Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Grace Kelly - Style Icon - London V&A

It is hard to believe now that Grace Kelly’s career was just 5 years, from 1951 to 1956, such is her enduring legacy and stylish image - the Kelly look - which was created in the main by Edith Head for her Paramount films and Helen Rose at MGM, its as iconic as Audrey Hepburn with Givenchy.

She made 11 films during those 5 years and of course the Hitchcock ones are still out there and endlessly analysed. Her wardrobe for REAR WINDOW being particularly marvellous – I also like her Edith Head outfits for TO CATCH A THIEF – the ice blue dress, the bathing costume, the outfit for an afternoon picnic: “leg or breast?” when offering the cold chicken to Cary Grant, and of course that spectacular gold number for the climax.

Grace, who like all the great stars had an unique voice, was along with Audrey Hepburn Hollywood’s two new golden girls of the ‘50s and thus both won the Academy Award in succeeding years – 1953 and 1954 – just as those two new ‘60s girls Julies Andrews and Christie did a decade later. Grace and Audrey were the other side of Marilyn and Elizabeth Taylor, making up that quartet of Hollywood greats circa 1954, when they all reigned supreme. That 1954 best actress award is still a bone of contention for movie buffs and just fans – did Grace deserve to win for THE COUNTRY GIRL, for just looking dowdy and wearing cardigans and spectacles, over Judy Garland’s towering performance in A STAR IS BORN? But really by then Judy was seen as a has-been making a comeback and had been regarded as difficult for years, whereas the cool and crisp Kelly was the new sensation that audiences could not get enough of. I will need to re-see THE COUNTRY GIRL myself to make up my own mind.

Grace of course had that patrician image which so fascinated Hitchcock, the cool and feisty ice maiden who melted with the right man. Grace was about 20 years younger than those older leading men but there were rumoured romances with the likes of Cooper, Gable, Milland, Crosby, Holden, and the perfect on-screen partnerships with Stewart and Grant. Fashion designer Oleg Cassini was also a boyfriend. [Of course Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren, when she began in international movies in 1957, were also 20 or 30 years younger than their male co-stars].

Two of Grace’s I particularly like are that routine programmer she had to do, GREEN FIRE in '54, where she looks very cool and tailored down in the South American jungle as sister of plantation owner John Ericson as prospectors Stewart Granger and Paul Douglas dig for those emeralds. Its hokum but fun and she is very understated and affecting in THE SWAN, again nicely dressed (by Helen Rose) and with a nice hairstyle as the princess falling for tutor Louis Jourdan while being wooed by prince Alec Guinness (who became a lifelong friend of hers, they played endless jokes on each other thereafter) – THE SWAN also has the full MGM period look and provided good roles for Jessie Royce Landis, Estelle Winwood and Agnes Moorehead. One can see Eva Marie Saint's Eve Kendall as a tailored Grace Kelly type in Hitch's NORTH BY NORTHWEST, even as she dangles from Mount Rushmore wearing her white gloves, and then of course there is Tippi and THE BIRDS...

It would have been interesting if Grace had been allowed to return to the screen for Hitchcock in MARNIE and who knows how her career might have developed, but we will always have those ‘50s treats. Audrey Hepburn of course remains an equal style icon...

The exhibition on Grace at London's V&A Museum runs until September with those iconic clothes and other items [like the Kelly bag], and is getting a lot of attention. I shall be going.

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