Tag Archives: Upstate History Museum

White Christmas: The Exhibition at the Upcountry History Museum

I’ve talked a lot about nostalgia here in the past, especially how Baby Boomers were brought up with a sense of nostalgia, not for our own past, but for that of our parents and grandparents. Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, I was fascinated by my mother’s stories of her Christmases, especially when she was a young woman living in Asheville in the early 50s. Maybe that’s why I love White Christmas so much.

I was thrilled to discover that Greenville, SC’s Upcountry History Museum was presenting an exhibition of clothing, props, and ephemera from the movie. Like most movies from the past, the costumes from White Christmas were reused, sold, and scattered over the years since the movie was made in 1954. I was surprised to learn that the Rosemary Clooney House in Augusta, Kentucky has been collecting items from the movie for fifteen years. What they have achieved in assembling a collection of costumes from the movie is remarkable. I’ll talk more about this as I show the collection.

Let me start with the costumes that probably are the most iconic – the red Santa costumes worn in the finale. These are both replicas, as the whereabouts of the originals are unknown. It is suspected that the gowns were actually repurposed into other costumes, but the evidence of this does not exist other than the fact that repurposing was a common studio practice. The Clooney House has worked closely with Paramount Studios to locate lost items, but the bright red suits and gowns seem to have disappeared.

Note the color of the replica, and the color red in this original poster. More on that later.

Here are Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen as they performed “Sisters” in the movie. The Clooney House is lucky to have both dresses.

This is the dress worn by Clooney. It evidently had been displayed in bright light and the top, while original, is badly faded. The skirt was in shreds, and had to have a complete restoration. The fan is one of two found in storage at Paramount. The other was badly broken, perhaps due to Crosby and Kaye slapping one another with it.

Vera Ellen’s dress was found in the holdings of a private collector in Texas. The bodice had been cut and badly altered into a sweetheart neckline. But the skirt was intact. Having both dresses made the needed restorations clear. Matching lace was found, and Vera Ellen’s high neckline was restored.

Note the difference in color between the studio photo and the actual dresses. Some of it is due to fading, but it seems a bit more is at work here.

Here is a set of costumes from an ensemble dance number featuring Vera Ellen. In true 1950s style, the song is about marriage, and Vera Ellen as Mandy, is a bride.

As a bride should be, Mandy is attired in white, and her chorus-girl bridesmaids are in red. But look at the costumes on display. The color difference is most obvious in the bridesmaids’ costumes, but all are considerably different in reality than in the movie. The difference could be partly due to dye degradation, but a more likely explanation was that color had to be adjusted for the technicolor process.

I tend to go with that explanation because even the matching accessories were the same color as the outfit. And I’ve never seen dye fade that uniform.

The two men dancers’ outfits are the most recent additions to the collection. We were told that the museum is actively adding to the collection, and sadly, the museum was recently outbid for a desired object on eBay

Greatly adding to the exhibition was the inclusion of enlarged photos of the actors wearing the costumes.

Another scene well-represented in the collection is the party scene where Vera Ellen and Danny Kaye announce their “engagement”. Rosemary Clooney wore this lovely dress, which is a much deeper green in the film.

This is Vera Ellen’s dress. At this point I need to point out that Edith Head was the designer of the costumes. At the time, Vera Ellen’s weight had fallen quite low, so Head used tricks to beef her up a bit. The high neck hid a thin neck, the white added a few pounds, and the swag across her hips help disguise her thinness. In recent years some have tried to blame her weight on anorexia, but there’s no supporting evidence that her weight was due to any medical condition.

This dress and the pearls were worn by the great Mary Wickes, the busybody housekeeper.

Costumes from the men in the movie are much less represented. But they were able to locate the uniforms worn by Dean Jagger, Bing Crosby, and Danny Kaye near the end of the film. The uniforms had been reused and altered by Paramount, so the museum had replica patches and ribbons made to match the ones worn by the stars.

The hat was worn by Vera Ellen, and the gloves were worn by Clooney in her famous solo night club act. The gloves were found at Paramount, but the dress has disappeared from sight.

There’s more, but these were the highlights. After watching this movie every year for decades, it was such a treat to see these costumes, and to know they are assembled in one collection. It would have been nice to see any one of these costumes individually, but how much more impactful it was to see them together. As a collector, I tend to not think of garments as “museum quality”; I tend to think more in the lines of how does a garment fit into a collection.

There are many collectors of Hollywood costumes, and I salute them for saving so many artifacts that would have otherwise been lost. The leader in this area was Debbie Reynolds, who not only saved many items, but inspired others to do the same. Hopefully, some other White Christmas items are thriving in these collections, and that they will someday make their way to the Rosemary Clooney House.

