Watching 1939: Lady of the Tropics (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  Lady of the Tropics (1939)

Release date:  Aug. 11, 1939

Cast:  Robert Taylor, Hedy Lamarr, Joseph Schildkraut, Mary Taylor, Ernest Cossart, Gloria Franklin, Charles Trowbridge, Frederick Worlock, Cecil Cunningham, Natalie Moorhead, Willie Fung (uncredited), Charles Judels (uncredited)

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Jack Conway, Leslie Fenton (uncredited)

A wealthy, jet setting vacation group is seeing the world on a yacht and stop in French Saigon, or Indochina. The party includes American playboy Bill Carey (Taylor), who is traveling with the family of his fiancee Dolly (Mary Taylor). When they arrive, the tourists learn about people of mixed race who are half French, half Asian. A priest, Father Antoine (Cossart) who describes these individuals as flying fish “trying to stay, flying above the water only to fall into the ocean and die.” One woman who is both French and Indochinese is Manon DeVargnes (Lamarr), who desperately wants to go to Paris. Bill and Manon fall in love and marry, but society keeps them from being happy or leaving Saigon.

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Hollywood Halloween: DIY Film Themed Costumes

This post was updated in Oct. 2020 to incorporate new costumes.

If you’re like me (or any other classic film fan), the character or actor you want to dress as isn’t at Party City. There are only ill-fitting $80 Marilyn Monroe costumes from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” No one sells a “Gigi” costume so you can be Leslie Caron or a frumpy, loud costume to be Barbara Stanwyck in “Stella Dallas.” So that’s why we make our own.

Starting in my last year of college, I decided I wanted to dress as my favorite stars so I started making my own costumes for Halloween. Of course, I make these costumes fully knowing that the only people who will understand them are my Twitter followers and readers of Comet Over Hollywood. Here are my Halloween costumes since 2010:


Carmen Miranda Halloween costume in 2010

Carmen Miranda: Halloween 2010
As a huge musical fan, Carmen Miranda is always a bright spot. This was a fairly easy costume of gathering together various vibrant pieces to simulate the Carmen Miranda feel, rather than mimic a specific costume from one of her films. The only purchased clothing was the vest and skirt, which were vintage from eBay. While known as “the Lady with the Tutti Frutti Hat,” not all of Miranda’s hats involved fruit — some included umbrellas, butterflies or were simple, bright turbans. However, I decided to go with the fruit design since it was most identifiable. The hat was made of a baseball cap with the bill cut off and fruit from the five and 10 cent store glued and sewed on. No one knew who I was and only called me Chiquita Banana, who was inspired by Miranda.

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Musical Monday: Ziegfeld Girl (1941)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

ziegfeld2This week’s musical:
Ziegfeld Girl” (1941) Musical #126


Robert Z. Leonard, Busby Berkeley

Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, James Stewart, Jackie Cooper, Charles Winninger, Tony Martin, Ian Hunter, Eve Arden, Philip Dorn, Al Shean, Edward Everett Horton, Dan Daily, Fay Holden, Felix Bressart, Rose Hobart, Leslie Brooks (uncredited), Georgia Carroll (uncredited), Joyce Compton (uncredited), Patricia Dane (uncredited), Myrna Dell (uncredited), Jean Wallace (uncredited)

Three girls are selected to be in the latest Broadway production of Florenz Ziegfeld:
• Sheila (Turner), a Brooklyn native who is discovered while working on an elevator in a department store
• Susie (Garland), a performer in an act on vaudeville with her father. The only problem is Mr. Ziegfeld only wants Susie and not her dad (Winninger)
• Sandra (Lamarr), who is discovered while she is with her violinist husband (Dorn), who is auditioning for the orchestra.
The film follows the girls as they rise to fame and the trials they face on their way up: alcohol, wooing men who try to take them away from husbands and boyfriends and getting accustomed to more money. They all learn that fame has a great price.

