Saturday, April 2, 2011

Tara and Twelve Oaks Revisited

I had the pleasure this past week of speaking at the Margaret Mitchell House on the the making of Gone With the Wind. I have to admit I faced some trepidation as this is a religion for most Atlantans (and all Southerners for that matter). I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and particularly loved meeting the "Windys" who know the book and  film frontwards and backwards. 

While I covered the film and the work of the production designer William Cameron Menzies in my book Designs on Film, my research for the lecture required delving further into the worlds of Tara and Twelve Oaks. And is often the case in most films, the backstory is as interesting as the finished product. 

The designs for Tara were a collaborative effort by production designer William Cameron Menzies and his talented team but the final say so came from producer David O. Selznick. While Margaret Mitchell's book described Tara as a somewhat ordinary "white-washed brick house" in Georgia's Clayton County, Selznick had grander ideas. Many say he was influenced by the Natchez antebellum looks from another popular book and film at the time, So Red the Rose in 1935. To accommodate the producer's vision, Menzies produced some 25 watercolor renderings that were all turned down and 26 was the magic number. (Below is one of the first 25). 

Tara was only a facade and built for $12.059. Trees were fabricated over telephone poles (if you look closely in the title picture, you can see a telephone pole sticking out of the tree!) and blossoms were made by the prop department for the dogwood trees. The structure consisted of three sides, a kitchen and a breezeway with a partial roof. Ah, the magic of Hollywood. 

Selznick Studios, Tara Style

Well appointed interior of Tara

Twelve Oaks was somewhat grander than Tara and Mitchell was none to happy with those designs either. She didn't know where to "laugh or throw up" over the double staircase and compared the plantation house to that of Grand Central Station and the Palace of Potsdam. 

Publicity still on the double staircase

One of the sketches for Twelve Oaks stairway that was not used

Sketch for library at Twelve Oaks....

and actual scene from the film

Tara remained on the studio lot for two more decades and was eventually sold to Desilu Productions. Desi Arnaz had toyed with the idea of refurbishing the facade and turning it into a tourist attraction but sadly it met its demise. The front door was eventually sent to the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta.

According to the rules of the Award, I should:
And now for another piece of business -- Christian of the ultra stylish, ultra Golden Age of Hollywood blog The Silver Screen Modiste (and kudos to one sophisticated blog name I might add) nominated me for Stylish Blogger Award and always appreciate his support and wonderful insights. Christian wrote the book on costume designer Adrian (that makes the second person in my world who did that, Adrian and I must have known each other in past lives) which was published by Monacelli Press. The book covers the incredible work of house of Adrian and the many stars he clothed from Garbo, Harlow and Crawford to Lamarr, Hepburn and Garland. That would be Greta, Jean, Hazel, Hedy, Katherine and Judy to the uninitiated.aYou can read more here

According to Christian and the rules of the Award, I should:

1) Thank and link back to the blogger who awarded you with the award.
2) Share 7 Things about yourself.
3) Award recently discovered great bloggers.
4) Contact the bloggers and inform them of the award

So here are seven things about myself:

1.) I LOVE LOVE LOVE movies. (Gee, does it show?) And as I get older, movies are more interesting to me from the thirties to the sixties. Perhaps its the acting, the costumes or the stories from a more simpler time. Moviemaking may not be as evolved as it is now but it's still narrative storytelling at its epic best.

2)  If money were no object (or time and space for that matter) I would move into a movie set. The penthouse of A Perfect Murder or The Fountainhead, the townhouse from Thomas Crown Affair and the beach house from Somethings Gotta Give (I know, its been covered to death) would do nicely. And if cable and air conditioning were available, I could move into the world of Marie Antoinette.

3.) Maybe its me but actors seem to look better in older films. Redford never looked better in The Way We Were, Bogart in Casablanca and Holden in Sabrina. Of course they were younger too.

4). I have over 200 soundtrack songs on my Ipod. My favorites are Chinatown, Out of Africa and Thomas Crown Affair One (Two is pretty good also). And yes, I even downloaded the Sound of Music.

5).  I would love to design a wardrobe of Doris Day inspired sixties costumes. Her frocks for Pillow Talk and The Thrill of It All were wonderful. 

6).  I enjoy a good backstory. The gossip behind the scenes for Casablanca, Cleopatra and Gone with the Wind is fascinating and as good as the movie. Whenever I lecture, those are the stories people want to hear. And who doesn't love some good gossip. I must have been Hedda Hopper in a former life.

7.) If I am flipping the channel and the following movies are on the screen, I stop whatever I am doing and watch - All the President's Men, Gone with the Wind and the Godfather One and Two. GF three just doesn't cut it.

