“That’s right. I took LSD several years before it became popular and well known. There was a doctor who was experimenting with its effects, and I got involved as one of the subjects - this was before my acting career had even started to take off. I had a lot of trips. It was all very interesting … It was phenomenal. I loved it. LSD really woke me up to seeing the world with a depth of objectivity. Even though it was a subjective experience, it opened your mind to seeing things in new ways, in a new depth. One of the great things about LSD is that it does stimulate your imagination. And it frees you from fears of certain kinds.” - James Coburn
A post wherein film writer Kimberly Luperi explores Edith Head’s costuming for THE LADY EVE (’41).
Harrington: Ah, there you are. Well, it certainly took you long enough to
come back in the same outfit.
Jean Harrington: I’m
lucky to have this on. Mr. Pike has been up the river for a year.
How Charles Coburn and Barbara Stanwyck got away with those
lines in THE LADY EVE (‘41) during the Production Code era is beyond me, but
that’s beside the point. The dress the “Colonel” alludes to in this
scene, a stunning black two piece, ranks as one of my favorite ensembles of all
time. The glistening crop top and high slit skirt are exceedingly glamorous,
sexy and revealing - just the right
combo for Jean to work her magic. It’s a flawless marriage of costume and
character, officiated by Hollywood’s most famous designer, Edith Head.
Stanwyck assumes two very different identities and wardrobes in
THE LADY EVE ('41). As Jean, a card shark out to con the wealthy on a South American
ocean liner, her attire skews flirty and brash, with a global streak. As Lady
Eve, a British socialite guise Jean dons to access the aristocracy in
retaliation for Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) breaking up with her, her outfits
appear refined and regal.
In 2014, designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis introduced THE LADY
EVE (’41) as part of a UCLA Film and Television Archive series on Edith Head and
quoted the celebrated designer as proclaiming the “basic test is if the
clothes submerge the personality into the character… That is what the costume
designer must do - disguise the actress.” While it’s obvious to viewers
that Jean and Eve are one and the same, Charles is humorously blind to this
fact, and without a doubt, Head’s styles played a sizable role in seducing and
concealing the reality from him. “I had to keep Jean’s look as different from
Eve’s as I possibly could,” Head affirmed, and that she did.
As color translated to the screen in THE LADY EVE (’41) in shades of
black, gray and white, Head resorted to more particular methods to convey her
multi-faceted leading lady’s intentions and personalities. For one, she used contrast to great effect in
early scenes. Shading disparity exists in Charles and Jean’s garments when they
appear together, like her black dress and his light colored suit in the scene
described above, which emphasizes the difference in their characters. Additionally,
Head tended to outfit Jean in black, white or a combination of both to make her
appear “a tad coarse.” The designer also brought the Latin look “out of
resort life and into the everyday working world,” since Jean meets Charles
on a boat coming from South America. Believing that Stanwyck looked terrific in
serape and poncho cuts, Head added items likes capes and tie-front pieces to
Jean’s wardrobe. Finally, she made use of reflective
materials such as sequins, crystals and beads as well. These
objects injected a blithe, amorous touch to Jean’s attire.
Head switched gears with Eve, often styling her in lavish
fabrics and lighter, more modest colored gowns, which provided an aura of
distinction. Head also designed with reflective items on Eve’s ensembles, as
evident in the intricately beaded, illustrious white gown she first appears in.
On this character, these classy objects serve to enhance Eve’s attempt at
The designs certainly did the trick - for Jean, Eve and the
leading man, too. According to columnist Hedda Hopper, when Fonda witnessed
Stanwyck in Eve’s introductory outfit, he exclaimed: “Gosh! No wonder that
script says I’m to fall in love with you. You’re making it mighty easy.”