-Florenz Ziegfeld was a famous Broadway producer who died in 1932. He was known for his lavish sets and elaborate costumes that “glorified the American girl.” Ziegfeld is a God-like figure in this film: he is discussed but never seen.

-“Ziegfeld Girl” is one of three films MGM dedicated to Florenz Ziegfeld. This film is a follow up to “The Great Ziegfeld” (1936), a biopic of Ziegfeld starring William Powell as the impresario. “Ziegfeld Girl” is a sequel which shows the life of the Ziegfeld Girls. The third film was “Ziegfeld Follies” (1946), which just showed multiple Ziegfeld-like acts.

-Hedy Lamarr requested to be in this film as a change of pace from her other dramatic roles, according to historian John Fricke.

-Two of the actors in the film were in original Florenz Ziegfeld produced films: Charles Winneger, who was in the original stage production of Show Boat, and Al Shean, who was part of the act Gallagher and Shean. Winninger and Shean recreate one of the Gallagher and Shean numbers in the film.


Hedy Lamarr, Judy Garland and Lana Turner in costume for the “Minnie from Trinidad” number

-The production of this film was originally announced in 1938 and was to star Eleanor Powell, Joan Crawford, Margaret Sullivan and Virginia Bruce (who was in The Great Ziegfeld). It was several years before the script was developed and the film was recast with newer talent, according to film historian John Fricke.

-James Stewart’s last film before joining the military to fight in World War II. His next film was “It’s a Wonderful Life” in 1946.

-The finale of “Ziegfeld Girl” edits in multiple numbers from “The Great Ziegfeld.” Judy Garland’s character is dressed in a costume which recreates the “Pretty Girl” number from the 1936 film, on top of the large tower.

-Busby Berkely choreographed the numbers in the film.

-The original finale was going to be “We Must Have Music” with Judy Garland, but it was deleted.

-Judy Garland felt a little inferior to her co-stars. A frequent story she shared was: When Lana Turner came onset, the technicians would whistle. When Hedy would pass through, they would sigh. When Judy came on set they would tell her hello, according to “Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr” by Stephen Michael Shearer.

-“Ziegfeld Girl” was the game changer in Lana Turner’s career, and it led to more serious, dramatic and adult roles. The role was even expanded for Turner during filming.

-Lana Turner was originally supposed to die at the end of the film, according to TCM film historian Robert Osborne. Her death had negative reactions from preview audiences and is now cut to be left ambiguous.

-Model and later wife of Kay Kyser, Georgia Carroll, said in 2008 that Hedy Lamarr was shy and private during the filming. Hedy Lamarr and Judy Garland were friends and Lamarr and Lana Turner were cordial, according to “Beautiful: The life of Hedy Lamarr” by Stephen Michael Shearer.

Publicity still of the costumes from the "You've Stepped Out of a Dream" number

Publicity still of the costumes from the “You’ve Stepped Out of a Dream” number

-Elaborate costumes by Adrian
-Eve Arden’s sassy character

Notable Songs:
-“You Stepped Out of a Dream” performed by Tony Martin
-“Minnie from Trinidad” performed by Judy Garland
-“You Never Looked So Beautiful” performed by the chorus, borrowed by the 1936 film
-“I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” performed by Judy Garland
-“Laugh? I Thought I’d Split My Sides” performed by Judy Garland and Charles Winninger
-“Caribbean Love Song” performed by Tony Martin
-“Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean” performed by Charles Winninger and Al Shean

My review:
In the grand scheme of film history, “Ziegfeld Girl” (1941) may not be very important. It is notable because it gave Lana Turner’s career the boost it needed, landing her in more sophisticated and adult roles. But when it comes to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie musicals, this one isn’t even listed in the top 10.

But I love it. “Ziegfeld Girl” may be overly long (with a run time of 2 hours and 12 minutes) and the plot may be rather fluffy, but I think it’s a great example of the lavish luxury that was a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film.

