Last year, I launched a new Oscar Night annual party–my Red Carpet Rant n’ Rave. It’s a hen party. We gather to eat, drink, and be judgy.
I set out my myriad vintage fur pieces and sparkly junk jewelry a la Rachel Zoe for us to play dress-up. We take selfies, eat adorable finger foods, and drink bubbly while we watch E-network’s often goofy coverage, fill in our scorecards, and wait breathlessly to see what horror Helena Bonham-Carter will be sporting for comic relief this year.
And since the red carpet is certainly a heck of a lot more entertaining than the host’s stilted Catskill’s comedy routines or (worse) the vulgarity sweepstakes that passes for humor these days, I start shooing my guests out the door when the actual Oscar ceremony gets underway. They reluctantly return the tiaras and surrender the stoles and dust the popcorn from their laps to head out.
As I planned this year’s party, I found myself wondering what it must have been like at the early Academy Awards ceremonies. I wished I could take a Rod Taylor sleigh ride back, back, back in time and catch some of the action on red carpets of yore. Shall we?
Now, admittedly, this review only brushes the surface of the staggering amount of glamour gone by, but I pulled the pix I love best (for one reason or another) to entertain and enlighten. And I tried to provide as many images of the same gown as I could gather…think of it as old-school 360-degree cam! However, sometimes, one picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll occasionally be tossing in a one-off that I particularly like (like Lauren’s origami number below).
My admittedly brief review of only a few of Hollywood’s glamour girls reveals that not much has changed: There are always surprises, standouts, and stinkers.
Let’s start with one of the most well-documented red carpet successes–Vivien Leigh’s 1940 gown, worn to receive her Oscar for 1939′s epic Gone With the Wind.
Vivien wafted into the Alexander Hotel’s Coconut Grove wearing what appears to be a sheared fur coat over a floaty floral gown by Irene.
According to contemporary sources, the featherweight dress was a chiffon silk printed with bold red poppies on green stems.
The spaghetti-strapped bodice was cleverly constructed so as to require no undergarments–Irene’s interior wizardry delineated and enhanced her clientele’s figures.
Vivien adorned it simply with an eye-popping emerald-cut gem from Van Cleef & Arpel’s. It hung on a slender golden chain–a suitably simple setting for this knock-out gift from husband Larry (you might know him as Sir Lawrence Olivier). She added a bracelet and ring of rather chewy proportions, too. Larry seems pleased.
If you’re thinking, is that her WAIST I see, you’re right. This gorgeous gown’s cutaway bodice reveals Viv’s trim midriff! (PS–What appears to be her ring-bound scrapbook is in fact her purse. I know, right?!)
This deceptively simple frock could easily been worn today; its uncluttered lines and youthful prettiness would never betray its provenance. Oh, hi, Doug!
Note the easy elegance of Vivien’s hair, the beautifully done makeup–all very modern. Her look and loveliness is truly timeless.
Let there be Liz
No one does award ceremonies quite like Elizabeth Taylor. Aside from her stunning attire, her accessories always caused a stir–mostly because of the constantly changing lineup of arm candy in the form of hubby-du-jour. Here’s a review of some of Dame Elizabeth’s red carpet hits and misses–and misters.
First, a very young Liz, emerging from a dress that seems to have been piped from a pastry bag. Perfect for someone who spent so much time involved with wedding cakes…
With a handsome, mystery escort…(anyone?) (Alert reader Melissa identifies this handsome chap as sometime Liz date, director Stanley Donen! Thanks!)
With unsuspecting and happy-for-now hubby Michael Wilding…
With the long-suffering Eddie Fisher in 1960 (she was nominated for Suddenly, Last Summer)….
And again with Eddie in 1961…(she knows something he doesn’t…poor sap). She’s wearing Dior, BTW…the bodice doesn’t look like it fits, but that’s the least of Liz’s challenges at this point…
Liz’s look was most successful when she kept the shape relatively simple so the gown could show off her shape. The focus stays on her outstanding beauty when she wears a single color vs. prints. Her form is divine and a goddess-like gown respects that. And always, always a waistline that draws attention to her tiny waist!
