News from the Costume Chair: Summer 2015

An Old Costume Finds a New Home

by: Sharon Shore, Costumes Chair
When Culver City native Carol Ball attended the MGM auctions in 1970, she was a teenager lookiSumn Carol Ball  p.1ng for costumes to wear for Halloween. Among her purchases was a two-piece dress worn by Marjorie Main in MGM’s 1946 production of The Harvey Girls. The film is about a group of young women, including Judy Garland, who head out West to work as waitresses at the Harvey House restaurants. Marjorie Main is seen in this costume in the very first scene of the movie as the girls are singing the popular “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.” But Carol never wore the costume and it spent the next 40-some years in her cedar chest. In 2011, Carol, a Life Member of the Society, decided to donate it to an organization that she knew would treasure it: the Culver City Historical Society! “How wonderful to finally see my donated Marjorie Main Harvey Girls costume on display for all to enjoy,” said Carol. “It’s so good to know that it will be cared for and stored by our own historical society. It’s another fun reminder of those summer days I will never forget in 1970 that I spent at the MGM auction.” The 1890s costume, now exhibited through July in the Archives and Resource Center, was designed for the film by Helen Rose. The display also includes photos of Byron Harvey Jr., grandson of the Harvey House founder Fred Harvey. The display and selected accessories were created by Denice Renteria and Costume Chair Sharon Shore.

Costumes Fall 2013

NEWS FROM THE COSTUME CHAIR . . .

by Sharon Shore, Costumes Chair

CATALOGUING THE COSTUME COLLECTION FOR THE FUTURE

Beginning in the spring of this year, we continued a project to transfer handwritten costume catalog information from notebooks to the Society’s museum collection database. We hope to finish the transfer by the end of the year. At completion, the cataloged contents of our collection will be more readily available to our members, researchers, and the general public.

The process of creating a database for the entire collection can lead to renewed consideration for understanding the collection. We now know that 26 different film productions can be positively identified by labels sewn in the inside of some costumes.

Periodically, we have shown films associated with costumes on display, if known. A whole new dimension is added to the display when the costume appears “in action” within the film narrative.

Although the Society has a small but growing collection of DVDs and videos in the archive, only one film is matched with a costume.

Thanks to a donation of Volume I of a set of Esther Williams films by Stuart Freeman, the rhinestone-covered swimsuit in our collection appears as it looked on Esther Williams in This Time for Keeps (1947).

Some of you might have seen the costumes from Billy Rose’s Jumbo, currently on display, as they appear in the final scenes from the film, shown during public open hours, thanks to a loan from Judy Stangler.

Following are the twenty-five other films that have been identified with our MGM costumes in the collection. It is our hope to build the Society’s DVD library with copies of them. Some are obscure and difficult to locate.

Assistance by a donation and/or information about the availability of any of the films listed would be much appreciated and add to the pleasure of seeing them in historical context.

Our film screenings in the ARC during public hours are free and open to all.

  • Billy Rose’s Jumbo, 1962
  • The Bride Goes Wild, 1948
  • Broadway Serenade, 1939
  • The Brothers Karamazov, 1958
  • Give a Girl a Break, 1953
  • Honky Tonk, 1941
  • The Kissing Bandit, 1948
  • Les Girls, 1957
  • A Life of Her Own, 1950
  • Little Women, 1949
  • Living in a Big Way, 1947
  • Love Me or Leave Me, 1955
  • Madame Bovary, 1949
  • Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944
  • Merry Widow, 1952
  • Neptunes’s Daughter, 1949
  • The Painted Veil, 1934
  • The Pirate, 1948
  • Saddle the Wind, 1958
  • Small Town Girl, 1953
  • The Swan, 1956
  • Take Me Out to the Ballgame, 1949
  • Three Wise Fools, 1946
  • Two Sisters from Boston, 1946
  • Undercover Maisie, 1947
  • Valley of Decision, 1945
  • Words and Music, 1948

Costumes Summer 2013

by Sharon Shore, Costumes Chair

“ELEPHANTS” PARADE DOWN OVERLAND AVE FOR “JUMBO”

Due to its unique history as home to several famous movie studios, Culver City has witnessed many intriguing events.

Heads must have turned in 1962 when a small group of elephants, including Sidney the Elephant, strolled down Overland Avenue on location for the Metro Goldwyn Mayer film musical Billy Rose’s Jumbo. Unfortunately, our collection doesn’t include the custom sized black top hat and magician’s cape worn by Sidney in her starring role as “Jumbo” in the film.

