Cary Grant as Walter Eckland, crude and reluctant wartime coast-watcher
Pacific Islands, Spring 1942
Film: Father Goose
Release Date: December 10, 1964
Director: Ralph Nelson
Costume Designer: Ray Aghayan (uncredited)
Last month, I reflected on the elegant white suit that Cary Grant wore at the start of his stylish career in the pre-Code drama Hot Saturday. More than 30 years later, Grant was firmly established as one of the most charming—and enduringly best-dressed—stars of the era, subverting his screen reputation for his penultimate movie, the World War II-set comedy Father Goose opposite Leslie Caron.
It’s great fun to watch Grant as essentially a drunken beach bum… or an “undisciplined, self-indulged escapist” as Caron’s character describes him. Grant stars as grumpy beachcomber Walter Eckland who, after being caught “pinching petrol” from an Australian naval station during the evacuation of Salamaua, is coerced into Allied service as a civilian coast-watcher stationed from the deserted Matalava Island in the Pacific (though filmed in Jamaica). To guarantee Walter’s compliance with his unlikely assignment, his old Royal Navy pal Commander Frank Houghton (Trevor Howard) pierces a sizable hole into Walter’s boat to reduce its service into little more than a floating dock fo his dinghy, then hides cases of Walter’s beloved Black & White whisky around the island, only offering instructions to find them with each report.
Walter’s aversion to work is overpowered by his taste for Scotch, and he reluctantly settles into his duties by reporting back on the Japanese bombers flying overhead. He manages to negotiate the remaining cache of whisky after Frank instructs him to retrieve an abandoned coast-watcher from nearby Bundy Island. The thirsty Walter makes the journey by boat, only to find the watcher dead and buried… and the rifle-toting French consular school teacher Catherine Freneau (Caron) with seven schoolgirls under her care.
I am not a father figure, I am not an uncle figure, or a brother figure, or a cousin figure. In fact, the only figure I intend being is a total stranger figure!
What’d He Wear?
Walter Eckland cycles through three different shirts over the course of Father Goose. At the start of the movie, he wears a pink cotton shirt with a button-down collar, front placket, box-pleated back, and button cuffs that he wears partially turned back just as Grant had several years earlier with his off-the-rack OCBD for the finale of North by Northwest. A brief vignette during the opening credits shows Walter wearing the shirt tucked in, as it was intended to be worn, but he otherwise wears it untucked, consistent with his more casual—some may say sloppy—presentation.
He wears gray wool flat front trousers with a black leather belt, styled with slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets (with a button through the back-left pocket), and plain-hemmed bottoms.
As Walter settles into his work on the desert island, he appropriately changes into a chambray work shirt made of indigo and white end-on-end cotton, presenting a lighter indigo appearance. The shirt has a spread collar, plain back sans pleats, and a front placket with slate-colored plastic buttons and white contrast-threaded edge stitching, echoing the barrel cuffs and pocket flaps. The two chest pockets each close through a single-buttoned flap, with a pen slot “buttonhole” sewn through the left flap.
Consistent with the military-influenced chambray shirt, Walter also wears a pair of khaki chino cotton flat front trousers similar to those being issued to American servicemen at the time. He holds up these trousers with a plain brown leather belt with a squared brass single-prong buckle, informing us that even with such a minimalist wardrobe, Walter still keeps multiple belts.
A peek inside the waistband of the trousers flashes what appears to be the red-embroidered label for Western Costume Co., the venerable Hollywood costume house that has supplied scores of movies since it was established in 1912. These trousers have side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms. The scene of Walter undressing in front of Catherine reveals a hidden hook-and-bar closure and long zip fly, a feature that had been growing increasing popular on men’s trousers in lieu of the traditional button fly.
Evidently, Walter considers this blue chambray work shirt to be his dressiest attire available, as he launders it and wears it for the ceremonial occasion of his remotely ordained wedding to Catherine. For this, he’s offered a dark green neckerchief by the young Harriet (Jennifer Berrington), but—as it was a necktie that resulted in Walter’s decision to remove himself from society in the first place—Catherine turns it down on his behalf: “Ties don’t suit Mr. Eckland.”
He also wears the work shirt tucked in, having swapped out his greasy khakis for the dressier pair of gray flat front slacks that he wore with his pink shirt during the opening sequence, the tucked-in shirt showing more of his edge-stitched black leather belt with its two leather keepers and silver-toned single-prong buckle. Walter further surprises the girls by wearing socks, especially a set of white ribbed tube socks, explaining to them: “you see, my feet were chilly!”
By this point in Cary Grant’s career, the actor had become quite comfortable with slipping down to his skivvies on screen, as evident by his decoy shower in North by Northwest and his dressing in a taxi cab’s backseat in That Touch of Mink.
Father Goose is no exception, as Walter shows the same lack of shyness about slipping out of his trousers in front of Catherine for a Scotch-induced snooze, revealing his plain white cotton boxer shorts.
For the rainy night when Frank issues Walter his added mission of retrieving his intended relief from Bundy Island, Walter protects himself with the light but effective layer of a rain slicker in a martial shade of olive-drab green like the U.S.-issued M1938 of rubberized canvas or the resin-coated M1942, though Walter’s simple slicker has brown popper-style buttons rather than the more traditional buttons on the military slickers.
