Gregory Hines as Delbert “Sandman” Williams, affable and ambitious dancer
Harlem, Spring 1929
Film: The Cotton Club
Release Date: December 14, 1984
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Costume Designer: Milena Canonero
One of the most celebrated tap dancers of all time, the multi-talented Gregory Hines died 20 years ago today on August 9, 2003. His charismatic performance as “Sandman” Williams in The Cotton Club remains a highlight from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club, an ambitious and controversial part-musical, part-mob drama that producer Robert Evans spent five years bringing to the screen.
Centered around the legendary Cotton Club in Harlem, the movie boasts all the ingredients to entertain: an evocative Prohibition-era setting at an iconic nightclub, a pitch-perfect period soundtrack from John Barry that replicates the sounds of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, and a talented cast that includes then-rising stars like Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburne, Jennifer Grey, James Remar, and Gregory and Maurice Hines. Continue reading
Tom Ewell as Richard Sherman, imaginative publishing executive and a self-described “foolish, well-to-do married man”
New York City, Summer 1955
Film: The Seven Year Itch
Release Date: June 3, 1955
Director: Billy Wilder
Costume Designer: Travilla
Wardrobe Director: Charles Le Maire
Men’s Wardrobe: Sam Benson
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Born 97 years ago today on June 1, 1926, Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe may be indelibly associated with the iconic image of the star’s white dress being blown upwards by a subway grate on Lexington Avenue. The much-photographed moment was part of a scene in The Seven Year Itch, which premiered on Monroe’s 29th birthday before its wider release later that month.
The title and concept were inspired by a then-common psychological term for the period in a marriage when a partner’s eye supposedly begins to wander, aligned with the mid-20th century practice of wives and children traveling to the country or seaside for the summer while their husbands remain in the city to work… though The Seven Year Itch proposes that their work was more focused on bedrooms than boardrooms. (Mad Men fans may recall a relevant plot from the first season episode “Long Weekend”, set during Labor Day 1960.)
After shipping his wife Helen and son Ricky up to Maine, our protagonist Richard Sherman seems to think he’s above that level of sleaze… until a falling tomato plant introduces him to The Girl, a voluptuous blonde living upstairs in a neighboring couple’s apartment for the summer:
Boy, if anybody were to walk in here right now, would they ever get the wrong idea… cinnamon toast for two, strange blonde in the shower, you go explain that to someone. Don’t tell ’em you spent the whole night wrapping a paddle!
Inexplicably billed as “Tommy Ewell”, Tom Ewell reprised the role he originated on Broadway as Richard Sherman. Viennese-born actress Vanessa Brown (who had an IQ of 165 and whose family fled Europe in 1937 to avoid Nazi persecution) had played The Girl on stage, but the part was recast for the screen, in turn providing Marilyn Monroe with one of her most enduring performances. Interestingly, there were several actors considered to play Richard before the part went to Ewell, who had already won a Tony for his stage portrayal and wasn’t expecting to be cast. Despite that, there was never any question that The Girl would be played on screen by anyone but Monroe. Continue reading
Robert Ayres as Arthur Godfrey Peuchen, resourceful Canadian industrialist and yachtsman
North Atlantic Ocean, April 1912
Film: A Night to Remember
Release Date: July 3, 1958
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Costume Designer: Yvonne Caffin
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
111 years ago tonight, around 11:40 PM on Sunday, April 12, 1912, RMS Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean. The ship would sink in less than three hours, taking more than 1,500 to their death and leaving just over 700 survivors in open boats scattered across the sea, waiting for rescue.
“Women and children first” had the been the standing order of survival as lifeboats were loaded and lowered, first cautiously and then with increasing alarm as those aboard realized the ship’s desperate condition. Unfortunately, there was only room in the lifeboats for about half of those aboard and a fatal combination of initial trepidation among the passengers and restrictive attitudes by some officers responsible loading the boats resulted in most not being filled to capacity.
