Category: classic film

How the glamour shot changed Hollywood (Part 1)

classic film essays photography

How the glamour shot changed Hollywood (Part 1)

Back in April I had the pleasure of giving two talks on old Hollywood in San Francisco’s gorgeous and historic Presidio. The first, Vivien Leigh: Stardom and Screen Image, was at the Presidio Officers’ Club. The second, “How the glamour shot changed Hollywood,” was given at the Walt Disney Family Museum as a tie in for their current special exhibit, “Lights! Camera! Glamour! The photography of George Hurrell” (ends June 29, 2015).

As I mentioned in my last post, my interest in researching and writing about Vivien Leigh has not waned, but I am also eager to expand my knowledge on different subjects. So I was really excited when the Programs Manager at the WDFM invited me to give a talk about the history of glamour photography. Although I’ve loved looking at Hollywood glamour photographs since I first became a fan of classic films, I was less familiar with the details of their importance and the lives of the artists behind the cameras. I chose to highlight three photographers that represented three different eras of the studio system: James Abbe (whose archive I’ve been digitizing and cataloguing since January), George Hurrell, and Laszlo Willinger. The research was a lot of fun and the presentation itself went down pretty well, so I hope you enjoy it too!


How the glamour shot changed Hollywood

Written and presented by Kendra Bean
Walt Disney Family Museum, April 11, 2015

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Interest in photographs of celebrities dates back almost to the invention of photography itself, and it definitely pre-dated the invention of the movies. During the American Civil War, 2 1/2 by 4″ cartes-de-visites were printed cheaply, collected en masse and traded or displayed in albums. Cartes were so popular amongst the general public that the phrase “cartomania” was coined to describe the phenomenon. Later, collectible postcards, cigarette cards and larger cabinet cards featuring famous personalities of politics, theatre and literature were also popular collectibles.

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Although the concept of glamour had been part of Western culture since the 18th century, the term as applied to Hollywood came about in the 1930s to describe a style of photograph that captured the otherworldly beauty embodied by film stars. Glamour, like film stars themselves, was a carefully constructed illusion that was fed to the movie-going public, who in turn worshipped these God-like figures and fed their desires by purchasing tickets at the box office, thereby fueling the studios that produced the images to begin with.

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Glamour photography wouldn’t have been possible without the formation of something called the star system. In the very early years of cinema making, there were no such things as stars. Actors in films were anonymous, or known to the public by nicknames. Take the Biograph Girl, for example. Biograph was a film company run by D. W. Griffith, the director of Birth of a Nation and one of the most famous film producers of the silent era. He cast this young woman in several films, and audiences wrote in to the studio enquiring about her real identity. Griffith refused to release such information because he, like other producers, was afraid the ensuing fame would lead the actors under contract to demand higher salaries. She remained “The Biograph Girl” until 1909 when she joined Independent Moving Pictures Company headed by Carl Laemmle, the future president of Universal. Seeing the benefit of revealing the actress’ real name, Laemmle concocted a genius publicity stunt. He started a rumor that the actress had been killed in a car accident in New York. Once the rumor picked up steam, he placed her picture in several newspapers claiming his studio had uncovered the truth: that the actress, real name Florence Lawrence, was indeed alive and well, and making a new film for Independent Moving Pictures. A personal appearance in St Louis assured her fans that she was all right and thus Florence Lawrence, with the assistance of Carl Laemmle, became the first film star.

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Once the studios became wise about creating stars to sell their films, thousands of people were employed to prepare, package and promote them. Photographers were part of the publicity department. Their photographs were sold to newspapers and fan magazines by the thousands, used to promote tie-in products, and appeared on film promotional posters and lobby cards. There were two different kinds of photographs taken while films were being made. One was the scene still. These were not stills captured from an actual film but rather posed images of actors in costume recreating scenes from a film. The second was the publicity portrait, usually taken in the photographer’s studio with the star or stars in costume or plain clothes before cameras started rolling. This meant that the stars and photographers had to come prepared with knowledge of the script and characterizations in order to transmit that to the camera. Portraits were also taken between film assignments and supplied to news outlets to make sure the star remained in the public eye even when he or she wasn’t currently on the big screen.

