Friday, October 16, 2015

Gloria Swanson Wore It First

I borrowed this from my local library. What a great book!

I’m reading the very interesting Hollywood Jewels: Movies, Jewelry, Stars by Penny Proddow, Debra Healy, and Marion Fasel, a fascinating account of the history of jewels in film. It has been fascinating to learn of the beginnings of filmmaking and how some of the early stars of Hollywood were shrewd businesswomen, such as Mary Pickford, one of the founders of United Artists, as well as one of the thirty-six original members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Gloria Swanson was also an early (and major) silent film star and had clauses written into her contract “demanding she watch her weight and appear publicly dressed only in the latest fashions.” Swanson spent a ton of money on her clothes and rented the jewelry she wore off-screen at ten percent of its cost. I love this line from the book: “One year she ran up a rental bill of $500,000—meaning she wore $5 million worth of jewelry.” She was branded a clotheshorse by the press but didn’t mind the label, telling a friend, “I don’t mind, Eddie, it happens to be true. I have to work like a horse to have these clothes.”


A great picture of the great Gloria Swanson. Those eyes! From Doctor Macro.

I also love this passage: “Around Hollywood it was often said that Swanson was ‘the second actress to make a million and the first to spend it.’ Unlike the adroit businesswoman Mary Pickford, Swanson quickly spent her money—on mansions, husbands, furs, and jewelry. In 1925 Swanson married into an old French family and further enhanced her star status by becoming the Marquise de la Falaise de la Coudraye. She was the darling of every echelon of society and epitomized the free-spirited, wealthy American woman of the Roaring Twenties.”

Another wonderful shot of her, also from Doctor Macro.

From the book comes this photo of Gloria Swanson in a still from Male and Female, 1919.

Imagine my surprise after reading all this about Swanson to turn a page of the book and find this arresting photograph of her in a pearl-encrusted ensemble, a costume by Paul Iribe from the 1919 film Male and Female, in which she starred as a character named Lady Mary Lasenby. Look familiar? The moment I saw it I recalled the heart-stopping pearl-encrusted Calvin Klein gown Lupita Nyong’o wore to the Oscars this year. It seems too good to be true that her dress was divine inspiration dreamed up by Francisco Costa and his team. I have to believe Lupita’s dress was inspired by the one Gloria wore in 1919! Note the halter detail in particular, which was replicated in the Calvin Klein dress. I guess this is an instance where the old adage is true—everything old is new again!

The book says Iribe was a Parisian jewelry designer brought to Hollywood by Cecil B. DeMille to design sets and costumes for Male and Female and that the pearl dress Gloria wore in the film was copied by costume designers throughout the 1920s. I’d say it was copied again this year!

Lupita Nyong’o at the Oscars, February 2015.

A detailed shot of the bodice.

I think Gloria looks exotic and divine in this costume. I loved her in Sunset Boulevard but it’s the only film of hers I’ve seen. Let me know what you think of her in this headdress, gown, and jewelry by Iribe, and if you have a recommendation of another film of hers I should watch, let me know what it is!


rosie said...

Hi Jill,

Of course Lupita's pearl encrusted gown was inspired (copied) from the Eribe Gown. The headdress looks like it could be on a Vegas showgirl.

As far as her movies, the only one I really remember was Sunset Boulevard, a classic of course. I guess it was hard to separate her from the weird & creepy Norma Desmond character, so she didn't do many movies after Sunset.

Ms. Swanson was a vegetarian since the 20's & wrote a book in the 70's about avoiding sugar.

Clearly a woman who was way ahead of her time.

Jill said...

Hi Rosie! Ha, you are right, Gloria's headdress is definitely worthy of a Vegas showgirl! I read what you mentioned, that she didn't do much else after 'Sunset Blvd.' What a role! They should've given her an Oscar for it, it is so iconic. I wonder who beat her for Best Actress. I will have to look it up. Did you know she is interred in a church in Manhattan? I want to take her some flowers. She seems like she was such an interesting person, so ahead of her time, and one of Hollywood's very first stars! xx

Jill said...

Judy Holliday beat out both Gloria AND Bette Davis AND Anne Baxter (both for 'All About Eve') for the Best Actress Oscar. Seems unbelievable!