We do have the next best thing, however. Our collection includes the complete clown costume worn by Jimmy Durante as Pop Wonder, owner of the traveling circus and Jumbo.

The costume is surprisingly complete and in relatively good, exhibitable condition. It includes a hat, a pair of clown-sized red and white wing tip shoes, cartoon-sized mittens, a detachable collar, cuffs and bib-like shirt front, a red silk vest with oversized buttons, and plaid pants with matching tail coat! The entire costume will be displayed for the summer season in the ARC museum.

Leopard print leotards worn by Doris Day as Pop’s daughter, Kitty, and Martha Raye, as Lulu the fortune teller and Pop’s love interest, are also included in the book, display.

The film was directed by Charles Walters and based on a musical play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Costumes were designed by Morton Haack.

MORE ABOUT STORING YOUR COSTUMES, KEEPSAKES AND HEIRLOOMS COLLECTION

The challenge of preparing valued collections, including costumes and other types of textiles, for long term storage can be a bit daunting. However, identifying the appropriate wrapping materials such as “buffered” or “un-buffered” paper and special storage containers designed to house a range of shapes and sizes is important. The choices you make can affect the condition of the items in the stored collection over time.

One way to begin the process is to set aside a few minutes to look through the archival materials catalogs on file at the ARC. The catalogs are divided into categories for types of art to be stored, such as photos, books, textiles, etc. The products featured in each category are usually illustrated by photographs and have some explanation about their archival qualities and intended use. Most products come in a range of sizes. Although you might decide not to purchase any of the catalog products, the information might be helpful in establishing some practical “dos” and “don’ts” for setting up storage conditions for your collection. The catalogs are available by request to members for use in the ARC.

LANA TURNER PORTRAYS CAREER GIRL IN 1950 FILM

News from the Costume Chair

by Sharon Shore, Costume Chair

LANA TURNER PORTRAYS CAREER GIRL IN 1950 FILM

Lana Turner trench coat from "A Life of Her Own"In 1950, Lana Turner wore our Spring display costume portraying “Lily James” in the film, A Life of Her Own. George Cukor directed the film which was made at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in Culver City. In this postwar story about an independent career girl, Lily leaves small town life in Kansas, begins a career as a model in New York City and promptly falls in love with a wealthy, married, business man.

The coat is a version of a classic style known as the “trench coat,” based on a rain coat worn by officers in WWI. The style is worn by both men and women and has come to signify “tough professional life in the big city” which Lily experiences in the film story. It features a notched lapel collar, deep patch pockets and long cuffed sleeves on a loosely fitted long coat. The trench coat also includes a wide belt at the waist.

This version of the coat was designed by famed designer Helen Rose. The gently rounded collar points and softly gathered waist of her design give the coat a slightly feminized look. It’s made of soft peach colored wool fully lined in silk crepe color.

TWO-PIECE ENSEMBLE FROM 1948 FILM “WORDS AND MUSIC”

Our second costume on display is from the film Words and Music, a musical eulogy to songwriter Larry Hart, as told by his partner Richard Rodgers. The film was released in 1948 by MGM. In it, Ann Sothern, portraying Joyce Harmon, wears a two-piece dress ensemble also designed by Helen Rose.

The top includes long raglan sleeves, a fitted waist and peplum extension to hip length. It is constructed of navy blue crepe silk with an intermittent garden pattern of pale pink flowers and green leaves; the flowers are rather like “lilies of the valley.” However, the best “not-to-be-missed” pattern detail is the matching pink Venus de Milo statue visible at the far end of the garden. The ensemble skirt is navy blue, plain silk crepe in a “straight” style.

THE ANSWER TO A FREQUENT COSTUME QUESTION …

Many visitors to the ARC ask why all of the costumes in our collection are not on permanent display. They would like to see more of the collection. The answer is that the idea is wonderful but not feasible to implement. And here’s why:

  • Most of the costumes in our collection are made of materials which have a kind of “inherent vice.” Silk and wool fabrics will eventually become extremely fragile, no matter how well they are stored and cared for. They are made of proteins, just as we are and have versions of the same aging attributes. (Alas!)
  • Also, all of the costumes in our collection were made for performance. Think of all the movement required for dancing, singing and acting in film and theatre productions, often staged over and over again.

