MGM's "Diamond" Chandelier Earrings: An Example Of Studio-Era Hollywood Recycling

Greta Garbo smiling by George Hurrell © Pancho Barnes Trust Estate Archive This rare photo of Greta Garbo smiling belongs to the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate Archive, maintained by DG friend Louis D'Elia. It was taken by the great Hollywood portrait photographer George Hurrell in his one and only session with Garbo--a shoot to promote her 1930 film Romance.

Garbo did not like the antics Hurrell used to get his subjects to relax and look natural, and refused to work with him again. (Clarence Sinclair Bull became her photographer of choice.) But she did crack a smile when Hurrell tripped over some equipment, and he managed to capture the moment.

Myrna Loy by George Hurrell © Pancho Barnes Trust Estate Archive

I examined the photos from this shoot when I wrote a catalog essay for a 2006 exhibit of Hurrell photos from the Pancho Barnes collection. (A version of that essay later appeared in The Atlantic.) While working on the essay, I noticed that the earrings in the Garbo photos reappeared in one of my favorite Hurrell portraits, this one of the woman Hurrell himself considered his "most mysterious" subject: Myrna Loy.

Remembered today mostly as the comedienne star of the Thin Man movies, for many years Loy was cast as an "exotic," thanks to her almond eyes. (For an amazing collection of Myrna Loy photos, from many phases of her career, check out this blog.) Like Garbo, she was an MGM star when Hurrell was the studio's chief portrait photographer.

As I've mentioned in my posts and article about the Debbie Reynolds collection auction, while MGM created lavish costumes, it also recycled them. The same was true, of course, of accessories, and here's the photographic evidence. As always, click the photo to see a larger version.

[Photographs by George Hurrell © Pancho Barnes Trust Estate Archive and used with permission. Do not copy them to your own site.]

What Happened To Hollywood's Most Glamorous Costumes?

Jean Harlow Dinner at Eight satin dress at door © Pancho Barnes Trust Estate Archive Over at Silver Screen Modiste, Christian Esquevin has a second excellent post on the Debbie Reynolds costume auction, which includes a sad note on why the collection was so heavy on period costumes. Debbie Reynolds bought the foundations of her collection as when MGM had the mother of all garage sales in 1970, dumping its inventories of props, costumes, photographs--anything that could be sold for quick cash. (Twentieth Century Fox did the same a year later.) Christian writes:

Most of the studio's wardrobe at that time consisted of period costumes, which is by and large reflected in the strength of Debbie's collection. That MGM had many years earlier dumped many costumes in its wardrobe collection is little known. Due to the small value that was ascribed to contemporary fashion, and the lack of its re-usability in later films, many crown jewels of costume were destroyed. By the time of the 1970 MGM auction, many of those late 1920s and 1930s costumes were already gone. These had been the costumes that created the very image of glamorous Hollywood movie-stars, and that started fashion trends around the world. The Adrian-designed gowns worn by Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, and Joan Crawford that defined the look of glamour were mostly discarded. It is informative to consider the sale of Debbie's collection as reflecting the earlier MGM auction and the even earlier destruction of those movie costumes.

A few of those famous gowns did wind up in the hands of collectors or museums. The Museum at FIT owns a few Adrian costumes that came directly from MGM, including the magnificent dress of red pavé bugle beads on silk crepe from The Bride Wore Red, a black and white movie. But most of those Golden Age costumes were simply used and reused until they were rags. As I write at the end of my Bloomberg column:

Yet even as scholars and fans mourn the collection’s breakup, dreaming of the museum that might have been, they admit the importance of private collectors. These enthusiasts may not all preserve artifacts in museum-quality condition, keeping costumes unaltered and mostly in the dark. But without the sometimes-eccentric people who buy at auctions out of their own passion to own a piece of movie history, no one would have saved these objects in the first place.

“Thank God for them,” says Deborah Landis. “Thank God for Debbie. We would have nothing. It would have been rags. That was the old way. We used everything until it fell off the hanger. That was the tradition in Hollywood.”

[Jean Harlow Dinner at Eight publicity photo by George Hurrell © Pancho Barnes Trust Estate Archive and used with permission. Do not copy it to your own site.]

