) everywhere – it wasn’t only Dean who came out of ‘Rebel’ a heartthrob.
With a huge increase in fan interest, Sal’s sister Sarina took over the job of answering his fan mail and had to hire a small staff of other girls to help her. Perhaps more importantly, Sal’s performance in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ had caught the attention of the Motion Picture Academy who nominated him for an Oscar as ‘best supporting actor’.Sal ultimately lost out to Jack Lemmon and his performance in ‘Mr. Roberts’ but he was honoured to have been nominated and his success brought in many other movie offers. His next role post-‘Rebel’ was in novelist Edna Ferber’s ‘Giant’ which once again starred James Dean in what would turn out to be his final screen performance before his trsgic death in a car crash.This time Sal’s role was far smaller, he had no lines and did not appear alongside Dean. He went on to feature with Paul Newman (whom some considered to be Dean’s natural ‘successor’ at the time) in Newman’s 1956 breakthrough screen role ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ – a biopic about the life of boxer Rocky Graziano. Sal played the part of ‘Romolo’, Rocky’s neighbourhood friend. As his status continued to rise at the box-office, He co-starred in his own movie ‘Crime In The Streets’ which capitalised on both the teen idol and juvenile delinquent themes of the era. Sal emerged from the part of a hardened teenage criminal with a new status as the epitome of cool and earned himself a new moniker into the bargain – ‘The Switchblade Kid’.
In 1956 Sal diversified into music with the release of his first single “Start Movin’” On Epic records. Loyal fans helped place his debut record at number nine on the charts, followed by an eponymously-named twelve track album. Given his Broadway Training in singing and this being the hey-day of the teen idol, a pop career seemed quite a logical progression, but Sal realised that he was not a musician commenting that: “Nobody is going to mistake me for Pat Boone”. He ceased recording music in 1959.In 1959 Sal took the starring role in the movie ‘The Gene Krupa Story’ – a biopic about the famous jazz drummer. This was Sal’s first serious and emotionally mature role; it marked his departure from his previous ‘pretty-boy’ roles. In the movie he was required to time his own movements on-screen in time to Gene Krupa’s recordings, a task that he pulled off very successfully, in spite of no previous formal training.
Sal’s next major role and one which was to earn him his second Oscar nomination was in Oscar Preminger’s classic ’Exodus’ based on the 1958 novel written by American author Leon Uris. Sal played the part of Dov Landau, an angry teenager who had lost his entire family to the Holocaust. He had not only survived the horrors of ghetto life in Warsaw but of the notorious concentration camp ‘Auschwitz‘; with secrets that lead him to the Irgun. It was a meaty role for Sal; although ironically he was the exact opposite of his character’s physical description in the novel, in which he is described as tall with blond hair and blue eyes! Sal’s love interest in the movie was the character Karen Hansen played by young actress Jill Haworth. She is a young Danish-Jewish girl searching for her father from whom she was separated during the war and has subsequently taken up the Zionist cause. There were rumours of a real-life romance between Sal and Jill off-set as they briefly lived together in Sal’s mansion in Los Angeles an continued a warm friendship even after she left his home. Sal was competing for his academy award for Exodus that year along with Chill Wills for The Alamo, Peter Ustinov for Spartacus, Jack Kruschen for The Apartment, and Peter Falk for Murder, Inc. Groucho Marx made a public declaration that his vote was for Sal Mineo after an appalling campaign appeal was launched in favour of Chill Wills. Sal was crushed when Ustinov won for Spartacus. In fact his defeat left him a bitter man (reportedly he was so jealous of Ustinov’s victory that he would curse him if ever his name was mentioned around him) and was to have more long-term repercussions on his future career prospects.
