Thursday, April 6, 2017

Designer Double-Dip: Something Borrowed

Okay - right away - I don't want you to get your hopes up that I've somehow discovered that Scarlett O'Hara's wedding gown from Gone with the Wind (1939) was featured in a later movie. As far as I'm aware, that's not the case. I just came upon a bit of costuming info that I thought might be fun to share. 

In the movie, Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) hastily agrees to wed a young man about to head off to fight for the South in The Civil War. The wedding dress designed by Walter Plunkett was deliberately intended to look different from the other clothing in the movie, as if it were her mother's (the divine Barbara O'Neil) dress from a couple of decades earlier, quickly put to use for the occasion. (In the first picture, you can see that it is a tad too long and that O'Neil is several inches taller than her on-screen daughter.)

When Alfred Hitchcock, who was under contract to Wind producer David O. Selznick at the time, prepared screen tests for his upcoming drama Rebecca (1940), he utilized this wedding gown to see how hopeful Joan Fontaine might look in the period gown she wears for a costume party in the film.

You'll note that while both Leigh and Fontaine were 5' 3-1/2", Fontaine did not possess quite the same wasp waist that Leigh did. For the screen test, the huge sleeves of the dress were pushed down a bit to show a wisp more shoulders and decolletage than when it was used for a wedding ceremony.

The costume pilfering didn't stop there, though. Most of us also recall the scarlet evening gown that Leigh wears to Ashley Wilkes birthday party the evening after she's been accused of trying to seduce him at her lumber mill.

Her husband Rhett (Clark Gable) makes her wear the most seductive and potentially scandalous gown she owns as penance (and even deposits her at the door of the party, leaving immediately himself without even entering so that she can face the music all on her own!)

Likewise, this dress was placed on (the virtually unknown) Fontaine's back for the Rebecca tests to see how she would look in a more form-fitting creation. Again, the shoulders are both pushed down rather than with one slightly up as Leigh wore it in the first film.

(There's an almost Madame X - the John Singer Sargent painting - quality to this look on Fontaine.)

This one is more flattering on Fontaine than the wedding dress, though, even taking into account the difference black & while photography makes, it has precious little of the impact that it had when Leigh wore it.

These legendary movie costumes are fortunately still in existence today and are occasionally displayed in exhibits. Their construction, under the ever-watchful eye of producer Selznick, was clearly second-to-none as they are now nearly eighty years old and still hold much of their original shape and lustre.
Both of them have been immortalized in Hallmark Christmas ornaments as well:
Here we see the Rebecca costumes (uncredited, but reportedly designed by Irene) which Fontaine wound up with in the end. The black gown with flowers was intended to look inappropriate on the naive second Mrs. de Winter. The costume party formal is, of course, based upon the portrait of the prior Mrs. de Winter, the Rebecca of the title.

What makes all of this interesting (to me, at least!) is that Fontaine tested for the part of the second Mrs. de Winter in the costumes of Vivien Leigh, who sought the part for herself! Not only that, but her husband Laurence Olivier was to be the male lead, Maxim de Winter, and he wanted her there, too. Leigh wanted the part tremendously and even tested for it as well. It was likely felt than anyone who had just convincingly played the gutsy Scarlett would have a hard time selling audiences that she was a timid mouse. If anything, Leigh brings to mind the sensual, manipulative Rebecca de Winter and it's possible that her own spectre really did hang over the production.


hsc said...

Even if it was only in screen tests and not in another movie, I love seeing costumes and props resurfacing for later use!

I particularly enjoyed the shots of the costumes as they appear today. It's a good thing that these were so carefully maintained; so many of the costumes available in the Profiles in History auction have aged so badly-- discoloration, trim falling off or deliberately removed, alterations for reuse-- that they barely resemble what was seen onscreen.

Thanks for posting this, and belated congrats on your recent milestone!

Gingerguy said...

I found this delightful, and that is not an expression I throw around lightly. Scarlett becomes Mrs. Charles Hamilton in that dress I believe. It's actually a prettier dress in the test shots, and I must say Vivien is really good at establishing character in a posed photograph.
I loved that red dress! worn with lots of rouge. Both photos of Joan being swallowed by those costumes are really great. Noone played mousy as well as her. Even her silence was simpering.
So different in b&w, it makes you realize how skilled the costumers were, as they could suggest the color to your imagination.
The connection to "Rebecca" is fascinating. I think Joan is well cast, and always pictured a sharp beauty with dark hair exactly like Vivien Leigh as the first Mrs. DeWinter. This was so fun, thanks Poseidon.

Gingerguy said...

p.s. totally thought of you when I recently visited an estate sale shop in Palm Springs CA. There was a huge framed photo of Linda Darnell, to die for. I wondered whose house it came from. I bet there was a story there.

Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

Rebecca is one of my favorite movies and I always think that Joan Fontaine won her Oscar as a catch-up for this movie. I also think of Rebecca as very similar to Scarlett O'Hara in temperament, so I think they did the right thing in casting Joan. Of course Vivien could have played mousy and been great, but the movie itself might have been derailed by her magnetism.

That red dress is probably only second to the "green curtains" dress in movie history impact. It's funny to think of anyone else wearing it for any other reason.

Poseidon3 said...

hsc, thank you! I am in complete accord. I love to see costumes popping up again. I've also seen various traveling exhibits with movie costumes. Usually, the most remarkable thing to me is how TINY they are...!

Gingerguy, I agree with you about everything (wow... surprise!) I don't ALWAYS love watching Joan Fontaine, but I thought she was wonderful in "Rebecca" (along with some others.) She had that winsome, weak-postured sort of insecurity that was such a great contrast to the stern, upright Mrs. Danvers! And I can't help it, but I've just always pictured Leigh as Rebecca de Winter for some reason.

Hi Dave! I agree that Vivien was a good enough actress to play practically anything, but I think this came off better with Joan. Add in Larry Olivier's barely concealed resentment at not getting Vivien as a costar and it only adds to her discomfort. You are right about the Oscar, though if they'd allowed "Suspicion" its original, intended ending, Joan would likely have come off better. The way it wound up, she seemed somehow foolish and that wasn't fair. The audience also got cheated to some degree. As for the scarlet dress... well, Walter Plunkett just outdid himself on this movie.

BTW, all, I have been watching a 1968 talk show that Joan Rivers once had (called "That Show") and she had on the milliner who made Scarlett's bonnet that Rhett buys her and he said that in 1939 it cost $20,000!!!! But David O' Selznick wanted it. The money that man spent to realize his vision..! Wow.

Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

How could any hat cost $20,000 dollars in 1939?! Would that be half a million bucks now? What was it made of, endangered species?

Poseidon3 said...

I agree with your reaction, Dave, but I can only tell you what he said himself on the program. Mr. John was his name, of John-Frederics milliners. More than once, the price of the hat was noted as being $20,000. Source material on GWTW, though, shows that most of Scarlett's hats were made for under $50.00 each (+ a daily labor fee), though the Paris original bonnet, custom made to fit her head, wasn't among the ones listed that I saw. I can tell you, though, that this ancedote about the hat and its price is noted in a hat collecting book called Hatatorium: