Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Review: Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

Point, 2008; 336 pages; ISBN 043899273
My Goodreads Rating: 4.5 stars

After watching Sex and the City 2 recently, and realizing just how much I love red lipstick (two posts on that already), I remembered another teen book I recently read that features a girl sporting some lovely red lipstick while coming of age on the quirky and stylish streets of New
York, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, which I really enjoyed. I had read 13 Little Blue Envelopes a couple years ago, so I was happy to return to Johnson's writing and I definitely want to read more by her. The story centered on Scarlett who lives in an old 1920's New York City hotel that her family owns and manages. For her 15th birthday she gets to manage one of the suites, joining her older siblings who already have rooms of their own to manage. It's summer and although the hotel doesn't get too many visitors, a new guest arrives to stay in Scarlett's suite. Mrs. Amberson is a wealthy former actress with a flair for the dramatic. She takes a liking to Scarlett and her family right away (I love how she calls Scarlett "O'Hara"). Scarlett's older brother is an actor who is trying to avoid culinary school, her older sister is dating a very wealthy guy, and her younger sister is a bratty cancer survivor who seemingly cannot stand Scarlett. There is a little romance thrown in and lots of charm and a New York City vibe. The language is very well written and witty, and I could picture all the scenes as they were going on in the story. I look forward to reading the follow-up, Scarlett Fever.

Photo: From website

Friday, June 18, 2010

Nails, Nails, Nails

After I was reading up on Rita Hayworth and her naturally long nails that she painted in one color (hot pink), I started thinking of nail trends. I have gone back and forth between acrylic, french-manicured nails, and short nails in a multitude of colors. My favorites are either very dark tones on short nails (black, blood red, dark blue or purple) or light colors and a white tip look on acrylic, longer nails. I've noticed certain nail trends on screen on actresses such as Joan Crawford, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, and Jean Harlow. Most of these are the half moon manicure (also called a ruffian manicure) or the manicure that leaves the half moon white and the tip white, with the in between in a darker shade of nail polish (as seen in this Cutex advertisement). This trend is coming back as well, on celebrities like Dita Von Teese, and if you look closely, Kim Cattrall is sporting various half moon looks and the popular Minx Nails in Sex and the City 2. It wasn't until the late 30's and early 40's that women started painting their nails in one all-over color. This is seen in the movie The Women (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939), for example. Joan Crawford's character goes to the spa and gets her nails painted a "Jungle Red", which is evidently a very dramatic and scandalous name, kind of like what the women are up to in the film. Nowadays you can find a 'jungle red' nail color by Nars, which actually does look pretty dramatic and scandalous to me.
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The history of nail polish coincides with the automotive industry if you can believe it. Before car paint came about, nails would be rubbed with tinted and scented oils and creams and then buffed to a shine. So nail enamel was inspired by the car paint, which came out in 1925. The moon manicure became all the rage (which if you think about it, is great for chipping, if the tip of your nail is not carrying a color). In the thirties Revlon was born with their introduction of a new type of nail enamel that was based on pigments rather than dyes. They also started marketing the whole matching nail and lip look. From the mid to late thirties the style of an all-over color on the entire nail became
en vogue, and many credit Miss Rita Hayworth with this trend. Apparently she also influenced the length and shape of the nail (longer and more oval in shape). Early nail colors were always in shades of pink and red, and over time these have proven to be the most popular and classic hues. I decided to try the moon manicure on my own nails, using a more modern shade of purple and a silver color beneath that. My acrylic nails are growing out, and this seems to camouflage the cuticle a bit, where the growth is most visible. I've never tried this style before, so excuse my crude lines, but I have to say that I really like it, especially after seeing its current resurgence in movies and on various celebrities. I'm looking forward to trying it out on my own natural, shorter nails. The colors I used are NYX Silver and Misa Violetta.

Cutex Polish Advertisement from late 1930's:

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Little Pink, Green, White, Gold or Black Dress

Recently I saw a list published on Yahoo's Shine website listing the top 10 most iconic dresses of the past 50 years, and I thought, there are some dresses missing from this list. So I decided to make my own, but I went in a slightly different direction. I've selected the top 10 most iconic dresses in film from the 30's, 40's, and 50's. I've seen all of these movies except Gone with the Wind (yes, I know, I'm a bad person), and Gilda. I promise I will watch these movies soon. But I have definitely seen images of the dresses I picked from these movies, and of course drooled over all the other dresses I selected to feature. Two of my favorites appear twice (Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn) so I guess I'm biased, but no matter, all of these dresses are definitely to die for (dresses are in no particular order).