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The whole enterprise was carefully planned out in advance. Historian John Kobal explained the preparation that went into running a publicity campaign:

“A campaign meeting was called before every picture was begun. There might be eight films in production at once, and one publicist and two assistants were assigned to each. Someone responsible for putting the campaign together would be there from the photography department to ask questions. What’s the film about? Are the costumes going to be of particular interest? The sets? How’s the star going to look? The meetings covered magazine and newspaper stories – what photos, spreads, and off-stage portraits would be used to sell the film?

“Once the copy for a campaign was approved, it was sent to the planting department. Five people did nothing but place [or plant] stories in newspapers and magazines; these had some factual basis but were generally puff pieces…The ‘planters’ worked closely with the editors and would get them to use photographs of up-and-coming stars in return for exclusive photographs of established stars. Ideal Publications put out five or six fan magazines for which the studio portrait gallery was always taking photos.”

The studio bosses also understood how important fans were to keeping their industry going. Magazines often included forms that readers could fill out to receive 8 x 10 photographs of their favorite actors, and portraits (usually signed by secretaries) were mailed out by the thousands. In fact, a star’s standing at a particular studio largely hinged on how much fan mail they received. So it was a real give and take system and the photographers played a central role.

During the silent film era, before the big studios conglomerated, producers often employed one photographer to cover all of the bases. Madison Lacy, who later worked for Warner Bros. but started in Hollywood around 1916, described what it was like to work in Hollywood during the very early years:

“When I first started out, you handled slates, loaded cameras, timed the shots, fero-tagged the fero-tag tin, dried the prints, loaded, made copies. We had to develop our own prints, which we did in a piro soup that made our hands as black as coal, because on the set you don’t always have the lights you like, so in your printing you learned to burn in something that’s very hot or hold back something when there isn’t enough light. You also had to do your own retouching. Anything at all that had to be done, you did.”

Another photographer who filled this multi-disciplinary role was James Abbe.


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I wanted to talk a bit about this particular photographer because I’m currently helping his estate digitize and catalogue his archive. The James Abbe Archive, based in San Francisco and Redding, California, consists of approximately 5,000 objects ranging from original prints to negatives (including glass), letters, newspaper cuttings, radio shows and the unpublished manuscript for his autobiography. The scope of this archive has great cultural significance. Abbe was both a portrait photographer and photojournalist. His work has appeared in publications as diverse as Vanity Fair, Shadowland, the New York Times, Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung and Vu.

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Jenny Abbe and photographs curator Terence Pepper sort through Abbe’s photos in New York.

James Abbe was born in Alfred, Maine, in 1883. His father, James Sr., worked in the book trade and moved the family south to Newport News, Virginia where he opened his own store. It was here at age 12 that the young James Abbe became interested in photography. After seeing his sister’s boyfriend with a portable Kodak camera, Abbe convinced his father to start selling cameras and other photographic equipment to his customers. Acquiring an Eastman Kodak pocket camera, Abbe could often be found snapping pictures of interest around town. His atmospheric shots of the shipyards, troops going off to fight in the Spanish-American War, and other topics of local intrigue earned him the nickname “the boy photographer of Newport News.”

At 23, Abbe went professional when he was contracted by the Washington Post to visually document the Great White Fleet of American battleships traveling to England and France in effort to impress (and possibly to intimidate) Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. An image of the battleship USS North Dakota trudging through a storm tossed sea in the Bay of Biscay was snatched up by several European publications.

The Washington Post assignment was a success, but as anyone who has tried to make a career out of freelancing knows, you often have to supplement it with other work until you can make it into a career of its own. Returning from Europe, Abbe was offered a job at the J.P. Bell publishing company in Lynchburg, Virginia and during this time began experimenting with portraiture using subjects from the nearby Randolph-Macon Women’s College, which were published in the College annuals. It wasn’t long before Abbe had built up enough confidence in his portraiture to show a portfolio of his work to editors of major magazines like Vanity Fair. In 1917, encouraged by the response, he moved with his wife and three children to New York where he set up an independent photographic studio on West 67th Street.

