Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fashion in Film - How to Marry a Millionaire

"How to Marry a Millionaire", from 1953, was on the Retroplex channel the other night, a movie I hadn't seen in years. This comedy stars Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall, and Marilyn Monroe as three golddigging models who set out to find husbands with lots of money.

William Travilla was the costume designer for the film, under the direction of Charles LeMaire. They were nominated for an Academy Award for the film, although the Oscar went to "The Robe". Of course, Travilla is best known for his work with Monroe, as he was able to engineer costumes for her that showed her to her best advantage.

While 20th Century Fox allowed Marilyn to show as much cleavage as she wanted off screen, she was required to be covered up in her films. Travilla actually wired the inside of Monroe's costumes to keep her breasts from bouncing on screen.

"How to Marry a Millionaire" was the second film by Fox produced in Cinemascope. While the film labs insisted that there was no distortion, the fact was that Cinemascope did widen the actresses on the screen. Close-ups had to be avoided. Full skirts were the height of fashion at the time, but all three actresses initially refused to wear them because of the on-screen distortion. LeMaire did not want the Fox designers to appear ignorant of current fashion, so he called a meeting of the three actresses. Grable and Bacall agreed to wear some full skirted costumes, most having the fullness flare from the lower hips. Monroe was insistent on wearing tight skirts throughout the film.

Many of the comic moments in the film are provided by Marilyn's character, who is blind as a bat and can't see without her glasses. She stumbles and bumbles around, continually hiding her glasses when in the company of men.

Travilla was able to design lots of evening gowns for the film as we watch the three girls date the various millionaires. But the best scene is the fashion show, where we get to see a parade of summer resort fashions and beachwear. The film is a "must see" for that scene alone!

Here is a short clip from the fashion show where Marilyn wears a red bathing suit and cover-up studded with rhinestones. Check out the clear plastic platforms on her shoes! You'll see one of Marilyn's funny moments at the end when she trips because she can't see without her glasses.