As always, seeing an exhibition is more fun with a like-minded friend. Thanks to Liza for meeting me at the museum!

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Katharine Hepburn – Dressed for Stage and Screen

I sort of hate posting about this exhibition, as it is closing, but despite my best intentions, I was unable to attend it until late last week. It was the Upstate History Museum’s  (in Greenville, SC) very first showing of fashion and costume, and they really did lead off with a winner. The show came from Kent State University Museum, which acquired the personal clothing of Katharine Hepburn around ten years ago. I saw this show in 2010 at Kent State, and had really enjoyed it, and since it was so close, decided to see it again.

When Kent State acquired the clothing, they learned that some of the pieces were identified with the name of the production, but others were not. Since I saw the show seven years ago, it appears that some more pieces have been identified, as there were some additions that I did not see the first time around. Someone has haved the very pleasurable task of watching Hepburn’s films with an eye out for the museum’s costumes!

Included in the show are garments Hepburn wore on stage, on screen, and in her personal life. There were quite a few costumes in her possession because if she really liked a particular garment, she would buy it when filming was completed or when the play’s run was over. In some cases, if she could not get the original, Hepburn would have the designer make copies for her personal use.

This green jumpsuit may be such a copy. It was made for Hepburn in 1939 by the designer, Valentina, and was worn in the stage production of The Philadelphia Story.  You can see Hepburn wearing it, or the original, in the photo behind the mannequin. There is also an very similar natural silk one in the collection.

Also from The Philadelphia Story, this gown was also designed by Valentina. The belt is a reproduction. Hepburn also wore this dress in 1973 (thirty-fours years later) when she portrayed Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie.

This dress was worn in another stage production, The Lake of 1934. Remember that famous Dorothy Parker quip about Hepburn’s acting, “She  runs the whole gamut of emotion from A to B”? This is the play being referenced.

Hepburn continued to grace the stage, even after she found fame in Hollywood. These three costumes are from Coco, a 1969 musical in which Hepburn played Coco Chanel. Cecil Beaton designed the costumes, but to add a bit more authenticity to the production, Hepburn went to Paris and purchased some of the real deal. The suit on the left is by Chanel; the pantsuit and gown are by Beaton.

 

Stage Door, 1937, gown by Muriel King. I don’t tend to think of Hepburn as the frilly type, but this proves she could carry it off when necessary.

Hepburn wore this gown in 1949’s Adam’s Rib, opposite Spencer Tracy. In the movie poster seen behind the dress the dress is tinted red so it would stand out from the others wearing black. This dress was designed by Walter Plunkett in 1949.

This gown was designed by Irene, and was worn in 1948’s State of the Union.

UPDATE: I added this photo from Liza at Better Dresses Vintage to illustrate one of the things we discussed during our visit, the quality of workmanship of Hollywood costume departments. Being able to examine the clothes this closeup really lets you see the great skills of the sewers in those costume shops.

In 1967 Hepburn made her last movie with Spencer Tracy, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. These two ensembles were not actually used in the film, but were the outfits she wore in publicity photos for it. They both show signs of additional wear, and so Hepburn must have worn them in her private life.

Katharine Hepburn also did special productions for television. These two costumes were worn by her in the 1979 production The Corn Is Green. Considering she was seventy-two years of age at the time, she had a pretty impressive figure. She did have a little help from corsetry.

I’m afraid I have to title this photo, “Costuming Gone Bad.” These two are from Love Among the Ruins, which was filmed in 1975, but was set in 1911. The green robe/coat garment was made from a lovely silk, and I really liked it, but that red!  The fabric appeared to be a cheap poly, and the trim was that stuff people used to use to trim lampshades. And so many feathers! I simply do not understand what the designer, Margaret Furse, was thinking. But what do I know? Furse won a costuming Emmy for this made for TV film.

Here’s a selection of Hepbrun’s famous slacks. There are thirty-one pairs in the collection, though not all were on exhibit. Many were custom made to fit Hepburn’s specifications. The jodhpurs were bought at Abercrombie and Fitch. The blue jacket may be the one she wore in On Golden Pond.

Hepburn also had her shoes custom made. There are six of these brown single strap shoes in the collection.

Two trays of Hepburn’s makeup, and you can barely see a hairpiece in the upper right corner.

I had some company on this visit, Liza, the owner of Better Dresses Vintage. Having another fashion history lover with whom to discuss and critique the clothes really does enhance the experience of a visit to an exhibition.

These clothes will be heading back to Kent State where they will be on view from February 2, 2018 to September 2, 2018.

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