The Full Skinny: Marilyn Monroe Was Tiny...and So Were Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, Grace Kelly, Barbra Streisand, And More

Marilyn Monroe white subway dress back zipper not closed

In my Bloomberg View column on the Debbie Reynolds collection auction, I cite some of the waist measurements Lisa Urban took from the costumes. But column prose didn't allow for the full inventory, which should be kept for historical interest. Here, in alphabetical order with links to the photos (much better than my snapshots) and auction results for each costume, is the full list. The numbers are the auction lot numbers. In a decision I now regret, I did not request a measurement of Audrey Hepburn's My Fair Lady Ascot dress, because everyone knows she was thin, the same reason I didn't ask Lisa to take any Katharine Hepburn measurements.

The biggest surprise to me was that Deborah Kerr's waist was as large as 24 inches. Her costumes, particularly the black gown from An Affair to Remember, are strikingly svelte and, like Marilyn's white dress, couldn't be fully fastened in the back, as you can see by my photo of her Catherine Parr gown. I was also surprised that the Ginger Rogers dress had a 24-inch waist. It looks even smaller in person.

Deborah Kerr Catherine Parr Young Bess back view

Claudette Colbert - waist 18"

29. Gold gown, Cleopatra  

121. Lana Martin blue wool suit, Drums Along the Mohawk 

Greta Garbo - waist 24"

34. Green velvet, Anna Karenin

Judy Garland - waist 22"

165. Esther Smith gray [originally blue] w/ tassels, Meet Me in St. Louis

169. Esther Smith red wool, Meet Me in St. Louis

185. Susan Bradley cream two piece, The Harvey Girls

239. Annie Oakley two-piece, Annie Get Your Gun

Meet Me in St. Louis: Mary Astor, Margaret O'Brien, Judy Garland

Rita Hayworth - waist 24"

161. Maribelle Hicks two-piece, Cover Girl

217. Carmen death scene dress, Carmen

311. Princess Salome beaded chiffon, Salome

Grace Kelly - waist 23"

307. Linda Nordley safari outfits, Mogambo

357. Frances Stevens rose crepe, To Catch a Thief

372. Princess Alexandra ivory silk chiffon, The Swan

Deborah Kerr - waist 24"

294. Catherine Parr blue and gray with fur, Young Bess

300. Portia toga, Julius Caesar

387. Terry McKay taupe chiffon, An Affair to Remember 

388. Terry McKay black chiffon, An Affair to Remember 

How thin was Carole Lombard

Hedy Lamarr - waist 22.5"

220. Delilah peacock, Samson and Delilah

Carole Lombard - 21"

25. Connie Randall beige gown, No Man of Her Own (no, I did not touch it when demonstrating how tiny it was for the photo)

Marilyn Monroe - for these four dresses her average waist is 22" and bust is 34"

282. Lorelei Lee red sequined dress, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

313. Kay Weston gold charmeuse saloon girl gown, River of No Return

314. Vicky tropical print, There’s No Business Like Show Business

354. The Girl white “subway” dress, The Seven Year Itch

Mary Pickford - waist 20"

16. Katherine green velvet, The Taming of the Shrew

Debbie Reynolds Unsinkable Molly Brown embroidery beading detail copy Debbie Reynolds - waist 24"

273. Kathy Selden flapper dress, Singin’ in the Rain

455. Lilith Prescott silk floral, How the West Was Won

458. Lilith Prescott pleated silk, How the West Was Won

497. Molly Brown pale green beaded, The Unsinkable Molly Brown

500. Molly Brown wool period dress, The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Ginger Rogers - waist 24"

222. Dinah Barkley gold dress, Barkleys of Broadway

Katherine Ross - waist 24"

536. Etta Place chartreuse two-piece, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Barbra Streisand - waist 24"

529. Fannie Brice purple and green, Funny Girl

531. Fannie Brice black velvet, Funny Girl

537. Dolly Levi purple, Hello, Dolly!

538. Dolly Levi gold velvet, Hello, Dolly!

Elizabeth Taylor - waist 19.5"

345. Lady Patricia yellow satin, Beau Brummell

396. Susanna Drake brown, Raintree County

398. Susanna Drake ivory and black, Raintree County

399. Susanna Drake dark red, Raintree County

Mae West 

94. Peaches O’Day purple, Every Day’s a Holiday - waist 24"

545. Leticia van Allen beige gown, Myra Breckinridge waist 26"

Many thanks to Lisa Urban for generously spending the time, during a very busy period, to get these measurements on the record.