Publicity still of Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr and Judy Garland

Publicity still of Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr and Judy Garland

With the Adrian gowns and themes of fame and newly found wealth, “Ziegfeld Girl” oozes glamour, sophistication and the jewel-encrusted style many people dream about. For some reason, for me, this film holds the definition of MGM glamour more than other well-known MGM films like “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), “The Women” (1939) or “Grand Hotel” (1932).

I think one major reason for this is the “You Stepped Out of a Dream” number where Tony Martin sings as women in elaborate (yet eccentric) costumes walk up and down stairs like goddesses.

After it’s release, Hedda Hopper said that the film is so beautiful that it “makes you ill that it’s not in color.” I can’t say I agree though. While Technicolor would have made “Ziegfeld Girl” even more glorious, I somehow think that black-and-white suits it and glitters more than color would. Color would have almost been too distracting.

The cast of this film is also bursting at the seams. Not only are the leading ladies three of MGM’s most well-known and top stars, the character actors seemingly just keep coming out of the woodwork through the film.

The only thing I don’t love about this film is the finale. Pasting together “Great Ziegfeld” (1936) feels off, though you could look at it as tying it back to the original film and making “Ziegfeld Girl” a true sequel. But that’s a bit of a stretch. It really comes off as lazy, and costume and dance styles had changed so much in five years that it doesn’t fit. However, the originally planned “We Must Have Music” finale is also weak (it’s included on the DVD special features). They would have been better off ending with “Minnie from Trinidad.”

I do also enjoy that two original Ziegfeld players- Charles Winninger and Al Shean- are included in the film.

I first saw “Ziegfeld Girl” in 2004 or 2005 and I fell in love with it and I still really love this movie. I loved it so much that “ziegfeldgirl1941” was part of my e-mail address at the time. I even tried to convince my mom to play “You Stepped Out of a Dream” when I walked downstairs to my prom date (she refused so this didn’t happen).

If the glamour of this film was a soap or a perfume, I would buy it and wear it. But since it’s not, I did the next best thing. I created Hedy Lamarr’s “Stepped out of a Dream” costume designed by Adrian for this Halloween. I bought the sleeveless white dress but made the rest of the costume- sewing on sleeves, cutting out and gluing silver stars and sequins, using 12 glue sticks to attach the wire with stars on a board on my back (Adrian also used a board on Hedy’s back.) If this 20-hour project doesn’t describe my love for “Ziegfeld Girl,” I’m not sure what does.

My version of Hedy Lamarr's "Dream" costume

My version of Hedy Lamarr’s “Dream” costume

If you love MGM glamour and musicals, I would give this one a watch. I’ll give you fair warning that it’s a bit dramatic in parts, like when Lana Turner’s luck starts to change, but it’s such a fabulous look at MGM in it’s prime.

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The most beautiful woman in Hollywood: Hedy Lamarr book review

Hedy Lamarr-The most beautiful face on screen

Dubbed “The Most Beautiful Woman in Films” in the 1940s, actress, art connoisseur and inventor of radio guided torpedoes during World War 2, Hedy Lamarr has an impressive resume. However, writing a book is not one of them.

Lamarr’s autobiography “Ecstasy and Me” published in 1966 reminds me of a bad late-1960s film: story lines that jump around with random flashbacks that don’t make sense.

The book begins talking about how important sex has been in her life. She shares a few anecdotes of some of her earliest sexual exposures as a young girl and how once a husband was having sex with another woman-in their bed, while Hedy was asleep.

What does any of this have do with anything? To be honest, I’m not sure.  I think Miss Lamarr is attempting to say that her sexual encounters shaped her life or draw some sort of metaphor. After telling these stories she says, “But we will discuss these experiences further later,” but she really doesn’t.


The controversial nude scene in “Ecstasy” wasn’t censor’s biggest problem with the film.