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Abbe was influenced by and took inspiration from the best of the best. During his lifetime, Edward Steichen was considered one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century. He excelled in many areas, including fashion, advertising, nature, documentary and war photography. His portrait subjects ranged from Gloria Swanson to Henri Matisse to James Abbe’s daughter Patience. He was also one of the first photographers to experiment with color, and worked for a time as the Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The interwar period saw photographic technology and experimentation grow by leaps and bounds. Steichen, along with many European photographers, employed the ideas of New Objectivity, an artistic movement that flourished in Germany during the 1920s. Unlike the abstract Expressionist movement, New Objectivity as applied to photography moved away from the dreamy and romantic, and instead produced sharply focused, objective images. Like Steichen, James Abbe would apply similar ideas to his portraits.

In the 1910s, the fledgling American film industry was split between Los Angeles and the East Coast. As a freelancer in New York, not bound by exclusive contracts, Abbe was free to photograph at his leisure and commercialize his work by selling prints to several different publications, often being paid twice for having the same photo published in different magazines. Abbe photographed the dancers of the Ziegfeld and Greenwich Village Follies, and film stars like Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova, Fred and Adele Astaire and Mae West using both studio and location settings. One of his 1919 portraits of Broadway star Jeanne Eagels was the first photograph to land the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

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Most of the famous Hollywood photographers had working relationships with one or two stars that solidified their reputations. George Hurrell had Joan Crawford. Clarence Sinclair Bull of MGM had Greta Garbo. Bob Coburn at the Goldwyn Studios had British actress Merle Oberon. And James Abbe had Lillian Gish.

They first worked together when Abbe was commissioned to photograph Gish in costume for the 1919 D.W. Griffith film Broken Blossoms. Gish always played the pure and angelic waif in her films. Frail and hauntingly beautiful, her characters often endured intense suffering. In Broken Blossoms, she plays Lucy Burrows, a young girl living in London’s gritty East End. After suffering at the abusive hands of her alcoholic father, Lucy meets a kind-hearted Chinese man (played by white actor Richard Barthelmess) who takes her in and nurses her back to health. They fall in love, but it ends in tragedy. Throughout the film, Gish’s expressions of solemn sadness and fear are cleverly captured in an array of close-ups. In fact Gish became so famous for close-up shots that when she starred in the 1987 film The Whales of August, director Lindsay Anderson told her after one particular take that she had given him a perfect close-up. Her co-star Bette Davis supposedly quipped: “She should. The bitch invented them.”

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In her heyday, Lillian Gish was one of the most recognizable faces in silent films. She also had a lot of control over what films she appeared in and who she worked with. Abbe’s photos for Broken Blossoms perfectly capture Gish’s virginal innocence. The serene, Madonna-like pose and speaks of the image she projected on screen, while the mid-length shot, theatrical flowers and fan recall the romanticism of the Edwardian era from which Gish emerged.

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Gish liked Abbe’s photos so much that she requested him for several other films, including Orphans of the Storm, Way Down East, and The White Sister, during which Abbe served as both stills and portrait photographer. The White Sister is particularly notable because it was filmed in Italy and the desert of Lybia rather than at a studio in the United States. This meant that Abbe had to lug his big camera to locations like Mount Vesuvius. He even had a bit part in the film, playing a dying Italian soldier. But perhaps his biggest contribution to the film and to cinema history (aside from his wonderful photographs), was his discovery of British actor Ronald Colman, who was hired to play Lillian Gish’s love interest and went on to become a major star bridging the perilous gap between silent and talking pictures.

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Abbe’s experience in the film industry extended to Los Angeles, as well. At the encouragement of Gish, Griffith and other New York acquaintances, he travelled west to try his luck in Hollywood and in 1920 and 1922 he produced what amounted to a broad survey of life and work in the fledgling movie capital. “Show business, in which I was up to my eyes, does not allow for delayed or cancelled appointments,” he said. “ Any who have ever been in the acting of producing business, on stage or in the movies, soon learn that time is of the essence. Punctuality is a necessity rather than a virtue. Only a few stars, regarded as irreplaceable or temporarily indispensible, can be tardy. Over the years I found show business people dependable, considerate, and easy to get along with. Mary Pickford once posed for three hours on her Hollywood set after a day’s work making a movie when it was her birthday.” “Charlie Chaplin was, and probably still is, a tight wad,” Abbe noted. “ None of the others on the Sennett lot was a spendthrift, but on the other hand, none was willing to go to the extremes Charlie Chaplin did, paying the lowest possible salaries while amassing fortunes.”