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1. The pink satin dress from Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend scene in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Twentieth Century Fox, 1953)

Let's face it, this whole scene is iconic. It's been imitated numerous times, and no wonder, it's definitely memorable. The dress itself has become so popular that costume companies sell it as a Halloween costume. I've considered buying it myself a couple of times I must confess. The original dress is actually up for auction at the Hollywood Memorabilia Auction as of yesterday (Lot 832). The dress is a silk taffeta strapless dress designed by William Travilla. Originally it was designed as a two piece gown, but it had to be altered because the top portion kept separating when Marilyn would raise her arms during the scene. The original top portion of the dress is included with the lot. It's estimated at $150,000 - $200,000. That'll buy you a pretty good size diamond too wouldn't you say?

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2. The "barbecue dress" worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (Selznick International Pictures, 1939)
Although I have never watched Gone with the Wind in it's entirety, I am familiar with most of the iconic dresses worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, including this silk organza number. The original dress is currently held by the Costume and Textile Department of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It was carefully restored in 1976. The gown was designed by Walter Plunkett, who traveled to several Southern historical societies to do research about Civil War era gowns. He designed the original pattern which is now exclusively available from Pegee of Williamsburg, which offers historically significant patterns. The color green was chosen to bring out Vivien Leigh's eyes, which it surely does if I do say so myself.

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3. The black and white dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina (Paramount Pictures, 1954)
I'm not sure who the real designer is behind this black and white ballgown worn by Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. Costume design for the movie was done by both Edith Head and Hubert de Givenchy. Actually this marked the beginning of a long relationship between Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy. When he was asked to design for Hepburn, he thought he would be designing for Katherine Hepburn, as he had never heard of Audrey Hepburn. Edith Head refused to have Givenchy's name listed besides hers in the movie's credits, so ultimately the Academy Award for best costume was given solely to Edith Head for this film. Interestingly the characters of Linus and Sabrina go see The Seven Year Itch (the play) during the movie. The film version was out the following year, which leads me to another famous white dress.

4. The white dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch (Twentieth Century Fox, 1955)
Actually the dress is ivory, and it is currently housed at the Hollywood Motion Picture Museum, which is a collection of more than 3,500 costumes put together by Debbie Reynolds. She founded the museum in 1972 and it is reportedly worth more than $50 million dollars. It is pictured on the museum's website as the ivory pleated "subway" dress. The museum was set to open originally in Hollywood, but it is now slated to open in Belle Island Village, Tennessee. William Travilla also designed this dress for Marilyn. The scene that has made this dress so famous was originally shot on location in New York City, on Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street, but the noise from the crowds made the scene unusable (not to mention Joe DiMaggio was pretty upset over the whole spectacle). The scene in the movie was eventually accomplished after more than 40 takes on a closed set built to replicate the Lexington Avenue location.
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5. The white slip worn by Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1958)  

The Cat in the production's title refers to Elizabeth Taylor's character, Maggie "the Cat". Although the slip I'm referencing here is not a 'dress' per say, you could argue that it's a precursor to the modern slip dress. Elizabeth Taylor also wears a stunning white cocktail dress in the movie, but I think the image of her wearing the white slip is much more iconic. Helen Rose was the costume designer for the film. The film was supposed to be shot in black and white, but it was filmed in color because of Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman's striking eye colors. Sadly, on the day filming began, Taylor's third husband was killed in a plane crash. Filming was delayed, but Taylor continued with the film.  

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6. Adrian gowns worn by Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell in The Women (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939)    

This is one of my favorite movies. The whole wardrobe of the movie is spectacular, but I just love the gowns worn by the three leading ladies in the final scenes of the movie, especially Joan Crawford's gold two-piece sequin gown. It looks like the skirt, at least, was auctioned off through Christie's in 2006. The gowns were all designed by Adrian (Adrian Adolph Greenberg), who was an American designer most well-known for designing Dorothy's red ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Adrian worked with some of the biggest stars of Hollywood, and was also credited with Joan Crawford's signature shoulder pad look. (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939)    

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7. The wedding dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (Paramount Pictures, 1957) 

If you are looking for a knock-off version of this classic wedding gown, or even of the black and white one Hepburn wore in Sabrina, you can go to Of course you will join a multitude of brides who covet this classic look of satin and a tea-length, full tulle skirt. In the movie the wedding dress is by a designer named Paul Duval, although Audrey Hepburn's costume designers at this point were still Edith Head and Hubert de Givenchy. This time around both received a nomination for best costume design for this movie from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, although the award went to Les Girls (Sol C. Siegel Productions, 1957). In the movie Fred Astaire's character, Dick Avery, was inspired by Richard Avedon, an American fashion and portrait photographer.   

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8. The pink ballgown worn by Billie Burke in The Wizard of Oz (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939)

Maybe I remember this dress so much because as a child I was fascinated by it. I mean what little girl wouldn't be. It's poufy, it's pink, it glitters, and it even comes with a crown and a wand. I'm not sure if it is another Adrian creation, but he is listed as the costume designer for the film. In the original book by L. Frank Baum, Glinda is depicted as wearing a "pure white dress" and she is the Good Witch of the South. She is committed to restoring the throne of rightful heir Princess Ozma, and her court is made up of all women. For the 1939 film version of the The Wizard of Oz, the character of Glinda is a combination of the Good Witch of the South and the Good Witch of the North, who in the book has no name. Her character is played by actress Billie Burke, who was 53 at the time. She had also previously played Judy Garland's mother in Everybody Sing (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1938). She also played Elizabeth Taylor's mother-in-law in Father of the Bride (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1950) and Father's Little Dividend (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1951).    

