Rod Taylor in The V.I.P.s.
Rod Taylor as Les Mangrum, gregarious Australian tractor manufacturing mogul
Heathrow Airport, London, Winter 1963
Film: The V.I.P.s
(also released as Hotel International)
Release Date: September 19, 1963
Director: Anthony Asquith
Costume Designer: Pierre Cardin (uncredited)
A generation after Grand Hotel (1932) established the subgenre of the ensemble drama with a packed cast of international stars, Anthony Asquith updated the pattern for the jet age with the genteel director’s penultimate film, The V.I.P.s, which—appropriately enough, given its spiritual predecessor—had also been released as Hotel International. While the central narrative and marketing focused on the exaggerated melodrama of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s on-screen romance, bolstered by the two’s tempestuous off-screen affair, I took the greatest delight in following the subplot of gregarious Australian businessman Les Mangrum (Rod Taylor) and his lovestruck secretary, Miss Mead (Maggie Smith), an opinion shared by Sam Kashner in his July 2003 article for Vanity Fair:
Oddly, their love affair—with Mangrum unaware of Miss Mead’s love for him— is more touching than the Sturm and Drang of the Taylor-Burton relationship. The intensity of Rod and Maggie’s on-screen relationship led several people who worked on the film to conclude that they were really falling in love.
Stranded at London’s Heathrow Airport and the neighboring Hotel International, Les is too focused on his immediate concern of returning to New York and saving his business to notice the blooming affections of the devoted and dutiful Miss Mead, all the while providing a refreshingly grounded counter to the haughtiness of his fellow V.IP.s. Rod Taylor and Maggie Smith would rekindle their charming chemistry two years later in Young Cassidy (1965).
“Puffin” Asquith and screenwriter Terence Rattigan gave Rod Taylor considerable leeway to ad-lib his mannerisms and speech to ensure authenticity but, though the actor originally hailed from New South Wales, he explained to the press the following year that it took remarkable concentration for him to revert to an Aussie accent. Decades later, Taylor recalled one of his more unrestrained moments when speaking to Kashner for his Vanity Fair retrospective:
In the end Mangrum is so ecstatic when Miss Mead finds a way to save him that he bounces on the furniture in pure joy, and he doesn’t even notice when his glamorous girlfriend leaves the room. “I didn’t do it consciously,” Rod recalls. “It was the energy of the guy. But whatever I did, little Puffin allowed me to do it. And, in an English movie, with that kind of elegance and whatnot, for me to blow up like a fuckin’ hyena was a relief.”
What’d He Wear?
The V.I.P.s is set in January—a summer month for Australians—though Les Mangrum is no stranger to appropriately layering for the wintry London climate, arriving at Heathrow Airport in a warm shearling coat and trilby over his checked sport jacket, odd waistcoat, and knitted tie. Consistent with his “salt of the earth” personality, Les is dressed from head to heels in earth tones.
Les Mangrum’s top layer is a shearling car coat, the ideal choice for his more rugged, adventurous character especially when compared to the elegant—and somewhat pompous—Paul Andros (Richard Burton) in his Astrakhan-collared Chesterfield or the romantic Marc Champselle (Louis Jourdan) in his camel raglan-sleeve coat.
Shearling sheepskin outerwear can trace its origins back to the Stone Age, though shearling fashions as we know them today grew in popularity over the early decades of the 20th century with the rise of aviation as pilots sought a warm outer layer to combat declining temperatures. Developed in 1934, the shearling sheepskin B-3 flight jacket became essential for the comfort and survival of the American flight crews who spent hours in the unpressurized B-17 and B-24 cabins during World War II while British pilots simultaneously came to rely on their sheepskin Irvin flying jackets. The process of tanning, processing, and dying the skin of a shearling lamb with the wool still intact resulted in a soft, warm product with one suede-like leather “outside” and a woolly opposing “inside”.
Les Mangrum wears a thigh-length shearling jacket over his sport jacket like a topcoat, tinted in the classic copper brown associated with sheepskin with a natural beige fleece-like soft wool that lines the entire inside of the jacket as well as the collar, revers, and cuffs. Styled in the manner of an oversized pea jacket, Mangrum’s coat has an eight-button, double-breasted front with two parallel columns of four buttons each from the neck down to the waist line, with each buttonhole reinforced with rectangular pieces that fold over each buttonhole onto the pile-side lining. There is a slanted hand pocket on each hip.
Shearling sheepskin coats like Mangrum’s are difficult to track down, with the prevailing sheepskin style being modeled after classic flying jackets like the Irvin that Tom Hardy wore in Dunkirk (2017) as an RAF pilot during World War II. That said, there are several great options available from Sickafus Sheepskins in addition to the pea coat-inspired outerwear currently offered by Caine and cwmalls, though you should be advised that genuine sheepskin will set you back several hundred dollars, if not over a thousand.
Only briefly seen, Les tops his outfit with a dark olive brown felt trilby not unlike the hat that Sean Connery was wearing at the same time across his first four James Bond films, discussed here at The Suits of James Bond. Les’ trilby has a pinched crown, a deeply dented crown, and a short brim, detailed with a narrow grosgrain silk ribbon in the same dark olive brown shade as the rest of the hat.
The pattern of Les’ wool sports coat is a small-scale houndstooth check known as “puppy tooth” in an alternating dark brown and beige pied-de-poule broken check, overlaid with a rust-colored windowpane overcheck.
