Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood’

Readers, be sure to read my preceding posts on Princess Margaret’s October 1979 Trip to America. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four

Hollywood celebrity powerhouse agent, Sue Mengers, and her client, Ryan O’Neal. After 1972’s hugely successful movie, “What’s Up, Doc?,” Sue became known as the most successful packager in the business: she had put director Peter Bogdanovich together with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. In 1979 when Princess Margaret dined at her Beverly Hills home, Sue Mengers was at the peak of her power. Her phone rang incessantly with calls from actors and directors and screenwriters, all wanting to work with her.

The 1970s era Hollywood super agent Sue Mengers was only interested in representing the top talent in the industry. Her“bulging celebrity contacts book” included Barbra Streisand, Jack Nicholson, Mike Nichols, Ali McGraw, Peter Bogdanovich, Faye Dunaway, Bob Fosse, Cybill Shepard, Sidney Lumet, Cher, Michael Caine, Ryan O’Neal, Candice Bergen, Gene Hackman, Burt Reynolds, and on and on.

Agent Sue Mengers, left, with clients Ali MacGraw and Candice Bergen.

The first female super agent Sue Mengers, left, with clients Ali MacGraw and Candice Bergen. Early 1970s.

For a time, there was only thing more star-studded than Sue Mengers’ client list: one of her parties at her mansion atop Bel Air. It was said that

“If a bomb went off on Bel Air Road, then half of Hollywood would be obliterated.”

Sue’s dinners were as exclusive as they were intimate. At one of Sue’s legendary parties at her grand home, Johnny Carson, the host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” looked around at the other guests assembled and complained,

“God, there are too many stars here, not enough sycophants!”

Bawdy, brash, and pushy, Sue Mengers had met Princess Margaret in the fall of 1978 at the London home of literary critic, Kenneth Tynan, and said to her that she would love to throw her a party, should the Princess ever find herself in Los Angeles. The following March, Sue received a call from Princess Margaret’s social secretary, saying that the Princess would indeed be in L.A. in October and would like to take Sue up on her party offer.

‘It seemed like we did nothing from March to October but plan the party,’ said Sue’s assistant, Cindy Pearson. (1)

Usually, Sue set out sugar bowls filled with cocaine and rolled joints for party guests—but not on this occasion. For the formal sit-down dinner for fifty, she hired a chef and a staff of 25. She laid out her best china and silver and had to borrow some from Marcia Diamond, Neil’s wife. Although she was a seasoned and celebrated hostess, Sue, a chain smoker, was nervous as a cat. In the days leading up to the event, many of her friends and clients thought Sue was going to have a nervous breakdown. She lost weight and cut her beautiful, blond hair. Everything had to be perfect. For years, she had studied the lives of the British royal family and learned the finer points of protocol. She idolized Princess Margaret and hated her own mother whose name was Ruth. Sue always used to say,

“Sure—instead of being born to Princess Margaret, I got born to Ruth.”

Then, four days before the dinner, on Tuesday, October 16, 1979, the Los Angeles Police Department learned of a credible threat to the Princess’ life. Intelligence sent by the U.S. State Department indicated that an Irish Republican Army terrorist had been dispatched to murder Margaret during her three day stay in Los Angeles. Sue’s assistant Cindy Pearson said,

“The party was on a Saturday night and several days before, Scotland Yard people were sent with bomb dogs to smell the house.”

For some reason, a third-floor bathroom was locked after the dogs had cleared it, and no one could use it until the Princess’ arrival.

On Saturday, October 20, 1979, a few hours before the dinner at the Beverly Hills home of agent Sue Mengers, Princess Margaret made an appearance at a charity function held at Bullock’s Wiltshire Department Store, L.A. Outside she was greeted by an angry mob of 30 people yelling “Filthy Swine!” and holding up placards decrying the British presence in Northern Ireland. Members of “Action for Irish Rights” tried to present the Princess with a pig’s head on a platter. Two live pigs were there. The next day, she would travel to San Francisco where Irish-American activists promised to flood her hotel with 1,000 pigs (but only one would show up) and a crowd, some dressed as pigs or holding stuffed pigs, would chunk rocks at the limousine of her hostess, Mrs. Gordon Getty.

Security that Saturday night was intense. The dinner Sue Mengers gave in honor of Princess Margaret attracted every “twinkly” (star) in Hollywood. Everyone entering Sue’s palatial home was searched. The guest list at the informal affair included Barbra Streisand (and Jon Peters), Jack Nicholson (and Angelica Huston), Candice Bergen, Michael Caine (and Shakira), Robin Williams (and Valerie), Neil Diamond (and Marsha), Ryan O’Neal (and Farrah Fawcett, “fetching in black silk pajamas”), John Travolta, and Gregory Peck. Ali MacGraw, wearing a short black and gold dress came stag. Her boyfriend, Steve McQueen, was absent because he had snorted too much cocaine and had made himself sick. This made Sue furious. Hunks Nick Nolte (1992 People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive”) and Sean Connery (1989 People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” and the “Sexiest Man of the Century in 1999”) were there. Princess Margaret had met Sean Connery on her 1965 visit to California. He had given her a gold lighter engraved with “007” which she proudly showed others. Gore Vidal, David Geffen, Barry Manilow, Joni Mitchell, and music agent Peter Asher also attended Sue’s bash.

Jerry Brown, governor of California and presidential hopeful, arrived with his longtime love, rocker, Linda Ronstadt, 33. Linda looked stunning, dressed way down, wearing a simple white cotton mini-dress and some little red boots. At that year’s American Music Awards Linda won two awards: Best female pop/rock vocalist and female country single “Blue Bayou.” She sang everything: rock, country, mariachi, rhythm and blues, big band tunes. Although the room was full of gorgeous women, men always turned to look at Linda. As singer Willie Nelson remarked,

 “There are two kinds of men in this world. Those with a crush on Linda Ronstadt and those who never heard of her.” 