[Photos by by Virginia Postrel. Full Flickr set here.]

How Big Was Marilyn Monroe? Why Costumes Are More Valuable Together Than Scattered

As promised in my earlier post on the Debbie Reynolds auction, I've written a longer, analytical piece. The full article appears on Bloomberg View. Here's the lead: 

Marilyn Monroe Lorelei Lee red-sequined gown profile We should never again hear anyone declare that Marilyn Monroe was a size 12, a size 14 or any other stand-in for full-figured, zaftig or plump. Fifteen thousand people have now seen dramatic evidence to the contrary. Monroe was, in fact, teeny-tiny.

The 15,000 were the visitors who turned out over eight days to oooh and aaah at the preview exhibit for the June 18 auction of Debbie Reynolds’s extraordinary collection of Hollywood costumes, props and other memorabilia.

The two comments heard most often in the crowded galleries were (to paraphrase), “Wow, they were thin” and “It’s such a shame. These things should be in a museum.”

The two remarks are in fact related. The former demonstrates the truth of the latter.

When the auctioneer’s final hammer came down at 1:20 in the morning, the world lost a treasure. The collection Reynolds assembled over 40 years will now be fragmented and dispersed. “It was a melancholy day for Los Angeles and the rest of the country,” wrote Christian Esquevin on his Silver Screen Modiste blog, expressing a common sentiment. “We will never see the likes of this collection again.”

The movie business has never particularly valued its historical artifacts. Hollywood, notes director John Landis, treats costumes and props as “industrial waste,” to be recycled or discarded but not displayed or preserved. It also keeps an embarrassed distance from the enthusiasts who treasure such relics. Unlike, say, science fiction, the mainstream movie industry doesn’t embrace cult followings. And Los Angeles is notorious for its paucity of institution-building philanthropists.

Read the rest at Bloomberg View.

[Photo of Marilyn Monroe red-sequined gown by Virginia Postrel. Full Flickr set here.]

We Have A Winner, And A New Contest: Stickers From

Labels-standard Congratulations to commenter Bronwyn, who won the Skindinavia Makeup Finish Spray.

Our next contest marks a departure from the usual skin-care goodies. is offering one lucky reader 250 2" x 3.5" sheet stickers (70lb label matte, front only printing, 4 business days turnaround), using their standard label templates.

Like most of our contests, this one came about through an unsolicited email from a publicist. But it so happens that UPrinting is, in fact, the printer DeepGlamour has used for our business cards, stationery, and hat party posters. Although they do most of their business online, their physical print shop is right around the corner from my house. I've used them for other jobs as well. (For hosting the contest, I'll also receive stickers.)

To enter, leave a comment below about what kind of stickers you'd like to make or share a memory of a sticker you've seen or enjoyed. The winner will be chosen using

Deadline for entries is midnight, June 30. Contest limited to U.S. residents 18 years old and above only.

Selling Off Hollywood: The Debbie Reynolds Collection Of Costumes, Props, And Memorabilia Goes Up For Auction

Debbie Reynolds Hollywood costume memorabilia collection auction introduction
Debbie Reynolds introduces the auction

I spent Saturday at the giant auction of costumes, props, and other Hollywood memorabilia that Debbie Reynolds had collected over decades in hopes of establishing a museum. (The financial collapse of her most recent attempt led to the auction.)

The headline story was that Marilyn Monroe’s famous “subway dress” from The Seven Year Itch sold for $5.658 million—a hammer price of $4.6 million plus a 23% buyer's premium of $1.058 million, not to mention an additional $551,655 in sales tax.

That dress, however, was only one of 587 lots that included not only other iconic costumes—most notably Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot dress and hat from My Fair Lady, which is more important in the history of design than Marilyn’s dress and went for $4.551 million—but also props, cameras, concept drawings, posters, and an archive of W.C. Fields contracts, letters, and notes for jokes. At the auction’s end, an auction house employee reported that the total sales topped $18 million. (The final total was in fact $22.8 million.)

I'll publish something more analytical later, but I thought I’d share a few notes here. (For more detail, here’s a good report on the procedings. Silver Screen Modiste blogger Christian Esquevin, with whom I spoke as we waited for the doors to open, provides smart context and good costume photos.)

