Fundraising, Gwen Verdon and a New Costumes Chair

by Louise Coffee-Webb, Costume Committee Chair

Some of you may have been aware that Debbie Reynolds has been auctioning her famous “Hollywood” collection this year, at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills (formerly the Museum of Television and Radio). She began collecting in 1970 at the time of the famed MGM auctions. I was working at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising when Ms. Reynolds lent her incredible collection for an exhibition there in the late 1990s. She has made numerous attempts to begin museums, and for a short while, had one in Las Vegas, and there was also a valiant attempt in Hollywood. But in spite of her efforts, it never became a viable project. I mention this because, having worked in museums for decades, I know how expensive they are to maintain, and how labor-intensive the curation of costumes is. To put it succinctly; nobody ever gets rich running a museum. So, most of them are charitable organizations, helped by beneficent donors and docents.

Fundraising Essential To Add To Our Wonderful Collections

The Archive and Resource Center (ARC) of the Culver City Historical Society likewise survives through its membership and fundraising programs. And thanks to our fundraising events (such as the recent “Doozy” evening at the Culver Hotel), we were able to bid on some items at the Debbie Reynolds auction to add to our collection.I made a whole list of items that might be appropriate – and affordable – and we managed to acquire one costume! [By the time you read this, our purchase will be in the ARC awaiting cataloguing.]

I recognized many of the costumes in the auction, because they had previously been exhibited at the first major film costume exhibition on the west coast: “Hollywood and History: Costume Design in Film,” which I worked on while at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, in the late 1980s. Since that time, the collection and appreciation of film costumes has grown enormously.

Corset work by Gwen Verdon in The Merry Widow (MGM, 1952) Gwen Verdon

Gwen VerdonI know you are wondering what we acquired: It was the corset work by Gwen Verdon in The Merry Widow (MGM, 1952) during the can-can scene at Maxim’s in Paris. Ms. Verdon was born in Culver City in 1925 and went to Hamilton High. She later married Bob Fosse (who first cast her in “Damn Yankees”).

The costume is black with a large pink silk bow and trimmed with black lace, and was designed by Helen Rose. How do we know it belonged to Ms. Verdon? It has a handwritten label inside: G. VERDON.”

The CCHS Welcomes Sharon Shore As New Costumes Chair

In the previous newsletter, I introduced you to our new Costume Chair, Sharon Shore, and we all are looking forward to her presence and expertise at the ARC. During this “changing of the guard” I wanted to take this opportunity to invite you to write and let us know what you, our members, would like to read about in this, the costumes column. As we all make vows to diet in the new year – so we can fit into our own costumes – I want to wish you and extraordinary 2012 and I look forward to meeting more of you at our programs, or when you visit the ARC to see our latest displays.

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The Annual Costume Society of America Symposium

Hedy Lamar costume - Culver City Historical Society

News from the Costume Chair

by Louise Coffey-Webb, Costume Committee Chair

I have just returned from rainstorms in Boston where I was attending the annual Costume Society of America Symposium. I presented a lecture on Ganna Walska, a well-known Polish opera singer and socialite, whose designer of choice was the legendary Erté – famous for his Art Deco sinewy figures and fantastical ornaments.

Erté was also contracted to design sets and costumes for MGM in 1925, and his credits include The Mystic, Bright Lights, Time, the Comedian, Dance Madness, La Bohème, and Paris – all made during that one year! He was often partnered with designer Andre-Ani.

Even though his Parisian studio was replicated on the MGM lot to help him feel comfortable, one year was all he could bear!

New Displays of Costumes of Hedy Lamarr & Eleanor Parker

There are a couple of new costume displays in the ARC that I wanted to tell you about.

The first is an outfit made for Hedy Lamarr (pictured above) that looks like a two-piece skirt and top, but is actually made in one piece of a pretty red printed flower on black silk.

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna and was a star in Europe before signing with Louis B. Mayer, who changed her name. She was a contracted star with MGM from 1937 through the end of World War II. [In 1942, at the height of her Hollywood career, she patented a frequency-switching system for torpedo guidance that was two decades ahead of its time; but that’s another story!]