For a young man used to living the Hollywood movie-star lifestyle, rejection came hard to him.His party-boy shennanigans came to an abrupt halt as he ran out of funds. He was forced to ‘lower his standards’ and accept parts in obscure movies and television dramas. One notable movie to emerge from this period however, was the 1965 Joseph Cates-directed ‘Who killed Teddybear?’ in which he appeared with ex-Sinatra squeeze – the South African dancer/actress Juliet Prowse.In this lurid and sleazy slice of American indie noir cinema (which was shot entirely in real New York City Locations) Sal plays the part of Lawrence Sherman, a deviant stalker/busboy/peeping tom who terrorises Juliet Prowse’s character Nora Dain with a series of obscene phone calls. It is a slightly art-house psycho-sex thriller with a cast drawn mainly from Broadway, Hollywood and the Borscht Belt. Elaine Stritch in particular is unforgettable as Marian Freeman, a lesbian nightclub owner lusting after Nora who is eventually murdered by Lawrence. Sal turned in a remarkable performance, oozing eroticism and charisma whilst displaying an edgy menace.The movie has become a cult classic of ‘queer cinema’ amongst gay men and Mineo fans.Although Sal’s portrayal of a serial killer was praised by the critics, unfortunately it didn’t really help him to improve his dwindling screen fortunes; instead he found himself being typecast once again – but this time as a deranged criminal.*
In the era which followed ‘Teddy Bear’ Sal undertook a journey of ‘self-discovery’. Now that he was no longer such a public figure, he was able to explore his sexual identity, travelling the gay haunts of Sunset Strip and engaging in multiple relationships with other young men, although nothing serious or long-term emerged. At one point Sal dated Rock Hudson and there were rumours that he was into sadomasochism.One of the reasons behind this rumour may have been his penchant For wearing leather which could have simply been a fashion preference but at that time in particular was a look attached to S& M aficionados. He also declared to his friends and aquaintances that he had a special attraction to Englishmen. In 1969 a further watershed in his career occurred when he discovered the play ‘Fortune and Men’s Eyes’ written by Canadian playwright John Herbert. It told the story of a young man named Smitty who is sent to prison for six months for marijuana possession where he is transformed into the sexual subordinate of another inmate – the bullying an domineering Rocky (played by Sal Mineo).The catalyst for Smitty’s metamorphosis is a homosexual rape intended to occur off-stage.Sal earned the money to buy the play from gambling in Las Vegas.With Herbert’s approval, Sal moved the play’s pivotal rape-scene to centre-stage (Herbert later regretted his decision). A very young and sexy eighteen year old by the name of Don Johnson (Miami Vice) was hired to play the lead role of Smitty. With the heavy patronage of an enthusiastic gay audience the play was a success when it opened at the Coronet Theatre in Los Angeles on January 9th 1969. However, many critics opposed at Sal’s revision/interpretation of the script and his moving of the ’questionable’ off-stage ‘rape’ to a blatant “gladiator battle in the shower”. The New York Times critic was especially hostile, devoting only three sentences of his review to the actors and the rest of the article to insulting Sal as director. In spite of the adverse critical reaction from the mainstream press, the gay press were very supportive and encouraging. Eventually the play became a big enough hit to transfer To New York City where it opened under the direction of Sal himself.The NYC reviews were less favourable than L.A.s and in less than a year the play closed.
The early 1970’s were a grim period for Sal.Desperate for cash, he appeared in more than 22 television series from 1969-1975, an off-Broadway play called ‘The Childrens Mass’ and three films: ‘80 Steps To Jonah’, ‘Krakatoa, East Of Java’ and ‘Escpape From The Planet Of The Apes’. None of these vehicles earned him any critical acclaim but allowed him to pay the bills. He suffered a huge disappointment when he Auditioned for a part he felt he was perfect for in Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Godfather’. Coppola’s official rejection line was that “Mineo has been around an everyone knows him”. The truth was homophobic and much harsher; Coppola later admitted that another major star in the picture had objected to “acting opposite a faggot”.Although Sal was blacklisted as a homosexual in Hollywood, he never identified as one, stating: “I don’t like being told I can love only a woman or only a guy.” Eventually, in 1976 Sal’s professional fortunes seemed to turn around when he won a starring role in the San Francisco stage adaption of the quirky comedy ‘P.S. Your Cat Is Dead’ as a bisexual burglar named Vito who is caught in the act and held prisoner by the Jimmy – a writer and the man he intended to rob. Jimmy ties Vito up then begins to interrogate him. A frustrated, would-be writer he decides that Vito’s life-story is just what he needs to produce an award-winning book. The play was very Well received, and especially Sal’s performance. The theatre critic Bob Kiggins wrote that : “Mineo all but steals the show with his outlandish, marvellously antic gestures, his facile facial contortions and his robust delivery.” Magazines began to display an interest in him once more with ‘In Touch’ publishing a profile on him entitled: ‘Sal Mineo, The Eternal Original’. Bolstered by his role in a hit play Sal grew in confidence; his debts were mostly settled, he had a far more stable love-life and a group of close friends – however, a fateful coincidence was about to turn his new-found happiness into a tragedy.