Debbie Reynolds Joseph Maddalena introduce Hollywood memorabilia auction Paley Center Beverly Hills June 2011
Joe Maddalena introduces Debbie Reynolds

On Friday, Joe Maddalena, the owner of auction house Profiles in History, was confidently predicting that the auction, which started at noon, should be over by 7:00 p.m.. Instead, it lasted until 1:20 a.m. One reason was the complexity of the setup: two websites for Internet bidding, a large phone bank taking phone bids, and a downstairs gallery for the overflow crowd that couldn’t be accommodated in the main Paley Center auditorium; gallery bids came in by phone to a representative in the auditorium.

But the main reason for the late hour was that the bidding went so high, meaning each sale took longer than usual. Even with an opening bid of $60,000 for Charlie Chaplin's bowler hat, compared to the catalog estimate of $20,000-$30,000, it took a lot of $2,500 increments to reach the final $110,000. (The delays were particularly excruciating for the 13 W.C. Fields lots early on, which sold for relatively modest amounts sometimes arrived at in $50 increments.) The auctioneer did not speed-talk, making sure instead that everyone who might bid did so. He therefore allowed not only for technical delays but for lulls while people contemplated additional bids.

Grace Kelly dresses To Catch a Thief The Swan Debbie Reynolds Collection auction
She's a princess!

When the bidding lulled, Debbie Reynolds generally piped up with a wisecrack to get things going. Her standard was, “I paid more than that.” Sometimes she pitched the lots’ qualities, QVC-style: “That's a leather seat. It’s really beautiful.” “That’s real mink.”

She touted the stars who’d worn the garments: “She's a princess.” “The great Danny Kaye.” During a series of low-interest lots from The Great Caruso, her reminder that “She was an opera star” was such a refrain that it became a joke between Reynolds and the auctioneer.

She also deployed sexual innuendo: “You know what you could do on that couch,” “You don't know what Ty Power did in there,” and the audience favorite: “Mae West didn’t even have a chest like that.”

At one sad moment, however, Reynolds reversed her usual plea. After the first few bids for lot 280, the pastel rainbow-hued ballgown worn by Susan Hayward in With a Song in My Heart, she said, “It’s from me—don’t bid!” (Someone else was bidding on her behalf.) No luck. Paddle-holder #247, a Korean (not, as widely reported, Japanese) man who was the dominant bidder actually present in the room, persevered and eventually bought the dress for a hammer price of $3,000. It was one of his cheaper purchases of the day.

[Photos by Virginia Postrel. Permission to use freely granted with credit and link back to]

A Matter Of Perspective: Thomas Fearnley's Pergola With Oranges

Thomas Fearnley Pergola with Oranges Art Institute of Chicago circa 1934
On a recent visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, I was struck by this painting, Pergola with Oranges by Thomas Fearnley. At first it seems like a basic exercise in perspective--all those lines converging at a vanishing point. But it didn't feel like mere geometry. The golden light, the oranges, the flowers, and the Mediterranean architecture seemed emotionally resonant, and intentionally so. Wouldn't it be great to join the man reading in the sun?

The museum's brief caption suggests I was right. If the date is correct (and it may be based on the assumption that the artist was working from life rather than memory), Fearnley painted this scene during a three-year sojourn in Italy. But he was a Norwegian--someone decidedly not from a land of golden sunshine and oranges so abundant they roll on the ground. He would have appreciated how special the scene was and I think he injected some of that emotion into the painting. But maybe it's in the eye of the beholder.

[Photo by Virginia Postrel. A better image is available on the Art Institute of Chicago's website.]

Glamour May Look Effortless, But Maintenance Is Required

Always glamorous real estate sign
On a recent visit to New York, I snapped this photo with my dumb phone. (The low-res quality actually makes it look a little more glamorous than it did in real life.) It's a perfect example of why declaring something "glamorous" doesn't make it so. If you can't even manage to keep up your sign, why should we expect the building to be any better?

Here's another example, a screen shot of the website for the then-newly remodeled Peninsula Hotel in Shanghai. I was looking at the website while planning a trip to look for glamour in Shanghai. This carelessness convinced me not to look for it at the Peninsula.

Peninsula Hotel Shanghai website Glamour misspelled