We do not know the designer, as the production number written inside: “3684” belongs to a production that never came to fruition. It’s possible that this outfit was made for PR purposes. I have dated it circa 1940.

The other costume looks like an Asian pajama set, and is superbly finished to couture standards with a pale green chiffon silk lining. It is from The Seventh Sin (MGM, 1957) and was worn by Eleanor Parker as “Carol Carwin.” The hand-written labels sewn to the interior seams, say “Eleanor Parker” and the film production number “1710.” The designer was Helen Rose.

When you next enter the ARC, look for the photograph on the left of the old Meralta Theatre on Culver Boulevard, which is displaying on it’s marquee, the film The Seventh Sin with Eleanor Parker! The theatre was near the old City Hall and we can date the photograph to 1957 – as that was the film release date. This coincidence was noticed by Justin Scupine, Editor of www.culvercitytimes.com when he visited the ARC last month.

Visit the new Displays at the Pacific Theatre

I hope you have had a chance to look at our new display in the window of the Pacific Theatre, opposite The Culver Hotel. We will be changing sections every couple of months, to keep you up-to-date with our events and activities.

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A Golden Costume on Display

Broadway Serenade - Culver City Historical Society

News from the Costume Chair

by Louise Coffey-Webb, Costume Committee Chair

Just in time for the holidays and a glitzy new year, we have a golden costume on display in the Archive Resource Center.

Those of you who saw Visiting… with Huell Howser: Culver City this Fall, may remember when he looked at a sparkling costume as I lifted it out of its archival box. This costume dates back to 1939, a year often considered to be the finest in the golden age of cinema releases.

Broadway Serenade - Culver City Historical SocietyFrom Broadway Serenade

The costume pictured here was worn by Virginia Grey as the character Pearl in the black and white musical, Broadway Serenade (1939). It starred Jeanette MacDonald and Lew Ayers (Dr. Kildare), and was directed and produced by Robert Z. Leonard. The art direction was by the famous Cedric Gibbons, and the women’s costumes were designed by Adrian, who designed for the men. Busby Berkeley directed the finale musical number that featured all-female musicians and his usual over-the-top style.

The costume is a floor length coat-dress made entirely of gold lamé, fully lined in turquoise silk, and featuring Adrian’s signature large puffed sleeves, which in this case are quilted in a diamond pattern. The quilting continues in lines over the shoulders and forearms, and the center front features large lamé-covered buttons.

Be sparkly and bright throughout 2011!

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A Special Guest Visits the ARC: Deborah Landis

Deborah Nadoolman Landis - Culver City Historical Society

News from the Costume Chair

by Louise Coffey-Webb, Costume Committee Chair

I wanted to let you know about some very interesting visitors we had the pleasure of hosting at the ARC at the end of last year.

Deborah Nadoolman Landis, and her assistant, Natasha Rubin, came to look at some of our MGM costumes. Why? Well, Deborah is the Senior Guest Curator of an exhibition at the prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum in London on film costumes in 2012. Entitled “Style and Seduction: The Art of Hollywood Costume Design,” the exhibit is scheduled to open October 20th, 2012, followed by an international tour. There will also be a catalogue.

And who is Deborah Nadoolman Landis? She is a costume designer with an illustrious career, creating the iconic looks of Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Blues Brothers, Coming to America, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller among so many more. She has had a distinguished career designing for major motion pictures directed by John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Louis Malle and Costa-Gavras.

Deborah was the President of the Costume Designers Guild and created the now, very glamorous and sought-after “Costume Designers Guild Awards” that precedes the annual Oscars© telecast.

The David C. Copley Center for Costume Design at UCLA

Most recently she has been appointed Founding Director of The David C. Copley Center for Costume Design in the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. This new Costume Center is the first for the study of costume design in the film world. Through bold research and a robust program of conferences, exhibitions and film festivals, the Copley Center will serve not only the UCLA community, but international motion picture historians, cultural anthropologists, and working designers and filmmakers as well.