On Thursday February 12th 1976 at about 9.30 p.m. Sal returned to the home he rented from celebrity lawyer Marvin Mitchelson at 8569 Holloway from the Westwood playhouse where he was rehearsing ‘cat’. As he stepped out of his car he was accosted by an assailant. A nine year old girl, Monica Merrem, Heard Sal’s terrified shouts of “Oh my God! No! Help me – Please!” from the parking area below her Bedroom window. She was not alone; several other tennants had heard Sal’s cries too, and rushed into the alleyway behind the complex where they found Sal lying on th eground curled up in a fetal position. He was bleeding heavily from his left side. One of Mineo’s neighbours – Roy Evans – tried to revive him with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but Sal was dying – with one deep exhale he passed away.when paramedics arrived the 37 year old star of Broadway and Hollywood was pronounced dead on the spot – From a single stab wound to the heart. The subsequent autopsy revealed several puncture marks along his buttocks (and other places) which were from the result of drug use. There was also evidence of hormone treatments used to restore sexual vigour. Because of the puncture marks detectives initially thought that the murder may be drugs-related, but they abandoned this in favour of a ‘Fag Killing’ theory (perhaps by a spiteful and revengeful lover).Needless to say, an investigation was mounted amongst homosexuals and bisexuals from the entertainment industry, but this did not produce any leads to the murderer and eventually the case was shelved. Incensed fans of Sal and within the gay community accused the police department of homophobia and that they had ruled out other options far too hastily because of their prejudice. The Los Angeles police department rigorously and angrily denied the allegations, and in the meantime there was still no clue as to who murdered Sal.
The investigation became ’hot’ once more when a woman named Theresa Williams came forward, claiming that her husband had killed Sal.Lionel Williams was in jail on charges of cheque fraud. On trial for the murder of Sal Mineo he testified that he’d heard a gang talking about an ‘arranged killing’, but guards from the Michigan prison he was held in reported that they ahd overheard Williams himself repeatedly bragging about killing Sal.The prosecution used witness testimony combined with some physical evidence to bring a charge of first-degree murder against him, but they were on shaky ground. Several witnesses had reported that they had seen a white man with blond or brown hair fleeing the murder scene, not a white man. Whilst the charges were being filed, Theresa Williams committed suicide, which meant that the state had lost a key witness. The knife which matched the physical wound found during Sal’s autopsy was not the original, but a duplicate version created from Theresa’s testimony. In spite of a gaping area of doubt, Lionel Williams was found guilty – but of second-degree murder, along with ten brutal robberies. He was sentenced to at least fifty-one years in prison. Over the years an aura of mystery has enshrouded Sal’s death to such an extent that it has inspired a mystery novel, a play and a couple of murder-theory books.The resulting cult of speculation about who actually did murder Sal Mineo has never abated, as many have expressed doubt that Williams was the killer.One of the theories put forward is that the Los Angeles Police Department merely used the most convenient/accessible lead at the time and played on the jury’s sympathies to close the case once and for all. Williams already held a previous criminal record and therefore was fair game; on ething is for certain – whether he did commit the murder or not, the world had lost a colourful and fascinating actor/entertainer. In an eerie hat-trick of tragic events all three stars of ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ met calamitous and fatal ends; James Dean was killed a month before ‘Rebel’s’ release whilst driving his porsche, Sal was stabbed to death in 1976, and Natalie Wood died in a drowning accident five years after Sal’s demise.By the beginning of the 1980’s all three original rebels were gone – destined to remain celluloid legends forever in the eyes of an adoring but sometimes cynical public.