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As a freelancer, Abbe’s work appeared in various fan publications, most notably Photoplay and the very popular arts magazine Shadowland. He also formed a close friendship with producer Mack Sennett who turned out comedies at his Keystone Studios in Los Angeles. Abbe was hired to work 10-hour days at $500 a week photographing Sennett’s famous Bathing Beauties, and even got hired to direct and produce his own feature film. Stills from the picture survive, but according to a major study by the Library of Congress, 70% of the silent films made in the United States are now considered lost, and Abbe’s film Home Talent is unfortunately one of them.

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Abbe left the United States in 1923 and settled in Europe where he turned his attention back to photojournalism and news reportage. Traveling through England, France, Germany and Russia, he photographed Louise Brooks, the quintessential flapper then in Europe enjoying a lucrative collaboration with German film director G.W. Pabst; John Barrymore backstage during his landmark run as Hamlet in London. He found Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein in Paris, and even photographed Hitler and Stalin in Munich and Moscow, respectively. Throughout the ’20s and ’30s, Abbe managed to keep his finger firmly on the pulse of culture and politics during this rapidly changing time. And although his time in the film industry was but a small part in a much broader career, his photos of the top stars of the silent screen are what he is most remembered for today.

Stay tuned for part 2 of How the glamour shot changed Hollywood…

 ♠ ♣ ♠ ♣ ♠

Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait

classic film events london

Hollywood costumes come to London!

(Via the V&A)

On October 20, the Victoria & Albert Museum brought Hollywood filmmaking to the heart of London. Hollywood Costume, curated by designer and historian Deborah Nadoolman Landis (Raiders of the Lost Ark), is an ambitious and beautiful exhibition that illuminates the central role costume design has played throughout a century of Hollywood filmmaking. As a previous resident of southern California, I’ve seen a fair share of old Hollywood costumes before. I’ve even been lucky enough to try some on (it turns out that with enough sucking in, I’m the same size as Hedy Lamarr). But none of these experiences had prepared me for the sheer volume and awesome spectacle of this exhibition.

I met up with Zoe from Vagabond Language on a particularly cold day a couple weeks ago. Exhibitions are always more fun when you see them with someone else who enjoys the subject matter as much as you do. Several of the most iconic outfits in film history were on display. Most astonishingly, they weren’t behind glass cases, but out in the open with strategic lighting and projected images that made it seem as if we had stepped into a Technicolor fantasy.

The exhibition is arranged in three sections: Deconstruction (designer’s research), Dialogue (innovation and design), Finale (a huge mash-up of noteworthy designs).  There were costumes worn by everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Matt Damon – Mary Pickford to Meryl Streep and just about everyone in between; we’re talking Hedy Lamarr, Carole Lombard, Elizabeth Taylor, Johnny Depp, Greta Garbo, Kate Winslet, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland – they even had the original ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz shipped over from the Smithsonian.

vivien leigh gwtw dresses

While I enjoyed the full range of costumes on offer, there were two that particularly stood out to me. These were the green curtain dress and  red ostrich feather dress worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, which were among those recently restored by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. This exhibition marks the first time the costumes have been in the UK since the 1940s and it was surreal to view them up close. I’d seen a version of the green dress at the Atlanta History Center back in 2009, but was quite unprepared for the vision of the red dress. Major kudos to the people who did the restoration. It looks absolutely stunning. It also reaffirms the fact that Vivien Leigh’s waist was smaller than my thigh.

Aside from ogling at the artistry on display, I was quite surprised to see that many of the older costumes came from a select few collectors or costume companies in Los Angeles and Asia. It must have taken quite a while for the curators to track all of them down, let along negotiate for them to be shipped to London.

