Tom Gilling

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

The story be­hind Orry-Kelly’s memoir Women I’ve Un­dressed is nearly as good as the sto­ries in­side it. Kept by his niece in a pil­lowslip, the man­u­script was long ru­moured to ex­ist be­fore it came un­ex­pect­edly to light dur­ing the mak­ing of Gil­lian Armstrong’s re­cent doc­u­men­tary about the boy from Kiama, NSW, who be­came one of Hol­ly­wood’s finest cos­tume de­sign­ers.

Not­ing in his in­tro­duc­tion that ‘‘Hol­ly­wood dis­likes naked truths’’, Orry-Kelly dishes up plenty. Some glit­ter­ing rep­u­ta­tions were pro­tected for half a cen­tury by that pil­lowslip, not least that of Orry-Kelly’s one time lover, a vaude­ville per­former named Archie Leach, who, in this ac­count, treated him rather shab­bily af­ter he be­came the movie star Cary Grant.

Born in 1897, Orry Kelly (Hol­ly­wood added the hyphen) be­gan his ca­reer at the age of six or seven, de­sign­ing scenery for a toy theatre and cre­at­ing cos­tumes out of coloured silk from a Lady’s Com­pan­ion he had de­manded for Christ­mas.

Kelly’s fa­ther, a tai­lor, ei­ther wouldn’t or couldn’t see the story un­fold­ing be­fore his eyes. Com­ing in­side one day af­ter gar­den­ing, he ‘‘said some­thing to me about a boy, seven years old, play­ing with dolls. He broke the card­board fig­ures and kicked the Lady’s Com­pan­ion to smithereens. Tak­ing me out­side, he put a huge wheel­bar­row in my hands and or­dered me to go to the Point and fetch ma­nure for his gar­den.’’

There­after, ex­cept for a brief and lu­di­crous stint in the US Army, Orry-Kelly was no­body’s shit­kicker. He made it to the top by sheer pro­fes­sion­al­ism and tal­ent: the fil­mog­ra­phy at the end of the book lists an ex­tra­or­di­nary 295 cred­its as cos­tume de­signer, in­clud­ing three for which he won an Os­car. In 1934 he re­ceived 56 cred­its, more than a movie a week. His salary as Warner Bros chief de­signer was eye-wa­ter­ing.

He writes with deep af­fec­tion about many of the fe­male stars he dressed: Bette Davis, Ethel Bar­ry­more, Bar­bara Stan­wyck and Bebe Daniels, to name a hand­ful. But woe be­tide those, such as Joan Fon­taine, who be­haved badly.

Af­ter Fon­taine was heard com­plain­ing to stu­dio boss Sam Gold­wyn that Orry-Kelly was never around on the set when he was wanted (by her), the de­signer ‘‘sent a mes­sage to the set by her wardrobe girl, telling Miss Fon­taine that I was too old, too tired and too suc­cess­ful to fetch and carry for her on the set. Nat­u­rally, I never dressed her again.’’

Con­trast­ing Fon­taine with her sis­ter Olivia de Hav­il­land, Orry-Kelly writes archly: ‘‘What a dif­fer­ence … they were di­rect op­po­sites. Olivia was kind, con­sid­er­ate, sin­cere, loyal and full of charm. I dressed Miss Fon­taine as the young girl in The Con­stant Nymph. On screen she was charm­ing.”

Another star he fell out with was Mar­i­lyn Monroe. Hired by Billy Wilder to do the cos­tumes for Some Like It Hot, Orry-Kelly claims to have been ‘‘shocked’’ by how much weight Monroe had put on. He wanted to use fab­rics — ‘‘shiny satin on her top shelf and dull crepe on her bot­tom’’ — that would not make her look Women I’ve Un­dressed By Orry-Kelly Ebury Press, 425pp, $39.99 too heavy in com­par­i­son with her two cross­dress­ing male co-stars, Jack Lem­mon and Tony Curtis. True to her rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing dif­fi­cult on set, Monroe ar­rived three hours late and was rep­ri­manded the next day by Wilder. Or­ryKelly writes: She blushed im­me­di­ately. Tem­per, not tem­per­a­ment, took over. She pointed her fin­ger at me and started bab­bling, ‘‘He said boys’ ar­ses are smaller than girls’ ar­ses and he said that Tony Curtis’s arse was smaller than mine, and I told that one’’ — point­ing at me — ‘‘that some peo­ple like girls’ ar­ses and some peo­ple like — ’’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.