And I am only supposed to list seven, but here is #8:

8). Isn't it interesting how we can remember all the seminal movies of our lives, where we saw them and who we were with? 

And here are four  blogs I nominate for Stylish Blogger Awards. They are fellow writers who I am also proud to call  friends:

One - Emily Evans Eerdmans. Long before we met, I had to have her book Regency Redux on my coffee table. She did one better with her bio/design tome of Madeleine Castaing. You can read Emily's blog here.

Two- The Renaissance designer Joe Ruggiero is literally a cat with nine lives and then some. He has been an editor, television personality, designer, spokesperson, blogger, magazine Editor in Chief,  author, product designer, you name it. Multi talented and writes a wonderful blog on his work and times here. I am a huge fan.

Three - There are many curated blogs out there but the one I go to for direction and the latest and greatest is Stylebeat. Written by former O at Home and House Beautiful editor Marisa Marcantonio (I was first introduced to her by my editor Candace Manroe at Traditional Home), she was a wonderful way of ferreting out just what I am interested in.

Four - Mrs. Blandings. I immediately was drawn to the title of course and she writes a very personal, poignant and  intriguing blog unlike any other. Watching her translate her life in Kansas City to an enjoyable and lovely blog is quite wonderful. She is a cut above and I hope to see her published the the print form one day. I hope a publisher is listening. She also selflessly helped me set up my first blog and we had never even met. 

Photo credits: Selznick International Pictures

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Stylish Films of Liz Taylor

While much has been written about the late Liz Taylor this past week in terms of her life, films, jewelry, trials and tribulations (and yes, her many husbands),  I thought this would be a good time to
look at some of the design-rich films she appeared in during her career.

From a design standpoint, one of my favorite films was director George Stevens saga A Place in the Sun (1951) which many critics consider one of Taylor's best performances. Co-starring her close friend Montgomery Clift, the film was shot on location in Lake Tahoe and set decorator Emile Kuri designed some very chic fifties interiors for the story of an ambitious up and comer who falls for a beautiful debutante.

Taylor and Clift above and below

A Place in the Sun above and below

Also directed by George Stevens, the film Giant spanned the life of the Benedicts, a Texas ranching family portrayed by Rock Hudson and Taylor. Shot on location in Marfa, Texas, the epic western and melodrama all rolled into one prominently featured the Benedict house, a stately Victorian mansion that represented the family's wealth and emotional distance. Designed by Boris Leven, only the front porch and sides of the mansion were erected while the rest was shot in the Warner Brothers soundstage. The film was nominated for best picture and best art direction in l956.

Taylor and Hudson as the Benedicts in early years....

and in later years.

The Marfa, Texas house

Tennessee Williams acclaimed drama of life, marital problems and family living under the same roof is tackled in the Pulitzer Prize winning play turned film Cat On a Hot Tin Roof. Taylor starred as the sexually frustrated wife Maggie (the cat) with Paul Newman as ex-football player/alcoholic/husband Brick. Her performance is incredible considering husband Michael Todd died in a plane crash just three weeks into filming. Contrary to popular belief, the film was not shot in the middle of the South but on the Coleman Estate on Long Island's Oyster Bay and the MGM soundstage.

Taylor with Newman

Taylor as Maggie the Cat above and below

Other noteworthy films for both their style and costumes were Butterfield 8 (1960), Elephant Walk (1954), X, Y and Zee (1972) and The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954). Perhaps one of my favorite period interiors is  from one of Taylor's earliest films Julia Misbehaves (1948). The story of a showgirl who returns to her rich and stuffy husband when her daughter gets engaged, many of the furnishings hold up today. I love the chintz slipper chair! If you would like to read more about one of her biggest films Cleopatra, this was covered in an earlier post on Cinema Style. See the Tale of Four Cleos.

Farewell La Liz. Thankfully your work lives on.

Taylor as a lady of the evening in Butterfield 8

Butterfield 8

Sixties period bathroom in Butterfield 8

Co-starring with Dana Andrews in Elephant Walk

The Last Time I Saw Paris with Van Johnson

Lots of great sixties interiors in  X, Y and Zee

Set still for Julia Misbehaves
If you are in Atlanta or Memphis, I will be speaking this week at the Margaret Mitchell House on Tuesday, March 27th at 7:00 pm on the designs of Gone With the Wind to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the film. You can read more here. I will also lecture on Designs on Film at the Memphis Brooks Museum on  Saturday, April 2nd at 2:00 pm. Hope to see you there!

Photo Credits: MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount Pictures.