Okay, we’ve run out of hubbies for Liz, let’s move on to everyone’s favorite eternal ingénue, Audrey Hepburn. (How on earth did she sneak past the teeming crush of photographers?)
Audrey’s Oscar looks have been cooed over and copied for ages, but there’s no getting around it…(hang on, oh, dear, this shoe is acting up…)
…she is a red carpet superstar, especially in this Edith Head lace gown.
The story of how she repurposed it from Roman Holiday is here: I think my red carpet party guests would all be gasping at her waistline even as we reached for another snack.
In order to appreciate the next few photos, it’s best to recall that back in the day, a personal stylist was a rare commodity, however studio costume designers occasionally did double-duty as private consultants for special events. I don’t think that’s the case here. Ginger Rogers, never known as a style icon, probably had some help from dear ol’ mom when selecting this modest and very unflattering number.
Uh-huh, just as we thought. Here’s Ginger arriving with Mom Lela Rogers (who was a Hollywood heavy-hitter…more about her here). WAIT A MINUTE…are they wearing…they ARE! MOTHER-DAUGHTER DRESSES????
Oh, well, that explains quite a bit. So, here’s Ginger giving Mother her due tribute for helping make her wonderful career possible.
Ginger won an Oscar for her performance in Kitty Foyle, but this dress would probably be pelted with popcorn at my party.
She’s a pretty girl, but this overdone thing does nothing to express or enhance it. (But gosh, don’t you love that smooch Jimmy is planting on her!?)
The flowers in the hair AND the necklace AND the lace bodice AND the sheer overlay peplum AND the fluttery cap sleeves…this dress needs to go home and lie down. Right after a celebratory soda with Mom.
I do love the oddball necklace; it’s more a collar than anything else, and with another, simpler gown, it could have landed her a thumb’s up from my particular posse. Pass the olives, please.
And again, here she is years later, hoofing it with George Murphy! She’s much older, but her non-fussy hairstyle and graceful dress are so much more flattering. Word to the wise: when in doubt, keep it simple.
Marilyn Monroe’s public appearances were, by all accounts, a trial to just about everyone, including her. She arrived, breathless and late as usual, at the 1951 Oscars.
She was a surprisingly shy woman and often had to be coaxed to appear at ceremonies. I’m sure my group would say if they looked like this, no one could keep them away…
Here’s a truly gorgeous shot of the same dress in color…breathtaking, isn’t it? Now, these stairs look quite a bit like the ones at the Roosevelt Hotel…can I get a witness on that?
You’ll note that gossamer net collar floats off her shoulders for maximum impact…on the stairway, it’s not in evidence at all. Marilyn can (and does) adjust it during the evening.
Here’s a very rare color clip of Marilyn at the award…enjoy and god bless whoever uploaded this!
Her best fashion moments came when dressed in Travilla’s sleek, form-fitting gowns, created with plenty of luscious curve-hugging solid color, structure-supporting fabric.
Toss it, Loretta
Something about the Oscar red carpet makes even normally very style-savvy gals go haywire. Take my darling Loretta Young for instance. She routinely outdressed almost everyone, and yet, here she is, letting Adrian drag her through the cabbage patch. The color was fabulous for her green eyes, granted, but goodness, where’s Loretta? Family legend records sister Sally Blane’s reaction: ”You look like lettuce!” We are forced to agree. With a side order of carnations.
Happily, Loretta peeled the top few leaves of taffeta so that the world press and Oscar audience got a good glimpse of her incredible beauty. She swept to the podium to receive her award (watch her here) and gave an acceptance speech memorable for its graciousness, brevity, and humor.
After tapping thrice on the mike, she smiled and said, “That’s my heart. You know, up until now, presentations of the Academy Awards has been a purely spectator sport for me.” She paused, gestured at her gown and smiled again, adding, “However, tonight I dressed for the stage–just in case.” The audience laughed with her and she continued, giving the other nominees some lovely words of praise. The keeper in all this foliage is that incredible necklace–a stunning piece she wore more than once.
