The fashions and aesthetics of the 1930s especially appeal to me. The extreme decadence of the costumes in the movies, transported you to a different place outside of your own life, especially if you had been living in the depression era. Most people were hard up from the end of the First World War, and the market crash caused many families to starve. It was certainly a stark contrast to the exotic locations, glamorous clothing and over the top interiors that these movies portrayed. One of my personal heroines that personifies the 30s glamour is Claudette Colbert. Relatively unknown now, compared to a lot of her contemporaries, like Marlene Dietrich and Garbo, a lot of people would not know this feline beauty, despite her super stardom at the time. Her career was almost unheard of in Hollywood, although almost all of the 40 odd movies that she made were smash hits. David O. Selznick the famous producer, who was notoriously hard to get on with, confessed that all her movies had grossed more than a million, and he would pander to her every whim.
She landed her first movie role while studying fashion design. She made her first talkies in 1927, and thereafter she worked on screen for 20 years. Her acting range was varied. She played a mysterious, exotic vixen in ‘The Sign of the Cross’, a spoil society heiress in ‘It Happened One Night’ and an ambitious, single mother in ‘The Imitation of Life’. All of these, she played with extreme professionalism and unforgettable performances. The timing of her line deliveries was so famous that her co-star Gary Cooper was intimidated by her.
I adore her exceptional beauty, with her extremely arched eyebrows, sphinx-like features and delicate bone structure, she sure had a face one can’t forget.
There was a famous story that her role in ‘All About Eve’ was meant to be designed for her. She had damaged her back in another movie and unwillingly she had to pass the movie to Bette Davis. The director spoke of his regret at not being able to capture her feline features in the movie. I think her cat-like aura, with her fluid, gold physique would certainly have caused riots in that masterpiece.
She was also famous in every movie that she appeared in, for demanding to be filmed from the right side of her face. Regardless of technical difficulties, she would insist with this diva-like demand to ensure that she retained this ‘movie star’ image. I guess that is why movie stars had such a mystery and mastery in their persona. The image that they projected to the audience only allowed for perfection. The stars were flawless, and obtained a consistent image all the time.
Claudette Colbert was always impeccably dressed, on and off screen. In ‘Tomorrow is Forever’ (1946), Jean Louis was hired to create eighteen changes of wardrobe for her, according to Wikipedia. Colbert’s style is best described with a quote from Jeanie Basinger in The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers: “[Her] glamour is the sort that women attain for themselves by using their intelligence to create a timeless personal style.”
Claudette Colbert starred as Empress Poppaea in Cecille B. DeMille’s ‘The Sign of the Cross’, 1932. The costumes were designed by Mitchell Liesen, who was also the Art Director for the film. As you can see, this film was released before the Motion Picture Production Code, or censorship, was enforced, beginning in 1934. Colbert’s costume had a low decolletage, bare midriff, and cut outs at the hips. In this scene from the film, you’ll see her cavorting in a milk bath with another suggestive costume being worn by Vivian Tobin as Dacia.
The liquid satin, bias-cut evening gowns that she often wore in her movies, would certainly not be easy attire to wear in our everyday life, but we certainly could aspire to a shorter version. With a bit of luck, you could be a screen siren too, sipping martins and become a classic beauty like Claudette.