Even the Fiesta Ballona Court dresses were subject to performance. All of the costumes show signs of wear such as broken zippers, burst seams and of course, sweat stains just to name a few concerns. Many have unrepaired damage. Often minor conservation repairs must be made before a costume can be safely displayed.

  • Display also requires a certain amount of handling which can include surface cleaning, padding out of sleeves, etc. Even the most gentle professional handling adds to the “wear” history of a costume.
  • Also, the display of historic costumes requires special mannequins chosen to support the costume without stress to construction, materials and exposure to harmful reactive surfaces. The museum currently has only five mannequins which can be made ‘archivally’ acceptable to support a variety of costume types. Mannequin display is one of our biggest challenges.
  • While on display, the costumes are exposed to light, humidity, airborne soils (dust and dander for example), and even the possibility of insects in our unfiltered museum environment.

All of these factors can accelerate aging and potentially cause damage. The longer the display period, the greater likelihood of damage. The recommended maximum display period for historic costumes is about three months and the museum does observe that recommendation.

Finally, a sincere thanks for all the enthusiastic support the membership has shown for our costume display efforts. We would need a Super Lotto-sized amount of funding to display most of the museum costumes at once. In the meantime, we will continue to make slow but steady progress.

COSTUME IDENTIFICATION OFTEN DIFFICULT

News from the Costume Chair

by Sharon Shore, Costume Chair

COSTUME IDENTIFICATION OFTEN DIFFICULT

As some of you might know that clues to the production history of many costumes in our MGM collection can be found in the hand written cloth tags that we find sewn inside.

The tags are inscribed in ink with various information such as a film production number, the name of the actor who wore the costume, size measurements, an original inventory number and even a dry cleaning number.

The production number is especially important because it can be referenced in directories of production numbers paired with film titles.

Emerald green dress from MGMEMERALD GREEN SILK VELVET GOWN ON DISPLAY NEEDS ID

Unfortunately, not all of our MGM costumes have any or all of the above tag information. A case in point is the spectacular emerald green silk velvet and ivory taffeta gown featured in this season’s costume display.

The gown is reminiscent of an 1830s era evening dress with fitted velvet “outer” dress including a wide shawl collar ending at the waist in points marked by silver beaded buttons. It is open at the front to reveal an ivory “inner” panel and matching ivory sleeves.

The round puff shaped sleeves, aptly called “beret sleeves”, are supported inside by a clever combination of celluloid ribs and pleated organdy. Ruched green taffeta with pinked edges is applied to the cream silk front inset panel and sleeves in a lattice pattern. Rows of ruched and pinked taffeta in fawn color embellish the velvet skirt and collar edge.

A careful examination of voluminous layers of linings reveals tags that tell us only the size, Bust 34, Waist 26 and an inventory number #65. Additional information about the film origin for this very romantic and sumptuous silk gown would be extremely welcome!

OTHER COSTUME ON DISPLAY HAS IDENTIFICATION

In contrast, thanks to label tags we have lots of information on the other costume on display. This dance costume with renaissance period details includes a deep blue tunic with short sleeves and “slashed” details and gold metallic embroidered belt. The tunic is worn over a lilac colored shirt with pointed collar and long sleeves.

The costume not only has a tag identifying Helen Wood as the actor but also a tag with the film production number for Give a Girl a Break.

This romantic musical comedy features dance scenes by Marge and Gower Champion, Bob Fosse and Helen Wood and stars Debbie Reynolds. The costumes are by designer Helen Rose.

In the film story Broadway producers vie for their favorite performers, who are showcased in a series of musical and dance scenes, in order to chose a replacement to star in an upcoming Broadway production.

Give a Girl a Break was filmed in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios at 10202 W. Washington Blvd. and truly was “made in Culver City”. It was released on December 3, 1953.

COSTUME CARE TIP FOR WINTER

One of the unwanted surprises following those special holiday dinners is discovering drops and dribs of candle wax stuck on your holiday clothing and linens, whether it be a favorite tie, a new silk scarf or heirloom lace tablecloth.

Yes, grandmother did say to apply a hot iron over brown paper to melt and disperse the wax onto the paper. However, all too often the result is a stiff spot of wax residue absorbed into the cloth or worse yet, a burn spot.

Give this method a try instead. Tightly wrap an ice cube in a thin towel and apply it to the wax spots until they are frozen. Then gently pick off the frozen bits of wax with tweezers. Any small bits of wax left in the cloth weave will probably be flushed out with the next washing or dry cleaning. Best of all, the process is infinitely less dangerous to you, your clothing and linens.