HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE; TRAVILLA’S GALAXY OF GLAMOUR
Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall. In 1953, any one of these names would have been enough to turn every head in the room.
So when Hollywood film studio, 20th Century-Fox, told their famed costume designer, Billy Travilla, they were placing ALL THREE in one film; that alone would have filled his heart with pride. But when they told him that they gave screenplay writer, Nunnally Johnson, specific instructions to write a script that featured a fashion show, with these three beauties parading Travilla’s designs, well now THAT parade of beauty was a cause for true pride!
That film was 20th Century-Fox’s classic, How to Marry a Millionaire. And the famed image of Marilyn Monroe resting a beach parasol over her shoulder, wearing an orange wool one-piece bathing suit displaying diamond pins, has continued to live on, well past that films imminent success.
Taking hold of Billy’s instructions and standing up straight, lengthening her spine and stretching her legs to elongate them via pointed toes, worked well for Marilyn’s appearance.
Billy even wisely chose those clear, Cinderella-style Lucite platform shoes, which made Marilyn’s legs look as long as possible. Clear shoes kept the leg line unbroken, vertical and lean. Billy Travilla was a true artist who understood line, color, form and BEAUTY.
Friends with Marilyn Monroe for years before she was famous, when Billy first dressed Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall, they had each long been famous the world over. In fact, years earlier, it was Billy’s famous uncle, Jules Furthman, who wrote the screenplay for the very first film in which Lauren Bacall ever starred. That film, To Have and Have Not, also placed the unknown actress opposite her future husband, Humphrey Bogart.
Betty Grable was already a longtime fan of Travilla when he designed her costumes four years earlier, for the 1951 Fox film, “Meet Me After the Show.” He designed for the famed pin up legend in four films. Travilla skillfully dressed those legendary legs Grable had insured with Lloyd’s of London for over a million dollars.
In one scene of Millionaire, Betty Grable walks into the penthouse living room wearing a café-au-lait colored raw silk pleated day dress, with yards and yards of silk gathered into a teeny-tiny waistline. That very Travilla/Betty Grable dress hung on a hanger in the hall closet of Bill Sarris’ Palm Springs home for years, until it was sold last year at auction. Having the privileged pleasure to have spent time inspecting that dress, inside and out, I was truly gob-stopped at how incredibly SMALL Betty Grable’s waistline was. Billy made the most of that feature onscreen with this dress.
Lauren “Betty” Bacall began her career as a Vogue model. So to wear Billy’s costumes for the character of a fashion model in this film was quite natural for the star whose husband nicknamed her “Slim.” Billy dressed Bacall in Vogue-worthy style.
Having uncanny skills that were truly unparalleled, Billy had a way of designing costumes for the films characters that also worked well on the star … no small feat!
When it came time for Billy Travilla to design the fashionable costumes for the film’s big fashion show scene, Billy had a “field day.” For Betty Grable’s soft character of Loco Dempsey; Marilyn Monroe’s myopic character of Pola Debevoise; and Lauren Bacall’s wisecracking character of Schatze Page; Billy chose well.
For the films big fashion show scene, in keeping with designers like Christian Dior’s tradition to name each of his outfits, Travilla gave his costumes names that were all included in the films script: names such as; Rainbow Over the Everglades; Good Afternoon Sweetheart; Trouble in the Afternoon; Hard-Hearted Hannah; Double Frozen Daiquiri’s; and Diamonds are a girls best friend. Of course the “Diamonds” outfit was the name Billy gave to that orange rhinestone studded playsuit Marilyn’s character, Pola, modeled.
Each Travilla look was over-the-top day glamour. Learning at the expert feet of cinema master’s like Adrian and Jean Louis, “Glamour” was Billy’s true lifelong expertise.
The month marks what would have been Billy Travilla’s 95th birthday, on the 22nd of March. It also marks what would have been the 65th year of his fashion label.
Three years before this film debuted, Billy had started his namesake ready-to-wear collection, the Travilla label. His retail line allowed him to offer, to any woman sitting in the cinema, the rare opportunity to wear the same dress as “that glamorous star.”
Billy Travilla was the greatest pal to any gal who wanted to live in a gracious galaxy of glamour.
To see the collections of KAHC and more photos of Travilla and Marilyn Monroe visit her FB Page KAHC/ Website / About.me
[This article is the fouth of a 12-part series of articles by Kimberley Ashley for 2015. Next month see her article, “The Travilla Collection’s Arizona Connection.” Stay tuned for her upcoming articles on Billy Travilla and his design muse Marilyn Monroe.]
Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall.
Marilyn Monroe resting a beach parasol