Nearly half of the survivors were men, though this still translated to only about 20% of the male passengers and crew that had been aboard the liner. One of these men was Arthur Godfrey Peuchen, a chemical manufacturer and militia major from Toronto who was three days shy of his 53rd birthday as he sat shivering in lifeboat number 6. Continue reading
Ernest Borgnine as Mike Rogo, a tough New York detective
Aboard the S.S. Poseidon en route Athens, New Year’s Eve 1972
Film: The Poseidon Adventure
Release Date: December 12, 1972
Director: Ronald Neame
Costume Designer: Paul Zastupnevich
Happy New Year’s Eve! Fifty years ago, the holiday was celebrated in spectacular fashion aboard the S.S. Poseidon, the fictitious ship at the center of “Master of Disaster” Irwin Allen’s Academy Award-winning 1972 blockbuster The Poseidon Adventure, based on Paul Gallico’s novel on the same name inspired by a journey on the RMS Queen Mary, the now-defunct ship where parts of the movie were filmed. Following the example set by the subgenre-establishing Airport two years earlier, The Poseidon Adventure gathered a group of a stars in a perilous situation that picked them off one by one, allowing its substantial advertising campaign to ask audiences “who will survive?” Continue reading
Al Martino as Johnny Fontane, down-on-his-luck crooner
Long Island, New York, Summer 1945
Film: The Godfather
Release Date: March 14, 1972
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Costume Designer: Anna Hill Johnstone
Today in 1927, Al Martino was born in Philadelphia to two Italian immigrants from Abruzzo, the same southern Italian region from which much of my family hails. Following his U.S. Navy service during World War II, the singer began earnestly following his career in entertainment. Twenty years after his first single, “Here in My Heart”, reached #1 in the U.S. Billboard and UK Singles charts, Martino joined the cast of The Godfather as Johnny Fontane, an Italian-American crooner whose early career parallels that of Martino’s contemporary Frank Sinatra. Continue reading
Bradley Cooper as Stanton “Stan” Carlisle, opportunistic carny-turned-nightclub mentalist
Buffalo, New York, Winter 1941
Film: Nightmare Alley
Release Date: December 17, 2021
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Costume Designer: Luis Sequeira
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
On the eve of the 94th Academy Awards, I wanted to revisit the “golden era” style of quadruple-nominee Nightmare Alley, Guillermo del Toro’s evocatively photographed adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s novel of the same name. Continue reading
Simon MacCorkindale as Simon Doyle, newlywed honeymooner
Egypt, September 1937
Film: Death on the Nile
Release Date: September 29, 1978
Director: John Guillermin
Costume Designer: Anthony Powell
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today would have been the 70th birthday of Simon MacCorkindale, the English actor whose breakthrough role was in Death on the Nile, the 1978 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery of the same name.
Jack Lemmon as Stanley Ford, comic strip artist and dedicated bachelor
New York City, Summer 1964
Film: How to Murder Your Wife
Release Date: September 20, 1965
Director: Richard Quine
Wardrobe: Izzy Berne & Marie Osborne
On what would have been the birthday of one of my favorite actors—Jack Lemmon, born February 8, 1925—I want to revisit his style in the first of his filmography that I had ever seen, the swingin’ ’60s comedy How to Murder Your Wife which, as the title implies, balances black comedy with classic screwball elements.
Lemmon stars as Stanley Ford, a successful newspaper cartoonist whose spun his success writing the daily adventures of super-spy “Bash Brannigan” into an enviable bachelor lifestyle, complete with a swanky Lenox Hill townhouse and his devoted valet Charles (Terry-Thomas), whose daily duties include cleaning up after Stanley’s latest romantic conquests, providing reassurance and advice, and ensuring that a “properly chilled” vodka martini awaits Stanley at the end of each day. Continue reading
Marlene Dietrich as Amy Jolly, sultry French nightclub singer
Essaouira, Morocco, Summer 1930
Release Date: November 14, 1930
Director: Josef von Sternberg
Costume Designer: Travis Banton (uncredited)
The white tie dress code dates to before the turn of the 20th century, designed to make any man look his best when appropriately tailored, so there’s considerable irony in the fact that one of the most iconic film appearances of a white tie, top hat, and tails was worn by a woman: Marlene Dietrich, the German screen legend born 120 years ago today on December 27, 1901.
As previously featured on this site, today’s post continues the blog’s regular focus on menswear but here memorably worn by a woman, specifically the impeccable evening ensemble that Dietrich wore for her Academy Award-nominated performance as the brassy club singer at the center of the intrigue in the pre-Code drama Morocco, her second of seven eventual collaborations with director Josef von Sternberg. Continue reading
Frank Sinatra, multi-talented entertainer facing retirement
Los Angeles, Summer 1971
Series: Sinatra: All or Nothing At All
Air Date: April 5-6, 2015
Director: Alex Gibney
Born December 12, 1915, Frank Sinatra had recently turned 55 when he started talking seriously with close friends about retirement. For more than 30 years, the entertainer had enjoyed a landmark career, beginning with his days as a pop idol, then a career downturn in the early ’50s that was reinvigorated by an Oscar win for From Here to Eternity and a series of concept albums for Capitol Records that launched him to massive success.
Throughout the ’60s, Sinatra evolved from one of the most popular entertainers in the nation to one of the most influential entertainers across the world. He had founded his own record label with Reprise Records, been a confidante of a sitting U.S. President (before their famous falling-out), and continued to prove his success on the charts with songs like “My Way” (despite his resentment for this particular tune.)
Like so many successful 55-year-old Americans, Ol’ Blue Eyes decided to hang up his tilted hat and retire, with his final performance to be June 13, 1971, at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. Alex Gibney’s 2015 HBO documentary Sinatra: All or Nothing at All was framed around the singer’s hand-chosen setlist for the concert, and how the eleven musical milestones Sinatra selected essentially told the story of his life to that point. Continue reading