Friday, March 25, 2011

An often overlooked Golden Age of Hollywood costume designer

Props are due to Orry-Kelly, costume designer on MANY classic movies, including The Letter, which I recently posted about on my Facebook page. He was award-winning, prolific, worked for most of the major studios as well as freelanced. He roomed briefly with Cary Grant and Charlie Spangles upon coming to NY in the '20s from Australia.  (Had me at Cary Grant.) 

He was born Orry George Kelly on New Year's Eve 1897, in Kiama, New South Wales.  He moved from New York to Hollywood in 1931, where Grant greased his entry into First National Pictures.  By 1932 he was at Warner Bros, where he was chief costume designer until 1944.  From there he went on to Twentieth Century-Fox, and to successful freelance work.  He was awarded 3 Oscars for Best Costume Design, for An American in Paris (1951, shared with two others), Les Girls (1957) and Some Like It Hot (1959).

His style was, in general, less showy than contemporaries Adrian and Edith Head, so he's sometimes overlooked in vintage costume design conversations. But if you've seen Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon, you've seen Orry-Kelly. He traded high contrast, shimmer, and glitter for unpretentious, stylishly cut, very high quality fabrics with intricate details. Which is not to say he couldn't do glitz - Orry-Kelly costumed The Gold Diggers of 1933, one of it's memorable scenes being the opening, where a gaggle of beautiful women fill the stage singing and wearing costumes constructed from coins. Another memorable creation was Bette Davis' "red" ball gown in Jezebel (1938).  He was a favorite of Ms. Davis, as well as Kay Francis.

For 34 years, he gowned and costumed Hollywood's most beautiful women, and he once quipped that "Hell must be filled with beautiful women and no mirrors."
Last week, as well as the Orry-Kelly costumed The Letter, I also watched The Kennel Murder Case, a Philo Vance mystery (William Powell as Vance), and needed a drool cup for the wardrobe of the glamourous seductress next door to the victim.

He died of liver cancer in Hollywood in 1964. And according to wikipedia, "...was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills). His pallbearers included Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Billy Wilder and George Cukor and his eulogy was read by Jack Warner."

And now, the photos!

Fashionably yours,

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