Linda Ronstadt / photos by Annie Leibovitz, Malibu, 1976.

Fans said of her:

“She took your breath away.”

“Linda was electric in performance.”

In the 1970s, Linda Ronstadt was everybody’s sweetheart. She was a class act in concert, barefoot, wearing off the shoulder Mexican blouses, jeans, with a flower tucked behind one ear. She was sexy without twerking and her voice was clear and strong and could make sad songs feel even sadder.

Singer Linda Ronstadt and Governor Jerry Brown of California dated for a decade. Photo 1970s.

Linda Ronstadt and Jerry Brown had been going together since the early 1970s and were the source of much gossip. They were considered wildly different. People speculated on what she might be like as a First Lady should he be elected to the U.S. Presidency following Jimmy Carter.

The comic strip, “Doonesbury” by American cartoonist Garry Trudeau, chronicled the hard-to-pin down relationship between Linda Ronstadt and Governor Jerry Brown of California in the 1970s. These were freewheeling times and the country was paying attention to a couple that might occupy the White House.

Linda and Mick Jagger were great friends. At that time, Mick would stay at Linda’s Hancock Park home in L.A. when Linda wasn’t there while he was divorcing Bianca.

Princess Margaret was also friends with Mick and Bianca. Although this could have been a conversation that would have drawn the Princess and Linda into a friendship at the dinner, that was not going to happen. Linda was competition for the Princess.

At 8:30 p.m., the Princess arrived in a police motorcade with her lady-in-waiting, Lady Annabel Whitehead. The guests were seated inside. The Princess made her entrance. The guests would not have stood up in her royal presence. Perhaps they gave her a little clap, which was allowed.

The Princess was wearing a black and silver dress by Dior. She wore jewels handed down to her from her grandmother, Queen Mary: a necklace of blazing round diamonds (at least 3 carats each) and drop diamond earrings.

Sue Mengers had adhered to Emily Post advice for seating protocol when entertaining a dignitary such as Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. To the Princess’ right, she seated the person next-highest-in-rank, Governor Jerry Brown. The rest of the seating assignments were left to the hostess’ discretion. Sue decided to seat Margaret’s fellow Brit, actor Michael Caine, to her left. They fell into an instant rapport.

The same could not be said of her relationship with Governor Jerry Brown. Jerry Brown, as is true with many politicians, was never in doubt as to his prominence in a room. He started off his relationship with Princess Margaret by turning to her and saying,

“Good evening, Your Highness, I just dropped by to say hello. I have another appointment, so I’m only staying for the first course.”

Oh, my goodness. He must have not have gotten the memo. When you first speak to the Princess, you call her, ‘Your Royal Highness.” He had left out the all-important word, “royal.” If he had read his history, he would have known how all important that word was to a royal person. In 1936, King George VI, Margaret’s father, had denied Wallis Simpson the right to be called “HRH” even thought her husband, the Duke of Windsor, was allowed to remain an “HRH” following his exile to France. This slight caused such hurt that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor began to play around with Nazis, perhaps looking for a new kingdom they could rule.

The Duchess of Windsor (formerly Wallis Simpson) shakes hands with Adolf Hitler, 1937, in Munich, as her husband, the Duke of Windsor (formerly King Edward VIII of Great Britain), looks on. AP Photo.

The second faux pas committed by Jerry Brown, the visionary nicknamed “Governor Moonbeam” for his belief that solar power would one day power homes and offices, was his plan to get up and leave before the Princess left. This just was not done! Everyone could begin eating when she lifted her fork. Everyone could leave once she had left.

The Princess said not a word to Governor Brown. She turned her back on him and, turning to her left, struck up a conversation with Michael Caine who was breaking into American films after having made a name for himself in British ones.

As the dinner was informal, the dinner was a buffet style. The guests at the first table (we shall call, “Table One”) lined up in the buffet line, following the Princess. In her column, “Suzy Says,” (Daily News, Oct. 23, 1979), Suzy remarked that, along with the others at Table One, the Princess

 insisted on standing in the buffet line herself and helped themselves to a dinner of sesame chicken, lasagna, ham (obviously, Sue Mengers had not been following the Irish pigs scandal), and homemade ice cream.

Once Table One had returned to their seats with their plates, Linda Ronstadt rose from her chair from across the room—she was not seated with her date—and approached Governor Brown. She had not yet been through the buffet line. Standing by Brown’s chair, she asked, looking down at his plate,

“‘What are we having to start?” She then leaned over with the intention of taking a piece of food off his plate in order to taste it. In doing so, she not only put one hand on the governor’s shoulder, but she also put the other on the Princess’ shoulder.

Michael Caine was watching.

“‘I have seen people shrug many times, but the Princess’ shoulder shrugged like a punch from a boxer and with almost the same effect on Miss Ronstadt. She [Linda] almost overbalanced and fell on the floor.'”

Never once did Her Royal Highness even look up.

When Jerry Brown left the party in the middle of the meal, the Princess still had not spoken a word to him. Once he was gone, she turned to Michael Caine and remarked, “What a dreadful man.” (2)

Sue attached herself to the Princess for most of the evening, recalled Michael Caine.

“They got on like a house on fire.”

Sue could not stop curtseying to her exalted guest. Every time the Princess looked her way, she curtseyed.

Helicopters circled above all night, making the most tremendous racket. Police searchlights filled the garden. Guest Michael Black remembered that “Princess Margaret got a little sauced and was definitely coming on to John Travolta.” Prodded by Gore Vidal, Jack Nicholson offered the Princess some drugs, saying he wanted to get to know her better, but she turned him down.