After Catherine and her seven charges rob Walter’s boat, he’s initially left with little else to wear but his khaki cotton work shirt. Given the nature of his duties, it appropriately echoes the service shirts issued to many Allied branches of the military at the time. The long-sleeved shirt has a front placket, two chest pockets with pointed flaps, and barrel cuffs, all fastened with light brown plastic buttons.
Might Father Goose be one of the few instances of Cary Grant wearing jeans on screen? It certainly befits both the character and context that Walter would have a set of blue denim dungarees that he pulls on for the rigors of his military-sanctioned island life, and the cut, wash, and styling of his pants worn with this shirt indeed suggests jeans. Walter’s jeans have pointed ranch-style belt loops and curved front pockets, detailed with metal rivets in the corners.
Walter also rotates through a pair of well-traveled hats, the first being a mariner’s peaked cap apropos his maritime vocation. The cap has a dirty khaki cotton cover, wide black band, and dusty black leather visor.
Walter also sporadically swaps out his peaked cap for a dark brown felt trilby with a short, self-edged brim and a narrow band of dark brown grosgrain.
Though Walter changes his shirts, trousers, hats, and even belts, the one constant of his wardrobe are the increasingly dirty deck sneakers, designed in the low-top circular vamp oxford (CVO) style with white canvas uppers and thick white rubber outsoles, likely with siped bottoms that would allow him greater traction on the exposed decks of his boat.
From this age of actors wearing their personal jewelry on screen regardless of role (consider also the respective rings worn by Humphrey Bogart and Robert Redford), Cary Grant’s usual gold-chain necklace can be seen around his neck under his shirts, said to be ornamented with religious charms signifying the respective beliefs of his former wives.
Walter wears his wristwatch with the dial on the inside of his wrist. Most frequently, we see a steel wristwatch with a round white dial on a worn dark brown leather strap, though this is occasionally swapped out for a more elegant gold tank watch with a squared dial, likely Grant’s own watch that appeared on screen as the result of a costume-related continuity error.
What to Imbibe
“When he gets thirsty enough, he’ll drink,” Frank Houghton comments of his old pal Walter, who indeed allows himself to be baited into naval coast-watching service by the promise of stores of Black & White blended Scotch whisky hidden throughout Matalava Island.
The Black & White whisky story dates back to the 1880s, when Canadian-born businessman began marketing his “Buchanan Blend” whisky to address what he perceived to be a fruitful market opportunity in England for bottled whisky. The blend was first renamed “House of Commons” in recognition of its legislative audience, though it became even more recognizable for its two-color label that led to the official rebranding of “Black & White” in 1902. The brand would become additionally familiar for the pair of terriers—one black, one white, naturally—illustrating the labels.
Walter’s habitual consumption of this accessible blended whisky disgusts Catherine, who commands him “as for your drinking, that must stop immediately.”
The Royal Navy arms Walter with a bolt-action rifle in his shack. Admittedly, I’m not much of an expert in long arms, and there’s no existing documentation on IMFDB, but I can observe that the rifle has double-set triggers, a “butter knife”-style bolt handle, and what appears to be a short box magazine. I’ve found limited suggestions online, some suggesting that the rifle is a sporterized Mauser 98 while others suggest a Mannlicher–Schönauer.
Walter carries the rifle on many occasions, including when he and Catherine first encounter each other on Bundy Island while carrying nearly identical rifles, as she likely sourced hers from the now-deceased coast-watcher whom Walter had intended to meet.
Walter also arms himself with an Enfield No. 2 Mk I* revolver, likely also issued to him by the Royal Navy as it was fielded alongside the venerated Webley revolver in British service at the time, both chambered in .38/200 (also known as .38 S&W Short).
The Enfield No. 2 Mk I had been developed at the Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) Enfield in the early 1930s, echoing the familiar top-break frame as seen on the Webley. In 1938, the revolver was retooled as the No. 2 Mk I* with a spurless hammer that rendered it essentially double-action only, compensated for this with a lighter mainspring that eased the shot.
How to Get the Look
Being shipped out to a deserted island to watch for enemy planes? Walter Eckland’s wardrobe may have been intended to make him look slobbish during Father Goose‘s World War II setting, but his limited closet of collared shirts and tailored trousers may be considerable more presentable than the clothes some men take on beach vacations today!
For those curious, the full Walter Eckland island packing list seems to consist of lightweight but hardy workwear:
- Pink cotton long-sleeved shirt with button-down collar, front placket, and button cuffs
- Indigo-blue chambray cotton long-sleeved work shirt with spread collar, two chest pockets with button-down flaps, and button cuffs
- Khaki cotton long-sleeved work shirt with point collar, two chest pockets with pointed button-down flaps, and button cuffs
- Gray wool flat front trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Khaki chino cotton flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Blue denim jeans with ranch-style pointed belt loops, curved front pockets with rivets, and patch-style back pockets
- Black edge-stitched leather belt with silver-toned squared single-prong buckle
- Brown leather belt with brass squared single-prong buckle
- White canvas oxford-laced CVO deck sneakers
- White ribbed tube socks
- White cotton boxer shorts
- Peaked mariner’s cap with soft khaki cotton cover and black leather visor
- Dark brown felt short-brimmed trilby with narrow dark brown grosgrain band
- Stainless steel wristwatch with round white dial on dark brown leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Several years ago, I made peace with the world. Now, if the world isn’t bright enough to make peace with itself, it’ll have to settle things without me.