Peacock couture

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Hedy Lamarr strikes a pose in a peacock dress for Samson and Deliah (1949), one of Hollywood’s many tiresome Biblical epics. If the photo isn’t just a promo shot and Hedy appears wearing this it’s no doubt a highlight but it’s so long since I saw the film the only thing I remember is Victor Mature bringing down the temple at the end. Ms Lamarr’s outfit wasn’t the first of its kind, of course, the examples below from dancer Ruth St Denis and film star Betty Blythe have appeared here before, but Hedy’s dress is a lot more extravagant; Aubrey Beardsley would have loved it. I might have said it was the most extravagant but that honour should go to a Chinese wedding dress made of 2,009 peacock feathers which was unveiled last year. Impressive if completely impractical.

Thanks to Thom for the Hedy tip!

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Ruth St Denis—The Peacock.

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Betty Blythe.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Betty Blythe
Ruth St Denis
The Feminine Sphinx
Alla Nazimova’s Salomé

Assorted peacocks

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I have a peacock-heavy piece of art out next month so with that grasping for spurious relevance here’s a few more peacock discoveries.

Antoine Helbert‘s untitled peacock man is one of a number of striking portraits turning humans into birds. Via Chateau Thombeau.

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Peacock styles, Anchor Buggy Co. (1897) at the Library of Congress.

Continue reading “Assorted peacocks”

Betty Blythe

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Yesterday’s search for Betty Blythe pictures turned up this pair which I couldn’t resist posting, with Ms. Blythe posed against a peacock in the first and wearing a peacock-styled outfit in the second. As I’ve noted before, silent films are very often like Symbolist paintings come to life, and The Queen of Sheba (1921) would appear to be another of these which makes its loss all the more disappointing. The photo below is from a Flickr set whose user has her own Tumblr blog of silent movie stars.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
The Mask of Fu Manchu
Salomé posters
Ruth St Denis
The Feminine Sphinx
Lussuria, Invidia, Superbia
Alla Nazimova’s Salomé

The Mask of Fu Manchu

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Myrna Loy, Charles Starrett and Boris Karloff.

Los Alamos ranch school where they later made the atom bomb and couldn’t wait to drop it on the yellow peril. The boys are sittin’ on logs and rocks eating some sort of food there’s a stream at the end of a slope. The counsellor was a southerner with a politician’s look about him. He told us stories by the camp fire culled from the racist garbage of the insidious Sax Rohmer. “East is evil, west is good.”
William Burroughs, The Cat Inside.

More pulp, and yes, it’s still racist garbage but Charles Brabin’s 1932 film which stars Boris Karloff as Sax Rohmer’s Oriental super-villain has its pleasures if you look past the severely dated attitudes. Together with The Black Cat (1934), where Boris plays a Satan-worshipping modernist architect (!), this is one of the best non-Frankenstein Karloff films of the 1930s, as I was reminded this weekend when re-watching it along with several Sherlock Holmes episodes.

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Christopher Lee is elegantly diabolical in the later Fu Manchu films but their cheap budgets force him to skulk around in dismal underground lairs. Boris’s Doctor has a lavish Art Deco pad whose huge rooms are furnished with a noisy Van de Graaff generator and other scientific apparatus, plus a series of torture rooms where his guests can endure death by encroaching spikes (the “Slim Silver Fingers”), being lowered into an alligator pit or driven mad by the incessant tolling of a giant bell. I happened to notice that the Doctor’s throne is quite possibly the same one (with a fresh coat of paint) as was used a decade earlier by a notoriously unclad Betty Blythe in The Queen of Sheba (1921), a lavish silent epic which is now unfortunately lost.

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Betty Blythe as the Queen of Sheba.

The flaunting of Ms. Blythe’s breasts were one of the many occurrences which led to Hollywood’s adoption of the Hays Code in the 1930s, although the Code’s full effects weren’t felt until later in the decade. The notable scene in The Mask of Fu Manchu where hunk Charles Starrett appears strapped to a table dressed in nothing but a skimpy loin cloth (having previously been thrashed by Fu’s lustful daughter) would have been toned down considerably had the film been made a few years later. All the more reason to watch it today, such scenes only add to the fun.

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The Doctor prepares to inject his captive with a serum which will turn the man into a compliant slave.

The Mask of Fu Manchu | A page about the original serial, the subsequent novel and its illustrators.

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Wladyslaw Benda