Sue Mengers and Jack NIcholson. Photo by BEI/Shutterstock

At 12:30 p.m., Princess Margaret departed with the manager of the Rolling Stones, Prince Rupert Loewenstein (full name: Rupert Louis Ferdinand Frederick Constantine Lofredo Leopold Herbert Maximilian Hubert John Henry zu Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg, Count of Loewenstein-Scharffenecka), a Bavarian aristocrat who would turn out to be a financial wizard for the Stones’ fortunes.

Everyone told Sue that the party was perfect but she was sure that Jack Nicholson had ruined everything. Now she would never be invited to Buckingham Palace.

And she never was.

This cursed fund-raising trip was said to have raised a mere half-million dollars for the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, and much of that had been pledged before the Princess had even left Britain.

By the end of the month, the Princess had arrived on the island of Mustique to reunite with her younger lover, Roddy Llewellyn. He, too, had suffered from the fallout from the Princess’ less-than-choice remark, “The Irish, they’re pigs.” He had learned that some irate members of his community back in Fulham, England, had smashed up the terracotta pots outside his flat and emptied the plants and dirt into his basement. Roddy loved his plants. This upset him very much.


(1) Kellow, Brian. Can I Go Now?: The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood’s First Superagent. 2015.

(2) Caine, Michael. What’s It All About? 1993.

Readers: For more on Princess Margaret, click here

Readers: For more on the British royal family, click here

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Edith Head in an undated photo

Edith Head in a Paramount Pictures shot. Undated

It was summer vacation of 1924 and Edith Head, 27, wanted a new job. She was tired of making peanuts – $1500 a year – teaching French and art at the Hollywood School for Girls. She did have a husband but he was a heavy drinker. If Edith wanted to improve her quality of life, it was up to her to make it happen. However, there were few jobs open to women in the 1920s but secretarial work and teaching, and neither paid much.

One day, Edith spotted a classified ad in the Los Angeles Times. The Famous Players-Lasky Studio (later, Paramount Pictures) was looking for a sketch artist to create costumes for a new Cecil B. DeMille silent film, “The Golden Bed.” Edith wanted that job. One problem: Edith Head was no artist. She could not draw the human form.

She had exaggerated her qualifications to teach art when applying at the Hollywood School for Girls. True, she was highly educated, and was more than qualified to teach French – but not art. She had received a B.A. in Letters and Sciences with Honors in French at University of California at Berkeley (1919) and a Master’s Degree in Romance Languages at Stanford (1920) – pretty impressive for a girl who grew up in mining camps in the deserts of Mexico and Nevada. But she had no training in art. Once she had been hired at the girls’ school, she had swiftly enrolled in evening art classes at the Chouinard Art School to gain some artistic skill, learning just enough each night to keep one step ahead of the next day’s lesson for her students. So far, though, she could only draw seascapes.

Undaunted, Edith wrote the studio for an interview. She received a prompt reply, telling her to be at the studio the very next morning at 10 a.m., bringing sketches. Sketches? All she had to show of her own were seascapes.

Agnes Ayres stars in Cecil B. DeMille's 1921 film, "Forbidden Fruit." In silent films, costume was an extremely important element. DeMille's films were always lavish extravaganzas.

Agnes Ayres stars in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1921 film, “Forbidden Fruit” at Famous Players-Studio (later Paramount Pictures). In silent films, costume was an extremely important element. DeMille’s films were always lavish extravaganzas.

Edith did not know what to do but she knew that she wanted that job! Soon a light bulb went on in her brain:

That night I made the rounds at Chouinard (Art School) and collected all the students’ best landscapes, seascapes, oils, watercolors, sketches, life, art, everything.”

Some accounts say that Edith actually erased her friends’ names from their sketches and substituted her own. That next day, she appeared at the studio for her interview, a portfolio of other people’s work in hand. Howard Greer, head of the studio wardrobe department, described the interview in his memoirs:

…A young girl with a face like a pussy cat crossed with a Fujita drawing appeared with a carpetbag full of sketches. There were architectural drawings, plans for interior decoration, magazine illustrations, and fashion design. Struck dumb with admiration for anyone possessed of such diverse talent, I hired the gal on the spot.” (1)

Her salary was $40 a week, more than double what she made teaching.

The very next day, Edith reported for work. She sat at her drafting table, her canvas, blank. The jig was up. She couldn’t draw. Greer recalled:

[She] looked out from under her bangs with the expression of a frightened terrier.” (1)

Edith Head

Edith Head

Edith confessed that she had misrepresented her talent, taking credit for others’ work. Inexplicably, Greer did not fire Edith. Curiously, he took her under his wing and taught her how to sketch. Within six months, she sketched in his style and was quite accomplished. Later, when asked about misrepresenting her talent at the interview, she tossed off the fraud as “youthful and naïve indiscretion” and something she would never do again. (Two more lies!)

Whereas Edith dismissed the padding of her resume as an isolated incident, never to be repeated, designing colleague Natalie Visart did not see it that way. She commented:

Edith lied when the truth would have served her better.” (2)

Edith was to have few friends in life, among them, President Richard Nixon and wife Pat and actress Elizabeth Taylor. Biographer David Chierichetti said that

Her lies made her feel in control….Her lying – even more than her blazing ambition – was what turned people against her.”

Reportedly, director John Farrow would not let Edith work on his 1953 film, “Botany Bay,” as he had caught her in too many lies in the past.

But I digress.

Meanwhile, back to the summer of 1924, Edith was working at the bottom of the totem pole in the wardrobe design department.

My first big assignment was to do the Candy Ball costumes for Cecil B. de Mille’s film, “The Golden Bed.” I drew girls dressed as lollypops, peppermint sticks and chocolate drops….

Then came the crisis. I’d drawn very elongated girls with bodies like peppermint sticks and candy cane fingernails two feet long. Came the day of the shooting and, shortly after, came a blast from Mr. DeMille….The peppermint sticks had started cracking during the dance routine….whenever the dancers got within a half a foot of each other, the candy would stick.”