Hedy continues to give a vague account of her childhood, jumping from birth to age 14 when she became interested in acting to 17 when she was in her first film, “Symphony of Love (Symphonie Der Liebre)” which is now known as “Ecstasy” (1933).

Hedy actually does talk about “Ecstasy” in some detail. The famous nude scene was filmed under some false pretenses. She didn’t want to do it at al, but was told she would “ruin the picture” if she didn’t. The director made a deal with her and said he would film the shot from 50 yards away on a hill. But the director was sneaky and used a telephoto lens to zoom up on the scene (28).  However, the real censorship issue wasn’t the nudity but the close-up of Hedy’s face while she was supposed to be having sex-she was really being poked in the butt with a safety pin to get the desired facial expressions (18).

Hedy Lamarr skims over most of her films with the exception of “Ecstasy” (1933), “Algiers” (1938) and “Samson and Delilah” (1949).

I wanted to hear more about one of my personal favorites, “Ziegfeld Girl” (1941) and she didn’t even mention her relationships with Lana Turner or Judy Garland. She glossed over “Come Live with Me” (1941) and “Heavenly Body” (1945) and dismissed “Her Highness and the Bellboy’ (1945)  saying it was so bad she didn’t care to discuss it-though she did say June Allyson had the best role in the film.

Hedy surprisingly got along with the notoriously difficult Cecil B. DeMille during “Samson and Delilah.” DeMille gave actors quarters whenever they came up with a good idea for the movie-Hedy received five.

Besides the three films she listed above, Hedy doesn’t have a lot of mainstream well known films. I think part of this was because she was deemed difficult to work with and also turned down several roles. The casting agencies referred to her as “The Hedy problem.”


One of my favorite parts of reading star autobiographies are the back stories to movies, friendships with other stars and relationships with co-stars. You don’t get a lot of this from Hedy Lamarr. Hedy actually made false names for some actors. Since it was 1966, several of them or their families were still living. So if she was talking about sleeping with an actor she may say, “We will refer to him as Sam.”

Though she does share a few unexpected tidbits:

Hedy Lamarr and John Loder in “Dishonored Lady” (1947). They were going through a divorce at this point which made good publicity for the film.

•She got along with Robert Young in “H.M. Pulham, Esq.” (1941)-a personal favorite of mine and also her favorite film- and thought he was a great actor. She once asked Louis B. Mayer why Young wasn’t a big star and Mayer said he didn’t have any sex appeal. Hedy said she was pleased when he was a success in the television series “Father Knows Best.”

•One thing that surprised me the most was Reginald Gardner was one of Hedy’s first close friends in Hollywood. Hedy even said, “We became very good friends. In fact we really should have become husband and wife. Frankly, I wanted to marry him, but he was never sure enough” (50). This sure was surprising to me!

•Hedy told a very funny anecdote concerning Errol Flynn and his crazy parties. Hedy told her stand-in Sylvia who went to a Flynn party with her, “Many of the bathrooms have peepholes or ceilings with squares of opaque glass though which you can’t see out but someone can see in. So be careful. Never got to a room Errol sends you to change if there is swimming” (182). One time Hedy, Errol and another party guest watched a “busty Italian star” changing into her bathing suit and laughed when she sniffed her armpits and tried to hide red clothing marks.


One thing Hedy Lamarr did not make a passing grade in was love. She went in and out of marriages like people buy and return clothes. She married Austrian munitions aristocrat Fritz Mandl because of his prestige, but she didn’t love him. She found he was demanding and kept her a virtual prisoner so she fled. I’ve heard that he allegedly forced Hedy into a sexual relationship with Hitler, but she doesn’t discuss this.

Hedy then rushed into marriage with writer Gene Markey-Joan Bennet’s ex-husband- who she was married to for less than a year. The two knew each other for a few days and got married. They adopted baby James Markey together but it was right before their divorce. During this time a single woman couldn’t adopt a baby. Hedy included a long column Louella Parson’s wrote about “Hedy Lamarr suffering for her adopted baby boy.” But Hedy ends the topic of James Markey after this article and never says what happens with the legal battle, though in her obituary he is listed as one of her children.