In spite of the tragic and untimely end to his career, Sal Mineo made his mark on the world of entertainment. He had gone from a poor immigrant child to the heartthrob of a nation then back to a nobody. He had lived life in both squalor and ostentation – rich and poor.His plaintive eyes, dark good looks and exotic allure made him a hot teenage property and he became a pop star for a short while.He began acting at the Tender age of eleven, going from the Bronx to Broadway and then on to Hollywood for his big screen debut in 1955’s ‘Six Bridges To Cross’. That same year he won the first of two Oscar nominations for his role of Plato in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ – a movie of such importance that it bestowed upon him icon status for the rest of his life.If he had never played another role in his long career, Sal Mineo would have been remembered forever for his part of Plato. He relished idolisation, dominated the gossip columns and in later life was amongst the most prominently open gay cultural figures in the U.S.A. His life was one of extremes and he lived it to the full – “Live Fast, Die Young”. This is what he would have wanted.
•Six Bridges to Cross (1955)
•The Private War of Major Benson (1955)
•Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
•Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)
•Crime in the Streets (1956)
•Rock, Pretty Baby (1956)
•The Young Don’t Cry (1957)
•The Gene Krupa Story (1959)
•A Private’s Affair (1959)
•Insight or Insanity? (1960)
•The Exodus (1960)
•Escape from Zahrain (1962)
•The Longest Day (1962)
•Cheyenne Autumn (1964)
•The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
•Who Killed Teddy Bear? (1965)
•The Dangerous Days of Kiowa Jones (1966) •Stranger on the Run (1967)
•80 Steps to Jonah (1969)
•Krakatoa, East of Java (1969)
•The Challengers (1970)
•In Search of America (1970)
•How to Steal an Airplane (1971)
•Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)
•The Family Rico (1972)
•Such Dust as Dreams are Made on (1973)
•Columbo: A Case of Immunity (1975)
•James Dean: The First American Teenager (1975)
•Start Movin’ 7″ SINGLE (1957)
•Sal L.P. (1958)
‘WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR?’ was banned from British cinemas in the 1960’s; a recent DVD release however has shown that more than forty years on it has lost none of its power to shock, amuse and entertain!
SAL MINEO: ‘LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG’ Text ©copyright Gary Alston 2013.
House Of Retro/Gary Alston make no claims to the ownership of images appearing on this page; copyright remains with respective owner(s).
Photo by Gary Alston
In 1963, the American Character Doll & Toy Corporation introduced a revolutionary new teenage fashion doll onto the toy market. Her name was Tressy. Although her origins are all American – in both the literal and figurative sense, Tressy was also licensed for production overseas to several European toy manufacturers; most notably to Palitoy in Great Britain in 1964.In France she was licensed to Societe Bella from 1965, to Schildkrot in Germany from 1967, and to Novo Gama in Spain, also from 1967.Nearer to her original country of birth, she was also licensed to Regal Toy limitedof Canada in 1964 and appeared as “Lili Ledy” in Mexico! Tressy is undoubtedly a very important part of fashion doll history. This article will focus on the British FIRST edition Palitoy Tressy, who debuted in British toy stores in 1964.
Photo by Laney Cummings
At the time of Tressy’s introduction,Mattel’s Barbie was selling at the rate of over six million dolls a year! Her phenomenal success and domination of the fashion doll business had the toy industry’s movers and shakers scrambling to compete for a slice of this very lucrative pie.It seemed that a gimmick was required to launch yet another teen doll onto an already saturated market; one who would fit the pre conceived bill, yet still be different enough to command attention, and steal some of Barbie’s thunder.It didn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that most teenage girlsinterests extended to hair and beauty, as well as clothes and boyfriends.The ever astute and creative team at Mattel had already initiated the concept of hair play with their incredibly popular Barbie ‘Fashion Queen’ (also introduced in 1963) who made use of a wardrobe of interchangeable wigs, featuring different styles and colours.However, it was American Character’s Tressy who utilised the hair play/beauty/cosmetic angle, and exploited it to its fullest potential.