Les’ single-breasted sport jacket has notch lapels that gently roll over the top of the three closely spaced buttons. The jacket has a welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets that slant backwards, and a flapped ticket pocket that is placed well above the right-side hip pocket but is positioned on a parallel slant. Though many details are consistent with the classic hacking jacket, Les’ sports coat has long double vents rather than the more equestrian single vent. There are three “kissing” buttons on each cuff.
Les wears a white cotton shirt with a semi-spread collar and double (French) cuffs that he secures with gold cuff links.
The brown knitted silk tie that Les wears with this outfit harmonizes well with its earthy tones, rustic textures, and relative informality. Knitted ties seem to be undergoing a resurgence in popularity at the moment, so you can test out if the look is right for you with this inexpensive “army green” knitted polyester tie by FASINUO (Amazon, $9) or graduate to a knitted silk tie like these flat-bottomed cravats:
Tie One On:
- Benchmark dark brown knitted silk tie, 2.5″ wide (Amazon, $24.95)
- Drake’s “chocolate” knitted silk tie, 2.5″ wide (Drake’s, £125)
- Howard Yount “camo green” knitted silk tie, 2.5″ wide (Howard Yount, $45)
- Michelsons of London brown knitted silk tie, 3″ wide (Amazon, $36.95)
- The Tie Bar “chocolate” knitted silk tie, 2″ wide (The Tie Bar, $25)
- Viccels brown knitted silk tie (Viccels, $19.78)
Les wears an ivory odd waistcoat (or “vest”, to us Americans) with a five-button closure, though he correctly leaves the lowest button undone over the wide notch bottom. A unique detail of Les’ waistcoat are the flaps over the two set-in hip pockets.
An adjustable strap crosses the bottom of the back, which is lined in a fawn-colored satin that nearly matches his trousers. These pleated trousers have belt loops—though Les wears them sans belt—as well as slanted side pockets and jetted back pockets with a button-through closure on the left.
The well-traveled black hard leather outsoles of Les’ shoes get more screen time than the dark brown leather uppers as Les kicks back make himself at home in the V.I.P. lounge, letting the plain-hemmed bottoms of his trousers fall back to reveal his black hosiery.
Via what are likely continuity errors over the course of the production show Les wearing two different wristwatches. The first, which we see as he works the phones in the V.I.P. lounge, is stainless steel with a steel bracelet. By the time he has checked into the Hotel International, his left wrist is now dressed with a gold watch on a gleaming black leather strap.
What to Imbibe
According to Sam Kashner’s Vanity Fair article:
Alcohol was the jet fuel that propelled the making of The V.I.P.s. “Everybody was extremely thirsty on the set,” Rod Taylor recalls. “It wasn’t like going to Hollywood lunches and having iced tea. I mean, the bar inside the studio was constantly packed. You definitely did not get through lunch without a bottle of wine…. And, of course, Dickie [Burton] would say, ‘Have a tot of brandy,’ and this would be 10:30 in the morning. Which seemed perfectly normal to everybody.”
Les Magnum does not necessarily keep up with Taylor and the rest of the film’s cast behind the scenes, but the garrulous businessman imbibes in plenty during his extended stay in London, from a bottle of White Horse Scotch whisky in his hotel room to a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne that he splits with Miss Mead over dinner.
Les: Well, let’s have another go at this.
Miss Mead: Well, I’ll be squiffy!
Les: Marvelous! That, I should like to see, Miss Mead. Just once. What am I talking about, “just once”? If I don’t see it tonight, I don’t suppose I ever will.
Fans of the film were also encouraged to embrace booze, as a contemporary contest at the time of the release promised to reward one lucky “V.I.P.” with a robust personalized bar that included 12 bottles of Booth’s High & Dry gin and three bottles of dry vermouth.
How to Get the Look
Les Mangram typifies the successful businessman who hasn’t forgotten his rustic roots or his salt-of-the-earth personality, dressed in rustic tones and textures with his layered shearling coat, houndstooth wool sport jacket, odd waistcoat, and knitted tie for a wintry day of jet age travel.
- Brown-and-beige “puppytooth” check (with rust windowpane overcheck) wool single-breasted 3-button sport jacket with welted breast pocket, slanted flapped hip pockets with flapped ticket pocket, 3-button “kissing” cuffs, and long double vents
- White cotton shirt with semi-spread collar and double/French cuffs
- Gold cuff links
- Olive brown knitted silk tie
- Ivory wool 5-button waistcoat with two flapped set-in hip pockets, notched bottom, fawn satin lining, and adjustable back strap
- Fawn pleated trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Dark brown leather lace-up shoes
- Black cotton lisle socks
- Copper brown shearling sheepskin thigh-length 8×4-button double-breasted coat with wide collar and revers, slanted side pockets, and cuffs
- Dark olive brown trilby with narrow grosgrain silk band
- Gold wristwatch on black leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
A hundred years ago, top people were top people because they were born top people, but you know something, love? A hundred years from now, top people will be top people because they deserve to be.
Ta very much for this great coverage. Australian actors like Errol Flynn, Peter Finch and Rod Taylor had to work in stage English because directors thought (prob. correctly) that global audiences wouldn’t understand Aussie or “Ocker” accents. The shearling coat and “bookie” hat were staple items of the Aussie male of that era. A darn fine actor, the late Rod Taylor. Isn’t it strange that airlines are now desperate to stop intoxicated folk boarding their planes? Back then they seemed to prefer the pax to be sauced up.
Given what Maggie Smith is most recently famous for, that quote becomes even better in hindsight.