Probably her best marriage (if that’s saying much) was to actor John Loder. They actually had a courtship, but they got married because he wanted to see how many times they could have sex in one day on their honeymoon-in competition with a story he heard. The real problem with this marriage was Hedy. I think she was too demanding of him but he was also lazy. She got obsessively protective over her children and seemed to divorce him because she wanted her children to herself.

Later Hedy married three other times. One was because she simply wanted a husband and to settle down and he seemed like a good candidate. The others were also for security.

That’s a wrap

Hedy Lamarr in court in 1966-at the time this book was published

In all, I did think the book was interesting and it was nice to learn a little more about Hedy Lamarr, but it was a really poorly written book. I felt like she left me hanging on a lot of aspects and I wanted to know more or a different side of the story.

The book was published during a bad time in her life. She had just been arrested for stealing a few inexpensive items from a store and didn’t have much money. She even said her lawyer and friends like Frank Sinatra would bring her food to make sure she was fed.

Hedy seemed like a bit of a rash diva, but I still like her. She had an interesting out look on life-detailed in the book with a transcript of a psychologist conversation.

I plan on reading the Hedy Lamarr biography that came out last year so I can hopefully get some more information.

Life Lessons from Hedy

At the end of Hedy’s book she some life tips she has learned. I will leave you with my favorites:

-I never drink beer, it’s too plebeian.

-I’d rather wear jewels in my hair then anywhere else. The face should have the advantage of this brilliance.

-American men, as a group, seem to be interested in only two things, money and breasts. It seems a very narrow outlook.

-I don’t fear death because I don’t fear anything I don’t understand. When I start to think about it, I order a massage and it goes away.

-I can excuse anything but boredom. Boring people don’t have to stay that way.

**Also, happy birthday to Hedy Lamarr with this book review. I inadvertently planned to publish it today and had no idea it was her birthday!**

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Fashion in Films blogathon: I guess I’m easily influenced

Old movies have influenced my life in many ways, fashion is one of them.

When my classic film love started to really kick up in the middle school, I noticed fashion the most in the movies.  I always looked for the fashion designers during the credits and became familiar with Givenchy, Edith Head, Helen Rose, Walter Plunkett and Irene.

I even went through a period of time where I drew clothing for paper dolls based off costumes that Rosemary Clooney wore in “White Christmas” or Elizabeth Taylor wore in “Father of the Bride.”

All throughout high school I always wanted to buy vintage clothing, but my mom said it was too risky, “What if it doesn’t fit/is dirty/torn?”

Once I got to college and became VERY friendly with Ebay and started spending a lot of my free time…and money searching and bidding on vintage clothing. My constant Ebay purchases even became a bit of a joke with my friends.

All of my vintage clothing buys have been dictated by fashions I’ve seen in film.  Below are a few photos of some of my vintage clothing buys along with what inspired them: 

Donna Reed in peasant style clothing from LIFE.

Peasant Style: In the 1940s, Latin style outfits were all the rage as a result of the Good Neighbor Policy that the United States had with South American countries.  I’ve always been a big fan of the fashion during this era.  Actresses like Hedy Lamarr in “Tortilla Flat”, Jane Powell “Holiday in Mexico”, Shirley Temple and Jennifer Jones in “Since You Went Away” and Rita Hayworth in “The Loves of Carmen” (just to name a few) can all be spotted wearing peasant blouses and espadrilles.  I bought this outfit over the summer-its taken a long time to find an affordable set-so I could try to resemble some of my favorite 1940s stars.

Barbara Stanwyck in a plaid coat

Masculine Plaid Coats: Another style I’ve spotted alot in 1940s films are women in masculine-like plaid coats.  I first was drawn to this style when I saw Esther Williams in a red and green plaid coat looking beautiful and bright in Technicolor.  Last Christmas I found a Pendleton Wool jacket on Vintage Vixen and wanted it so I could look like Esther Williams.  Other actresses who wore masculine, outdoors coats like this are Barbara Stanwyck, Ginger Rogers or Margaret Sullivan.

