“The Look” That Made Humphrey Bogart Fall in Love

Editor’s note: We were sad to hear of the passing of Lauren Bacall at the age of 89 today (Aug 12, 2014). She was a true Hollywood legend, a fresh-faced beauty who stole the notoriously cynical Humphrey Bogart’s heart.

Here is a fond remembrance of her first appearance on screen, from a blog post earlier this year.  Rest in peace, Lauren. As Bogie himself, would say..”Here’s looking at you, kid.”


 

It’s a cold and windy day here in the northeast, so we thought that a good way to warm up would be to take a trip back to the Golden Age of Hollywood and look at the distinct fashions of a screen icon.

As Caroline Young writes in her book, “Classic Hollywood Style,” few actress made such a stunning impact in their first role as Lauren Bacall did in “To Have or Have Not,”

“When Lauren Bacall slinked pantherlike on to the screen in Howard Hawks’ “To Have or to Have Not,” a starlet had never made such an impact in her first role.

Bacall was hyped as “an American Dietrich,” a “tall Veronica Lake,” and “what most men expect their favorite girl to look like.” The actress, born Betty Joan Perske, was given the nickname ‘the Look,” in tribute to the way she tilted down her chin and glanced up through the side sweep of blonde hair.

Bacall and Bogart

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in a scene from the film

Lauren Bacall was the perfect partner for Humphrey Bogart, as she could match him with toughness and wisecracks. They famously fell in love during the making of “To Have and Have Not,” and because the film was shot in sequence, the offscreen love story unfolds before our eyes.

Lauren Bacall photo

Lauren Bacall in a publicity photo from “To Have and Have Not”

Hawks told Bogart, “we are going to try an interesting thing. You are about the most insolent man on the screen and I’m going to make a man a little more insolent than you are.” Bacall dropped the biting one-liners, gave Bogart the brush off until the end, and slinked in tight fitting suits, shirts and dresses that highlighted her cat-like poise.

Bacall’s cool look particularly stuck a chord with the women who saw the film and the publicity photos in magazines. “Even the high school girls are trying to copy her striped hair, aidling walk and guttural wheezes,” reported one newspaper. “Corset departments report unmeetable demands for the up lifted, Bacall type of brassiere.”

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Classic Hollywood StyleClassic Hollywood Style” explores iconic looks from the golden era of Hollywood, covering 35 films from the 1920s to the end of the 1960s. Caroline Young looks at the history and social context of the costumes through stories from the production, photos, interviews and original costume design sketches, and tips on how to ‘get the look’ today.

While we celebrate the glacial elegance of Grace Kelly and the skin-tight sexiness of Marilyn Monroe, behind every look on screen was the costume designer who shaped the image. In the golden age of Hollywood, designers like Edith Head, Adrian and Travis Banton became stars in their own right. Women queued up to see the latest Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo release to lust after the glamorous costumes the stars would wear on screen. Department stores shamelessly mass-produced copies of gowns, film magazines would preview the new looks and women ran up their own versions on their sewing machines. In the 1960s women lowered their hems and sported berets to look just like Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde. Even today, an article on the little black dress will inevitably make mention of Audrey Hepburn.

Every one of these films has perfectly captured a moment of fashion zeitgeist or has become an indelible image of cinema, whether it is Garbo in a trenchcoat in A Woman of Affairs, Joan Crawford’s shoulder pads in Mildred Pierce, Rita Hayworth’s strapless dress in Gilda, James Dean’s red windbreaker in Rebel Without a Cause or Steve McQueen’s ivy league style in The Thomas Crown Affair. Through archived records, studio press releases, behind the scenes memos, costume designer sketches and notes, censorship records and articles from magazines of the time, this is a behind-the-scenes look at the classic costumes of the silver screen.

The Hot Dress that Made “Maggie the Cat” a Sensation

For those of us who didn’t grow up during Elizabeth Taylor’s heyday, it can be easy to overlook what a stunning beauty she was. One viewing of the film “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” will change all that, however.

In this steamy drama based on a Tennessee Williams’ play, Taylor is remarkable as the increasingly desperate Maggie the Cat.