Whether you’re in to fashion, film or plain old nostalgia, Hollywood Costume has something for everyone and should be on the top of every tourist’s list of things to see and do in London.

*Hollywood Costume runs until January 27, 2013. Advance bookings strongly recommended.


classic film

Back to Titanic: A Night to Remember

Titanic at Queenstown Ireland

The RMS Titanic sails into Queenstown, Ireland before heading out to sea

On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton on her ill-fated maiden voyage to New York.  Built in Belfast by Harland and Wolff, Titanic and her sister ships the RMS Olympic and HMHS Britannic were the pride and joy of Liverpool’s White Star Line shipping company headed by J. Bruce Ismay and American financial tycoon J.P. Morgan. The ships were designed to be the last word in luxury transatlantic travel, and were in fierce competition with Cunard, based in Southampton (Cunard’s Lusitania was famously torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat during the First World War). Not only was Titanic the largest and fastest passenger liner at sea, she was hailed as “unsinkable” — a towering metaphor for power and optimism during the industrial age.

More famous than the ship itself was the sad fate that befell it. In the late hours of April 14, 1912, Titanic struck an iceberg off the freezing coast of Newfoundland and sank, killing over 1500 people in one of the worst maritime disasters of the 20th century.  Like the Hindenburg, the Titanic has remained a source of morbid fascination for the past century. I, myself, have been interested in the story of the ship since I was a child. I remember doing a school project and flipping through an old copy of the issue of National Geographic that detailed Robert Ballard’s expedition to the bottom of the Atlantic and his discovery of the wreckage. For my 23rd birthday, a few of my close friends and I went to Las Vegas, where an exhibition of Titanic artifacts had been raised from the seabed and put on display in at the Tropicana. It evoked similar feelings to experiencing an exhibit about the Holocaust, for example. The reason for divers plundering the ship’s remains and displaying what they’ve found is understandable. The Titanic is rapidly disintigrating and will soon be nothing but a pile of rust at the bottom of the sea.

A Night to Remember

Tucker McGuire as the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown

Over the past 100 years, Titanic has proven profitable source material for filmmakers. Just ask James Cameron, who basically took my entire life’s savings when I was 14. Although Cameron’s 1997 film has been the biggest moneymaker and is still fresh in everyone’s memories, especially now that it’s been re-released in cinemas in 3-D to mark Titanic’s centenary, Roy Ward Baker’s 1958 classic A Night to Remember is considered by many serious film folk to be the “best”. Drawing largely from Walter Lord’s book of the same title based on the official Titanic inquest, A Night to Remember has been praised for its historical accuracy, keeping the focus on the reality of the disaster rather than the mythology.

A Night to Remember

“I take it that you and I might be in the same boat later?” Robbie Lucas (John Merivale) and Thomas Andrews (Michael Goodliffe) stoically accept their fate

Baker’s film recalls the documentary realism movement that defined British cinema during the war years. It features wonderful performances by Kenneth More, John Merivale, Anthony Bushell, Honor Blackman and Michael Goodliffe, among others. The ship itself is the main character, and we see the human error that caused her demise from all angles. But what sets it apart from Hollywood renderings of the same story is its restraint.  It lacks the melodrama that permeates Cameron’s film and lets the horror of the tragedy speak for itself. No need for extra gimmickry to tug at audience’s heartstrings.

Titanic in A Night to Remember

Full steam ahead

There are many similarities between Baker’s and Cameron’s films, aside from the obvious part about the sinking boat. The latter not only uses a good chunk of the dialog featured in A Night to Remember, but contains many very similar shots.  A minor but interesting difference worth noting is that A Night to Remember was filmed prior to Ballard’s discovery, so the ship is depicted sinking in-tact. Now we know it split in half while going down, as shown in Cameron’s film. In the end, however, comparing A Night to Remember and Cameron’s Titanic is as pointless as comparing Ken Burns’ The Civil War and Gone with the Wind. One presents historical facts as they were. The other is a fictional story set against a real historical backdrop. Which film floats your boat (pardon the pun) will depend on your keenness for realism vs romance. But A Night To Remember is an exceptional film, and a worthy one to watch to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s tragic voyage.