“Deborah Landis has made the point on many occasions that costume designers are first and foremost storytellers,” said Robert Rosen, former dean of the school. “They are full creative partners in art forms that are intrinsically collaborative, and academic recognition of that fact is long overdue.

While many film scholars have analyzed early motion pictures from its beginnings in the late nineteenth century through its “Golden Age,” the Copley Center will spearhead costume design scholarship in Hollywood history up to the present day, including gathering oral histories of creative collaborators in current production. It will also focus on genre research, such as Western Film Noir, Science Fiction, and Musical design. Additionally, the Center will encompass costume illustration as an art form unto itself, creating a rich source for both academic and artistic study.

Deborah has worked extremely hard to elevate the status of the costume designer, and to emphasize the difference between a costume designer and a fashion designer. She is also an author of several books, notably Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume (2007) and Screencraft: Costume Design (2003).

For more information on The David C. Copley Center for Costume Design in the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, please click here.

The Culver City Historical Society is always thrilled to share knowledge about its collections, with other professionals.

It’s Spring — and time to rotate our costume displays. Next time you attend a program at our Archive Resource Center, be sure to look and see what’s new!

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Preservation imperative for costumes and people

News from the Costume Chair

by Louise Coffey-Webb, Costume Committee Chair

Costumes are similar to people in that, from the moment they are created, they begin to deteriorate! In other words, preservation becomes of vital importance.

Merrill Publishing Company, Chicago (1940) - Culver City Historical Society

Gone With the Wind & The Harry Ransom Center

On that note, a happy story appeared in The Hollywood Reporter on September 2, 2010, stating that fans of Gone With the Wind responded to “an appeal for funds to restore gowns from the 1939 movie meeting its target (of $30,000) in three weeks.” [Belinda Goldsmith, Reuters.]

Some costumes from the film were acquired by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin in the 1980s. The CCHS recently received an email notification from the Ransom Center, referring to their plan to create a traveling exhibition in celebration of the 75th anniversary of Gone With the Wind in 2014.

The folks at the Ransom Center wisely acknowledge that for an exhibition of costumes of this caliber to travel, they will need to be conserved and have custom display supports and traveling boxes made. Now wouldn’t that be a marvelous exhibition – to be able to show those costumes in the very city where the film was created?

“Fiesta Queen’s” Costume Shown at Fiesta La Ballona

If any of you were able to visit our Archival Resource Center (ARC) during the Fiesta La Ballona weekend, you would have noticed the Fiesta “Queen” gown on display, together with a photograph of a young lady wearing the very same dress in 1951. (The Fiesta Queen’s dress can also be seen here.)

Special Items brought out for Huell Howser’s “Visit”

We’ve added a new display with a circus leotard worn by Doris Day in Billy Rose’s Jumbo from 1962 (and our newsletter editor remembers seeing the elephants walking down Overland Ave. during its filming!). The costumes for were designed by Morton Haack who designed films from 1959 to 1971, including The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Planet of the Apes.

In addition to these costumes, two old favorites are still on display: Gene Kelly’s striking red and white striped jacket from Take Me Out to the Ball Game (this one we put up for Huell Howser to admire!), and a very festive and be-tassled gown from The Kissing Bandit.

Don’t forget to watch the repeat of “Visiting … With Huell Howser” on PBS on October 15th at 7:30pm, where you will see a number of Culver City’s historic sites as well as yours truly proudly showing-off our MGM costumes!

“Managing Your Costume Collections”

I am currently on sabbatical from Woodbury University and finishing up a book that has been at least four years in “Managing Your Costume Collections.” This book will be helpful to anyone in charge of a collection, be it in a small museum, a rental house, or a personal archive.

As custodians of collections, we are all faced with the same conundrum: how do we preserve our assets while also providing access? The New Zealand Film Archive Project has been doing just that, along with The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Recently, a total of 75 titles were re-discovered in New Zealand, including some Culver City connections: Robson Trail, a travelogue show in British Colombia, and a newsreel, both from Selznick News in 1922; and Smithy, a comedy starring Stan Laurel produced by Hal Roach in 1924. [Note: The ARC has some Hal Roach Studios memorabilia on display in our gorgeous new display bookcases.]

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