Part of what made the performance so legendary is a white dress that was designed by MGM costumer Helen Rose to fit Taylor’s legendary curves to a T. Here is some background on the film and the sensation that the Maggie dress caused in the late 1950s, from “Classic Hollywood Style” by Caroline Young.

cathottinroof

The Film

The Tennessee Williams Pulitzer Prize winning play that the film is based on is an erotically charged drama about a wealthy but dysfunctional family who gather for an afternoon birthday party for the patriarch, Big Daddy, who is dying from cancer.

His son, Brick, is alcoholic, impotent and in a leg cast, and grieving over the suicide of his close friend and homosexual lover, Skipper. Brick’s sultry wife, Maggie, is used to being wanted by men, but desperately claws for her husband’s affection.

The play was directed by Elia Kazan and premiered on Broadway in 1955.

MGM swiftly bought the rights for a screen version, but the story was changed to comply with production codes which objected to any suggestion of homosexuality.

This led to director George Cukor turning it down and Tennessee Williams calling for audiences to boycott it.

Nevertheless it was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director for Richard Brooks, Best Actor for Paul Newman as Brick and Best Actress for Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie.

As was typical for 1950s drama productions, the film was to be shot in black and white, but when Taylor, with her violet eyes, and Newman, with his bright blue eyes, were signed up, it was decided to shoot in color.

The Maggie the Cat Dress

  • Helen Rose was the costume designer for MGM at the time of the film
  • She had only three costume changes to work with for Taylor; a slip, a skirt and a blouse, and a short simple afternoon frock which was worn through most of the film
  • Director Brooks and Rose agreed on the slip, blouse and skirt, but they had trouble coming to a decision on the dress
  • Both wanted it to be white and ‘unobtrusive’ so it would not detract from the scene
  • Brooks wanted a silk tailored shirtwaist dress, but Rose suggested a white chiffon dress with draped Grecian bodice and short, full skirts
  • When Taylor came in for the costume fitting, she loved the Grecian dress and the wardrobe department worked through the night to get it ready for shooting the next day
  • When Rose launched her own ready-to-wear clothing line, she replicated the dress, which became known as “the Cat dress” (Taylor’s character refers to herself as “Maggie the Cat” throughout the film)
  • The $250 dresses flew off the shelves! They sold thousands of copies in different sizes and colors for ordinary women who wanted some of the Taylor effect
  • As Rose said “Every woman who could afford $250 apparently wanted to look like “Maggie the Cat”
  • Taylor loved the dress so much that she asked Rose to make replicas for her personal wardrobe

Check out the trailer for the film:


Classic Hollywood StyleClassic Hollywood Style” explores iconic looks from the golden era of Hollywood, covering 35 films from the 1920s to the end of the 1960s. Caroline Young looks at the history and social context of the costumes through stories from the production, photos, interviews and original costume design sketches, and tips on how to ‘get the look’ today.

While we celebrate the glacial elegance of Grace Kelly and the skin-tight sexiness of Marilyn Monroe, behind every look on screen was the costume designer who shaped the image. In the golden age of Hollywood, designers like Edith Head, Adrian and Travis Banton became stars in their own right. Women queued up to see the latest Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo release to lust after the glamorous costumes the stars would wear on screen. Department stores shamelessly mass-produced copies of gowns, film magazines would preview the new looks and women ran up their own versions on their sewing machines. In the 1960s women lowered their hems and sported berets to look just like Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde. Even today, an article on the little black dress will inevitably make mention of Audrey Hepburn.

Every one of these films has perfectly captured a moment of fashion zeitgeist or has become an indelible image of cinema, whether it is Garbo in a trenchcoat in A Woman of Affairs, Joan Crawford’s shoulder pads in Mildred Pierce, Rita Hayworth’s strapless dress in Gilda, James Dean’s red windbreaker in Rebel Without a Cause or Steve McQueen’s ivy league style in The Thomas Crown Affair. Through archived records, studio press releases, behind the scenes memos, costume designer sketches and notes, censorship records and articles from magazines of the time, this is a behind-the-scenes look at the classic costumes of the silver screen.