Also, under the hot lights on the set, the chocolate drops melted, and the production had to be halted. Edith went back to the drawing board and designed dresses studded with marshmallows for the peculiar film.

The "Candy Ball" scene from Cecil B. DeMille's 1924 film, "The Golden Bed." Men surround women wearing marshmallow dresses, pull off the sweets, and eat them.

The “Candy Ball” scene from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1924 film, “The Golden Bed.” Men surround women wearing marshmallow dresses, pull off the sweets, and eat them.

In another of Edith’s costume faux pas, Director Raoul Walsh had to stop production on “The Wanderer” (1925) when one of the show’s elephants began eating its costume – wreaths of flowers and grapes and anklets of rose petals.

As Greer had suspected, Edith did have a natural talent for costume design and, before long, it showed up. She began to score more hits than misses. She became a savvy politician. Although the studio maintained that the actresses were not allowed any say in what they wore in the films, Edith got around that rule. She began to talk with the stars, asking each actress what she liked to wear, what she thought she looked good wearing. Edith became known as “The Dress Doctor,” as she approached the design of each actress’s costumes with their tastes and figures in mind, how they moved, talked, and were photographed.

Costume designer Edith Head and film star Gloria Swanson. Undated photo

Costume designer Edith Head and film star Gloria Swanson. Undated photo

In this way, she developed a large and loyal following of actresses such as Barbara Stanwyck, Elizabeth Taylor, and Grace Kelly even though there were stars like Mary Martin, Hedy Lamarr, and Claudette Colbert who didn’t like to work with her.

Edith boasted that she was a magician. She took ordinary women, and, through fashion magic, transformed them into screen sirens.

Accentuate the positive and camouflage the rest,” Edith liked to say.

Edith designed costumes for almost a thousand movies including westerns, biblical epics, war movies, and dramas. Her style was not flashy but flattered the star and advanced the story line. Here are some of Edith Head’s costume designs:

mae west she done him wrong

Mae West in “She Done Him Wrong,” 1933. Costumes by Edith Head.

Dorothy Lamour wearing a new version of a sarong in "Jungle Princess," 1936. Costumes by Edith Head.

Dorothy Lamour wearing a new version of a sarong in “Jungle Princess,” 1936. Costumes by Edith Head.


Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda in "The Lady Eve," 1941. Costumes by Edith Head.

Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda in “The Lady Eve,” 1941. Costumes by Edith Head.

Veronica Lake in "I Married a Witch," 1942. Costumes by Edith Head.

Veronica Lake in “I Married a Witch,” 1942. Costumes by Edith Head.

Hedy Lamarr in "Samson and Delilah," 1949. Costumes by Edith Head.

Hedy Lamarr in “Samson and Delilah,” 1949. Costumes by Edith Head.


Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard," 1950. Costumes by Edith Head.

Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard,” 1950. Costumes by Edith Head.

Elizabeth Taylor in "A Place in the Sun," 1951. Costumes by Edith Head.

Elizabeth Taylor in “A Place in the Sun,” 1951. Costumes by Edith Head.

Audrey Hepburn in "Roman Holiday," 1954. Costumes by Edith Head.

Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday,” 1954. Costumes by Edith Head.

Edith Head sketch for Grace Kelly suit in "Rear Window," 1954

Edith Head sketch for Grace Kelly suit in “Rear Window,” 1954

Grace Kelly in "Rear Window," 1954, wearing green suit shown in above sketch. Costumes by Edith Head.

Grace Kelly in “Rear Window,” 1954, wearing green suit shown in above sketch. Costumes by Edith Head.

Shown here with costar Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly wears the green suit shown in the sketch above, sans jacket. "Rear Window," 1954.  Costumes by Edith Head.

Shown here with costar Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly wears the green suit shown in the sketch above, sans jacket. “Rear Window,” 1954. Costumes by Edith Head.

Sketch for evening gown by Edith Head for Grace Kelly in "Rear Window," 1954.

Sketch for evening gown by Edith Head for Grace Kelly in “Rear Window,” 1954.

From sketch above, Grace Kelly wears an evening gown from "Rear Window," 1954. Costumes by Edith Head.

From sketch above, Grace Kelly wears an evening gown from “Rear Window,” 1954. Costumes by Edith Head.

Grace Kelly models sunsuit from "To Catch a Thief," 1955. Costume by Edith Head.

Grace Kelly models sunsuit from “To Catch a Thief,” 1955. Costume by Edith Head.

Grace Kelly in "To Catch a Thief," 1955. Costumes by Edith Head.

Grace Kelly in “To Catch a Thief,” 1955. Costumes by Edith Head.

Grace Kelly in "To Catch a Thief," 1955. Costumes by Edith Head.

Grace Kelly in “To Catch a Thief,” 1955. Costumes by Edith Head.

Edith Head sketch for gold masquerade gown for Grace Kelly in "To Catch a Thief," 1955.

Edith Head sketch for gold masquerade gown for Grace Kelly in “To Catch a Thief,” 1955.

As in sketch above, Grace Kelly wears masquerade gown in "To Catch a Thief," 1955. Costumes by Edith Head.

As in sketch above, Grace Kelly wears masquerade gown in “To Catch a Thief,” 1955. Costumes by Edith Head.

Anne Baxter in Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 remake of "The Ten Commandments." Costumes by Edith Head.

Anne Baxter in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 remake of “The Ten Commandments.” Costumes by Edith Head.

Edith Head was awarded eight Oscars and was nominated 35 times for best costume design.