LEATHER LOOK : Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
WINTER JOURNEY : Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
FIFTH AVENUE: Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
SHAKING THE NIGHT AWAY: Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
BLUE RIBBON WINNER: Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
HOOTENANNY: Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
ON THE BEACH: Above & Below Photos Courtesy of Alison Craven
The marketing hook behind Tressy was her ‘growing‘ hair.Essentially this was achieved by means of a mechanism inside the doll’s torso, which housed a ‘secret strand’. The child pressed abutton in Tressy’s stomach, and out would spiral a long strand of hair, ready for styling. When the child wished to shorten the hair, she inserted a special ‘T’ shaped key into an indentation in the doll’s back. A few turnsof the key, and the hair would retract inside .In its normal state, Tressy’s hair was a rather bouffant styled bob- one length, to the chin. For the time, Tressy’s growing hair mechanism was a clever and innovative design, and needless to say, she became a huge success. It wasn’t long before she was licensed out to Palitoy, in Leicestershire, England. During the mid 1960’s, Palitoy hit the proverbial jackpot with their purchase of both Tressy and G. I. Joe for the British toy market. “Joe” was christened “Action Man” in England. These two American icons became the flagship products of the Palitoy range, and both appeared on the cover of the Palitoy Christmas catalogue in 1966, which was produced for the toy trade.
HOOTENANNY (left) & BLUE RIBBON WINNER
Photo by Laney Cummings
The first edition Palitoy Tressy was released in 1964.Her stock number was #30101.She stood at12” high, with a rigid plastic body, legs, and arms, and a soft vinyl head.She had blue, side glancing eyes, and came with various hair colours,including platinum, golden blonde, brunette, and black. Her outfit very much reflected the British ‘beat’ look of that period. It consisted of a jersey shift dress, with roll neck collar, and a chain link belt tied at the waist. The doll also wore white panties and white open toe pumps in the style of Barbie. The original Tressy shoes had “Hong Kong” marked on the soles.Her stand consisted of a metal pole with white plastic base, which sported the Tressy logo. The base of the stand also had anarea designed specifically to accommodate the key for her hair.The first Tressy keys produced were actually made of pink plastic with the Tressy logo on, but they were ultimately too fragile for child’s play, and a metal replacement was soon produced for later issues.Tressy’s dress also came in several colour variations, including turquoise, lemon yellow, or pink, and each colour dress corresponded to a different hair colour on the doll. The turquoise dress was usually worn by a honey blonde Tressy, the pink dress by a brunette, and the lemon yellow dress by a platinum haired doll. Obviously, as with all mass produced lines, there were exceptions to the rule.
WINTER SPORTY (First version with blue ski-pants)
Photo by Gary Alston
Photo by Gary Alston
Anxious to release Tressy onto the British market in time for Christmas 1964, Palitoy imported a large batch of dolls from American Character.Therefore, the first Tressy dolls to be released in England utilised the American Character bodies, which naturally, carried their mark at the base of the doll’s head.Surprisingly, when British production finally got underway, there was no Palitoy stamp on the first issue dolls.There are differences to be found between the American Character and Palitoy Tressys. Some of the differences are subtle, others more noticeable. Palitoy’s Tressy represented the modern, independent, British teenager.Her style and attitude reflected the British 1960’s beat culture, and her sensibility was decidedly hip, and European. Her style was less classic than her American cousin, whose wardrobe was more rooted in the rigid formal wear of the early 1960’s.That is not to say that these differences made Palitoy’s version superior to the American Character one.It was merely a different marketing approach to fit in with British ideals of style during this period. Not all of Palitoy’s alterations were successful in the production of their doll.
BON VOYAGE (left) & LEATHER LOOK
Photo by Laney Cummings
For instance, they used a different type of vinyl for the head. It was of inferior quality to the American Character version, and overtime collectors have found that some heads have faded or become discoloured. The American Character Tressy had a more ’high coloured’ face paint,with heavy green eyeliner on the earlier dolls, and she also came with different hair colours, especially a red/strawberry blonde version. Palitoy’s first edition Tressys did not receive either of these attributes.The most noticeable difference between the two cousins however, was in the design of the Palitoy Tressy packaging. Unlike the American version which used a standard shoe box design, the British box was very distinctive – triangular in shape, and extremely cool! This was the ‘Swinging’ ‘60s after all, and Britain was leading the world in the fashion/style stakes. This unique style of box made Tressy very noticeable at point of sale – the toy store window, and was as much a part of her brand image in 1964 as Barbie’s shoe box packaging covered with the stylised fashion sketches, had been in 1959.
