The dress arrived on the day of filming. Designed by Edith Head for Claudette Colbert, it was now destined for a last minute replacement who was thrust into a pivotal scene, playing a vain and aging star, making a tardy entrance into her own cocktail party where she had to convey to all her feminine supremacy.
Yet in the fitting room, with minutes before the camera was to roll, the gown didn’t fit. The bodice was too long. The straps arched comically above the actress’ shoulders. Horrified, the eminent designer threw her hands in the air. Could this be the year Miss Head wouldn’t win an Oscar?
But the actress was determined to make this her comeback. All the dress required was a few bolts of attitude. By pulling the straps off her shoulders and hoisting the dress further down her sturdy torso, Bette Davis fastened her seatbelt, sashayed down a staircase and into popular memory.
And it will be a bumpy night indeed, as Fashion Cares rips your celluloid memories off the screen and puts them on the catwalk. Called MAC Viva Glam Mondo Movie Rama, the thirteenth annual benefit for the AIDS Committee Of Toronto has chosen as this year’s theme “a tribute to film and fantasy.” Expect to see some swelegant frockery as Fashion Cares, traditionally the most fabulous affair of the year, throws an extra dollop of glamour into the mix.
But why let the models monopolize all the fun that night?
If you have always pictured yourself as the Cary Grant type, that shawl-collared tuxedo will do just fine (do throw on a silk scarf). But if visions of Carmen Miranda are dancing in your head, you’ll need to do a little research and planning before you show off your pineapples (remember, La Miranda never wore underwear).
So unspool that big film canister in your memory and picture some of the high points in screen style. What makes a movie costume memorable? Quite often, it is the person in it.
Nobody could fill chiffon like Marilyn Monroe did in The Seven Year Itch. But you certainly wouldn’t want to see the same skirt blowing over Ethel Merman’s thighs.
Throughout the ’30s, Katherine Hepburn wore her pants proudly and women in America were given a leg up towards liberation. Yet the laughter generated by Jack Lemmon’s drag in Some Like It Hot effectively killed the cross-dressing movement for years to come.
Marlene Dietrich, while starring in Morocco, had faired far better when she made the switch into high hat and tails. She topped her outfit off by kissing a pretty girl. Gasps were heard in theatres across the land. But Fred Astaire, rarely seen out of tails no matter what he kissed, never quite achieved the same effect.
Every gal in the world wanted to be Holly Golightly, a “working girl” clad in Givenchy, nibbling a croissant in front of Tiffany’s. But few aspired to emulate Divine, in her sausage casing dress, when she stooped to scoop a quick snack behind her poodle.
But what happens if you’re more Divine and less Audrey Hepburn? Despair not! Look at Rita Hayworth, who began her career as an extra in 1934 with a unibrow and a perilously low hairline. By 1946, when, as Gilda, she peeled off just one satin glove, she didn’t leave a dry seat in the house.
Eek! I can hear you scream. Fashion Cares is only two weeks away! Hold on tight – it can happen for you too, by using three principles of Hollywood style.
“Wet? She’s a star,” Groucho Marx once said about Esther Williams. And ever since Neptune’s Daughter emerged from her first celluloid pool, looking sequinned and shellacked, the wet look has been in. Of course, Esther always looked dryer than a tray of martinis by reversing her film stock and using her exit for an entrance. Hell! The party would be over before it began.
Take a tip from Anita Ekberg and wade through the nearest fountain in a white gown. But if you’re carrying a kitten, make sure to keep it dry. Why not try emerging from the Mediterranean and into a fishing boat la Sophia Loren in Boy On A Dolphin? Sophia in that clinging orange blouse has inspired many imitators. Even Jacqueline Bisset tried a modern variant in The Deep, unfortunately she was not up to the Sophia Challenge.
Eighty years worth of Tarzans, from Elmo Lincoln to Casper van Dien, have caught the eye by taking a dip. And who wouldn’t look forward to Stanley Kowalski showing up outside Fashion Cares, tearing at his dripping wet T-shirt and yelling, “Stella!” The pants, rip the pants next, ya big lug!
But if prurience isn’t your aim, take a hint from Gene, Debbie and Donald and try Singin’ In The Rain. Soaking wet and wholesome to boot. But be forewarned – wet isn’t for everybody. Remember, a saturated Shelley Winters went down with the Poseidon.
Glamour can come cheap; use what’s at hand. Our favourite screen heroines have always been the resourceful ones. Rip down those drapes, dammit! “Miss Ellen’s po’teers” made Scarlett O’Hara one hell of a gown. And Maria managed to drape seven little von Trapps in bedroom curtains before stitching together a fetching little number for herself.
Word has it that after the recent plethora of Elizabeths, you can’t find an intact sectional north of the River Thames.
In The Wiz, Nipsey Russell wore the contents of his garbage can as the Tinman. Tim Curry rifled Mae West’s lingerie drawer for his Sweet Transvestite. And Raquel Welch flashed her chutzpah in a fur bikini about 1 million years ahead of its time (unfortunately, I don’t think she just ran off to some ready to wear rack for those mink scanties).
Or throw on a couple more layers and call yourself Annie Hall. Then break into a sweat and you’re Rocky Balboa. Perhaps that’s far enough because…
LESS IS MORE
Hedy Lamarr created the first naked girlie sensation in 1932 with a skinny dip in Ecstasy. And Ramon Novarro, as Ben Hur in 1926, took it all off for the galley ship scene.
Charlton Heston, on the other hand, kept his loincloth on for 1959’s Ben Hur. And then wore the same costume both above and beneath the Planet Of The Apes. Did it get a rinse between outings? Is that where it all started to go so terribly wrong for old Chuck? Stiff underwear?
Less is also better if you chose to emulate ’30s bombshell Jean Harlow, whose clinging bias cut gowns meant panties were a no no. And they said she wasn’t a real blonde.
Elizabeth Taylor made a cool white slip look red hot as she clawed her way through Cat On A Hot Tin. And we ask you, did Goldie Hawn’s mini skirts have anything to do with her Oscar win for Cactus Flower?
For Tom Cruise, accessorising Ray Bans and a Polo shirt with crisp white jockeys was Risky Business. Much to our chagrin he never pulled it off.
In our collective memories, fashion and film are linked inexorably. They feed each other. Cudos to Fashion Cares for this theme. Let’s hope it pays off not only in party glamour, but in funds raised for a worthy cause ($2.5-million so far).
But as far as clothes making the person, we say, “Pshaw.” It’s all attitude. Attitude, attitude, attitude. When your hills are alive, who gives a goat’s ass if you’re hauling ’em around in a dirndl?
Stars performing at this year’s Fashion Cares include: Melissa Etheridge, Ashley MacIsaac and The Philosopher Kings. And organizers are promising that the show won’t go into the wee hours of the morning like last year; they are intent on starting the fashion show at 10:30pm.
The gala starts at 5:30pm on Sat, May 8 at the Metro Convention Centre, south building. General admission tix to the reception, boutique, show and party cost $75. Call (416) 870-8000. Gala tickets, which also include dinner at 8pm, cost $300. Call (416) 923-2500.