Legendary costume designer Edith Head (1897-1981) displays her 8 Oscar trophies. Originally, she wore blue tinted glasses because it allowed her to view fabrics as they would look in a black-and-white movie. Smoky lenses also made her inscrutable as well as disguising a slightly-crossed right eye. Undated photo

Legendary costume designer Edith Head (1897-1981) displays her 8 Oscar trophies. Originally, she wore blue tinted glasses because it allowed her to view fabrics as they would look in a black-and-white movie. Smoky lenses also made her inscrutable as well as disguising a slightly-crossed right eye. Undated photo

Her brilliant career, that began with a con, was marred by controversy. Often economical with the truth, she sometimes claimed credit for designs that were not her own. She accepted the Oscar for “Sabrina”(1955) although two gowns and one suit wore by Audrey Hepburn – the Parisian look that dominates the movie – were truly designed by then rising French designer Hubert de Givenchy.

Audrey Hepburn wears three dresses from the movie, "Sabrina," 1954. Edith Head designed the "Cinderella" clothes that Audrey's character wears before she travels to Paris. Upon her return, she wears a wardrobe designed by Hubert de Givenchy. Edith Head accepted the Academy Award for Best Costume Design and took credit for De Givenchy's work.

Audrey Hepburn wears three dresses from the movie, “Sabrina,” 1954. Edith Head designed the “Cinderella” clothes that Audrey’s character wears before she travels to Paris. Upon her return, she wears a wardrobe designed by Hubert de Givenchy. Edith Head accepted the Academy Award for Best Costume Design and took credit for De Givenchy’s work.

Edith said the Oscar belonged to her because the costumes had been made in her department. In her acceptance speech, she did not thank de Givenchy. Worse still, when the little black dress became enormously popular, copied by the thousands by clothing manufacturers, Edith made sketches of it for books and appearances and signed them with her name. (3) Only after Edith’s death did Givenchy, a true gentleman, confirm that the black cocktail dress with the bateau neckline and ballerina skirt was his original design, and had been made under Edith’s supervision at Paramount.The Sting movie poster

In 1974, Edith Head was awarded her eighth and final Oscar for her work in “The Sting,” starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. In her trademark bangs, bun, and tinted owl glasses, Edith flitted happily onto the stage, trilling:

“Just imagine dressing the two handsomest men in the world, and then getting this!” she said, holding out her award.

Robert Redford and Paul Newman play ping pong. Undated photo.

Robert Redford and Paul Newman play ping pong. Undated photo.

She was promptly sued by a costume illustrator who said the work on “The Sting” was hers, not Edith’s. Famous designer Bob Mackie, Cher‘s favorite, who had also worked in the Paramount costume department, said of Edith:

She got more press out of The Sting than anything she ever did and she didn’t even do it.” (4)

(1) Greer, Howard. Designing Male: A Nebraska Farm Boy’s Adventures in Hollywood and with the International Set. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1951.

(2) Chierichetti, David. Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003.

(3) Head, Edith. The Dress Doctor. Boston: Little, Brown, 1959.

(4) Jorgensen, Jay. Edith Head: The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer. New York: Lifetime Media, 2010.

Readers, for more on Edith Head and her costume design, click here.

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On January 6, 1956, the long leading story on page one of the New York Times read:   


Prince Rainier of Monaco and Grace Kelly of Philadelphia announce their engagement on January 5, 1956.

The fairytale romance was front page news! It had captured the public imagination “to the point of intoxication.” (1) There was to be a wedding – a royal wedding ! It would be the “Wedding of the Century,” it was predicted.

Grace Patricia Kelly was an Academy-Award-winning actress and America’s #1 box office star. Prince Rainier was Europe‘s most eligible bachelor. It was a marriage made in heaven – it seemed.  Behind the scenes, though, a rather down-to-earth business arrangement had preceded the finalizing of the engagement.

The public was swept away by such a whirlwind courtship. After all,  Grace and the Prince barely knew one another. Just the previous May, the two had met at a Paris-Match publicity shoot at the Prince’s palace in Monaco.  They had exchanged polite words, nothing more. But after that chance encounter, Rainier and Grace began a vigorous correspondence. For the next seven months, letter flew back and forth across the Atlantic.

The Royal Palace at Monaco

Over the course of time, Grace and Rainier discovered that they had much in common – their Roman Catholicism particularly and their dissatisfaction with their lives. Both were looking to get married and start a family. 


Grace Kelly, Life magazine, ca. 1955.

The two were nothing more than pen pals when the Prince, his doctor, and his priest arrived at the home of Grace’s parents, Jack and Margaret Kelly, in Philadelphia on Christmas night, 1955. Grace had flown in from Hollywood for the special dinner visit. Bear in mind, Grace had not laid eyes on the Prince since the spring.  Three days later, they were engaged, with Grace’s parents’ approval.

Before Rainier and Grace could officially announce their engagement, though, there were several obstacles to overcome – matters of state, as Grace was marrying into the House of Grimaldi. First, Grace had to submit to a physical exam to determine if she could bear children – heirs to the throne of Monaco. She passed the fertility test.

Secondly, it was the custom among the European aristocracy for the bride’s family to pay the groom a dowry. Jack Kelly, an Irish millionaire whose family was the cream of Philadelphia society, flew into a rage at the very idea. In the end, though, as the marriage of his daughter was thrown in jeopardy, he agreed to pay the Prince a dowry of $2 million.

Finally, Grace had to accept that, in the event of a divorce, any children of the marriage would remain in Monaco with their father.

(1) Glatt, John. The Royal House of Monaco. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

Readers, for more on Grace Kelly on this blog, click here.



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Actress Natalie Wood (1938-1981) in an undated photo

“Ever since I was knee high,” Natalie Wood would say later, “I  was waiting for my break.”

Natalie’s mother – whom she called “Mud” – had convinced Natalie that the only thing that mattered in life was to be a great actress. Mud had moved her family to Hollywood for the sole purpose of getting Natalie (1938-1981) into pictures. By the time Natalie was six, though, she had been paraded by Mud in front of scores of casting directors who paid her no mind.