Rating: A


classic film laurence olivier

3 reasons why Wuthering Heights deserves special DVD and blu-ray treatment

Merle Oberon Laurence Olivier Wuthering Heights (1939)

The announcement last week that Warner Brothers had acquired the Samuel Goldwyn film library gives us classic film fans good reason to cheer. Goldwyn, whose name made up one third of the famous Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer conglomerate before he decided to fly solo with The Samuel Goldwyn Company, produced some of the most revered films of Hollywood’s golden era: The Best Years of Our Lives, The Pride of the Yankees, Guys and Dolls, and a title pertinent to readers of, Wuthering Heights.

Warner Brothers has a stellar reputation for bringing classic films to home audiences. Some films are lucky enough to get several clean-ups and re-releases. Once getting the green light for a DVD/blu-ray release, there are two avenues a classic title can travel down before hitting the shelves in an entertainment store near you. The first is the full shebang; a special edition, sometimes multi-disc DVD that is beautifully restored and packed with extras. This is the treatment that has been bestowed on major titles such as Gone with the WindCasablanca and Singin’ in the Rain. The other avenue is through the Warner Archive, which releases lesser-known titles but seldom includes any special features.

When I first heard about the Goldwyn acquisition, the title that immediately sprang to mind was William Wyler’s 1939 gem Wuthering Heights. Starring Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon and David Niven, this heartbreakingly beautiful film has been mentioned as one of those at the top of Warner Bros.’ to-be-released-on-DVD list. Here are three reasons why Wuthering Heights deserves the same restoration and special edition treatment given to Gone with the Wind and the other major titles listed above.

1. It was the apple of Goldwyn’s eye

In 2009, I was lucky enough to see Wuthering Heights on the big screen in Beverly Hills during the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ ode to 1939. During this event, AMPAS screened all 10 of the best picture nominees of 1939 in homage to Hollywood’s most glittering year. Most of the screenings included a guest speaker that regaled the audience with tales from the set and the historical significance of the film in question. For the Wuthering Heights screening, that special guest was Sam Goldwyn Jr., the very same person who has teamed up with Warner Bros. to negotiate this deal. Goldwyn told us that of all the films he produced during his long career as an independent mogul, Wuthering Heights was the one his father was most proud of. And for good reason…

2. It’s no ordinary film

Don’t let the fact that you currently have to import Wuthering Heights from South Korea if you want to own a DVD copy fool you into thinking this film isn’t important. Because it is. Wuthering Heights may not be the epic Technicolor spectacle that was Gone with the Wind or The Wizard of Oz, but it was highly acclaimed by critics and audiences. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Laurence Olivier), Best Original Score (Alfred Newman) and Best Picture. Gregg Toland, best known for his use of deep focus in Citizen Kane in 1941, snagged the Best Black and White Cinematography statue. It also beat out Gone with the Wind to receive the Best Picture of 1939 accolade from the New York Film Critics Circle.

And what of the film’s stars? Catherine Earnshaw was arguably the defining role of Merle Oberon’s career, and playing Heathcliff turned Laurence Olivier into the (talented) R-Patz of his day. When he went to New York after completing the film to star in No Time for Comedy on Broadway, he was literally mobbed by women who tore at his clothes. Vivien Leigh probably wasn’t too happy about that last bit. But aside from becoming the Idol of the Moment, Olivier learned to appreciate screen acting while working on this film. We can thank William Wyler for all of Olivier’s subsequent achievements in front of and behind the camera. The director had to bully a natural performance out of the reluctant and arrogant thespian, but the results are amazing. Many actors have since stepped into the role in various film and TV adaptations, but Olivier, with his dark, brooding vulnerability, remains the quintessential Heathcliff.

3. The vaults have secrets…

Before the 35mm reel started rolling that spring evening in 2009, we were treated to another surprise: colour home video footage taken on the set by Wyler himself. This footage, it was explained, is a small part of what is housed in the Wyler collection at AMPAS. That means there’s probably plenty more where that came from. AMPAS is one of the best institutions in the world for cataloguing cinematic artifacts–not just the films themselves, but the material generated around them–and they know the importance of preserving Hollywood film history. The amazing thing about LA is that all of these film institutions are located in the same general vicinity, so the people of Warner Bros. need not travel very far to find a chest of treasures to include on a DVD/blu-ray of Wuthering Heights.

