Tag Archive | Edith Head

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers – (StarChoice: 28)

Excerpts from: The Importance of Being Kirk DOUGLAS 

 …… In one of her memoirs, beautiful actress Lauren Bacall wrote about how in 1945 she met star-finder/star-maker Hal Brent Wallis in the club car of the train while travelling to East with her husband Humphrey Bogart. Wallis, an independent producer since 1944 was on board the Santa Fe Super Chief train, bound for New York to look for new talents there. One night, over drinks in the lounge, she tipped Wallis to take a gander at the young and talented Kirk Douglas – a sort of a young Spencer Tracy – who was in a stage play in New York.

Lauren ‘Betty’ Bacall knew that Wallis always looked for an off-beat quality in his screen heroes.

A man with astute combination of imagination and executive ability, some of the potential actors Wallis found and expertly built them into stars of the screen included Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Charlton Heston, Dolores Hart, Elvis Presley, Polly Bergen, Anthony Franciosa, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Cummings, Don Defore, Ann Richards, Kristine Miller, Douglas Dick, Betsy Drake, Marisa Pavan, Shirley MacLaine, …..

People abroad are hungry for film entertainment and share with American audiences a keen interest in new personalities. It is this desire for new faces that has prompted my continued search for talent and the signing of such people as Lizabeth Scott, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Wendell Corey,” Wallis was quoted in 1947.

Betty had a similar story. Taking into heart the All-American dream of every girl in the country at that time, she had come to Hollywood to become a star. In 1943, New York socialite and legendary beauty Slim Hawks, wife of director/producer Howard Hawks, saw the 18-year-old model’s picture on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar (March 1943) and prodded Hawks to “get a hold of this girl” with that “down-under” look. This “great find” was cast with Humphrey Bogart in Hawks’ adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel, To Have and Have Not (1944). That had opened a whole new life to Betty.

In June 1945, Hollywood’s “Gentleman Producer” Wallis went to the Broadway production and was impressed by Kirk playing the helpful ghost of the Unknown Soldier of World War I on stage in The Wind Is Ninety (Jun 21, 1945 – Sep 22, 1945). Tellingly, Kirk’s performance earned him best notices for its warmth and sincerity.

At that juncture, Wallis’ company had three films lined up on the production board: The Searching Wind (1946, D: William Dieterle), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and Perfect Marriage (1947 D: Lewis Allen). Kirk was summoned to Wallis’ office in New York and later to the coast…….

…….Kirk netted his debut role in Hal B. Wallis Productions’ gripping noir melodrama, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) as the husband of wealthy Martha Ivers, played by Barbara “Missy” Stanwyck, a trouper of vixen roles.

Effectively directed by Lewis Milestone, this exciting movie, from an unpublished story, “Love Lies Bleeding” by Jack Patrick (screenplay by Robert Rossen), told the grim tale of unbalanced emotions in the small industrial city of Iverstown in 1946 where, wealthy, conniving social climber Martha Ivers held a lifelong criminal secret over her weakling, drunkard husband, Walter O’Neil (Kirk Douglas), a district attorney.

During their adolescence years in 1928, Walter had witnessed Martha commit the murder of her bullying aunt Mrs. Ivers (Judith Anderson) in a fit of blind anger.

At that time, the little boy O‘Neil had affirmed Martha’s lie about a man having burst into the house and killed the aunt. In due course, Martha inherits a large family fortune from her dead aunt whom she loathed.

With murder and blackmail ruling the roost, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is without a trice of comedy to lighten the tension.

Spectators who have seen this movie would recall Kirk’s introductory scene wherein his first dialogue on screen was the customary salutation of “Hello”.

And, with that one all-time favourite word, Kirk Douglas, at about age 30, took off to a promising start of his phenomenal career.

It was a befitting entry into the movie-stardom for Kirk who proved himself a fine actor who could measure up with such veterans as Van Heflin (back from war and on loan from M-G-M) and Barbara Stanwyck, in a role similar to the alluring double-crosser in the movie classic, Double Indemnity (1944, D: Billy Wilder).