She had learned her lesson by the next year. When Loretta presented the Oscar for Best Actor to….oh, hi, Doug!…Douglas Fairbanks, Jr (who was standing in for the absent Laurence Olivier), she was a vision in white lace, accented with pearl button earrings, a sleekly waved chignon, a pearl choker, and every girl’s ultimate accessory, an appreciative, happy male admirer.
A long shot of Loretta congratulating pal Jane Wyman on her Oscar win reveals more of this pretty, feminine dress.
The lady is a tramp
Tinseltown wags say that if you want to win an Oscar, play a call girl. Shirley Jones and Donna Reed are in the amen corner for that one. Here’s my beloved Esther Williams wishing tiny Donna luck outside the ladies’ room door, which is where all the really great conversations start. Donna’s wrapped waist dress does all the right things for her. Thumbs up and fingers crossed, sister!
Let’s look at Shirley’s gown first. Shirley played a bawdy small-town hooker smitten (and understandably so) with uber-hunk Burt Lancaster. Her covered-up award-night princess gown could be read as a sort of sartorial “shutting the barn door after the horses got out” effort, I suppose.
But I give her high marks for the color…the champagne hue is a perfect complement to her haircolor and makes this sparkly Disney Princess gown-and-bolero team-up a winner. (I think Amy Adams just wore this hairstyle this year for the Golden Globe awards, didn’t she?)
The spangled, poufy skirt and Merry Widow dropped V-waist combine for that regal silhouette. It’s quite a contrast to Liz’s “younger than springtime” Dior.
Shirley’s next go-round has her doing what so many stars do–finding a dress that’s a contrast from last year’s. Here she is in a black dress stolen from the Star Trek collection. Popcorn pelting is imminent. The lady reporter, perhaps inspired by Scarlett O’Hara’s drapery dress, has decided to wear her bedspread to the awards. With 2 brooches.
Another goody-two-shoes turned good-time girl, Donna won her Oscar for flashing world-weary glances Monty Clift’s way and talking out of the side of her mouth in From Here To Eternity. She opted for a nice ladylike gown that re-establishes her as a nice ladylike girl. And fellow-winner Frank seems to approve.
Donna and Frank reunited at the 1963 Academy Awards, and she looks every inch the upscale housewife in a sparkle-bodice shirtwaist gown of the era’s favorite heavy satin. The wrapped cummerbund waist lifts it from the ordinary and I’m compelled to say she wears it well–it’s a modernized version of the wrapped waist above. Donna knows what looks good on her!
Speaking of good girls, I wonder why Doris Day never attempted a bad girl role? Never mind, she looks fantastic in this shimmering sheath, another Irene design. A round of applause for this from my party guests!
Well, we could have judged all night, but the relentless music cue reminds us it’s time to yield the podium to others. Here are a few also-ran one-offs I simply had to include!
Bette Davis, wearing one of the only flattering gowns I’ve ever seen her in..Her hair, her necklace, the dropped waist of her simple, one-color, flounced gown…it’s perfection!
Natalie Wood, heart-stoppingly gorgeous in white fur, is almost as pretty as Warren Beatty here. Natalie wisely chooses an almost severe shape and a color that contrasts with her dark hair and eyes. She always looks spectacular in white and this halter neckline gem no exception. Any starlet could wear this at this year’s ceremony and not go amiss.
Norma Shearer looks every inch the superstar in a metallic brocade 2-piece dress adorned with mink cuffs and orchids trailing from her belt. After slinking across the screen in gowns like this, she never had to coax hubby Irving to cast her in vamp roles again.
Famously feuding sisters, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, had their moments of harmony and one of the most delightful was captured at an Academy Awards night. While I’m not sure I’m in love with either dress-and what’s with the flowers in the hair?–my mother’s heart is touched to see the girls getting along.
Oh, drat. We really must go! A review like this only convinces me what I already know. No matter how dreadful the ensembles worn by these goddesses, their sheer star power and glowing beauty rendered them simply divine.
This post is proudly part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon 2014. How nice of Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen to host this shindig! And how nice of y’all to select my leading lady for one of your icons. Thanks, ladies, see you next year!