Sunday, December 31, 2017

Born Today In 1897: Oscar-Winning Costume Designer Orry-Kelly



Orry-Kelly was the professional name of Orry George Kelly, who was born today, December 31, in 1897. He was an Australian-American Hollywood costume designer. Until being overtaken by Catherine Martin in 2014, he was Australia's most prolific Oscar winner, having won three Academy Awards for Best Costume Design.

Vogue reports:

Here is something I suspect even the most fervid film buff probably doesn’t know: Bette Davis had big, low-hanging breasts, and she refused to wear an underwire bra because she thought they caused cancer. So Orry-Kelly, one of the most celebrated costume designers in the golden age of Hollywood, solved the Davis dilemma by using foulards, pockets, buttons, and other visual tricks to disguise her floppers.

Orry-Kelly, born Orry George Kelly in 1897 in Kiama, Australia, and the subject of the documentary Women He’s Undressed, directed by Gillian Armstrong, was a master at making screen goddesses look beautiful. He put Ingrid Bergman in her white suits in Casablanca, created Leslie Caron’s ingenue looks for An American in Paris, encased Shirley MacLaine’s gams in poison-apple-green stockings in Irma La Douce, made Natalie Wood’s Gypsy stripper gowns, and was responsible for the coin outfits barely covering the chorines in Busby Berkeley’s Gold Diggers of 1933.


Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca
Orry-Kelly arrived in Manhattan in 1921, and scrounged out a living in those crazy days, working as an actor, a painter, and a set designer until he realized that costumes were his true calling. He went west in 1932, and ended up working on hundreds of films. He won three Oscars and was a huge success—even after losing practically everything and going into rehab for alcoholism, he rebuilt his career to arguably even more spectacular heights.

But there is a dark vein running through this tale. In a rabidly homophobic Hollywood, Orry-Kelly lived as openly and as bravely as a gay man could. (In his New York days, he cohabited and purportedly had a very cozy relationship with Archibald Leach, who went on to become Cary Grant.)


See full Vogue story here.

Orry-Kelly journeyed to New York to pursue an acting career and shared an apartment there with  Cary Grant. A job painting murals in a nightclub led to his employment by Fox East Coast studios illustrating titles. He designed costumes and sets for Broadway's Shubert Revues and George White's Scandals. He served with the United States Army Air Corps during World War II until being discharged for alcohol problems.
His three Academy Awards for Best Costume Design were for An American in Paris, Cole Porter's Les Girls, and Some Like It Hot, and he was nominated for a fourth for Gypsy.

Orry-Kelly worked on many films now considered classics, including 42nd Street, The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, Arsenic and Old Lace, Harvey, Oklahoma!, and Auntie Mame. He designed for all the great actresses of the day, including Kay Francis, Olivia de Havilland, Katharine Hepburn, Dolores del Río, Ava Gardner, Ann Sheridan, Barbara Stanwyck, and Merle Oberon.

Orry-Kelly was known for his ability to "design for distraction" to compensate for difficult figure shapes. He also had the job of creating clothes for the cross-dressing characters played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot. His skill is shown by the fact that while Some Like It Hot was in production, Cutris and Lemmon would go into the ladies' room after eating lunch without being spotted as men. He wrote that when he finished draping Dolores del Río in white jersey, "she became a Greek goddess ... she was incredibly beautiful". The elegant clothes he designed for Bergman's character in Casablanca have been described as "pitch perfect".

A longtime alcoholic, Orry-Kelly died of liver cancer in Hollywood on February 24, 1964. He was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills. His pallbearers included Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Billy Wilder and George Cukor and his eulogy was read by Jack L. Warner. 

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