Those who liked the smoky blonde Lizabeth Scott (born Emma Matzo in 1922) in her film debut You Came Along (1945, D: John Farrow), would want to see her don the role of Toni Marachek, the probationer from jail seeking love and companionship.

Cast over protests from female lead Stany, Scott’s Toni is the dynamic love interest of Sam Masterson (Heflin in his Johnny Eager (1941, D: Mervyn LeRoy) -type role), a professional gambler who learns that Martha has one murder to her name.

Perchance the true colours of costumes by master designer Edith Head wither their grandeur in monochrome. Setting pace to Victor Milner’s photography is also the music score by Miklós Rózsa which relate each character, setting, or situation to a musical theme.

This post-war period film was released on July 24, 1946 having completed production during October 2 – December 7, 1945. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers had its world premiere abroad TWA’s transcontinental Constellation trip departing Los Angeles on May 24, 1946.

Reportedly, about five months from the film’s release, the citizens of Kirk’s hometown in Amsterdam, N.Y, launched a pre-election campaign urging Kirk’s nomination for an award for his performance in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, although the official Academy award nominations has not yet begun.

You probably wouldn’t prefer to meet any of the selfish, grasping characters of The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, but it’s an edge of the seat evil tale to watch unfold – without children.

Until next time, Jo

Notes:

  • Given that the abridged version of my write-up “The Importance of Being Kirk DOUGLAS” has by now exceeded 105 pages, it is deemed only fair that the write-up should come out, if possible, in its entirety in a book format. Therefore, only excerpts (movie reviews) from it are posted here.
  • Some of the DVD/Blu-ray of the movies referred to in this article is available with leading dealers.
  • DVD sleeves/posters credits: Wikipedia, amazon, imdb and from my private collection. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

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THE PASSION FOR FASHION

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Bangalore (Bengaluru*) is the capital of the State of Karnataka in India which shares the border of our State, Kerala, with Tamil Nadu. I have enjoyed the temperate climate and higher elevation of Bangalore many times since my teen days, but more often from the time our daughter Bianca enrolled at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Bangalore in 2010. This time around, in June 2014, we had gone there to attend the NIFT Graduation Day/Convocation Ceremony 2014.

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NIFT, which is unique and special, provides the best training for budding Indian designers with a sense of fashion, ideas and dreams. It gave them hope that one day they could also become fashion pacesetters of the future like established designers such as Manish Malhotra, Rohit Bal, Ritu Kumar, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Tarun Tahiliani, J J Valaya, Manish Arora, etc.

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My tryst with a major fashion event was back in September 2002 at Colchester, England, which sparked a long dissertation over the subject of “dressing for dinner”, which extended across that day’s dinner with Carina at the Prince of Wales (8 Kensington Church Street, London). That dinner had concluded with the opinion that good taste and judgment is of supreme importance if one wishes to be well-dressed.

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We could also endorse the dictum that men should be kept in mind while designing clothes for women!

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The show at Colchester later prompted me to read the autobiography of Paramount / Universal Pictures costume designer, Edith Head (Edith Claire Posener). Winner of eight Academy Awards, she had not only transformed glamorous stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Sophia Loren, Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, Cary Grant, Yul Brynner, etc, into the characters they play on the screen but also designed costumes for opera and circus. Who could fail to notice the everyday girl style of Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday” (1953) or Yul Brynner’s Pharaoh in ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956)?. Soon I my attention was drawn to the works of Edith’s contemporaries such as Irene Sharaff, Ann Roth, etc.

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But my real interest in fashion was awakened when Carina and I were staying in Milan with a friend who often did promotions/networking for major fashion shows in Milan. Since then, apart from being fascinated by fashion window displays in many World capitals, I had kept a climatic eye on the dressing of women. One is never bored!