9. The black satin dress worn by Rita Hayworth in Gilda (Columbia Pictures Corporation, 1946)     

During the filming of this scene in the movie Gilda, Rita Hayworth had to wear a corset under the gown because she had recently given birth to her daughter Rebecca (with Orson Welles). She wears the dress during a scene where her character sings "Put the Blame on Mame". The dress was designed by Jean Louis (another famous dress designed by Louis was the one Marilyn Monroe wore to sing Happy Birthday to JFK). Rita Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Cansino, daughter of a Spanish flamenco dancer whose mom (of Irish and English descent) was named Volga Hayworth. Her grandfather, Antonio Cansino, is credited for having made the bolero famous. One of the legends is that the Margarita was named after her when she was dancing under her real name in Tijuana, Mexico. She was also once a cover girl for Nails magazine, and is credited with starting the trend of using nail polish on the entire nail (hot pink was her color of choice). Her hair was naturally black, not red, and in 1949 she was the first movie star to marry a prince, not Grace Kelly, as most people assume. Also of note is that she was the first choice to play Ilsa Lund in Casablanca and her marriage to Prince Aly Khan served as inspiration for the character of Maria Vargas in The Barefoot Contessa (Figaro, 1954), played by Ava Gardner.    

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10. The white jacket worn by Kim Novack in Vertigo (Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions, 1958). (Yes, I know it's not a dress, but it's iconic nonetheless, and this is my list!)     

First off, I love this movie, and pretty much all of Hitchcock's films. He definitely had a thing for the blonde protagonist, and Kim Novak was no exception. I also love this film because of the San Francisco location, which is a city close to my heart. I picked this as my 10th choice because even though it is not a dress, I think it is a classic look that you could say was a precursor for Sharon Stone's iconic white dress and coat in Basic Instinct (Carolco Pictures, 1992). The grey suit Novak wears in the film, (which she purportedly hated wearing, but did so because she felt that it was symbolic of her character Madeleine) perhaps comes to mind as well. Edith Head was the costume designer for this film, and she added a black scarf to the white coat in order to provide contrast. The whole idea was to give an eerie quality to Madeleine's wardrobe. Interestingly this film is one of five that was unavailable for 30 years. It resurfaced in 1984, along with Rope (Transatlantic Pictures, 1948), Rear Window (Paramount Pictures, 1954), The Trouble with Harry (Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions, 1955), and The Man Who Knew Too Much (Paramount Pictures, 1956), after Hitchcock bought back the rights.   

Honorable Mentions: The white dress worn by Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief (Paramount Pictures, 1955) and the black dress worn by Ava Gardner in The Killers (Universal Pictures, 1946)

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Original Passion Pit

Last week I was supposed to go see Sex and the City 2 at the Vineland Drive-In Movie Theater. But alas it turned out that they were not going to be showing it there. Nonetheless, this made me nostalgic for drive-in theaters. I've been to a couple other drive-ins, and yes, for an actual movie, not just the great swapmeets they have there. The Van Buren Drive-In in Riverside is one I've been to, and watching Kate Hudson in The Skeleton Key whilst I was there was quite frightful I must say. But you don't go to a drive-in just for the movie. It's the whole experience. According to the website, the first drive-in opened on June 6th of 1933. But the inventor, Richard M. Hollingshead, had been working on perfecting the drive-in since 1928. He actually patented his invention in 1933 (although it was declared invalid in a Delaware District Court in 1950). The whole draw to a drive-in was to be able to sit in your car and see and hear a movie. It wasn't until the fifties that the "boom" of drive-ins hit. During this time the experience of going to the drive-in was improved, and you might say, exaggerated. There were pony rides, boat rides, miniature golf, and animal shows. Trailers shown during intermissions were used to raise concession sales, where people were served fried chicken, pizza, and hamburgers, some even with car-side service. From Long Beach to New York some of the largest drive-ins held upwards of 3000 cars, and some were even air-conditioned and heated with full-service cafeterias, playgrounds and shuttle service. Even though I was unable to go to a drive-in for my beloved Sex and the City, I was pretty happy to watch it at the ArcLight in Pasadena, because at least there I enjoyed my reserved seat, cushy accommodations and of course a few drinks with my gal pals. At least we still have a few of the original "passion pits" left today, so I'll have to venture out to one with the significant other soon.

Drive-In Movie in Los Angeles, CA 1949
Photograph by J.R. Eyerman from the LIFE Photo Archive)