In February 1945, Mud managed to get Natalie a screen test for “Tomorrow is Forever,” a picture directed by Irving Pichel. Natalie was one of six pretty little girls to audition for the role of a traumatized German war orphan named Margaret. In the film, Margaret has several heartrending scenes, one of which was chosen for the screen test. The scene called for Margaret to cry.

“She [Natalie] played the scene and it was not very good,” recalled Pichel. Natalie had not been able to cry. She didn’t get the part.

Mud became frantic that Natalie didn’t get the part. “My mother got mad and said, ‘What do you mean, you didn’t cry?'” recalled Natalie. That night at home, Mud commanded Natalie to phone Pichel and beg for a second chance. Pichel was moved by Natalie’s call and agreed to another screen test.

Mud then set her mind to preparing Natalie to cry on cue. She enlisted the aid of Natalie’s older sister, Olga, as coach. Olga remembered her drama teacher instructing the class to think of something sad when they needed to cry. Olga told Natalie to remember the day their dog was hit by a truck. Horrorstruck, Natalie relived the nightmare of her puppy being crushed to death.

 “I got her to cry,” recalls Olga.

Olga’s technique was not lost on Mud.

Both Mud and Olga were at the studio for Natalie’s second screen test. Before the camera rolled, Olga whispered to Natalie to think about their little dog dying, coaxing Natalie to cry. Then, even worse, her mother pulled the sobbing Natalie to the side where no one could see, and,

‘took a live butterfly out of a jar and tore the wings off it.'” (1)

Natalie became hysterical at her mother’s sadistic act, which only she had witnessed. Mud then grabbed Natalie by the hand, shouting at the crew, “She’s ready,” and propelled the screaming Natalie in front of the cameras. The cameras rolled.

Pichel, unaware of Olga and Mud’s behind-the-scenes brutality, recalled that Natalie’s tears that day “seemed to come from the depth of some divine despair.”

Natalie Wood’s 1946 publicity shot for “Tomorrow is Forever”

Natalie got the part, which allowed her to act alongside such Hollywood greats as Orson Welles and Claudette Colbert.

In a short time, Mud’s determination and Natalie’s talent achieved Mud’s desired result: Natalie Wood became a star. At the age of seven, she was supporting her family.

In 1947, she rocketed to superstardom as Susan Walker in the Christmas classic, “Miracle on 34th Street.” A few months after the film’s release, Natalie Wood was so popular that Macy’s  invited her to appear in the store’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade. She would star in 20 films as a child.

(1) Finstad, Suzanne. Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001. This story was recounted by Natalie Wood to actor Robert Redford twenty years later.

American actors Robert Redford and Natalie Wood, ca. 1965-66. They starred in two films together, Inside Daisy Clover and This Property is Condemned.

Readers, for more on Natalie Wood on Lisa’s History Room, click here.

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American movie actress Grace Kelly (1929-1982) had an encounter with a “Bust Inspector” during the production of the 1954 film Rear WindowHowever, this “BI” was not a censor dispatched by the Motion Pictures Production Code crew (See “Elizabeth Taylor and the Bust Inspector.”) The person attempting to meddle with Grace’s bust was none other than the film’s director: Alfred Hitchcock. Grace recalled: 

“At the rehearsal for the scene in Rear Window when I wore a sheer nightgown, Hitchcock called for [Paramount costume designer] Edith Head. He came over here and said, ‘Look, the bosom is not right, we’re going to have to put something in there.’ He was very sweet about it; he didn’t want to upset me, so he spoke quietly to Edith.

 When we went into my dressing room and Edith said, ‘Mr. Hitchcock is worried because there’s a false pleat here. He wants me to put in falsies.’ Well, I said, ‘You can’t put falsies in this, it’s going to show and I’m not going to wear them.’ And she said, ‘What are we going to do?’

 So we quickly took it up here, made some adjustments there, and I just did what I could and stood as straight as possible – without falsies. When I walked out onto the set Hitchcock looked at me and at Edith and said, ‘See what a difference they make?'”

Grace Kelly wears a silky negligee in a movie still from the 1954 murder-mystery, “Rear Window.” Costume designer Edith Head recalled Kelly giggling upon spotting her reflection in the mirror. “Why, I look like a peach parfait!” she said.

Readers: For more on Grace Kelly (Princess Grace of Monaco), click here.

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Elizabeth Taylor sizzes as "Maggie the Cat" in the 1958 film, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

From 1930-1968, the Motion Picture Production Code spelled out clearly what was acceptable conduct to be shown in Hollywood movies. When  British-born actress Elizabeth Taylor (b. 1932) appeared as Maggie the Cat in the 1958 movie version of Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the movie censors dogged the set.

“It’s hard to believe how strictly we were supervised in those days when it came to anything involving sex,” recalled Elizabeth. “It wasn’t just homosexuality that was concealed; heterosexual behavior was subject to almost as many restrictions.”

One day when she was on camera for a wardrobe test, an “inspector” showed up.

When a BI (Bust Inspector, if you can believe it) appeared, he took one look at me and called for a stepladder. He climbed up, peered down, and announced that I needed a higher-cut dress, too much breast was exposed.”

To satisfy the BI, the costume designer Helen Rose pinned Elizabeth’s bodice with a brooch. But as soon as the BI left, that brooch came off and Elizabeth Taylor’s legendary cleavage was bared. (1)

Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor have more bitter conversation in a still from the 1958 film, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

(1) Kashner, Sam and Schoenberger, Nancy. Furious Love. New York: Harper Collins, 2010.

Readers, for more on Elizabeth Taylor, click here.

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To promote the film, "April in Paris," Doris Day appeared on a 1952 Collier's magazine cover with six dyed poodles.

Doris Day appears on the cover of Collier's 1952 magazine to promote her new film, "April in Paris." With her are 6 dyed poodles. Poodles became the most popular dog in the 1950s, when poodle skirts made their debut.