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Fast-forward to Bangalore: the aggressive monsoon showers that lashed onto the NIFT Campus on that June evening did not cause hindrance to the students, their guardians converging from around the country, their confrere, the NIFT faculty and other consultants/volunteers/technicians, pouring into the main auditorium for the KNIT MODA / FASHIONOVA Graduation Show 2014 – the most important event in the knitwear/fashion curriculum of NIFT.

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Apart from the opportunity to the budding designers to enhance their specialised learning by participating in their first fashion event, the show provided them with a creative platform for designing; fabric research; to create dresses with fantastic fit and impeccable construction; and also strikes a fine balance between backstage work and catwalk presentation. The event acted as a lever for aspiring talents to make fresh impressions and move forward into the public eye – ready to take their life to a whole new level.

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And really, during the past few days, the prestigious NIFT campus had seen visits from recruiters interested in fresh ideas and new blood which is integral to their business. They had interviewed the undergraduate designers which had provided them with opportunities to hear about the emerging talents’ awareness in fabric, textiles and fashion trends in addition to their views on creativity; the cycles of fashion; the glamour of the job – the type of designer they aspire to be. Some of these inexperienced fashion enthusiasts will eventually go through all the apprentice stage and tough employment conditions of the industry to master the dictates of fashion before, driven by an unprejudiced joy of fashion, establish their own fashion service.

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As we entered into the excited atmosphere of the auditorium, we could see that apart from the cunningly lit lights and sound, a platform was installed as the runway that would showcase the little debut collections of Womenswear and Menswear derived from the hard work and talent of the Resident fashionistas. A battery of photographers with their gadgets was shuffling around the runway like the organisers of the event. This is going to be fun!

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After the preliminary introductions, the show commenced with presentation of the Knitwear collections followed by Fashion apparels. Presented on time, the collections came into focus one after the other attired by fabulous models adorned with trend-led accessories and fascinators. Their movements crackled with energy while their faces displayed emotions of joy, anger, sadness and pensiveness in synergy with each theme.

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The collection was a mixture of Western and traditional cuts. Some featured the vibrant colours inspired by the summer festivals of India while one attired her models with dresses that would fit into the modern architecture and rooms currently in fashion in emerging cities of India. Some showed great deal of personal originality while others almost fantastic in their novelty.

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The entire show was highlighted with coloured spotlights, and during occasional breaks from pumping Asian-Western soundtrack, well-known commentator Prasad Bidapa enchanted the spectators with the salient features of each presentation before the designer, cheerful, full of gusto, full of zip, appeared on the runway to endorse his/her collection. Indeed, shows like this being part of the curriculum will continue to exist. However, some media news has raised the issue that fashion shows could possibly become endangered events since its survival is threatened by scheduling complications, technological advances and infighting.

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Fashion is a glamorous but tough industry and it has grown into a huge industry and worked at so many tiers. The idea is that, a degree in Fashion design is not just about fashion design anymore as there are so many other directions to take you off considering the various elements connected to fashion. These new aspects have undoubtedly made fashion an unbounded turf for motivated students where people would be their passion – their curiosity would be in peoples’ personality and their figure.

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The NIFT show had begun, as such shows should, quite mildly but its conclusion was marked with whistles and thunderous applause as the audience rejoiced. Well, the event of the day has come to an end, mission accomplished with ease and grace, but there would not be a let-down in the energy and enthusiasm of these undergraduates. When the Earth turns on its axis one more time, it will be the Graduation Day for them and the successful culmination of their dream.

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These students are coming fast into focus and hopefully, one day may provide a new fashion experience surmounting the existing line-up. This is an age of creativity and the ground is always fertile for the inspired designers. Essentially, they can get inspiration from almost everything. Besides, there is no age in clothes today. An elegant blessing is that fashion creates its own demand. Till next time, Jo

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Nothing captures the moments of the Show better than photographs – some of the best are here below.

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1)     A 9th century Ganga inscription refers to Bangalore as “Bengaluru”. “Bangalore” is believed to be an anglicised version.

2)    Manningtree Archive congratulates the winners and each one who made the KNIT MODA / FASHIONOVA Graduation Show 2014 a memorable event.

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(Photos: © Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)