Photo by Laney Cummings
In addition, Palitoy Tressy’s wardrobe was given a cutting edge, ‘modern‘ look of British designed fashions; although some outfits were duplicated fromthe American designs, including ‘Blue Ribbon Winner’, ‘Hootenanny’, ‘On Fifth Avenue’ (renamed ‘On Park Lane’ in Britain) and ‘Miss American Character (‘Miss Fashion’) a beauty pageant style ball gown.They are a perfect reflection of that era‘s trends; both in fashion and popular culture. Each outfit was beautifully designed and detailed, with charming miniature accessories.The outfits were tagged ‘Exclusive Tressy Empire Made’ – a nostalgic reminder of Great Britain‘s historical importance! Careers were well represented; Palitoy Tressy had an air hostess outfit, and a secretary costume – called ‘In The Office’. Her “Shopping In Town” tailored suit and “Winter Journey” featured styles that were smart and classic, whilst outfits such as “Leather Look” and “Shaking the Night Away” represented the 60’s style to perfection. “Shaking” even featured a miniature recordplayer and telephone, and took its inspiration from The Beatles and the classic British pop t.v. show “Ready- Steady – Go” hosted by “Queen Of The Mods” Cathy McGowan.Tressy also had sportswear in the form of “Winter Sporty” – a great skiing set; oddly though, Palitoy supplied her with ski’s, but no ski poles, andshe wore ice skating boots instead of ski boots! There were of course, plenty of delicious formal gowns, including the rare and highly desirable “Black Magic” which was another design borrowed from her American Character cousin, and which camecomplete with a tiny perfume bottle, plus the extremely popular “Evening Date”, a turquoise cocktail dress with chi chi lace ruffled skirt, again a look that was so representative of that era.
EVENING DATE: Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
Apart from the boxed outfits, an inexpensive range of ‘Budget Fashions’ at ‘pocket money prices’ were released; sold on card style tray shaped packaging, they included some of the most high fashion ‘Mod’ styled pieces, such as ‘Soda Pop Cutie’ and ‘In My Solitude’, complete with its white ‘go-go’ boots.Given the Tressy hair styling concept, many additional hair and cosmetic sets were produced for her. Referred to as hair glamour packs, they contained such items as shampoos, setting lotion, lacquer, rollers, and later on, cosmetics and hair colouring sets too! Tressy was advertised on British t.v. during the children’s hour.Wearing ‘In Holiday Mood’, she was pictured in a speedboat, Tressy flag blowing in the wind at the back of the boat. A catchy jingle ran: “Tressy’s got a secret , be the one who knows – You can style Tressy’s hair, to match the lovely clothes she’ll wear – her hair grows!”
MISS FASHION (MISS AMERICAN CHARACTER IN U.S.): Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
In 1965 Tressy gained a little sister called ‘Toots’.She too, was a copy – of American Character’s ‘Cricket’.Toots was 9 ½” tall. Her stock number was #30601.She had the same growing hair feature as Tressy, side glancing blue eyes, and posing legs. She came in a white ballet tutu and shoes.Like Tressy, Toots’ box featured the triangular design, this time in red and white. Following the precedent set by Barbie’s Skipper, Toots was given a range of outfits that would correspond with her older sister.For example, Tressy’s “Winter Sporty” outfit co-ordinated with Toots’ “Winter Weekend”, which unusually for a doll of 9” in height, came complete with miniature ski’s AND ski poles to match her big sister’s. Toots also had her own version of “Hootenanny”.In all, she had ten boxed outfits, and seven budget fashions.