In post WWII America, the poodle dog became the rage. It went from being the 25th most popular dog in 1946 to No. 1 in 1960. All of a sudden, poodles

…were chic; they stood for modernity and sophistication, which anyone could shoot for, whether they were rich or just wanted to appear a la mode. Teenage girls wore stylish poodle skirts decorated with felt-appliqued French poodles wearing rhinestone collars; ladies bought handbags with embroidered poodles on the side and decorated their powder rooms with wallpaper that had pictures of poodles strolling down the Champs-Elysees. (1)

In the fifties, every glamorous movie star had a poodle – or was photographed with one.

Actress Joan Collins with her dyed pink poodle

Although they are not French, poodles came to be called “French poodles,”  recalled for their clever antics in French circuses. Thus, Americans bought poodles and gave them French names like Fifi, Gigi, and Pierre. They also took them to fancy groomers:

To gaze upon a standard (full-size) poodle in a “Miami Sweetheart” cut with centered fur hearts on hips and back, pantaloon legs sculpted lathe-smooth, tassel ears, a Van Buren mustache drooping from its muzzle, a ribboned topknot, and a wagging pompon tail, parading along the boulevard in a rhinestone collar at the end of a jeweled lead, is to see an animal that has become a walking, barking work of art.

Then the poodle enthusiasts went a step further. They attempted to make an animal that was already cute even cuter. They began to use vegetable dyes to dye the dogs to match their owners’ houses, moods, and outfits. Movie actress Doris Day epitomized this fad when she appeared in the movie, “April in Paris,” with six dyed poodles on leashes.

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Elizabeth Taylor as "Cleopatra" (1963)

Elizabeth Taylor as Queen of the Nile in "Cleopatra" (1963)

There’s a delicious new Elizabeth Taylor biography on the market: How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood by William Mann. I’ve been reading juicy excerpts online. The book is so good, so rich in scandalous detail, that I’ve ordered a copy to be sent to my doorstep.

I’m devouring the chapter on the early 1962 filming of “Cleopatra,” when Elizabeth famously ditches husband #4 Eddie Fisher for her Welsh costar Richard Burton. Author Mann paints Elizabeth Taylor as quite the pampered diva, ensconced in her Italian villa, filming in Rome by day. Her butler, for example, was one of many charged with satisfying her every frivolous need.

An example: Elizabeth was a pack-a-day smoker – despite the fact that she was recovering from pneumonia and a tracheotomy that had seriously delayed the movie’s production and almost cost Elizabeth her life. Nevertheless, she smoked, and with a cigarette holder. She never used the same holder twice.

“Fresh ones – at least ten a day –  had to be at the ready, and they had to be color-coded. A green dress called for a matching holder – and Madame changed outfits quite frequently as her moods shifted. Every morning Oates [her butler] prepared a box of cigarette holders based on what Elizabeth would be wearing that day and evening, and not only did the holders have to match her outfits, they couldn’t clash with the tablecloth.” (1) 

Richard Burton as Mark Antony with Elizabeth Taylor as Queen of the Nile in "Cleopatra" (1963)

Richard Burton as Marc Antony with Elizabeth Taylor in "Cleopatra" (1963)

But Richard Burton wasn’t dazzled by Liz’s Hollywood fame. Twentieth Century Fox was paying her $1 million to play the Queen of the Nile in their production. Elizabeth Taylor was the highest-paid actress of the day – but Richard Burton called her “Lumpy” – and to her face. She was intrigued by his dismissive attitude toward him.

Burton was a heavy drinker.  In his first big scene with Taylor, he appeared on the set with a terrible hangover. Elizabeth, although the mother of 3 children at the time, with an adoption of a fourth child in the works, had never been particularly maternal. Yet when she saw how sick Burton was, she felt an overwhelming need to take care of him. It was the turning point. They began a hot-and-heavy and very public romance.

Rumors seeped out and crossed the Atlantic, creeping into gossip columns by Hedda Hopper and Dorothy Kilgallen, scandalizing the film industry and the public who were just recovering from Liz’s latest romantic acquisition, when she stole the married Eddie Fisher from actress wife Debbie Reynolds.

In early 1958, Fisher embraces wife Reynolds in Las Vegas, though his eye seems to be on Taylor, his best friend Mike Todd's wife. In March, Todd dies in a plane crash, and Fisher soon leaves Reynolds for Taylor.

In early 1958, Fisher embraces wife Reynolds in Las Vegas, though his eye seems to be on Taylor, his best friend Mike Todd's wife. In March, Todd dies in a plane crash, and Fisher soon leaves Reynolds for Taylor.

Meanwhile, back on the “Cleopatra” set, Eddie Fisher learned of his wife’s affair. Their marriage had already been on shaky ground but was not yet in complete tatters. He wanted to salvage it. On February 5, at the suggestion of his  wife’s secretary, he took Elizabeth shopping. He chartered a flight to Paris. The international press followed their every move, as the former nightclub crooner Fisher and his gorgeous celebrity wife visited Parisian fashion houses such as Yves St. Laurent, Chanel, and Dior, where Eddie wrote check after check for gowns, jewels, and furs for his flagrantly unfaithful wife. Eddie Fisher once said,

“To keep Elizabeth happy, you have to give her a diamond before breakfast every morning.”

Delighted with her new trinkets, Elizabeth promised Fisher she would stop seeing Burton. A rupture was temporarily averted; they flew back to Rome.

Two weeks passed yet things did not go better for Fisher. Liz did not keep her word. She continued seeing Burton. On February 17, 1960, drinking heavily, Elizabeth swallowed 14 sleeping pills and passed out cold.  She was hospitalized for what was considered a suicide attempt. She was distraught over her personal life. She could not make the break with Burton. She had fallen head-over-heels in love with him.

