Larry McQueen: Notes from Alfred Hitchcock – The Birds

Project: Re-Creating the bunny pin worn by Kim Novak

First Concept SketchClose up detail from photoVertigo- Judy

Originally Alfred Hitchcock cast actress, Vera Mila in the original role of Judy Barton, but because of an unexpected pregnancy, Kim Novak was offered the role without a screen test. 

Kim Novak, who resentfully allowed the Hollywood machine to change her image into who it thought she should be, related to the character.  It mirrored the plot point of the film in which the character of James Stewart develops an obsession and falls in love with the beauty and grace of a woman, Madeleine, who apparently dies.  Later on, he meets another woman, Judy, who uncannily reminds him of her and tries to make her over and change her into Madeleine.  Even though the film was not a critical success when it originally came out, it has become considered one of Hitchcock’s finest films.  Novak, herself, left Hollywood in 1965 because of the tepid response to her acting skills, but in the years since, her skills have been re-evaluated and she has gotten the respect that she deserved.

 

Vertigo- Madeleine

Costume designer, Edith Head collaborated brilliantly with Director Alfred Hitchcock, who had very specific ideas on how to dress the women in his films and in his attempt to “dismantle the apparently perfect woman.”  There was to be a contrast in the costumes of the two characters of Madeleine and Judy; one suggesting luxury and elegant simplicity and one suggesting a cheap, down to earth unsophisticated look.  Much to the dismay of Novak, Hitchcock insisted in dressing the character of Madeleine in a pale grey tailored suit for much of the action in the film.  The color tends to be too harsh and wash out blonds, but that was part of his physiological purpose.  The buttoned up rigid and unsexual tailoring of the suit added to Novak’s ability to find the illusive character.  However, the costumes for the character of Judy were the complete opposite; constructed in warmer tones with body hugging tailoring over her braless body, thus suggesting a more natural, real and sexual appearance.  Hitchcock liked the color green and the green sweater set with polka dot collar and cuffs and scarf was so fitted it left little to the imagination.  Edith Head’s costumes for the film demonstrate the power of costumes to physiologically create a character and to support the story line.

Edith Head Creation
Costume Designed by Edith Head

Jewelry in the film, however subtle was a plot point in the film.  Judy’s jewelry was definitely intended to be less refined.  Attempting to re-create the pin for the green sweater outfit for an upcoming exhibition, was a difficult process. From all photos and screen grabs, you could see a shape but could not see the detail of what that shape was.  It wasn’t until someone suggested it was a rabbit that everything fell into place.  By following the curves and shapes of what could be seen in the reflections, a sketch was made.  Merry Rosenberg, who owns a jewelry manufacturing company “The Magic Zoo” and deals with the creation of animal jewelry, was commissioned to make the pin.  A clay model was made and altered until the form appeared exactly like the reflections seen in the photos.  It was then cast in sterling silver and set with a jade stone.

The end result was a subtle enhancement of a beautiful costume and represents the exciting process of re-creating Hollywood jewelry and trying to understand what was going on in the heads of its creators.

laverne and shirley1
Laverne and Shirley, showing Shirley wearing the same costume without the bunny pin

 

5 thoughts on “Larry McQueen: Notes from Alfred Hitchcock – The Birds

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    1. Morning Bespoke Traveler,

      Here’s what Mr. McQueen had to share about the costume.

      After the costume from “Vertigo” served it purpose in the film, the costume was returned to The Paramount wardrobe stock to be used again in other films. This is a standard practice with the costume created for films. It is difficult to determine what films or television productions the pieces might have been worn in because records were not usually kept regarding the each costume. A costume designer would go through the stock and pull pieces that were the right period and right size for the current projects and rent them. The only reason I found out the sweater was re-used in “Laverne & Shirley” was because it had a bias label that was inscribed “Cindy” (along with the original label that read (K.Novak). When I thought about what film or TV production had an actor named “Cindy,” was set in the 1950s and possibly produced or filmed at Paramount, “Laverne and Shirley” was my first obvious choice. Actually finding a photo of the actor wearing it was just luck because they didn’t photograph each scene in television productions.

      Labeling costumes was also a standard studio procedure to keep track of what worn by whom during the production. When these pieces went into stock, they originally left the labels in the costume, but as these piece went out on other productions, many of them did not come back because it was discovered who originally wore them. Many of the studios and especially the costume houses started removing the labels so that the costume would not be considered important enough to take them. Much history was lost.

      Thank you for your inquiry and I hope this was of some help.

      Larry McQueen
      The Collection of Motion Picture Costume Design

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