Jane Powell in a formal.

Teenage Formals: I doubt I’m the only one who drools of the formals actresses wear in films.  I love all the evening gowns that actresses wear, but I have a certain fondness for teen formals in films. I love the dress that Elizabeth Taylor tromps through the mud in at the end of “Cynthia”, the adorable white and blue dress Jane Powell sings “It’s a Most Unusual Day” in during “Date with Judy” or the formals Ann Rutherford wears as Polly Benedict in Andy Hardy films.  Unfortunately, in today’s fashion culture, there aren’t many opportunities to wear formal gowns like they did in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.  But I couldn’t resist this yellow satin gown on Ebay. I’ll admit, I’ve only worn it for posing in photos, but maybe one day I can wear it out.

Sandra Dee in a see-through frothy cocktail dress.

Chiffon Cocktail dress: Chiffon, ruffled cocktail dresses seemed to be all the rage in the 1960s. I have seen Ann-Margret, Deborah Kerr, Eleanor Parker, Dina Merrill and Kim Novak in this style of gown-unfortunately I couldn’t find photos of any of these.  Sandra Dee’s dress is similar to mine but doesnt have a V-ruffled neck line. I was looking for a dress on Ebay to wear to my cousin’s wedding last September and found this Lili Diamond dress from the 1960s. This usually isn’t my style (if you can’t tell I really like 1940s fashions) but it was a good price so I bought it. It’s ended up being one of my best Ebay buys and I’ve worn it several times. It’s light, comfortable and flattering.

Hedy Lamarr in “Algiers” (1938) wearing a turban

 Turbans: It seems like every actress in the 1940s can be spotted wearing a turban at least once. Lana Turner in “Post Man Always Rings Twice”, Ginger Rogers “Tales of Manhattan” and Gloria Swanson are just a few.  In Hedy Lamarr’s autobiography “Ecstasy and Me” she credits herself with making turbans a fad. Her character in “Algiers” called for an exotic, aloof style so she and the costume designer thought of this look for her. After this, turbans became all the rage, according to Lamarr’s book.  Though several of my family members and friends think I’m nuts, I’ve always been a BIG fan of turbans. I have even worn this out in public several times (along with a vintage mink hat I own). It’s really unfortunate that hats aren’t part of every day wear anymore, but don’t let that stop you from wearing them!

Hedy Lamarr in “White Cargo” (1942)

Tribal: This isn’t a vintage dress, but I’ll admit that I bought it to look like Tondelayo in “White Cargo.” Hedy Lamarr said she felt ridiculous in the role of an over-sexed half cast, according to her autobiography. Regardless, Hedy looks amazing and so I wanted to buy a dress that had that same look.

Espadrilles and Spectator pumps

 Shoes:  I actually don’t have a large variety of shoes-it pretty much consists of 4 different colors of the same pair of flats. But I bought these spectator pumps after seeing so many of favorite actresses wearing them. When Teresa Wright flees Joseph Cotton in “Shadow of the Doubt” and gets cornered in a pub, her shoes are the first thing I noticed. I also love Espadrilles popular during the 1940s-I was fortunate that Old Navy decided to sell this style in Spring 2011.

When it comes to dressing like your favorite stars, beware. Ebay is my drug of vintage clothing choice, but I’m cheap and don’t like to spend more than $30 or $40 dollars. Be careful of people claiming something is 1940s, but is really a 1980s replica. Another great vintage clothing resource is Vintage Vixen. They are friendly, have quick shipping and the most reasonably priced vintage clothing website.

**Thanks to my mom for being patient and helping me take all of these photos today 🙂 **

This blog post is a contribution to Hollywood Revue’s Fashion in Film Blogathon!

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