TRESSY IN: BEAUTY SLEEP & TOOTS
Photo by Gary Alston
UNDIE-FASHION: Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
In 1967, Palitoy released ‘Mary Make Up’ – Tressy’s best friend. She was yet another clone; this time of American Character‘s Mary. The American Mary Make Up doll, who was released in 1965, had a bubble cut style hairdo; the British version appeared in 1967, and therefore her hair is cut in a more contemporary, bob style. As the name suggests, Mary was all about cosmetics! She did not have a hair growing feature, but did share the same Tressy body, sans the hair mechanism. There was a special finish given to the vinyl on Mary’s face to allow ‘make up’ to be applied and removed. Her hair could also be coloured with felt tip pens. On first appearance, Mary Make Up can look terminally ill! This is due to her platinum white hair waitingto be coloured, and her face almost devoid of paint, waiting to be made up! She came in either a blue or red dress with striped sleeves, plus a hair and make up band to protect the hair for when the child applied cosmetics to the doll‘s face.
TOOTS: Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
THEATRE TIME: Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
BOWLING BEAUTY: Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
HOOTENANNY: Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
SUGAR ‘N’ SPICE: Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
WINTER SPORTY (Second version with red ski-pants): Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
AIR HOSTESS: Photo Courtesy of Alison Craven
Tressy enjoyed remarkable longevity in Europe. Her career lasted far longer there than in her native America, for in 1967 American Character Toy Corporation had ran into business difficulties. Subsequently, they had settled with their creditors in that same year, and in 1968 went out of business. One wonders what caused Tressy’s early demise in America.It has been suggested that American Character, although really up against the might of Mattel and Barbie, simply did not develop the doll enough.Tressy was not given a boyfriend or a car, or indeed many of the otheraccoutrements that a doll of her stature should have enjoyed. There appearedto be no real ‘sense of family’ to the line. In any event, American Character sold several of their molds to rival companies, including Ideal (Tiny Tears & Tressy) and Mattel. In the 1970’s Ideal used the grow hair patent for their Crissy doll.
MISS FASHION (left) & BLACK MAGIC
Photo by Laney Cummings
There were another three editions of Palitoy Tressy released In Great Britain. The final version was produced in 1979.Today, Tressy enjoys a cult following with a large and loyal fan base – mostly it has to be said – in Great Britain, but also in France. Two British ladies – Sandra Cartlidge and Linda Clark, have websites devoted to her, plus a lively Yahoo group. Linda says that Tressy was her favourite childhood doll, and was sufficiently inspired to delve into Palitoy Tressy’s history, and her relatives from all corners of the world, at her website: Tressydoll.com .Then there is collector Laney Cummings (whose photographs appear in this feature), who also has an extensive Tressy collection at her website, including an incredible array of boxed Tressy and Toots outfits.Sandra of Tressy.co.uk told me about the appeal that Tressy holds for her: “Unlike today’s plethora of blonde dolls, Tressy was much more individual. Many of us, myself included, started collecting Tressy as a way of buying back our happy childhoods. I still find it strange the way in which finding a tiny, elusive plastic umbrella, or handbag, can make me feel. Many hair colours can be found on first issue Tressy dolls, from pale blonde, to almost black.Of all the Palitoy dolls, the first issue is the most collectable. One of the most desirable first editions is the whitehaired version. She is not found often, and looks extremely elegant. Other‘special dolls’ were made for exhibitions and toy fairs. Some lucky collectors have Tressy dolls with pink or copper coloured hair! We also have to remember that Tressy had her own hair colouring sets, resulting in a few unexplained hair shades, but what a wonderful time we had!”
IN HOLIDAY MOOD
Photo by Gary Alston
Sandra sums the Tressy doll phenomenon up very succinctly: “In the 1960’s, who could have asked for a better doll than Tressy? We wanted nothing more than to change her fashionable clothes, and style her versatile hair.” Sandra, I was there too, and I agree. Tressy ROCKS!
*Extra special thanks to Laney Cummings and Alison Craven, who supplied me with some wonderful photographs featuring Tressy dolls in often rare-to-find ‘complete’ outfits from their personal collections.Many thanks also to Sandra Cartlidge and Linda Clark for their invaluable assistance in preparing this feature.
Photo by Gary Alston
Tressy & Toots model ‘TEENAGE PARTY’ ~ original OOAK outfits by Gary Alston for HOUSE OF RETRO LONDON.
‘TRESSY’S GOT A SECRET ~ HER HAIR GROWS!’ ARTICLE TEXT ©copyright Gary Alston 2016.