The other day, I was talking with my good friend Mark in Hollywood via skype. We were discussing how, in the case of cinema (and history in general), absence does not make the heart grow fonder. It just makes things fade from memory. The subject of our discussion was Vivien Leigh, and how, despite a lot of new material becoming available in the 25 years since Hugo Vickers published his well-respected biography about the actress, her estate has been very reluctant to assist anyone wanting to lend a fresh perspective to Vivien’s story. Time has a habit of eroding and eventually erasing memory. If the discussion about Vivien Leigh isn’t kept up through various forms (respectful books, documentaries, etc.), she’ll be forgotten. Or, perhaps worse yet, the door will be left wide open for those who are out to make money through rumour and hearsay, until no one knows who Vivien really was or what she actually contributed to the history of cinema. Wuthering Heights is a lot like Vivien Leigh. It’s a genuine classic that’s been collecting dust in a studio vault for years. But Warner Bros. has a chance to bring it back into the spotlight for fans to really enjoy. Let’s hope they make the most of the opportunity.

classic film photography

Dressed: Hollywood Glamour

I’m back in London after a wonderful, photo-filled stay in California. I was so glad to see my friends and family back home, and over the next few days I’ll be sharing some of the many photos I took. About a month ago, I posted some pictures from a sort-of vintage-esque photoshoot I did in London. Well, this past Sunday I had the most amazing opportunity to revisit the past and do a photoshoot wearing authentic old Hollywood costumes and gowns worn by some of my favorite classic film stars!

The costumes belong to collector and historian Greg Schreiner. Greg is the president of Marilyn Remembered, the longest-running Marilyn Monroe fan club, pianist, narrator and producer of Hollywood Revisited, Curator of Special Collections at the Hollywood Museum located in the old Max Factor building on Hollywood and Highland (where many of his costumes are on display), and he happens to be my friend Jay’s next-door neighbor. On Sunday, Jay and I went over and did a little photoshoot. It wasn’t professionally lit or anything (although, Jay is a professional photographer and a very good one at that), but it was a lot of fun!

Greg has some amazing costumes that were once worn by everyone from Judy Garland to Rita Hayworth, Stewart Granger to Barbara Streisand (no Vivien Leigh, sadly, although I doubt I could have fit into that anyway). We went for the old Hollywood glamour look. I tried to be really careful with these gems because some of them, particularly the Rita Hayworth robe, are pretty delicate and have suffered from age.

I did my own hair and make-up, and don’t think it turned out as well as it might have if someone else had done it, but c’est la vie.


  • Foundation, powder, blush and lipstick | MAC (lipstick is Ruby Woo)
  • Eyeshadow | Naked by Urban Decay
  • Eyeliner and Mascara | Revlon
  • A gorgeous black beaded robe from Blood and Sand (1941), designed by Travis Banton, worn by Rita Hayworth
  • The brown silk and fur-trimmed gown designed by Edith Head and worn by Bette Davis in All About Eve (1950)
  • A white silk dress with fur stole and white gloves worn by Rebecca de Mornay to an awards show in the 80s–but it’s really gorgeous
  • A red dress designed by Edith Head and worn by Hedy Lamarr
  • A silver gown designed by Albert Wolsky and worn by Anne Bancroft in the remake of To Be or Not to Be (oh, to have worn an original Carole Lombard gown!)

I have to say, the actresses of classic Hollywood make things looks effortless on screen. Some of these gowns, particularly the Bette Davis one, are really heavy. I can imagine bright klieg lights making a film set sweat city, but these ladies not only wore them around for hours on end, they also moved gracefully. And to let you all in on a little secret: I am proportionally larger than many of these actresses. Rita Hayworth comes closest in height and measurements.

I wish I could do this sort of thing all the time! In reality, I’m really casual with my wardrobe and prefer a more natural look make-up-wise, but I love getting glammed up on occasion!