A little over a week later, she turned thirty, and her parents flew to Rome for the celebration. Shortly afterward, Burton confronted her in front of Fisher and told her she must choose between her two men. On the spot, she chose Burton. Richard divorced his wife of 13 years, Sybil Burton. In 1964, Elizabeth divorced Fisher and married Richard Burton.

Richard Burton escorts wife Elizabeth Taylor in an Edith Head evening gown, 1970
Richard Burton escorts wife Elizabeth Taylor to the 1970 Oscars. Taylor wears an Edith Head gown that matches her violet eyes and displays her assets, particularly her own 69-carat, pear-shaped Cartier diamond — which later became known as the Taylor-Burton diamond.

Twice married, twice divorced to one another, the love affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton remains one of the most famous – and tempestuous – of the Twentieth Century.

(1) Mann, William J. How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.

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i-love-lucy-fourth-seasonReaders: Read the two previous posts before continuing:

 “I Love Lucy: Lucy Meets Bill Holden, Part 1”

“I Love Lucy: Lucy Meets Bill Holden, Part 2”

Doll maker Mattel has immortalized some of Lucy’s most famous roles by creating a line of collector Barbies. Mattel no longer makes the dolls but they are widely available for sale. One of the most popular dolls is the one shown below.

Lucy "L.A. at Last" Barbie doll by Mattel.

"I Love Lucy Barbie doll by Mattel: "L.A. at Last"

“Hooray for Hollywood! At least that’s what Lucy thinks in the episode L.A. at Last™. But after a disastrous encounter with William Holden at the famed Brown Derby Restaurant, she’s not so sure. Especially when Ricky invites Holden up to their hotel room to meet his biggest fan, Lucy. Mortified by her previous encounter, Lucy runs to the bedroom and disguises herself with glasses, scarf, and an oversized putty nose, which she manages to catch on fire, and then comically extinguishes in a cup of coffee! Lucy wears an authentic re-creation of the episode’s costume, which includes a black chiffon coatdress with black dots over a tan jumpsuit. Silvery dots adorn her waistband and a large bow at the collar to coordinate with her dangling earrings. She has rooted eyelashes underneath tortoiseshell glasses that rest on an over-sized, protruding nose. Curls of her signature-red hair peek out from the tan kerchief that completes her disguise.” (Mattel)

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I was thinking it was time for a good ghost story. I was tossing around some ideas in my head when I recalled something I’d seen on TV as a child. Of course we didn’t have any Discovery Channel back then, but the program was definitely a documentary type. It featured haunted houses and the people who lived in them. I remember the narrator talked with a family who lived in a house in which a rocking chair rocked with no one sitting in it. That felt a little hokey so I wasn’t spooked. It was when the narrator interviewed a person I recognized that I scooted to the edge of my seat.

Sommer and Sellers in "A Shot in the Dark" (1964)

Sommer and Sellers in "A Shot in the Dark" (1964)

It was the beautiful, blonde, and sexy Hollywood actress Elke Sommer (b.1940). She was familiar to me because she had played the voluptuous maid Maria opposite Peter Sellers in the second Pink Panther movie, “A Shot in the Dark” (1964), which ReadersDigest.com names as one of the top funniest 50 films of all times. If you haven’t seen it, you should. Bumbling Inspector Clouseau (Sellers) trails after Maria whom he suspects of committing multiple murders, one of which is in a nudist camp.There’s a hilarious scene of Maria and Clouseau fleeing through Paris naked.a-shot-in-the-dark-movie-poster

Anyway, Elke and her husband Hollywood columnist and Bogart’s best friend Joe Hyams (1923-2009) lived in Benedict Canyon in North Beverly Hills. They claimed that a ghost was living in their house. My husband Tom also remembers seeing the same show when he was young.  “They (Elke and Joe) had a ghost in their dining room,” he recalled. “The chairs would move around at night. They would put marks on the floor below the chairs before they went to bed, then, the next morning, they’d look, and the chairs wouldn’t be standing on the marks anymore. The chairs would be all over the place.”

In the middle of the night, Elke and Joe would wake up to what sounded like a dinner party going on downstairs in the dining room, hearing voices, chairs scooting, glasses tinkling, and silverware clanging. Yet they would go downstairs and no one would be there. Elke said, “Things would move all the time and it would be very noisy and (it was) the usual poltergeist nonsense, you know.” (1) The ghost was described as being a middle-aged man wearing a white shirt. (2)

After battling the spirits with no relief, they called in some help, contacting the Parapsychological Institute at UCLA. When Life photographer Allan Grant arrived at the house to take some pictures, he was a sceptic – but not so when he left. He said:

Something happened that spooked me. On one roll of film that I shot in a particular room where they first spotted the ghost there were about four or five frames of film that were progressively fogged down to the end of the frame, giving it a ghostlike appearance, especially (of) Joe Hyams, who was in the shot. When that was processed and I took a look at it, I thought, there’s no way that would happen…in the center of a roll…something else had happened that I couldn’t explain and I’ve spent years as a photographer and that had never happened to me before….Something did happen in that house. (1)

The haunting continued. A mysterious fire erupted one night. Fortunately, Joe and Elke were able to get out through a window. Shortly thereafter, they moved out of the house permanently. (1) Joe Hyams wrote a book about it called The Day I Gave Up the Ghost. Evidently, though, the ghost didn’t give up. The “severely haunted house” at 2633 Benedict Canyon “was bought and sold more than seventeen times since Sommers vacated it, and many have reported ghostly phenomena.” (3)

(1) youtube interview: “Actress Elke Sommer with a Poltergeist.”
(2) California Paranormal Travel Guide.
(3) Ghosts of Hollywood: Celebrities Who Have Seen Ghosts. http://paranormal.about.com/cs/trueghoststories/a/aa022304_3.htm

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